Long-awaited GINA regulations clarify how to prevent genetic information discrimination

On November 9, 2010, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published the final regulations implementing the employment provisions of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). Title II of GINA is designed to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information, specifically restricting employers with 15 or more employees from obtaining and sharing genetic information.

According to the website: “The law forbids discrimination on the basis of genetic information when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, or any other term or condition of employment.”

Specifically, genetic information is defined as:

• Information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of family members (including tests that identify a predisposition to a disease, such as breast cancer or Huntington’s Disease)
• Family medical history (often used to determine someone’s risk of getting a particular disease or disorder)
• Requests for and receipt of genetic services by an individual or family members
• Genetic information about an individual or family member’s fetus, or of an embryo legally held by an individual or family member through assisted reproductive technology

In addition to clarifying GINA’s prohibition against requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information (including guidelines for legal Internet searches), the final regulations include a “safe harbor” provision protecting employers from liability when they use specific language warning individuals not to provide genetic information when submitting health-related information.

To ensure compliance, you should display the “EEO is the Law” posting that the EEOC revised in late 2009. With Poster Guard® Compliance Protection, you can be confident you’re communicating the latest mandatory GINA information via the Federal Easy-Post™ labor law poster. You should also update your employee handbook to include “genetic information” as one of the protected, anti-discrimination categories.

To Iraq and back - The legal rights of returning soldiers

As the U.S. wraps up combat operations in Iraq, the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops will be heading home and returning to work. Now is the time to brush up on your awareness of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) and your legal responsibility to soldiers returning from military leave.

USERRA, which applies to both active duty and reserve members of the military, is the primary federal law governing the employment and reemployment rights of service members. USERRA requires you to reinstate employees upon completion of service; to grant the same seniority, status, pay and applicable benefits an employee would have earned if not called to duty; and to train or otherwise qualify returning employees for reemployment. Keep in mind, too, that when state and federal laws regarding military leave conflict, you must follow USERRA and provide the maximum advantages available.

USERRA requirements are tricky for many employers. In fact, a 2010 poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that only 9 percent of respondents were “extremely familiar” with USERRA, while 52 percent claimed to be “somewhat familiar” and an alarming 39 percent of respondents claimed to be unfamiliar with the law.

We can help. With our automatic poster replacement service, you can be certain you’re displaying the latest, mandatory USERRA information via the Federal Easy-Post™ labor law poster. G.Neil also offers an easy-to-read, downloadable E-Guide that clearly explains the USERRA regulations and your legal obligations.

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Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010 makes some changes to USERRA

Why it's just as important to dole out the praise as it is the pay

We’re all too familiar with the saying “Money can’t buy happiness.” Well, it seems this sentiment is as true in the workplace as it is in our personal lives. Just as a bigger house, car or flat-screen TV can’t define our happiness at home, neither can a bigger paycheck, bonus or raise at the office.

What does bring more satisfaction, according to a recent McKinsey Quarterly global survey, is praise from our superiors. Recognition and support go a long way toward boosting an employee’s self esteem, building confidence and enhancing performance. Those are huge positives that, thankfully, don’t cost your recession-challenged business a lot of money!

Salary isn't everything

Conducted in June 2009, the McKinsey survey garnered responses from more than 1,000 executives, managers and employees from around the world (and representing a range of industries).

The survey posed the question, “Which incentives do you find boost employee morale and productivity most?” The answers were:

• Praise and commendation from immediate managers – 67%
• Attention from leaders – 63%
• Opportunities to lead projects or task forces – 62%
• Performance-based cash bonuses – 60%
• Increased base pay – 52%
• Stock or stock options – 35%

As the report outlining the survey results explains: “The respondents view three noncash motivators … as no less or even more effective motivators than the three highest-rated financial incentives. The survey’s top three nonfinancial motivators play critical roles in making employees feel that their companies value them, take their well-being seriously, and strive to create opportunities for career growth.”

How to keep employees engaged

The results of this survey are good news for cash-strapped employers still crawling out from under the recent economic downturn. “There couldn’t be a better time to reinforce more cost-effective approaches,” explains the report. Money’s traditional role as the dominant motivator in the workplace is taking a back seat to more intrinsic benefits.

So how do you act on this important message and motivate employees to give their best? Here are some simple, low-cost employee recognition ideas to enhance job satisfaction and performance:

Make a note of it
A hand-written thank you note shows you valued a person’s work enough to take time out of your day to acknowledge it. It’s a simple gesture with great impact. For even more impact, mail a card or letter home so the employee can share the praise with family members.

Point out employees publicly
Use a public forum, such as a staff meeting, to recognize excellent performance, so an employee’s moment in the spotlight is shared with others. Look for other creative ideas for employee recognition, such as company newsletters, intranets or even articles in local newspapers.

Little things mean a lot
It’s great to recognize the "big wins," but it’s also important to call attention to the everyday achievements. Reward employees for their “quieter” contributions with a thank you note and if the budget will allow, something extra like a store gift card, desktop award or free lunch.

Encourage peer recognition
Implement a program in which employees recognize one another. One version of this could be a "Pay It Forward" type of award in which the first employee who receives the award identifies the next employee who deserves the award.

Create a work environment that supports achievement
Display inspirational and motivational posters on the wall, introduce team-building or motivational games as a part of staff meetings, and provide occasional social events on company time to strengthen camaraderie among employees and management.

