You've Got the Job, Details Will Follow - Employment Offer Letters & Non-Compete Agreements

This post was contributed by Eric N. Athey, Co-Chair of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Law Practice Group

In Pennsylvania, a non-compete agreement (NCA) must be supported by legal "consideration" in order to be enforceable. If a newly hired employee signs a NCA at the time of hire as a condition of employment, the new job is the consideration for the agreement not to compete in the future. On the other hand, once an employee is already employed, his employer cannot foist an NCA on him and expect it to be enforceable unless new consideration is given (e.g. a special bonus, job protection, promotion, severance benefits, etc.). These basic principles are well established under Pennsylvania law.  But what happens if an employer presents a NCA to a new hire after he accepts a written job offer but before he actually starts work?  This scenario was recently addressed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in Pulse Technologies, Inc. v. Notaro.

In Pulse Technologies, the company provided Mr. Notaro with a 2 ½-page offer letter that included a description of the job, salary, benefits, and start date. The letter also stated: "You will also be asked to sign our employment/confidentiality agreement. We will not be able to employ you if you fail to do so." The letter further explained that the employment agreement would contain "definitive terms and conditions" of employment. Mr. Notaro signed and returned his offer letter as instructed. On his first day of employment, he was provided with an "employment/confidentiality agreement" that contained a non-compete provision. Notaro read and signed the agreement without objection, understanding that it contained restrictions on his ability to compete in the future. Significantly, he signed the agreement before he began performing his new job.

Over four years later, Mr. Notaro left Pulse Technologies to take a managerial position with one of the company's competitors.
 

Continue Reading...

New Form I-9 Required Beginning May 7

This post was contributed by Jennifer LaPorta Baker, Esq., an attorney in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Law Practice Group and based in the Scranton, Pennsylvania office.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently released the revised Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9, which employers are required to use to verify the identity and employment authorization of newly hired employees. Starting May 7, 2013, employers must use the new Form I-9 (with a revision date of 03/08/13) to comply with their employment eligibility verification responsibilities. The new Form I-9 was first published by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on March 8, 2013, and had been authorized for use, along with the previous Form. Now, use of the new Form I-9 will be mandatory.

An electronic version of the new Form I-9 is available on the USCIS website. USCIS has also released an updated Handbook for Employers (M-274) available here (pdf). A Spanish version of the new form is also available on the USCIS website for use in Puerto Rico only. Spanish-speaking employers and employees in the 50 states, Washington, DC, and other U.S. territories may use the Spanish version for reference, but must complete the English version of the form.

Employers using an electronic version of the Form I-9 should receive an updated product from their software providers. Those employers must transition electronically to the new Form I-9, or otherwise take steps to implement a compliant system for completing the new Form I-9, by May 7.

Employers who fail to use the new Form I-9 on and after May 7 may be subject to penalties issued by ICE and/or the Department of Justice.

Employers should conduct internal audits of immigration policies and protocols as necessary to assess and maintain legal compliance and reduce the significant risks and liabilities associated with non-compliance. Failure to maintain compliance may result in hefty fines and stiff penalties. Common employer violations include failure to obtain the correct employee documentation as required by federal law, as well as improperly completed I-9s. Remember, there is no “good faith” defense for I-9 paperwork violations. The best defense is to conduct annual self-audits and correct defective I-9 Forms before an aggressive government agency is at your door.

Employers Required to Use New FCRA Notices come January 1, 2013

This blog post originally appeared in an Employer Alert published by McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Group in October 2012. The Employer Alert can be accessed here.

The newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) recently issued regulations that modify the notices required under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). The new regulations include one change that is significant to employers who regularly obtain criminal background reports, credit history reports, and other background checks on their applicants and employees.

The CFPB's regulations modify the “Summary of Consumer Rights under the FCRA.” The FCRA requires that employers provide this standard notice to applicants and employees when, among other things, a pre-adverse action notice is sent. The regulations require that employers begin using the new form on January 1, 2013; until then, employers should continue to use the old form.

The biggest change to the notice is that consumers are now directed to the CFPB to obtain information about their rights under the FCRA, rather than to the Federal Trade Commission. (The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2010, transferred rulemaking authority over the FCRA to the CFPB.) The CFPB made similar changes to the notices that consumer reporting agencies are required to provide.

Model forms are available in the appendix to the FCRA regulations at 12 C.F.R. § 1022 and likely will be posted on the CFPB’s website, www.consumerfinance.gov, come the new year. The new form can also be downloaded here (.pdf).

In light of the significant changes to the regulatory framework surrounding the FCRA and the increasing concern about consumer privacy, we can expect that this will not be the CFPB’s last word on employee screening and background checks. We will keep you updated on additional changes to the FCRA in the future.

Did You Know That Pennsylvania Law Mandates Criminal Background Checks For New Hires In Positions that Involve "Regular Contact With Children"?

This post was contributed by Adam R. Long, a Member in McNees Wallace and Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Group and Osazee Imadojemu, a summer associate with McNees. Mr. Imadojemu will begin his third year of law school at George Washington School of Law in the fall, and he expects to earn his J.D. in May 2013.

Prior to a 2006 amendment to the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law ("CPSL"), employers covered by the CPSL's mandatory pre-hire criminal background and child abuse history record check requirements were limited and well defined. Specifically, the statute applied to "all prospective employees of child-care services, prospective foster parents, prospective adoptive parents, prospective self-employed family day-care providers and other persons seeking to provide child-care services under contract with a child-care facility or program." Covered employers knew that before an employee was hired, that applicant needed to obtain these background checks.

With the 2006 amendment, the prospective employees covered under the statute expanded considerably. Section 6344.2 was added to the CPSL, and it required any employee hired into a position with a "significant likelihood of regular contact with children, in the form of care, guidance, supervision or training" to obtain a Pennsylvania Criminal History Check, a fingerprint-based national criminal history record check processed by the FBI, and a Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Record Check. This includes occupations such as such social service workers, hospital personnel, mental health professionals, members of the clergy, counselors, librarians and doctors.

Pennsylvania employers with positions covered by the 2006 amendment should ensure that they identify those positions within their organizations subject to the mandatory background check requirements and that they obtain the mandatory pre-hire background checks. Many employers currently are considering whether and to what extent to conduct pre-hire criminal background checks, and Pennsylvania employers should be aware of this little-known requirement.
 

Is there a way to safely use social media in the interview process?

Thanks to recent headlines about the increase in employers demanding social media passwords of employees and job applicants, employers have gotten a quick lesson on the increased the risks of this practice, especially if the employer neglects to have the proper policies and procedures in place.

For organizations who still insist on reviewing social media data to determine whether an applicant would be a good fit in their organization, they can start by appointing a social media screener not involved in the decision-making process. Also, the employer should implement a policy and procedure to identify who will be involved in the decision, what data will be collected, when it will be collected and from what sites, and how the data will be communicated to the hiring manager.

This video is also posted on www.JDSupra.com.

How to screen job applicants without asking for the Facebook password

There has been a lot of backlash against the practice of employers asking potential employees for their Facebook password. So much so that U.S. senators are calling on the EEOC and the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation to determine whether this practice is lawful. Facebook is also weighing in and threatening legal action against employers who engage in this practice.

Employers can avoid the current controversy by using other less risky approaches to screen applicants. One such practice is to conduct a thorough background check that complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Be sure to disclose the background check to the applicant, receive authorization in writing, and use the information the applicant directly provides to you to minimize legal liabilities and inaccurate results.

 

 

You can also view this video at www.jdsupra.com

Go ahead and ask for the Facebook password, IF...

Bottom line: There is nothing unlawful about an employer requesting that an applicant voluntarily provide a Facebook password. (Check out the site's policies though - that practice may violate Facebook's terms and conditions of use.)

However, such practice may open a Pandora's box of potential liability for employers who proceed without appropriate policies, procedures and safeguards in place. Among a host of other legal concerns, an applicant may claim that he or she was coerced into providing the log-in information in violation of the federal Stored Communications Act or a state law equivalent.

Best practice? Ensuring that policies and procedures are in place, and flexible enough to protect your organization from the pitfalls of social media in the workplace will be critical to defending claims that may arise following the adoption of these types of practices.

You can also view this video at www.jdsupra.com

 

New Philadelphia Ordinance Restricts Employer Inquiries About Applicants' Criminal Convictions

This week, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed the Fair Criminal Record Screening Standards Ordinance (the "Ordinance").  This “ban the box” legislation is designed to limit Philadelphia employers’ ability to request applicants’ criminal history information in the initial steps of the hiring process. 

  • Who is Covered?  The Ordinance covers any person, corporation, company, labor organization or association that employs 10 or more persons within the City of Philadelphia.        
     
  • What Inquiries Are Prohibited?  Employers cannot inquire (directly or indirectly) about an applicant’s criminal convictions at any time during the application process, before the first interview, or during the first interview.  Notably, an employer that does not conduct an interview is prohibited from making any inquiries or gathering any information regarding the applicant’s criminal convictions. 
     
  • What Inquiries Are Allowed?  The Ordinance does not prohibit employers from making hiring decisions based upon criminal conviction history; however, such inquiries must be delayed until a second interview (or as part of a post-conditional offer criminal history check).  Additionally, if an applicant voluntarily discloses his or her own criminal history during the application process or the first interview, the employer then is permitted to discuss the disclosed information. 
     
