It's hotter than blazes! How to protect workers when temperatures soar

Today's post comes from G.Neil's HR News Weekly:

For much of the country this summer, daily highs in the 80s, 90s -- and even 100s -- are the norm. Record heat is gripping the nation, leaving outdoor workers vulnerable to heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, along with other experts, urges all employers to take the proper precautions to protect workers from intense heat.

Some of the recommendations:

=> Devise a work site plan that outlines prevention measures and ensures that medical services are available to respond to a potential emergency
=> Provide ample amounts of water at work sites and remind workers to drink small amounts frequently (every 15 minutes)
=>Schedule rest breaks throughout work shifts and provide shaded or air-conditioned rest areas near work sites
=>Allow new workers to get used to the extreme heat, gradually increasing the work load over a week's time
=>As much as possible, schedule strenuous tasks earlier in the day

Remember: The three keys to preventing heat-related illnesses are 1) WATER, 2) REST, 3) SHADE.

8 essential tips when hiring temps

For many small businesses, hiring temps is the perfect solution during seasonal upswings or when extra help is needed because someone is out on maternity or disability leave. Or perhaps you’re looking to fill a recently vacated position but want to “test the waters” first: A temporary worker can be offered a full-time position if you’re happy with his or her performance after a certain period of time.

While there are many advantages to hiring temps, there are precautions to consider, as well. Keep the following in mind when hiring temporary workers:

1) Temporary employment involves a set period of time, such as days, weeks, months, the duration of a special project or the length of time a permanent employee is out. Generally speaking, an employee is either full-time or part-time, regardless of temporary status. This matters because certain federal and state employment laws apply to employers based on the number of employees -- and may or may not count temps in the total.

2) When you work with a staffing agency, the agency is responsible for recruiting, screening, testing and hiring workers; handling timekeeping, payroll and related taxes; and providing unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance. If you decide to use an outside agency, you’ll typically pay a fee that includes the candidate’s hourly rate and the agency’s markup to cover the above services.

3) Even if the agency oversees the above services, you are considered the temp’s co-employer. As such, you need to be mindful of workplace issues like safety, preventing discrimination and harassment, and wage and hour compliance under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

4) If you hire the temp directly, you will need the individual to fill out an I-9 form and provide the appropriate documentation verifying his or her eligibility to work in the United States. The temp also must fill out a W4 so you can process the correct withholdings for payroll.

5) At the very beginning of the temp relationship, specify the pay rate, pay period, pay day, eligibility for benefits (if any) and length of employment. Remember that if a temporary, non-exempt employee works more than 40 hours in a workweek, he or she is entitled to overtime pay for those hours.

6) You are not required to provide paid time off (vacation, sick or personal days) to temporary employees. You don’t have to extend health insurance either. Many employers consider this a significant cost savings -- and benefit -- to hiring temps.

7) Whether you’re working with an agency or hiring a temp on your own, it’s important to explain the job, the skills needed and your basic expectations. Take the time upfront to work through these details to ensure a good fit and avoid problems down the road.

8) This should go without question, but always treat your temp workers with the same respect and care you do your permanent staff. Tammy is not “just a temp,” but an important part of your workforce, if even for a short amount of time.

Discrimination against job seekers a persistent, national problem

As if the nationwide hiring slump and struggling economy weren't challenging enough, job seekers often encounter debilitating discrimination based on their race, sex, age, national origin or other protected characteristic. This was the conclusion - and source of discussion - by a group of experts in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) meeting.

EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez opened the meeting by singling out a hiring case involving Wal-Mart rejecting two deaf applicants. As part of the negotiated settlement (for which Lopez was an EEOC trial attorney), the mega retailer aired a commercial on Arizona television featuring the two individuals telling their story and informing the public about the nation's equal employment laws.

"Unfortunately, discriminatory hiring practices … continue to exist," Lopez advised.

Bill Lann Lee, a former U.S. assistant attorney general for Civil Rights, implored the EEOC to combat hiring discrimination. "Systemic discrimination in hiring today is particularly disheartening to communities where joblessness has put the American Dream on hold," he said.

Lee continues: "Hiring discrimination is a fundamental problem; it often denies more than one employment opportunity, cutting off future opportunities as well."

Among the other participants, Marc Bendick, an employment discrimination researcher for Bendick & Egan Economic Consultants, Inc., shared that unfair hiring practices are especially problematic in the following industries: advertising, construction, firefighting, restaurant, retail, employment placement, financial services, television and film production, and high technology.

Finally, Rae T. Vann, general counsel of the Equal Employment Advisory Council - an organization of major employers - underscored the need to train and monitor staff involved in the hiring process.

OSHA moves to update recordkeeping and reporting requirements for low-risk industries

Today's post comes from G.Neil's HR News Weekly:

A recent proposal by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would exclude certain low-risk industries from injury and illness recordkeeping and reporting requirements. In consideration of the proposal, OSHA is seeking input on questions such as:

=> Which industry sectors, if any, should be ineligible for partial exemption?
=> Should OSHA consider numbers of workers injured or made ill in each industry in addition to industry injury/illness rates in determining eligibility for partial exemption?
=> Should OSHA regularly update the list of lower-hazard exempted industries? If so, how frequently should the list be updated?

