Has the No-Match Rule met its match with E-Verify?

In a bit of a “I told you so” move, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a new regulation on August 19 that could kill the controversial Social Security Administration (SSA) No-Match Rule. As you recall, the rule established a “safe harbor” provision allowing employers 90 days to resolve any employment eligibility issues identified in a No-Match letter or notice from DHS. (Typically, an employee’s name and Social Security Number - as provided in a W-2 earnings report - not matching SSA records.)

Most employers aren’t sad to see the rule go. This is largely due to the fact that even though millions of undocumented immigrants receive No-Match letters every year, so do legal workers, due to clerical errors, unreported name changes and other discrepancies. Regardless of the circumstances, the No-Match Rule would have put employers in the hot seat, requiring them to penalize or fire workers who were unable to correct their Social Security records in time.

In the rule’s place, the DHS plans to focus its enforcement efforts on employer participation in E-verify. This free, Web-based system, operated by DHS in partnership with the SSA, compares employee information from the Employment Eligibility Verification Form (Form I-9) against federal databases. “E-Verify is a smart, simple and effective tool that reflects our continued commitment to working with employers to maintain a legal workforce,” says DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. In a July 8 press release from the DHS, it was revealed:

DHS will be proposing a new regulation rescinding the 2007 No-Match Rule, which was blocked by court order shortly after issuance and has never taken effect. That rule established procedures that employers could follow if they receive SSA No-Match letters or notices from DHS that call into question work eligibility information provided by employees. These notices most often inform an employer many months or even a year later that an employee’s name and Social Security Number provided for a W-2 earnings report do not match SSA records—often due to typographical errors or unreported name changes. E-Verify addresses data inaccuracies that can result in No-Match letters in a more timely manner and provides a more robust tool for identifying unauthorized individuals and combating illegal employment.

What to do in the meantime?

Even though it looks like the DHS will not be mandating a “safe harbor” process for responding to No-Match letters anytime soon, you should still follow some basic precautions when screening and verifying an employee’s eligibility to work.

By law, you may not:

Set different standards for verifying employment eligibility or require that different documents be presented by different groups of employees. For example, you cannot waive I-9 requirements for individuals appearing to be U.S. citizens.

Require applicants to provide I-9 documentation before making a job offer. Legally, job applicants do not have to verify their identity or employment eligibility until they actually start work.

Specify or select which documents must be provided. The I-9 form lists the specific documents an individual may provide to establish his/her identity and work authorization. Employers must allow individuals to choose from this list of permissible documents.

Discriminate against individuals with “temporary” work authorization status. Temporary resident aliens and individuals who have asylum typically have documents that expire, but they ordinarily obtain extensions.

Overtime lawsuit could pack a huge financial wallop for UPS

Remember last week’s post on overtime pay – and the spike in employee lawsuits to recover “lost” overtime wages? And how important it is to properly classify employees as exempt or non-exempt, according to FLSA regulations? Well, no one is feeling the pain of this more than UPS right now.

Filed August 19 in federal court, a class action lawsuit claims that United Parcel Service (UPS), the world’s largest package delivery service, failed to pay as much as $100 million in overtime wages to its account managers. The plaintiff, a UPS employee since 2005, says she has regularly worked 60 hours a week but was only paid a straight salary. She adds that UPS misclassified her and other account managers as outside salespersons or administrative employees exempt from overtime pay. And therein lies the problem:

The suit says UPS' account managers don't make sales or obtain contracts nor do they perform managerial type work, and therefore shouldn't be classified as outside salespersons or administrative employees. (The Boston Globe)

To make matters worse, the lawsuit also claims that account managers were not given mandatory meal and rest breaks – and that UPS doesn’t keep accurate records of hours worked.

As a result, UPS is facing a potential jury trial, more than $100 million in damages and the payment of attorneys' fees. The class-action suit also seeks to represent other UPS employees facing a similar situation.

So I’ll wrap up today’s post with the same suggestion as last week: Check out the ComplyRight Now E-Guide, Determining Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Employees (and other FLSA compliance tools) for help figuring out whether an employee is exempt or non-exempt. With overtime lawsuits growing at a breakneck pace, now is the time to be absolutely certain you’re following FLSA exemption rules to the letter of the law.

Can employees vent their workplace frustrations on personal blogs?

Jane had an awful day at work, butting heads with her manager about how she handled a particular project. Later that evening, still fuming about the run-in, she signs into her personal blog account and lets loose about how much her manager irritates her. And she doesn’t stop there: She continues her blog post by trashing the company and how they treat their employees.