  • What is the Penalty for Violations?  Violations of the Ordinance can result in the assessment of a maximum civil penalty of $2,000 per violation.  

The Ordinance becomes effective on July 17, 2011.  If you are an employer with 10 or more employees within the City of Philadelphia, now is the time to review your application and interview materials to ensure compliance with the new Ordinance.  In addition, employers should remain aware of their obligations under Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act, which permits consideration of felony and misdemeanor convictions only to the extent that they impact an individual’s suitability for the position in question.  The Act also requires employers to give a rejected applicant written notice that the criminal conviction was used in whole or in part as the basis for the employment decision.

UPDATE: IRS Releases Revised Form 941 for Employers' Use in Claiming HIRE Act Tax Exemptions

The Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") recently released a revised Form 941, the Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return, and related instructions to guide eligible employers in claiming the payroll tax exemption offered under the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment ("HIRE") Act (H.R. 2847). The HIRE Act offers a tax exemption from having to pay the employer's 6.2% share of social security tax on the wages paid to a qualified employee from March 19, 2010, through December 31, 2010. In order to receive this tax benefit for qualified new hires, employers must claim the exemption on their quarterly federal tax returns, beginning with the second quarter of 2010. The exemption applies to wages paid to qualified employees from March 19, 2010, through December 31, 2010.

President Barack Obama signed the HIRE Act into law on March 18, 2010. As detailed in our blog post, HIRE Act Provides Employers with Tax Incentives for Hiring and Retaining Qualified Employees, the HIRE Act amended the Internal Revenue Code to provide tax incentives for employers to hire unemployed workers. Specifically, the HIRE Act created two new tax benefits for eligible employers: the aforementioned payroll tax exemption for certain new hires, and a tax credit for retaining the qualified new hires. The IRS previously released a sample affidavit form, which employers' qualified hires must complete as part of the qualification process for the tax exemption. The newly-released Form 941 will allow qualifying employers to claim the HIRE Act tax exemption on their Quarterly Tax Returns. Employers must claim the retention tax credit on their 2011 tax returns.

For additional information on the tax benefits offered under the HIRE Act, and related qualifications, visit the IRS's website to read their Frequently Asked Questions regarding the HIRE Act tax benefits, or contact one of the attorneys in McNees Wallace and Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Practice Group. 

HIRE Act Provides Employers with Tax Incentives for Hiring and Retaining Qualified Employees

On March 18, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment ("HIRE") Act (H.R. 2847).  The HIRE Act amends the Internal Revenue Code ("IRC") to provide certain tax incentives for employers to hire unemployed workers.  Specifically, the HIRE Act creates two new tax benefits for eligible employers: a payroll tax exemption for certain new hires, and a tax credit for retaining the qualified new hires. 

First, the HIRE Act provides eligible employers with a payroll tax exemption for qualified employees hired between February 3, 2010, and January 11, 2011.  This tax benefit is an exemption from having to pay the employer's 6.2% share of social security tax on the wages paid to the qualified employee from March 19, 2010, through December 31, 2010.  Employers may claim this tax exemption on their quarterly tax returns, starting with the second quarter of 2010. 

Second, the HIRE Act also provides eligible employers with a business tax credit for each qualified employee that is retained for at least one year, or 52 consecutive weeks.  The employer may claim a credit of up to 6.2% of the wages paid to the retained employee over the one-year period, or a maximum of $1,000 per qualified employee, on its 2011 tax return. 

Continue Reading...

Supreme Court Rejects choice of Lawsuits Defense

A governmental employer cannot throw out a employment promotion test because it thinks that the test results have a disparate impact against a minority group unless there is a "strong basis in evidence" to believe it will be liable for discrimination unless it rejects the test results. Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer’s decision that is based on race even if the employer will be sued regardless of which group it favors.

In Ricci v. DeStefano, the City of New Haven, Connecticut used a validated test to select firefighters for promotion. However, the results the promotion examination to fill vacant lieutenant and captain positions showed that white candidates had scored higher than other minority candidates. Strong public opposition to use of the test followed. Confronted with arguments both for and against certifying the test results—and threats of a lawsuit either way—the City threw out the results based on the statistical racial disparity.

White and Hispanic firefighters who scored well on the exams but were denied a chance at promotions by the City’s refusal to certify the test results, sued the City, alleging that discarding the test results discriminated against them based on their race in violation of Title VII. The City responded that had it certified the test results, it could have faced Title VII liability for adopting a practice having a disparate impact on minority firefighters.

The District Court granted summary judgment for the City, and the Second Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed holding that City discriminated against the White and Hispanic firefighters who passed the test because there was not a strong basis in evidence to throw out the test scores in response to their disparate impact. The City conducted hearings on the test results and determined that there was a statistical adverse impact on minority employees. This showed that there was at least a prima facie case of disparate impact. However, this fear of litigation alone cannot justify the City’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions. To reject the test, the City needed to go further and show that the exams at issue were not job related and consistent with business necessity, or if there existed an equally valid, less discriminatory alternative that served the City’s needs. Based on the record the parties developed through discovery, there was no substantial basis in evidence that the test was deficient in either respect.

Under Title VII, before an employer can engage in intentional discrimination for the asserted purpose of avoiding or remedying an unintentional, disparate impact, the employer must have a strong basis in evidence to believe it will be subject to disparate-impact liability if it fails to take the race-conscious, discriminatory action. The Court’s analysis held that the City’s actions would violate Title VII’s disparate-treatment prohibition absent some valid defense. All the evidence demonstrates that the City rejected the test results because the higher scoring candidates were white. Without some other justification, this express, race-based decision-making is prohibited. The question, therefore, is whether the purpose to avoid disparate-impact liability excuses what otherwise would be prohibited disparate-treatment discrimination.

The Court held that certain government actions to remedy past racial discrimination—actions that are themselves based on race—are constitutional only where there is a “strong basis in evidence” that the remedial actions were necessary. The same interests are at work in the interplay between Title VII’s disparate-treatment and disparate-impact provisions. However, the Court gave little other guidance on how employers may use tests in the hiring and promotion processes.

E-Verify Rule for Federal Contractors Delayed until September 8, 2009

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) announced the third postponement of the implementation of the final rule requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to begin using E-Verify system which is now delayed until Sept. 8, 2009.

The Civilian Agency Acquisition Council and the Defense Acquisition Regulations Council (collectively known as the Federal Acquisitions Regulatory Councils) will published an amendment in the Federal Register on June 5, 2009, postponing the applicability of the final rule until Sept. 8, 2009. The rule was first published on Nov. 14, 2008 requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to agree to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their employees. I previously summarized the rule in "E-Verify Final Regulations Issued Requiring Government Contractors and Subcontractors to Verify Employment for New and Existing Employees who Perform Contract Work."

Employment Law implications of Obesity and BMI after the ADA Amendments Act

The ADA Amendments Act re-wrote the definition of disability so that it will likely include obesity-related health conditions and perhaps obesity itself as a protected disability. Before the ADA Amendments, being overweight and even obese was not generally considered a "disability". For example in EEOC v. Watkins Motor Lines, Inc., a court determined that non-physiological morbid obesity was not a protected disability.

The EEOC is considering regulations regarding the equal employment provisions of the ADAAA.  In December 2008, the EEOC commissioners deadlocked along party lines on whether to approve former Chair Naomi Earp’s proposed regulations. According to the EEOC’s agenda, a notice of proposed rulemaking will be issued by August of this year.  I predict that obesity will become a protected disability requiring employers to reasonably accommodate the condition.  I also expect that the correlation between BMI and obesity will be challenged by agruing that disqualifying an employee based on a high BMI consistitutes "regarded as" disability discrimination.

The ADA changes have important implications for businesses including employment discrimination claims, health plan design, and wellness program administration. There are several issues that merit discussion when examining obesity such as following. 

What is Body Mass Index (BMI)? BMI has become the unofficial scientific measure for assessing obesity. BMI is a function of height and weight (BMI calculator). The Center for Disease Control classifies a person who has a BMI of less than 18.5 as underweight; normal is 18.5-24.9; overweight is 25-29.9; obese is over 30; and extremely obese is over 40.

What is the BMI analysis telling us about our weight? A Report by the Trust for America's Health recently disclosed statistics about obesity trends. In the Report, Pennsylvania had the 24th highest rate of adult obesity with 25.7 percent of its population having a BMI over 30. The Report correlated obesity figures with other factors like Diabetes and Hypertension rates. It also noted levels of admitted physical activity (or inactivity). Twenty-Four percent of Pennsylvanians admit no physical activity.

How good is BMI as a measure of obesity? Martica Heaner points out the limitations of BMI in her posts BMI Blues and Is Body Mass Index a Bad Measure?:

The BMI works well for research purposes, but doesn’t necessarily translate precisely to the individual. Unfortunately, it tends to convey that people that exercise regularly, for example, are overweight, when they are not actually overfat. A fit person tends to have more muscle, so their body weight is a reflection of body fat as well as muscle and other lean tissue.

Since the problem with being overfat is that health risks are increased, a BMI in the overweight range is probably not a negative indicator for a fit person. Regular exercise, low body fat and increased muscle mass are all factors that tend to outweigh any health risks suggested by a higher BMI.

Is there correlation between high BMI and bad health? According to the CDC, the BMI ranges were established based on the health consequences associated with obesity as determined by different BMIs. Some, like Paul Campos in his book, The Obesity Myth, challenge this conclusion. However, the correlation between high BMI and bad health is quickly becoming an assumption.