In addition to considering a list of "lower-hazard" industries eligible for partial exemption, OSHA is proposing that employers report all work-related fatalities and in-patient hospitalizations within eight hours (and amputations within 24 hours). Currently, employers only have to report these incidents if they involve three or more employees. 

OSHA is accepting comments and feedback on the proposed changes through September 20, 2011.

The ComplyRight™ OSHA Recordkeeping System not only takes the guesswork out of the latest regulations, but it also makes it easy to complete the mandatory OSHA forms and post OSHA safety information - in full compliance with the law.

OSHA to focus on forklift hazards in four states

Today's post comes from G.Neil's HR News Weekly:

Under a new regional inspection program, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hopes to reduce fatalities and serious injuries caused by forklifts and powered industrial trucks. The program will focus primarily on employer compliance in warehouses and service companies in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi. (If a company is the subject of a complaint inspection or site-specific targeting inspection, however, it will be checked for forklift violations, too).

Inspections will cover:

•    Operator training – Employees should be trained for the specific vehicle they’re operating (and each vehicle they operate), and re-evaluated every three years, per OSHA standards. OSHA investigators will observe actual forklift operations and interview employees to determine compliance with operating, traveling and loading requirements.

•    Maintenance and repair – Forklifts and powered industrial trucks should have the appropriate load plates and fully operational safety equipment. Investigators will review the shift pre-operation inspection checklist, as well as the company’s procedures for correcting equipment defects and problems.

•    Clear pathways – Just as important as proper training and the condition of the vehicles themselves are the pathways the forklifts travel. Investigators will look for clearly visible pathways, which are necessary to reduce “struck by” hazards.

Check out our Forklift Training Compliance Bundle for all the tools you need to ensure compliance – a 2-disc forklift safety training program, a forklift safety poster, a forklift operator’s daily checklist and a forklift operator evaluation form.

Latest move from NLRB would clear the path for unionization

First, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) proposed a mandatory workplace posting informing employees of their rights to unionize (which we're closely monitoring). Now, the agency would like to make it even easier for employees to unionize, thanks to a proposal that would change some of the organization rules.

In a nutshell, the NLRB's "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" would give employers and management less time to build a case against organizing, require employers to make employee information (like personal phone numbers and email addresses) available to union officials, and delay the resolution of disputes over which employees can vote in the secret ballot elections.

A press release by the NLRB explains that, "The proposed amendments are intended to reduce unnecessary litigation, streamline pre- and post-election procedures, and facilitate the use of electronic communications and document filing."

What would happen if your employees formed a union? More important, do you have the knowledge you need to help keep unions out of your workplace?

With greater awareness and appropriate action, you can strengthen your anti-unionization position without undermining the rights of your employees. The following strategies can help reinforce your position as a fair employer and eliminate the common causes for employee unionization:

Tip #1: Encourage open communication
Open and clear lines of communication between management and employees are vital. To support an open-door communication policy, you should use meetings, workshops and suggestion boxes to learn about employees’ needs; make appropriate business information available to employees; develop a grievance process to address problems promptly; and communicate your open-door policy via emails, distributed materials and workplace postings.

Tip #2: Conduct an employee attitude survey
Not all employees will be forthright in sharing their frustrations with management. Conducting an employee attitude survey is an ideal way to capture employee opinions in a safe and non-threatening manner. Break the survey into sections (such as “working conditions” and “company culture”), set up the survey in a format you can easily administer, compile the results quickly and discuss the results among company management.

Tip #3: Train and support your supervisory personnel
Qualified, well-trained supervisors and managers go a long way toward keeping a company union-free. Invest in their success by meeting regularly to discuss any issues that may be brewing, as well as conducting periodic training workshops that address the latest trends in union organizing and the dos and don’ts of unionizing efforts.

Tip #4: Review company policy regarding solicitation, distribution and access
You may prohibit employee solicitation and distribution of pro-union literature during working time and in work areas. In most cases, you can also prohibit non-employee union representatives from conducting business on company property. The key to avoiding any legal complications regarding these rules is to put them in writing via company policy – and prior to the onset of a union organizing campaign.

Tip #5: Offer competitive wages and benefits
Non-competitive wages and meager benefits are some of the biggest sources of employee discontent and in turn, contributors to union-organizing activity. After considering your industry and geographic location, you should conduct periodic wage and benefit surveys to make sure you’re in line with recognized standards. Consider cost-of-living adjustments, medical care benefits, paid time off, and profit-sharing and employee stock options.

Tip #6: Resolve employee disputes promptly
In addition to giving employees multiple channels for voicing their frustrations, you need to develop clear-cut procedures for resolving their concerns. This may involve a peer review group that meets on a regular basis, appointing an intermediary to investigate more serious complaints and conducting regular training on conflict management principles.

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