As an employer, can you restrict employees from blogging about workplace concerns – and if you learn of negative or damaging posts, can you act on them?

The answer may depend on whether you’re a private or public employer.

In a 2006 survey co-sponsored by the American Management Association, it was revealed that nearly 2% of employers have fired workers for offensive blog content, including posts on employees’ personal, home-based blogs.

“Employee bloggers, who can be fired, or “dooced” in blog parlance, for blogging at work (and at home on their own computers) face increasing risk of termination by employers struggling to keep a lid on legal claims, regulatory fines, and security breaches. With the blogosphere growing at the rate of one new blog per second, industry experts expect the ranks of dooced employee bloggers to swell.”

And for those employees who feel this type of action is a violation of their rights to free speech under the First Amendment, Nancy Flynn, author of Blog Rules and executive director of The ePolicy Institute, shares:

“Employee bloggers mistakenly believe the First Amendment gives them the right to say whatever they want on their personal blogs. Wrong! The First Amendment only restricts government control of speech; it does not protect jobs. Bloggers who work for private employers in employment-at-will states can be fired for just about any reason—including blogging at home on their own time or at the office during work hours.” (American Management Association)

Ms. Flynn points out an important distinction here and it concerns the actions private employers can take. But what about public employers? Do they have the same right to terminate an employee for improper blogging?

In the paper, Blogging While (Publicly) Employed: Some First Amendment Implications , Paul M. Secunda compares the First Amendment free speech implications for public and private employers – and what the future holds for employees who choose to blog about their workplaces. He explains:

“While private-sector employees do not have First Amendment free speech protection for their blogging activities relating to the workplace, public employees may enjoy some measure of protection depending on the nature of their blogging activity. The essential difference between these types of employment stems from the presence of state action in the public employment context.”

It should be noted that, regardless of whether an employee works for a private or public business, certain speech about unionization or working conditions is protected. For example, it could be a violation of the law for an employer to take action against an employee blogging about an experience with sexual discrimination at work. It could also be a violation to retaliate against an employee for complaining about workplace safety issues. Obviously, an employee would enjoy greater protection under these circumstances if he or she issued a formal complaint with the employer before sharing information on a personal blog.

(Check your state laws, too, since many states prohibit employers from disciplining or firing employees for activities they pursue offsite, on their own time. These “off-duty conduct” statutes often contain language protecting employees who “use legal products” (such as cigarettes) off-duty, as well as protection against any employee conduct that doesn’t break the law. This coverage could apply to employees who keep a personal blog. )

One important step you can take to discourage negative or damaging blogging by your employees is to include a written policy in your employee handbook. With Gradience Handbook Manager Software, you can easily create a comprehensive, legally compliant handbook that addresses, among other things, the issue of blogging. One of the recommended policies, “Use of Company Communication Systems”, covers employee blogging/social networking sites and provides guidelines for employees to follow, such as “(Company) expects that employees will be respectful to the Company, fellow employees, our customers, partners and competitors. Employees must not post materials that violate the privacy or publicity rights of another individual or entity.”

Gerber to pay $900,000 settlement for discriminatory hiring practices

Gerber Products Company in Fort Smith, Ark. will pay $900,000 in a hiring discrimination suit involving 1,912 minority and female applicants rejected for entry-level positions, according to an announcement from the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

From the announcement:

During a scheduled compliance evaluation of Gerber Products in Fort Smith, OFCCP investigators found the hiring disparity was in part caused by inconsistent selection procedures for entry-level positions. Additionally, OFCCP found that Gerber used pre-employment tests that negatively impacted minority applicants and determined that there was insufficient evidence of validity to support Gerber's use of the test. Gerber has discontinued its use of the test in the hiring process for entry-level positions.

The test that Gerber used was the TABE, or Test of Adult Basic Education – a test that is primarily used by adult education centers to evaluate a student’s reading and math skills. Elizabeth Todd, spokeswoman for the Labor Department at Dallas, said the aptitude test, with its pass-or-fail results, “significantly impacted minorities.”

In addition to paying $900,000 in back pay and interest to the applicants, Gerber will:

  • Provide 61 entry-level positions (11 of whom have already been hired)
  • Undertake extensive self-monitoring measures to ensure they fully comply with the law when hiring, and promptly correct any discriminatory practices
  • Comply with Executive Order 11246 recordkeeping requirements

Employers can learn a few lessons from this case, most notably that the OFCCP, which is “responsible for ensuring that contractors doing business with the Federal government do not discriminate and take affirmative action”, can be a strict enforcer of employment discrimination laws. The agency monitors federal contractors to ensure they provide equal employment opportunities without regard to race, gender, color, religion, national origin, disability or veterans’ status.