Other than being incorrectly labeled "overweight" or "obese", why should we care whether BMI is a accurate health status predictor? BMI is fast becoming the legal standard for determining whether someone is "obese" and therefore a "health risk". Those with high BMIs can face increase cost and eligibility barriers for certain employee benefits.

Individual insurance policies for life, disability and medical insurance almost universally use underwriting procedures that take into account BMI as a basis for determining insurability and premium. A survey by the Texas Office of Public Insurance Counsel found that insurance company individual health plan underwriting guidelines used BMI as a basis to deny coverage, charge a higher premium, and offer less coverage. The California Insurance Commission has made comments alerting consumers about BMI as a basis for insurance denial.

Some group health plans are community rated and not subject to medical underwriting. These plans calculate premium based on the expected claims of the community not the individual employer group. Other group health insurance programs can be subject to medical underwriting in which BMI analysis and other factors will be used to price the coverage for the group. An employer with a compliment of employees with potential for high claims (including high BMI) will face higher premiums or denial. Likewise, self-insured medical plans that utilize stop loss coverage may undergo medical underwriting where BMI will be factored into the rate for reinsurance.

Group health plan wellness program incentives may be keyed to BMI targets for premium discounts and other incentives. The availability of incentives to those with high BMI is subject to limitations including situations when it is "unreasonably difficult" or "medically inadvisable" for a participant to attempt to achieve the BMI standard.

E-Verify Federal Contractor Rule Delayed until June 30, 2009

The applicability date of the final rule requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to begin using U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) E-Verify system has been pushed back by six weeks to June 30, 2009, with hint that it may be abandoned or revised. The USCIS website contains the following notice:

The Civilian Agency Acquisition Council and the Defense Acquisition Regulations Council (collectively known as the Federal Acquisitions Regulatory Councils) will publish an amendment in the Federal Register tomorrow postponing the applicability of the final rule until June 30, 2009. The rule requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to agree to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their employees was first published on Nov. 14, 2008, and went into effect on Jan 19, 2009.

The extension provides the Administration an adequate opportunity to review the entire rule prior to its applicability to federal contractors and subcontractors.

My previous posts on the E-Verify rule are here:

E-Verify Final Regulations Issued Requiring Government Contractors and Subcontractors to Verify Employment for New and Existing Employees who Perform Contract Work

Mandatory use of E-Verify for Government Contractors delayed again to May 21, 2009

Good News: SHRM reports delay in E-Verify Regulations' Effective Date until February 20, 2009

USCIS Reminds all U.S. Employers of Requirements to Use Revised Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification

There is no delay. April 3, 2009 is the effective date for use of the revised I-9 Form according to the USCIS. The following resources are available for compliance with the revised form and more limited scope of acceptable documents:

Revised I-9 Form (English)

Revised I-9 Form (Spanish)*

List of Documents Acceptable for Employment Verification

Questions and Answers

Handbook for Employers

*Note: The Spanish version of Form I-9, available below on this page, may be filled out by employers and employees in Puerto Rico ONLY. Spanish-speaking employers and employees in the 50 states and other U.S. territories may print this for their reference, but may only complete the form in English to meet employment eligibility verification requirements.

Revised I-9 Form Effective April 3, 2009: No Delay...yet.

Frankly, I was expecting a delay in the effective date of the Revised I-9 Form, so I have been procrastinating a reminder post. I am tired of checking the USCIS website for information. However, I am wary since there has been no report on the comments received during the 30-day re-opening of the comment period which ended March 4, 2009.

The Revised I-9 Form is effective April 3, 2009.  The USCIS has issued a Q&A on the Revised I-9 Form. There is also a Handbook for Employers on the Revised I-9 Form. The US Citizenship and Immigration Service ("USCIS") has revised the Form I-9 and acceptable documents issuing the following summary:

The interim final rule narrows the list of acceptable identity documents and further specifies that expired documents are not considered acceptable forms of identification. An expansive document list makes it more difficult for employers to verify valid and acceptable forms and single out false documents compromising the effectiveness and security of the Form I-9 process.

Employers must complete a Form I-9 for all newly hired employees to verify their identity and authorization to work in the United States. The list of approved documents that employees can present to verify their identity and employment authorization is divided into three sections: List A documents verify identity and employment authorization, List B documents verify identity only, and List C documents verify employment authorization only.

The rule eliminates Forms I-688, I-688A, and I-688B (Temporary Resident Card and older versions of the Employment Authorization Card/Document) from List A. USCIS no longer issues these cards, and all that were in circulation have expired. The rule also adds to List A of the Form I-9 foreign passports containing specially-marked machine-readable visas and documentation for certain citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). The rule makes other, technical changes to update the list of acceptable documents. The revised Form I-9 includes additional changes, such as revisions to the employee attestation section, and the addition of the new U.S. Passport Card to List A.

Arbitration of Discrimination Claims upheld by U.S. Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court upheld a provision in a collective-bargaining agreement that clearly and unmistakably requires union members to arbitrate ADEA claims is enforceable as a matter of federal law. Accordingly, there is no legal basis for the Court to strike down an arbitration clause in a collective bargaining agreement, which was freely negotiated by a union and company, and which clearly and unmistakably requires employees to arbitrate the age-discrimination claims. However, the Court declined to rule on specific factual issued related to whether the waiver of discrimination claims under the contract by employees' in this case was clear and unmistakable. It also would not rule on whether the contract waived substantive rights protected by federal law which could not be vindicated in an arbitration. These issues were not properly before the Court.

The decision in 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett has important implications for unionized employers who face employment discrimination charges and lawsuits. These claims may be forced into the arbitration forum and out of court depending on the language in the contract. The scope of the arbitration clause including any limitations will be an important focus of future litigation.

Time to Re-evaluate Employment Practice Liability Insurance

Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) can provide valuable protection; particularly,  given the predicted rise in employment related legal claims and enhanced government enforcement initiatives. Furthermore, EPLI remains a relative bargain in the continued “soft” insurance market and employers should consider adding or increasing insurance coverage to protect against employment claims. EPLI insurance is somewhat quirky and the following are some considerations when evaluating policies:

1.         Coverage: EPLI policies usually cover claims of wrongful discharge, workplace harassment and discrimination. Many offer a more comprehensive list of covered acts, including negligent hiring/supervision/evaluations, invasion of privacy, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Coverage typically applies to claims made by full time employees so as to exclude those by part-timers, temporary, seasonal and independent contractors. In comparing policies, look for one that has the most expansive coverage. 

2.         Exclusions: EPLI policies exclude many claims based on the statute that creates the legal right or the activity that gives rise to the claim. Exclusions apply to the Fair Labor Standards Acts; the National Labor Relations Act; the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN); the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA); the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA); the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA); the costs associated with providing "reasonable accommodation" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); as well as claims arising out of downsizing, layoffs, workforce restructurings, plant closures or strikes. Punitive damages are always excluded. Carefully evaluate the excluded claims in light of your business practices. In the case of multi-state operations, be aware that some state laws create substantial employment rights that must also be evaluated under the policy language.

3.         Policy Limits and Deductibles: Policy limits and deductibles usually apply on a per claim and aggregate basis. For example, coverage may be limited to $250,000 for each separate claim with an overall aggregate cap of $1 million for all claims. Employers must formulate their insurance goals in setting the appropriate deductibles and limits. Some employers view EPLI insurance as catastrophic coverage and are willing to accept a high deductible that allows them to handle smaller claims themselves. However, other employers are looking for more blanket coverage.

4.         Defense Costs, Selection of Counsel and Settlement: Defense costs are usually included within the EPLI policy’s limits, which has good and bad points. Many times, the legal expense is the largest cost to an employer in dealing with merit less claims. However, including defense costs means that every dollar an employer spends defending a claim reduces the amount available for settlement or to pay a judgment. Since the existence of insurance coverage must be disclosed as part of discovery in most law suits, a plaintiff’s attorney will factor insurance coverage into his or her case evaluation. The defense cost feature may influence plaintiffs’ counsel to try to settle early, rather than force an employer to incur litigation costs that will only erode the insurance dollars available for potential settlement. Employment claims often have significant employee relations ramifications making settlement a particularly important issue. Insurers view employment claims the same as any other insurance matter by evaluating only the potential for liability and the amount of damages. The employer and insurer may be at odds over settling a case. EPLI policies address this stalemate by either giving the insurer the right to settle without the employer’s approval or, more frequently, giving an employer control over settlement, but adding a “hammer clause”. These clauses are designed to limit the insurer’s potential exposure if the policyholder passes up an opportunity to settle a claim recommended by the insurer. Hammer clauses provide that if there is an offer to settle a claim that the policyholder refuses accept, then the insurer will not be liable for a subsequent settlement or judgment in excess of a rejected settlement amount.  

5.         Policy Types and Insurance Company Notification: EPLI policies are typically written on a “claims made” basis meaning that the claim must be incurred during the coverage period and reported to the insurer during an extended reporting period. Employers who have already experience significant layoffs prior to the effective date of coverage will not have claims arising from those actions covered by new insurance; however, if an employer increases coverage, it may be able negotiate a retroactivity for the larger policy limits. Since employment actions may take years to turn into a claims, an employer may be left with no coverage if the policy is dropped or tail coverage isn’t purchased. Untimely notice to an insurance carrier can void coverage for and employment claim.