Keep in mind, too, that most employees enjoy new, challenging opportunities. Avoid micromanaging employees so they’ll gain a sense of control and mastery with their work, and involve them in (or have them lead) fresh projects that will expand their skills and stretch them creatively.

In a weak economy, FMLA claims strengthen

Claims related to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) jumped more than 10% this year, according to a report by FMLASource, an affiliate of ComPsych Corporation. The key reasons for FMLA absences are 1) personal illness/injury, 2) caring for a child, and 3) caring for an elderly relative.

Experts blame the struggling economy for the bump. “As companies continue to operate with leaner staffs in a slowly recovering economy, many workers are seeking FMLA job protection in order to take time off to care for themselves as well as family members,” says Jim Brown, vice president of FMLASource.

To counteract this trend, Brown recommends that employers beef up their support services, including Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and work-life initiatives, to address employee issues and reduce the length of FMLA absences.

A thorough monitoring and documentation process of claims is essential, too. To ensure tighter administrative control and to curb costs in a tough economy, rely on the ComplyRight™ FMLA Administration System. It includes all the forms and information you need to effectively manage FMLA requests according to the latest regulations.

Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010 makes some changes to USERRA

On October 13, President Obama signed into law the Veterans’ Benefits Act (VBA) of 2010. Through amendments to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), the VBA further protects service members from employment discrimination (including wages and benefits) and retaliation due to service.

Whereas USERRA excluded “wages or salary for work performed” in its definition of “benefit of employment,” the VBA references a 2002 court case to clarify that wages or salary are included in the definition.

The VBA will also utilize a multi-factor test to determine if a new, “successor-in-interest” company can be held liable for the USERRA violations of a previous company. (A modification to help prevent employers from dodging responsibility for their actions). The factors to be considered include:

• Use of the same or similar facilities
• Continuity of workforce
• Similarity of jobs and working conditions
• Similarity of supervisory personnel
• Similarity of machinery, equipment and production methods
• Similarity of products or services

The amendments are retroactive and apply to any USERRA violations that occur before, on or after the VBA’s enactment date.

Check back here to learn of potential updates to the federally required USERRA posting.

OSHA to set its "sights" on high-risk, non-construction worksites

OSHA recently narrowed down the high-hazard manufacturing, non-manufacturing and nursing home sites it plans to inspect under its 2010 Site-Specific Targeting (SST) program. Designed to direct the agency’s enforcement efforts to riskier workplaces, the SST program is OSHA’s primary inspection plan for non-construction sites with 40 or more workers.

The plan relies on OSHA’s 2009 Data Initiative survey, which collects injury and illness data from 80,000 private sector establishments in high-hazard industries in the previous year. The 4,100 workplaces selected for inspection were among 15,000 employers who received warning letters from OSHA in March, informing them they had twice the number of injuries and illnesses resulting in days away from work, restricted work activities or job transfers.

“Our goal is to prevent worker injuries and illnesses and save lives,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels. “The Site-Specific Targeting program helps OSHA focus its enforcement resources to high-risk employers who are endangering their workers' health and safety.”

Even if your business wasn’t targeted for inspection, you should strive to meet all OSHA safety standards, prevent accidents, and properly document injuries and illnesses. The right OSHA recordkeeping forms and tools can help you maintain a safe, OSHA-compliant workplace.

The show must go on: Judge 'em for their talents, not their financial trip-ups

Sure, there was a time when she thought she could be a rock star. But the only thing that rose to the heights of her imagination was her credit card debt. Hey guitars and amps are expensive … and she really thought that next gig would be her ticket to stardom.

Her life looks a lot different now. All those unpaid bills – and her rock-star dreams – are both things of the past. Yet her previous credit history haunts her like that horrible performance in Poughkeepsie. Should her previous financial flops keep her from getting a job now?

Some employers say yes. And some legislators are out to change that.

Approximately 13 percent of employers surveyed by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) said they run credit checks on all job applicants - with another 47 percent considering credit history.

Employers say they run checks to learn more about an applicant’s honesty and sense of responsibility. Lawmakers say the practice is unnecessary and keeps people in debt because their past financial problems prevent them from obtaining work.

Currently, lawmakers in at least 16 states have proposed outlawing credit checks. And late last month, the EEOC held a public meeting to address the use of credit history as a screening tool. With unemployment reaching such high levels throughout the country, there's growing concern that credit checks are unfairly excluding certain applicants from legitimate job opportunities. (Keeping our aspiring performer from earlier singing the blues when she should be pulling in a steady paycheck.)

Representatives from a variety of stakeholder groups shared their views at the public meeting. Chi Chi Wu of the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), for instance, explained that credit histories create a “fundamental Catch-22” for job applicants during this time of high unemployment and high foreclosures. She adds: “You can’t re-establish your credit if you can’t get a job, and you can’t get a job if you’ve got bad credit.”

Other concerns expressed in the meeting are that credit checks:

• can negatively impact certain protected groups, including women and people with disabilities;
• are a poor, or unreliable, predictor of job performance; and
• are often inaccurate or riddled with errors.

It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out in the coming months. Personally, I feel that there a lot more reliable indicators of an applicant’s skills and trustworthiness than their credit history. I also know too many solid, hard-working professionals who fell victim to the real estate bust and economic downturn … and whose financial challenges play no part in their “hireability.” These people are not washed-up rock stars who need to turn in their mics and guitars.

In the meantime, remember that the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires employers to obtain an applicant’s written consent before requesting a credit report. And if you decide not to hire or promote someone based on details in the report, you must provide a copy of the report and let the applicant know of his or her right to challenge the report.

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