Further, because recipients of federal funds must adhere to specific information reporting and auditing requirements, their hiring practices can fall under even tighter scrutiny with the OFCCP than with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Proper training for your hiring managers is essential, including a careful review of the tests and practices used to screen and select applicants for hiring.

“This settlement … should put all federal contractors on notice that the Labor Department is serious about eliminating systemic discrimination,” said Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis.

Can salaried employees receive overtime pay?

Towering billboards and catchy advertisements shout the message: “Unpaid overtime hours? Wronged by your employer? You may be entitled to money!”

Class action lawyers are enjoying a brisk business targeting employees who believe they haven’t received their entitled overtime pay – and helping them recover these “lost” wages in court. With the Department of Labor (DOL) estimating that a staggering 70 percent of employers aren’t in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in some manner, now is the time to review one of the biggest areas of vulnerability for employers: misclassifying employees as exempt vs. non-exempt.

The DOL states that:

The FLSA, which prescribes standards for the basic minimum wage and overtime pay, affects most private and public employment. It requires employers to pay covered employees who are not otherwise exempt at least the federal minimum wage and overtime pay of one-and-one-half-times the regular rate of pay.

Determining those employees “who are not otherwise exempt” is the tricky part, however. Problems may arise if it appears you’re avoiding paying an employee overtime pay by misclassifying the non-exempt employee as an exempt employee. In some cases, salaried employees are entitled to overtime pay; the distinction is whether the employee is “exempt” according to FLSA requirements. While most exempt employees must receive a salary, salaried workers aren’t necessarily exempt from being paid overtime for working more than 40 hours in a week.

Generally speaking, employees who work in an executive, administrative or professional capacity - as well as certain employees in computer-related positions and outside salespeople -are exempt. To qualify for an exemption, these employees must meet certain tests regarding their job duties and be paid a salary of at least $455 per week. Job titles do not determine exempt status. Rather, an exemption applies when an employee’s specific job duties and salary meet all the DOL regulations.

Check out the ComplyRight Now E-Guide, Determining Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Employees, for help figuring out whether an employee is exempt or non-exempt – and to steer clear of FLSA-related employee lawsuits.

Thanks to ADA, NBA may employ oldest player in history

Alan Rupe is a 59-year-old, 5-foot-ten attorney, who claims he can have his dream job as a professional NBA player and you can too, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

His strategy – leverage some recent court decisions “guaranteeing” equal employment rights under the ADA in his favor. All he needs to do is find a mental or physical disability protected under the ADA.

His plan – find an ADA protected mental or physical disability. After proving that he suffers from a covered disability, the NBA will essentially be forced to accommodate his limitations.

Sound crazy? Maybe crazy like a fox…

Take a look at the recent appeals decision of Tobin v. Liberty Mutual. Plaintiff Tobin claimed his bipolar disorder caused a lack of focus and concentration. He couldn’t complete work on time, prioritizing was difficult and stress worsened his symptoms.

After 11 months of Liberty working with Tobin to accommodate his disability, he was fired for “consistent poor performance” that the company said lasted for years. Long story short – Tobin sued. Tobin won more than $1 million.

In another case, Titus v. Home Depot, a store manager suffered an injury on the job that caused permanent damage. The manager requested Home Depot make “reasonable accommodations” for him that included a promotion. The company declined, the manager sued and won.

Under the ADA, employers must “provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, unless to do so would cause undue hardship.” (EEOC)

“Unless an employer can prove it would suffer “undue hardship” in the operation of the business, the employer is required to provide the requested accommodation,” says Rupe.

As it turns out, the older Rupe gets, the better chance he has at joining the NBA. Like I said, crazy like a fox.

New amendments to the ADA effective January 1, 2009, expanded the definition of disability. And as some experts predicted, reasonable accommodation requests have become more frequent and complicated.

Be prepared to handle and know how to document reasonable accommodation requests with tools like the ComplyRight ADA Administration System. With this supply of ADA forms, information and tip sheets, you’ll be ready to manage employee requests.

With Rupe on the way, maybe the NBA should look into it, too.

Wellness investment yields better than 1:1 return

For companies to commit financially to anything these days, executives first need to know that the return on investment (ROI) is worth getting involved. Even internal investments such as employee wellness programs, which have lacked hard ROI data in the past, must prove that they’re a sound investment.