Employers limited in use of Genetic Information

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) was enacted to curtail the use of genetic history in employment-related areas. GINA includes two titles. Title I, which amends portions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Public Health Service Act, and the Internal Revenue Code, addresses the use of genetic information in health insurance. Title II prohibits the use of genetic information in employment, prohibits the intentional acquisition of genetic information about applicants and employees, and imposes strict confidentiality requirements.

The law is effective November 21, 2009. The EEOC has begun its regulatory and information process with the issuance of EEOC's Questions & Answers on GINA and Proposed Regulations.

Don't use Revised I-9 Form: USCIS Delays Rule Changing List of Documents Acceptable to Verify Employment Eligibility until April 3, 2009

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today it has delayed by 60 days, until April 3, 2009, the implementation of an interim final rule entitled “Documents Acceptable for Employment Eligibility Verification”.  The Revised I-9 was to take effect on February 2, 2009. 

The delay will provide DHS with an opportunity for further consideration of the rule and also allows the public additional time to submit comments. A notice announcing the delay was transmitted today to the Federal Register.  In addition, USCIS has reopened the public comment period for 30 days, until March 4, 2009.

Employers must complete a Form I-9 for all newly hired employees to verify their identity and authorization to work in the United States, but should not use the Revised Form.  The interim final rule will amend regulations governing the types of acceptable identity and employment authorization documents employees may present to their employers for completion of the Form I-9.  Under the interim rule, employers will no longer be able to accept expired documents to verify employment authorization on the Form I-9.

UPDATE:  There are no further delays in use of the revised I-9 Form and further compliance resources have been issued by the USCIS (click here for more information).

Ledbetter now Law: Employers must Focus on Compliance

President Obama signed into law the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act nullifying the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. Previous posts on the content and effect of the law are as follows:

Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed by Senate and awaiting Obama Signature

Bad News: Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and Paycheck Fairness Act Pass the House.

Record Retention Nightmare Created by Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

An employer's first concern should be the revival of claims otherwise thought extinguished under the Ledbetter decision. The law is retroactive to overrule the Supreme Court standard for assessing the timeliness of wage discrimination claims. A wage-based discrimination claim in Pennsylvania can now be filed within 300 days of the last paycheck affected by the discriminatory pay action.

An employer's next focus should be on creating a pay and evaluation system that preserves evidence supporting the nondiscriminatory basis of the decisions. The system must capture both witnesses' recollections and records associated with the decisions for all similarly situated employees.

The difficulty in defending these "old" claims lies in documenting both the decision made relative to the employee bringing the claim and the treatment of comparable employees. The legal analysis of a discrimination claim involves a comparison of the compensation paid to a member of a protected class as compared with those outside the protected class. If a compensation disparity is shown, the employer must demonstrate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the difference in compensation. Once demonstrated by the employer, the employee may show that the employers reason is a pretext for discrimination. Much of this analysis will change if the Paycheck Fairness Act also becomes law.

The EEOC has a road make for its analysis of compensation discrimination claims under its Compliance Manual. The types of evidence the EEOC collects and evaluates in assessing a claim includes the following:

  • Initially the EEOC determines if a wage differential exists by evaluating documents including the following:
    • Organization charts and other documents which reflect the relative position of the charging party in comparison to other employees, including written detailed job descriptions;
    • Written descriptions of the respondent's system for compensating employees -- including collective bargaining agreements; entry level wage rates or salaries; any policies or practices with regard to periodic increases, merit and other bonus compensation plans; and the respondent's reasons for its pay practices; and
    • Job evaluation studies, reports, or other analyses made by or for the employer with respect to its method of compensation and pay rates.
  • If a compensation differential(s) exists, the employer should be asked to produce a non-discriminatory reason for the differential. If a an employer leaves the pay disparity unexplained, or provides an explanation that is "too vague, is internally inconsistent, or is facially not credible," the investigator should find "cause." If the employer does provide a nondiscriminatory reason, an inquiry should be made into whether it satisfactorily explains the pay differential.
  • The EEOC requests information explaining the pay decisions of comparable or similarly situated employees. The EEOC may also request pay information for similarly situated employees to evaluate a disparate impact case based on a statistical analysis of compensation decisions and treatment.

 

Mandatory use of E-Verify for Government Contractors delayed again to May 21, 2009

The Chamber of Commerce reports another delay in the implementation of Federal Acquisition Regulations that require mandatory use of the E-verify system by government contractors. An agreement was reached in the pending litigation for the purpose of allowing the Obama Administration an opportunity to review pending regulatory actions left over from the Bush Administration.  The new effective date is May 21, 2009.  Our prior post outlines the requirements:  E-Verify Final Regulations Issued Requiring Government Contractors and Subcontractors to Verify Employment for New and Existing Employees who Perform Contract Work

New I-9 Forms and Other Changes to Acceptable Documents effective February 2, 2009

The US Citizenship and Immigration Service ("USCIS") has revised the Form I-9 and acceptable documents issuing the following summary:

The interim final rule narrows the list of acceptable identity documents and further specifies that expired documents are not considered acceptable forms of identification. An expansive document list makes it more difficult for employers to verify valid and acceptable forms and single out false documents compromising the effectiveness and security of the Form I-9 process.

Employers must complete a Form I-9 for all newly hired employees to verify their identity and authorization to work in the United States. The list of approved documents that employees can present to verify their identity and employment authorization is divided into three sections: List A documents verify identity and employment authorization, List B documents verify identity only, and List C documents verify employment authorization only. 

The rule eliminates Forms I-688, I-688A, and I-688B (Temporary Resident Card and older versions of the Employment Authorization Card/Document) from List A.  USCIS no longer issues these cards, and all that were in circulation have expired.  The rule also adds to List A of the Form I-9 foreign passports containing specially-marked machine-readable visas and documentation for certain citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI).  The rule makes other, technical changes to update the list of acceptable documents.  The revised Form I-9 includes additional changes, such as revisions to the employee attestation section, and the addition of the new U.S. Passport Card to List A.

The revised I-9 Form can be downloaded from the US Citizenship and Immigration Service website. Revisions to instructions and the Handbook for Employers are pending.

The Employment Law Post also highlights these changes.

UPDATE:  Don't use Revised I-9 Form:  USCIS Delays Rule Changing List of Documents Acceptable to Verify Employment Eligibility until April 3, 2009

Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed by Senate and awaiting Obama Signature

The Senate passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 by a vote of 61 to 36 with both Pennsylvania Senators supporting the legislation.   President Obama has previously stated he will sign the law.

The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act redefines the "accrual" of a compensation discrimination claim as follows:

For purposes of this section, an unlawful employment practice occurs, with respect to discrimination in compensation in violation of this title, when a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted, when an individual becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, or when an individual is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or in part from such a decision or other practice.

Violations of the law entitle employees to recover compensatory and punitive damages including recovery of back pay for up to two years preceding the filing of the charge, where the unlawful employment practices that have occurred during the charge filing period are similar or related to unlawful employment practices with regard to discrimination in compensation that occurred outside the time for filing a charge.

The law is retroactive to the May 28, 2007 (the date of the Supreme Court's Ledbetter decision) effectively reviving all claims that are pending or after that date.

Forces employers to modify their pay practices and evaluation procedures including the following:

  • Better justify and document their compensation decisions.
  • Review promotion procedures which may fall under the law because of the attendant compensation adjustment.
  • Create an institutional memory that captures the basis for compensation and promotion decisions.
  • Design a record retention system that allows for the defense of claims.

Next on the Senate Agenda will likely be the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182).

Thanks to the Connecticut Employment Law Blog for insights.

January 21st Carnival of HR

The theme of "change" resonates through today's carnival posts. Here are the contributions with some great advice and observations about what is confronting Human Resource Professionals for 2009 and beyond:

Ann Bares at Compensation Force posts on Best to Get Base Pay in Order Before Implementing Employee Incentives. She recognizes that employee incentives are a powerful tool and a very attractive option, particularly during difficult economic times.  She makes the case here, though, that it is important for employers to “get their base pay house in order before embarking on employee incentives.”

Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership is advertising for leaders in his post on Help Wanted: Great Leader. No Technical Experience Needed? He asks Who would you rather have for a manager: A: Someone who has great leadership skills, but knows little about your specific work or B: Someone with tons of experience and skill in your work, but with only so-so leadership skills?

Rowan Manahan of Fortify your Oasis submits a piece on Phil Schiller's keynote – how not to confound expectations. He advocates rehearsing and bringing all the elements of a presentation together so that it will be above average - using Phil Schiller's recent keynote on behalf of Apple as a case study.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership is doing The CEO Shuffle. He says that there's lots of news about CEOs this week. But it could be that in the best companies, star CEOs aren't unnecessary.

Steve Roessler of All Things Workplace submits his post on "A" Players, Layoffs, and Missing Data. Steve believes that when organizations try to downsize in tough times--but haven't done their performance documentation diligently--they can find themselves staffed for the future with high-seniority, poor performers.

Alice Snell of Taleo Blog - Talent Management Solutions weighs in with a digest of predictions entitled 2009: What Will Happen? She predicts that 2009 will be a time to retain and motivate existing talent.

Mark Vickers of i4cp also submits some “Forecasts for the 2009 Workplace” based on some survey data where there is "not a lot of optimism."

Chris Young of Maximizing Possibility states that in 2009, as always, and now more than ever will be about employee job performance - tangible contribution - value-creation in his post Your Job is Value Creation.

Susan Heathfield's Human Resource Blog at About.com submits a post on No Surprises in which Susan discusses how much autonomy should a team have in implementing its own ideas.

Chris Ferdinandi of Manager's Sandbox asks What Kind of HR Pro are You?  Chris believes that working in human resources, there are two main things you should be focused on: Recruiting great people, and inspiring them to do amazing work.

Shauna Moerke of HR Minion identifies a common problem for HR Pros in her post I do not think you said what I think you mean.   She likens HR to a foreign language because there so many words you needed to learn first before you could even start solving problems.

Gautam Ghosh of White Spaces advocates Guard your Job during Recession. During these times of economic slowdown here are 9 things employees can do to guard their job – from taking on more responsibility to keep practicing the 5 skills for career success.

John Agno of Coaching Tip: The Leadership Blog recognizes that "AD-Triple A" Problem for U.S. Employers. He points out some strategies for complying with the law from a coaching perspective.

Michael Haberman of HR Observations posts about Lessons for HR in the Geithner Confirmation Hearings.  Mike points out that the "honest mistakes" made around worker classification can arise in the business setting.

Frank Mulligan of Talent in China says Hold Those Salary Increases! He thinks that the challenge that many companies in China have right now is that they must maintain their skills base for when orders start to come in again, and at the same time cut costs heavily. Selling this to staff is difficult.

Nina Simosko of Nina Nets it Out submits an entry called Leadership’s All About Academics…No It’s Experience…No It’s Ability where she discusses the notion that some leadership qualities can be obtained via academics [i.e. learned], some are achieved through experience and some are purely innate abilities.

Thanks for all of your submissions. The February 4 Carnival will be hosted by Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership.

OFCCP's Accessible On-Line Application Requirement

Employers that rely on a web-based application and recruiting processes should examine their websites for compliance with the ADA’s employment provisions which require accessibility and accommodation in the hiring process.   A recent OFCCP Directive sets forth the agency's policy on review of employer websites where applications are solicited:

Effective immediately, all compliance evaluations shall include a review of the contractor's online application systems to ensure that the contractor is providing equal opportunity to qualified individuals with disabilities and disabled veterans. The review should include whether the contractor is providing reasonable accommodation, when requested, unless such accommodation would cause an undue hardship. In this directive, the term "online system" shall include, but not be limited to, all electronic or web-based systems that the contractor uses in all of its personnel activities.

Website accessibility is a growing issue as we discussed in a prior post highlighting a lawsuit under the ADA against Target Corporation's commerce site: Business Websites Face Americans with Disabilities Act Accommodations Claims. Given the OFCCP's initiatives on systemic discrimination, this area is ripe for compliance activity.

The OFCCP has recommended the following action steps in a recent webinar:

  • Prominently display a notice outlining your reasonable accommodation process, & provide timely & effective accommodation.
  • If kiosks are used, ensure that they are physically accessible.
  • Allow people who cannot use the online system because of a disability to apply in an alternate way.
  • Consider designing online systems using universal design techniques & interoperable technology to:
    • Reach out to and receive applications from qualified applicants with disabilities, and
    • Minimize the need for individual reasonable accommodations.

Resources for evaluating accessibility of system including the interoperability with assistive technologies can be found at Accessible Systems Racing League. The OFCCP's Power Point Training Program entitled Accessible Online Applications Systems and Tools for Achieving Them is also a good resource.

Bad News: Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and Paycheck Fairness Act Pass the House.

Congress has passed The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (H.R. 11) and The Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 12). Anaylsis of the new legislation to come.

The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is discussed in a prior post on Record Retention Nightmare Created by Ledbetter Fair Pay Act .  The Paycheck Fairness Act changes the burden of proof in gender based pay claims requiring the employer to affirmatively demonstrate that any pay differential is not based on sex. Employers who cannot meet this burden face unlimited compensatory and punitive damages. The EEOC would be required to collect employer payroll information based on sex, race, and national origin thereby targeting its enforcement activities. The Bill also changed rules on class actions automatically including employees in such claims unless they specifically opt out.  PFA subjects employers to wage related class actions with unlimited damages and makes it easier for employees to prove such claims.

Ann Bares analyzes the impact of the new law from a compensation perspective in her post: Dear Legislators: A Missing Link to Paycheck Fairness?

 

Good News: SHRM reports delay in E-Verify Regulations' Effective Date until February 20, 2009

SHRM is reporting the delay of E-verify regulations until February 20, 2009. There is no such report on the Homeland Security or Dept of Justice websites. Stay tuned.  A previous post discusses the regulations: E-Verify Final Regulations Issued Requiring Government Contractors and Subcontractors to Verify Employment for New and Existing Employees who Perform Contract Work

UPDATE: Mandatory use of E-Verify for Government Contractors delayed again to May 21, 2009

 

ADA Amendments Act Compliance Tips

The ADAAA was effective January 1, 2009 requiring employers to focus their approach to disability accommodation. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) of the Office of Disability Employment Policy recently published a compliance resource identifying four Practical Tips which can be expanded upon as follows:

Review Job Descriptions, Qualification Standards and Accommodation Procedures

Developing job descriptions is a daunting task for employer and many don't know where to start. JAN has a good resource explaining the role and function of job descriptions. The resource also gives some basic parameters on what should be included.

Job descriptions provide a written record of the qualification standards and essential functions of a position for the purpose of assessing whether and employee or applicant is "qualified" and for evaluating reasonable accommodations or establishing undue hardship. From a legal perspective, a well-written job description is essential to defending an ADA claim.

Written accommodation procedures promote communication and uniformity. The federal government has developed a lengthy process that may be a reference for employers developing a procedure. The government's procedures are extremely detailed and employers should be careful to develop a process which they can follow or they risk claims based on procedural missteps.

 

Focus Job Actions of Performance and Conduct

The ADAAA refocuses compliance from determining whether a disability exists to evaluating reasonable accommodations. Employers need to assess what an employee (i) can and cannot do in light of the job's essential functions or (ii) has or hasn't done under its work rules. The EEOC has issued Guidance on Applying Performance and Conduct Standards to Employees with Disabilities.

 

Train Frontline Supervisors and Managers

Many disability compliance problems start with a frontline supervisor's reaction to a performance problem. Dealing with the employee's disability, managing coworker reactions, and keeping medical information confidential are only some of the issues which confront managers. Comments made by supervisors can create claims based on retaliation or being "regarded as" disabled.

 

Document Actions and Decisions

A written record of an employers actions and decisions has many benefits in terms of both clear communication with employees and defense of ADA claims. The transitory nature of many workplaces make tangible records more important than ever to establish an institutional memory of important events.

 

Thanks to the Delaware Employment Law Blog for the pointing out the JAN resources.

Department of Labor Issues FMLA posters and Forms

The DOL issued a revised Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) poster, reflecting the recently published final rule which is now available for viewing and downloading. Every employer covered by the FMLA is required to post and keep posted on its premises, in conspicuous places where employees are employed, a notice explaining the Act’s provisions.  

The Department provides optional forms for use by employers and employees during the FMLA process.  The Department has revised its Certification of Health Care Provider form (WH-380), and divided it into two separate forms for an Employee’s Serious Health Condition (WH-380E) and a Family Member’s Serious Health Condition (WH-380F).  The Department has also revised its Notice of Eligibility and Rights and Responsibilities form (WH-381).  In addition, the Department has added new forms for Designation Notice to Employee of FMLA Leave (WH-382), Certification of Qualifying Exigency for Military Family Leave (WH-384), and Certification for Serious Injury or Illness of Covered Servicemember for Military Family Leave (WH-385).

The poster and forms become effective on January 16, 2009.  Additional compliance assistance materials are also available on our FMLA Final Rule Web site at http://www.dol.gov/esa/whd/fmla/finalrule.htm. Employers must also amend handbook provisions to reflect the new regulations.

Employee Engagement Surveys may be Critical to Combating Union Organizing Efforts

The Employee Free Choice Act stands to shortcut the process for certifying a union depriving an employer of its chance to conduct a campaign to educate its workforce on the downside of unionization, squelch union promises, and redress employee perceptions. The employer’s campaign occurs between the filing of a union petition and the schedule NLRB-supervised secret ballot election - a period of 30 to 45 days.

Elimination of the secret ballot and allowing union certification upon a card showing of greater that 50% will force employers to conduct employee education and assess vulnerabilities in advance of union organizing actions. Some businesses mistakenly believe that employee interest in unions revolves around promises of higher pay and better benefits. Quite to the contrary, most studies on employee motivation for union membership conclude that non-economic concerns are the chief motivators for union membership. Most workers think that unions can get them "a greater say in the workplace." The attitude translates to issues like job security, effectiveness of supervisors, and involvement in workplace decisions. Unionization is not all about the money; it is about workers being "engaged." Disengagement can mean unionization.

Employee Surveys are one of the better ways to conduct systematic and regular assessment of employee attitudes about a whole host of important workplace matters.   Business may be skeptical about the benefits of Employee Surveys and what they can find out about a workplace. Today's Employee Survey are customized to the employer. They can assess an employee's attitudes on various subjects and correlate data by department. business location, etc. Often the survey can identify an issue or supervisory relationship that needs management attention. Survey results can also be benchmarked with comparable businesses.