If you’re one of those searching for wellness program ROI data, you’ll be happy to hear that recent research suggests companies that invest in employee wellness get their investment back, and then some.

A survey of 225 employers by Health2 Resources revealed that 73% of companies successfully measured the ROI of wellness programs. Of those that measured ROI, 83% said their programs had a return of better than 1:1 on their investment.

"Employers are becoming more sophisticated about measuring the return on investment from wellness and disease management programs, and today's economic outlook dictates that these programs bring a positive ROI," said Sean Sullivan, president and CEO of the Institute for Health and Productivity Management.

"No other kind of health management program has been given the same scrutiny as health and productivity management in measuring its effectiveness in reducing total health-related costs, including sick days, disability claims and impaired performance at work. Employees are too valuable a human capital investment for companies to take their health and productivity for granted."

The survey also found that most employers with and without wellness programs in place believe that paying employees to participate boosts program success and return value. An estimated two out of three U.S. companies offer programs dedicated to employee health, and 66% of those with programs also use incentives.

Other key findings:

  • The most commonly used incentives are premium reductions followed by merchandise/tokens and gift cards.
  • Smoking cessation programs are the most popular health and wellness program to offer, with weight management and physical activity programs a close second.
  • Some organizations with as few as 210 employees are offering incentives valued at $1,450 per year to keep employees healthy.
  • Diabetes programs are the most popular disease management program offered in 2009.

Does your company offer any health and wellness programs for employees? What kind of incentives, if any, are promoted to get employees involved? Have they seen a positive ROI?

Please leave a comment and let us know about your company’s experience with wellness programs.


Mastering the tools of engagement

Your employees show up to work every day, and most of them are doing a great job. But as five o’clock inches closer, you notice that they’re counting down until the workday ends. If more employees were excited to be at work, rather than thinking about quitting time, the company could do a lot better. Raising salaries isn’t an option right now and you feel stuck. What can you do?

Budgets have shrunk and our belts are so tight it’s hard to breathe; traditional motivators like performance bonuses are out of the question. So, what can managers do to improve employee commitment when dollars are in short supply?

The good news – managers can use many tools to improve morale, boost employee motivation and raise the level of engagement, even when there seems to be no room in the budget.

These tools fall into one of four basic categories:

What is said?
What is permitted?
What is encouraged?
What is offered?

Find out how to leverage the tools of engagement in G.Neil’s free white paper, The Tools of Engagement: Boosting Employee Commitment When Money is Tight (.pdf).

In it you’ll find suggestions on improving employee engagement on a budget and examples to help you identify what’s missing in your workplace. No registration required, read the white paper (.pdf) today.

Economy shrinking workers’ paychecks

More than one in three U.S. workers (39%) said that they had not received a raise or that their compensation had decreased as a result of the economic downturn, according to a new survey.

As part of their Tell It Now poll, ComPsych asked workers: “Has the economic downturn impacted your work? If so, in which area have you experienced the greatest impact?”

The highest number of workers (39%) said they haven’t received a raise or their compensation had actually decreased this year as a direct result of the economic downturn.

One in five workers (20%) reported increased conflict and stress among coworkers since the economic recession began.

Another 11% of workers said they’ve had to take on more work due to company layoffs. The added work has about 10% more workers reporting that they’re working more hours and unable to take as much vacation time as they usually do.

Just 20% of respondents said the economic downturn had no impact on their work.

We’d also like to know – Has the recession impacted your work? If so, which area has been impacted the most?

DHS strengthens employment verification, contractors must use E-Verify

Federal contractors have about six weeks left to start using the government’s E-Verify system to check employee work authorization.

On July 8, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the Administration’s support for a regulation that will award federal contracts only to employers who use E-Verify.

“E-Verify is a smart, simple and effective tool that reflects our continued commitment to working with employers to maintain a legal workforce,” said Secretary Napolitano.

“Requiring those who seek federal contracts to use this system will create a more reliable and legal workforce. The rule complements our department’s continued efforts to strengthen immigration law enforcement and protect critical employment opportunities. As Senator Schumer and others have recognized, we need to continue to work to improve E-Verify, and we will.” (DHS press release)

E-Verify is the free web-based system operated by DHS in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA) that compares employee information from the Employment Eligibility Verification Form (Form I-9) against federal databases to verify workers’ employment eligibility.

Starting on September 8, 2009, the federal contractor rule will extend the use of the E-Verify system to all covered federal contractors and subcontractors, including those who receive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

Read the full DHS press release for more information.

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