Designing an effective survey requires collaboration with an expert to tailor the survey to the business and assistance in interpreting the survey data. Success Performance Solutions designs, conducts and evaluates employee surveys for companies in a wide variety of industries. I asked Dr. Ira S. Wolfe, for his thoughts on the EFCA and employee surveys. His comments are as follows:

 

At this point it is important to differentiate between employee satisfaction surveys and engagement surveys. The terms “employee engagement” and “employee satisfaction” means different things to different people. In its simplest form, satisfaction means employers are not doing anything to anger employees. That’s good information to know but not nearly enough to retain employees, no less head off any attempt to unionize employees.

Employee engagement, on the other hand, is a complex equation that reflects each individual’s unique, personal relationship with work. BlessingWhite, in its 2008 State of Employee Engagement study, describes the engaged employee as not just committed, not just passionate or proud, but having a line-of-sight on their own future AND on the organization’s mission and goals. “They are ‘enthused’ and ‘in gear’ using their talents and discretionary effort to make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success (The State of Employee Engagement 2008, p.1).

Unfortunately for North American employees, fewer than 1 in 3 employees (29%) are fully engaged. Nineteen percent are actually disengaged. Many managers think “yea, yea, yea. What’s the big deal?”

Continue Reading...

Separation Agreements: Benchmarking Severance Pay Amounts

Reductions in Force, Layoffs, Downsizing, Rightsizing or whatever you may call it is occurring with greater frequency as the economic conditions continue to deteriorate. The business objects are reducing costs, preserving talent, treating separated employee with compassion and avoiding litigation. The compassion and litigation avoidance may go hand in glove.

The most prevalent litigation avoidance strategy is getting a release from separated employees for which a company pays severance and provides other benefits. Some companies pay severance without requiring a release and others pay enhanced severance if the employee releases claims.

I frequently get asked how much severance is appropriate. There is no right answer to this question, but depends on a myriad of factors including the size of the company, its financial condition, the number and positions of employees being released, the tenure of the employees and the risk of litigation.

Ann Bares at Compensation Force has a post that notes Global and US Severance Pay Benchmarks. There is a caveat on the international benchmark information. Severance pay is mandated by some governments outside the United States including Canada and many European countries. The amount of mandated severance varies depending sometimes on age, years of service and the reason for separation. Also missing from the analysis might be unemployment benefits received by US employees. As usual, it is not an "apples-to-apples" comparison.

Also keep in mind that releases of employment-related claims should be reviewed by legal counsel.

Avoid Wage & Hour Problems from Year End Bonus Payments to Hourly Employees

Many employers traditionally provide year end bonuses and holiday gifts for their employees. Bonuses may be included in a nonexempt employee’s regular rate depending upon the manner in which the bonus is calculated and the company’s prior communication. Inclusion in the regular rate impacts overtime calculations and payments.

Bonuses paid to nonexempt employees are included in the determination of the employees’ regular rate under section 778.208 unless the bonus falls into one of several exceptions. The bonuses are allocated to the pay period and added to other wages paid to nonexempt employees and then divided by the hours worked for the same period to determine the new regular rate under the methodology described in section 778.209. For bonuses earned over more than one work week, the bonus must be allocated to pay periods to which the bonus applies and the regular rate recalculated. If overtime was worked during this period, the overtime rate must be revised to be time and a half the recalculated regular rate that includes the bonus payment. This is a nightmare.

 

Department of Labor regulations provide for several exclusions. Among these excludable bonus payments are discretionary bonuses, gifts and payments in the nature of gifts on special occasions, contributions by the employer to certain welfare plans and payments made by the employer pursuant to certain profit-sharing, thrift and savings plans. These exemptions are discussed in Section 778.211 Discretionary Bonuses, Section 778.212 Gifts and Holiday Bonuses, Section 778.213 Qualified Profit Sharing and Savings Plans, and Section  778.214 Other Qualified Plans.  Bonuses which do not qualify for exclusion from the regular rate as one of these types must be totaled in with other earnings to determine the regular rate on which overtime pay must be based.

 

Typically any bonus announced in advance and tied to work performance, hours or other productivity will not qualify for an exemption.  There three ways to manage the recalculation problem, other than utilizing qualified plans:

 

1.  Holiday Bonuses: The Holiday Gift and Bonus exemption under section 778.212 allows for the exclusion from calculation of an employees “regular rate” of pay “sums paid as gifts; payments in the nature of gifts made at Christmas time or on other special occasions, as a reward for service, the amounts of which are not measured by or dependent upon hours worked, production, or efficiency…”   The following sets forth some of the parameters of the exclusion:

If the bonus paid at Christmas or on other special occasion is a gift or in the nature of a gift, it may be excluded from the regular rate under section 7(e)(1) even though it is paid with regularity so that the employees are led to expect it and even though the amounts paid to different employees or groups of employees vary with the amount of the salary or regular hourly rate of such employees or according to their length of service with the firm so long as the amounts are not measured  by or directly dependent upon hours worked, production, or efficiency. A Christmas bonus paid (not pursuant to contract) in the amount of two weeks' salary to all employees and an equal additional amount for each 5 years of service with the firm, for example, would be excludable from the regular rate under this category.

 

2.  Discretionary Bonuses: This is an area of DOL audit scrutiny and should not be used on a regular or aggressive basis. Truly discretionary bonuses are not included in the regular rate of pay under section 778.211, if both the fact that payment is to be made and the amount of the payment are determined at the sole discretion of the employer at or near the end of the period and not pursuant to any prior contract, agreement, or promise causing the employee to expect such payments regularly. The following sets forth some of the parameters of the exclusion:

For example, any bonus which is promised to employees upon hiring or which is the result of collective bargaining would not be excluded from the regular rate under this provision of the Act. Bonuses which are announced to employees to induce them to work more steadily or more rapidly or more efficiently or to remain with the firm are regarded as part of the regular rate of pay. Attendance bonuses, individual or group production bonuses, bonuses for quality and accuracy of work, bonuses contingent upon the employee's continuing in employment until the time the payment is to be made and the like are in this category. They must be included in the regular rate of pay.

 

3.  Percentage Total Earnings Bonus: Bonuses based on a percentage of the nonexempt employee’s total earnings under section 778.210 do not result in a recalculation of the regular rate because overtime is already been accounted for in the calculation.   Under this method, the bonus is described as a percentage of the nonexempt employee’s total (W-2) earnings, thereby including both regular and overtime payments and obviating the need for recalculation of the regular rate.

 

The Ohio Employer's Law Blog is also a great resource on this topic.

Final FMLA Regulations issued with an Effective Date of January 16, 2009

The Department of Labor issued 762 pages of regulations covering the FMLA. . As expected, 2009 will be a busy year for Human Resources Professionals because of compliance and legislative changes.  The following is a brief summary of the regulatory changes:

Military Caregiver Leave: Implements the expanded FMLA protections for family members caring for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness incurred in the line of duty on active duty. These family members are able to take up to 26 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period.
Leave for Qualifying Exigencies for Families of National Guard and Reserves: The expanded FMLA protections allow families of National Guard and Reserve personnel on active duty to take FMLA job-protected leave to manage their affairs — "qualifying exigencies." The rule defines "qualifying exigencies" as: (1) short-notice deployment (2) military events and related activities (3) childcare and school activities (4) financial and legal arrangements (5) counseling (6) rest and recuperation (7) post-deployment activities and (8) additional activities where the employer and employee agree to the leave.
The Ragsdale Decision/Penalties: The updated rule contains technical changes to be consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Ragsdale v. Wolverine World Wide Inc. The court ruled that the regulation's so-called "categorical" penalty (requiring an employer to provide 12 additional weeks of FMLA-protected leave after the employee had already taken 30 weeks of leave) was inconsistent with the statutory limit of only 12 weeks of FMLA leave and contrary to the law's remedial requirement that an employee demonstrate individual harm. The new rule removes these penalties and clarifies that if an employee suffers individual harm because the employer did not follow the notification rules, the employer may be liable for the leave and penalties.
Waiver of Rights: Employees may voluntarily settle their FMLA claims without court or DOL approval. However, prospective waivers of FMLA rights are prohibited.
Serious Health Condition: The six individual definitions of "serious health condition," are continued with guidance on their implementation. First, the rules clarify that if an employee is taking leave involving more than three consecutive calendar days of incapacity plus two visits to a health care provider, the two visits must occur within 30 days of the period of incapacity. Second, they define "periodic visits to a health care provider" for chronic serious health conditions as at least two visits to a health care provider per year.
Light Duty: Time spent in "light duty" work does not count against an employee's FMLA leave entitlement, and the employee's right to job restoration is held in abeyance during the light duty period. If an employee is voluntarily doing light duty work, he or she is not on FMLA leave.
Perfect Attendance Awards: Companies need not grant a "perfect attendance" award to an employee who does not have perfect attendance because he or she took FMLA leave — but only if the employer treats employees taking non-FMLA leave in an identical way.
Employer Notice Obligations: All employer notice requirements into a "one-stop" section of the regulations to clear up some conflicting provisions and time periods. Further, the final rule clarifies and strengthens the employer notice requirements to employees in order that employers will better inform employees about their FMLA rights and obligations, and allow for a smoother exchange of information between employers and employees.
Employee Notice: Employee must follow the employer's normal and customary call-in procedures, unless there are unusual circumstances. The final rule modifies the current provision that had been interpreted to allow some employees to notify their employers of their need for FMLA leave up to two full business days after an absence, even if they could provide notice sooner.
Medical Certification Process (Content and Clarification): The rule limits who may contact the health care provider and bans an employee's direct supervisor from making the contact. The rule address the requirements of HIPAA's medical privacy rule to communications between employers and employees' health care providers.
 

 

E-Verify Final Regulations Issued Requiring Government Contractors and Subcontractors to Verify Employment for New and Existing Employees who Perform Contract Work

Federal government contractors and subcontractors will be required to begin using the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ E-Verify system starting Jan. 15, 2009 (now 5/21/09), to verify their employees’ eligibility to legally work in the United States.  The Civilian Agency Acquisition Council and the Defense Acquisition Regulations Council amended the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to reflect this change.  E-Verify must be used to verify all new employees and all employees who work on the covered government contract unless the employees were previously verified or commenced work for the employer before the June 6, 1986 the effective date of the Immigration Reform and Control Act.  Contract Officers will insert clauses in new contracts and solicitations.  In addition, certain existing government contracts may be amended to include the requirements.

E-verify provisions on covered contracts apply to all government contractors and subcontractors with limited exceptions detailed in the final regulations. Each covered contractor and subcontractor must: 

  • Enroll in the E-Verify Program within 30 days of the award of a contract, if not already enrolled.
  • Those employers already enrolled in E-Verify for 90 days as of the effective date of the new regulations must verify all new employees with 3 days of hire.
  • Those employers not enrolled in E-Verify must begin to verify all new employees within 90 calendar days of E-Verify enrollment whether or not such employee performs work on the government contract or subcontract within 3 days of the date of hire.
  • Verify each existing employee assigned to the contract within the later of 90 calendar days of E-Verify enrollment or 30 calendar days after the employee's assignment to the contract
  • Employees previously verified through E-Verify are exempt.
  • Elect to verify all employees hired after June 6, 1986 whether or not assigned to the contract.
  • The phrase “employee assigned to the contract” refers to individuals who were hired after June 6, 1986 who are “directly performing work under the contract,” and to exclude employees who normally perform support work, or who do not perform any substantial duties applicable to an individual contract.
  • Subcontracts must include a clause requiring compliance by the subcontractor.
  • A new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will be published shortly.

The Final Regulations are summarized by the Office of Acquisition Policy and appear on the DHS website with a Small Entity Compliance Guide.

Final Regulations in .pdf: FAR Employment Eligibility Verification

DHS Website: Frequently Asked Questions: Federal Contractors and E-Verify

 

UPDATE:  Mandatory use of E-Verify for Government Contractors delayed again to May 21, 2009

Will Your Employees be some of the 5 million Workers Unions expect to add to their Membership under the Employee Free Choice Act?

Change is coming to Washington and to America's workplaces. President Elect Obama launched a new website Change.gov where he explains his labor agenda which included passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. The Obama Administration's transition views are summarized at the Connecticut Employment Law Blog.
Unions are on board too. After their push for Obama, Unions seek new rules for organizing workforces through the EFCA, as observed by Steve Greenhouse of the NYTimes:

With union membership sliding to 7.5 percent of the private-sector work force, one-third the rate in 1983, unions see enactment of the bill as the single most important step toward reversing their loss of membership and power. Some labor leaders predict that if the bill is passed, unions, which have 16 million members nationwide, would add at least five million workers to their rolls over the next few years.

The impact of the EFCA will be monumental so we will be dedicating a lot of blog time to this topic. Look for future posts in the following areas:

  • Nuts and Bolts of EFCA: examines the specifics of the proposed legislation.
  • Employer's Guide to Authorization Cards: looks in detail at authorization cards, their legal significance and how they are solicited by unions.
  • Identifying and Training Supervisors to Maintain your Union-Free Status: outlines the role of supervisors in disseminating the employer's message including the impact of the RESPECT Act.
  • Employee Engagement Surveys as a Tool to Combat Union Organizing: keeping your finger on the pulse of employee.
  • Becoming Politically Active in Response to EFCA: making your business's voice heard in Washington and particularly by the one Republican Senator, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who has co-sponsored the EFCA.
  • How to Avoid Unfair Labor Practices when you are an Organizing Target: negotiating the legal landscape of traditional labor law.

 

Employer's Strategic Planning for an Obama Administration

President-Elect Obama told his hometown crowd that "Change has come to America." Through his election speeches, website and co-sponsorship of Senate Bills there is a road map of what changes will likely be coming to the American workplace.

Employers would be well served by examining the impact of likely legislation on their business and planning accordingly. The most significant changes will likely come from the Employee Free Choice Act  and RESPECT ACT which will reshape union organizing. The building trades, healthcare, and manufacturing will be the first to feel the effects, but so will business that were not traditionally union targets like financial services.  The balance of Senator Obama's legislative agenda involves expanding existing areas of employment protection through the Paycheck Fairness Act, Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Prior posts have summarized the content of these bills and their impact on the workplace. In the coming weeks, we will provide more extensive guidance on planning to meet the changes posed by these and other legislative initiatives.

Related Posts:
Employer's Guide to the Election
Obama Victory may give rise to Unprecedented Unionization of the American Workplace

Bosses do not Deserve RESPECT
 

Injunction "No-Match" for DHS Rulemaking

On October 23, 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an advance copy of its supplemental final no-match safe harbor regulation initially issued in August 2007. The original regulation was set to take effect in September 2007 but was enjoined by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The revised regulation is expected to be published in the Federal Register any day, and will take effect immediately. Of course, it is possible (even likely) that another lawsuit may be filed seeking to block this final regulation.

While the substance of the regulation has not changed, DHS did address the two main concerns that lead the court to enjoin the original regulation. First, the preamble of the new regulation clarifies that employers will be considered to have constructive knowledge only if they receive a no-match letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA). That is, DHS will not impute constructive knowledge based on any other communication from the SSA. Second, DHS explained that it would not take action based on no-match letters involving employees hired before November 6, 1986 (the date the Immigration Reform and Control Act was enacted).

The revised regulation outlines the steps an employer must take in order to benefit from a “safe harbor” if the employee named in a no-match letter turns out to be an unauthorized worker. Upon receipt of a no-match letter, the employer should check internal records and either make appropriate corrections or ask the employee to correct the discrepancy within 90 days. Once the discrepancy is resolved, the employer should update the relevant I-9 paperwork and notify agencies of the correction. If the discrepancy cannot be resolved within 90 days, the employer must complete a new I-9 form for the employee by the 93rd day. In completing this new I-9, the employer may not accept any document with the social security number contained in the no-match letter. In addition, the new verification document must include a photo. If the employer is still unable to verify the identity and employment authorization of the employee, the safest course of action is to terminate the employee, or risk facing charges.

Employers should develop and implement a policy to ensure compliance with the process described in our August 2007 Employer Alert. Employers should note, however, that no-match letters were not issued in 2007 and will most likely not be issued in 2008.

Obama Victory may give rise to Unprecedented Unionization of the American Workplace

Union membership and the public perception of the role of labor unions are relatively unchanged in recent years. Union membership was up only slightly in 2007 based on a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Department of Labor, which published the following statistics on union membership:

     Percentage of unionized workforce
     Total - 12.5%
     Public sector - 36.5%

     Private sector - 7.8%

Public perceptions of unions is also remained constant. An annually conducted Gallop Poll shows a relatively constant union approval rating hovering around 60%, with only 22% of those polled feeling that unions would be “stronger” in the future.

The 2008 Election may dramatically change the landscape of U.S. labor relations with a reinvigoration of organized labor. The following influence could align to compel unprecedented unionization:

  • Payback to Union Supporters: Democratic candidates received substantial support from organized labor both financially and in getting out the vote. This support will garner political power, which will likely translate into a pro-union legislative agenda.
  • Uncontested Legislative Agenda: Senator Obama is the cosponsor of the EFCA and RESPECT Act both of which are strongly supported by unions. A Democratic majority in the House and Senate will pave the way for an uncontested legislative agenda that will likely include these laws. Republicans could be unable to slow the process down using a “filibuster” if the Democrats secure a 60-seat majority in the Senate to invoke cloture on floor debates.
  • Economic Woes: The economy downturn will continue to hurt businesses making necessary reductions in force, smaller paychecks and other cuts in benefits. The promises of job security and better wages are typical union themes. Nervous workers may turn to unions for help.  Traditionally, unions were forced to the bargaining table where strikes were their primary weapon to put economic pressure on an employer. The historic economic balance between unions and employers will be upset by passage of the EFCA, which mandates arbitrator-crafted contracts within 120 days after initial union recognition.
  • Unprepared Employers: Passage or the RESPECT Act and the EFCA would be a one-two punch for which many employers will be grossly unprepared. RESPECT would make many working supervisors eligible to unionize and to assist a union in collecting cards and other organizing activities. Employers would be unable to use these working supervisors as advocates for their union-free message or to collect intelligence on organizing activities. The EFCA would eliminate the secret ballot and mandate first contracts through arbitration.

 

Prohibition of Excessive Overtime in Health Care Act will Exacerbate Nursing Shortage

Clinical staffing problems for Pennsylvania healthcare facilities created by shortages of nursing professionals will be greatly exacerbated by a new law prohibiting mandatory overtime for employees engaged in direct patient care. The Commonwealth is already facing a nursing shortage, which is growing worse. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Pennsylvania health care providers will experience a 41 percent vacancy rate in nursing positions by the year 2020, requiring more than 54,000 nurses to provide adequate patient care. Restrictions on the amount of work time for an already short labor pool will likely increase problems.

The Prohibition on Excessive Overtime in Health Care Act becomes effective on July 1, 2009. Health care facilities covered by the law include hospitals, ASCs, hospices, long-term care facilities and other inpatient facilities, but it excludes private physician offices and group practices. Employees protected by the law include all nonsupervisory employees involved in direct patient care activities or clinical services, including individuals employed through a temporary service or employment agency. Physicians, physician’s assistants, dentists, and job classes with no direct patient care are excluded from the overtime limitations.

 

A health care facility cannot compel a protected employee to work more than an agreed to, predetermined and regular daily shift exclusive of “on call” time, unless one of the following exceptions applies:

(1)     the employee voluntarily agrees;

(2)     there is an unforeseen emergent circumstance but as a “last resort”, after exhausting other staffing options and giving the employee one hour arrange for family care alternatives;

(3)     the extended work is required to complete a patient care procedure already in progress, but only if the employee’s departure would have an adverse effect on the patient.

 

Employers are permitted to have agreed upon, predetermined and regular shifts greater than 8 hours; however, an employee who volunteers to work more than 12 consecutive hours shall be entitled to 10 hours off duty but may waive the entitlement. Employers may not retaliate against employees who refuse to accept work in excess of the limits. Employers who violate the law are subject to fines ranging from $100 to $1000 per violation.

 

The Department of Labor and Industry is to develop regulations within 18 months.  The law received modest press as it was signed by the Governor along with 31 other pieces of legislation.

Employer's Guide to the Election

The election rhetoric has been relatively quiet on employment-related topics, except for the brief mention in the last debate. Candidate Obama has a clear agenda employment legislation based on his co-sponsorship of various bills and other media comments. Candidate McCain’s position is less clear. Detailed below is a summary of the key legislative initiatives considered by Congress in 2008, all of which have passed the House of Representatives except the RESPECT Act.

Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800 and S. 1041)

Summary:  The EFCA amends the NLRA to change the procedures for union certification and first contract negotiation. The primary components of the act are as follows:

  • Allows NLRB certification of a relevant bargaining unit upon authorization card showing from 50% plus one of employees bypassing secret ballot election.
  • Mandates initial collective bargaining contract be negotiated within 120 days or first contract is produced by an arbitrator covering employees for 2 years.
  • Provides new fines for employer unfair labor practices.

Impact:   EFCA is a monumental change to the NLRA. Much has been made of the abrogation of the secret ballot election, but equally dramatic are the limitations placed on collective bargaining and contract determination by an arbitrator if no agreement is reached in 120 days of negotiations.   If enacted, EFCA will result in unprecedented organizing activity with employers losing their ability to demand an election and engage in hard bargaining over a first contract.

Candidate Positions:  H.R. 800 passed the House but did not receive enough votes for consideration by the Senate. Candidate Obama is a co-sponsor of the Senate Bill and supports its passage. Candidate McCain opposes the Senate Bill.

Prior Posts:  NOW is the Time for Employers to Gear up for the Employee Free Choice Act (Unions Are)

 

Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 3685/ no Senate Bill)

Summary:  ENDA adds sexual orientation to the protected classes under Title VII for all employers except religious organizations. It allows reasonable access to adequate facilities that are not inconsistent with the employee’s identified gender, but does not require domestic partner benefits or protect “gender identity”.

Impact:  ENDA adds a protected class to employment discrimination protections allowing compensatory and punitive damage claims against employers.     

Candidate Positions:  H.R. 3685 passed the House but did not receive enough votes for consideration by the Senate.  No legislative position by either candidate.   Candidate Obama’s website expresses support for the legislation.

 

Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 2831/ S. 1843)

Summary:  FPA overturns the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. effectively eliminating the 180 or 300-day statute of limitations for filing a wage-related discrimination claim. The bill allows family members and others affected by discrimination to file claims and reinstitutes the Paycheck Rule for determining when a claim accrues. It also allows claims based on paychecks and annuity payments which would allow retirees to bring claims.

Impact:  FPA virtually eliminates the statute of limitations for wage-related claims.

Candidate Positions:  H.R. 2831 passed the House but did not receive enough votes for consideration by the Senate.  Candidate Obama is a cosponsor of the Bill. Candidate McCain has expressed no opinion on the Bill.

 

Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1338/ S. 766)

Summary:  PFA changes the burden of proof in gender based pay claims requiring the employer to affirmatively demonstrate that any pay differential is not based on sex. Employers who cannot meet this burden face unlimited compensatory and punitive damages. The EEOC would be required to collect employer payroll information based on sex, race, and national origin thereby targeting its enforcement activities. The Bill also changed rules on class actions automatically including employees in such claims unless they specifically opt out.

Impact:  PFA subjects employers to wage related class actions with unlimited damages and makes it easier for employees to prove such claims.

Candidate Positions:  H.R. 1338 passed the House but did not receive enough votes for consideration by the Senate.  Candidate Obama is a cosponsor of the Bill. Candidate McCain has not taken any position on the Bill.

 

RESPECT ACT (H.R. 1644/ S. 969)

Summary:  The so-called Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradesworkers (RESPECT) Act would change the NLRA definition of “supervisor” to exclude “working supervisors” who do not spend a majority of their worktime in strictly managerial duties excluding the tradition duties of assigning work and directing the activities of others.

Impact:  Respect would allow many working or front line supervisors to join a union dividing their loyalties to the company, as they would be permitted to assist in the unionization of the company.

Candidate Positions:  Candidate Obama is a cosponsor of the bill and Candidate McCain has taken no position on the Bill.

Prior Posts: Bosses do not Deserve RESPECT

 

If there is a Democratically-controlled House, Senate, and President, it is likely that some or all of the above legislation will be enacted in 2009. Others have commented on the HR landscape following the election:

What The Future of HR Looks Like in 2009

Small business owner’s guide to the election

Criminal Background Checks - Act 73's Impact on Pennsylvania Employers

Employers engaging in business where employees have “significant likelihood of regular contact with children” should be paying close attention to the amendments to Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Act, also know as Act 73. Act 73 became effective on July 1, 2008, and has taken many employers off guard.

Act 73 expands criminal background check requirements under the Child Protective Services Act beyond its traditional scope, which included employees engaging in child care professions, adoptive parents and foster families. Now, “prospective employees applying to engage in occupations with a significant likelihood of regular contact with children, in the form of care, guidance, supervision or training” must also undergo criminal background checks prior to being employed. Examples of such prospective employees identified by Act 73 include, social service workers, hospital personnel, mental health professionals, members of the clergy, counselors, librarians and doctors. 

What background checks are required for covered prospective employees? A Pennsylvania criminal background check, a Department of Public Welfare clearance and a report of Federal criminal history record information verified by a fingerprint check.   The Federal fingerprint check is new. Applicants with founded reports of child abuse during the five-year period preceding their application are ineligible to be hired. Applicants with any state or Federal convictions related to certain crimes (e.g. homicide, rape, indecent exposure and corruption of minors) are also ineligible to be hired. 

Act 73 is creating some headaches for employers in a couple of areas. The Act’s general statement concerning “significant likelihood of regular contact with children” is not further defined and there are no anticipated regulations coming to give further guidance to employers. Employers, such as hospitals, that provide services to children and adults are struggling to define what employees fall within Act 73’s requirements. For example, housekeeping and environmental services employees may have contact with children simply by being present in the hospital, although childcare is not part of their job.

 

Another area causing difficulty for employers is the new requirement of a Federal background fingerprint check. Employees are initially responsible for obtaining the Federal background check. These checks can take upwards of sixty days and many applicants are simply unaware of the new requirements at the time they apply. The result has been difficulty in filling needed positions quickly. Employers are permitted to hire employees on a provisional basis provided that the employee provides proof of application for a Federal background check. Provisional hiring periods for in-state applicants cannot exceed 30 days. The period is 90 days for out of state applicants.

 

Employers should approach Act 73 with an abundance of caution, especially in light of its potentially broad reach. Intentional failure of a person to obtain necessary background checks from a covered applicant is a misdemeanor of the third degree.

Paul Newman: A Lesson in Leadership from Butch Cassidy

Let’s take a moment to honor this cinematic legend while examining the dynamics of leadership that exist in all organizations whether it's corporate America or in this case the Hole in the Wall Gang.

In this classic flick, Butch is an absentee leader with no succession plan. He is challenged by one of his subordinates for leadership of the gang.  Butch leads the gang through his dominant intellect and control over the gang’s star member -  the Sundance Kid a.k.a. Robert Redford. Here are some of Butch’s leadership shortcomings:

 

Assuming his Leadership won’t be Challenged

Butch is surprised when his leadership is challenged, but reminded by a gang member that “you always said that any one of us could challenge you Butch.”  Butch responds, “That’s cause I figured no one would do it."  The challenger responds, ”You figured wrong Butch.”

 

Losing Touch with his Team and then making Excuses 

There is support for the challenge when one gang member says “ Well at least [the leadership challenger] is with us… you have been spending a lot of time gone.” Butch makes his excuse in that “everything is different now… it’s harder now…you have to plan more....”

 

No Succession Plan

Butch has no succession plan creating a leadership vacuum where the rules are unclear. The ensuing battle is won only by Butch’s quick thinking and fancy footwork.  Ultimately, he must profess to the gang that there are no rules.

 

Retailating against those who Oppose him

Butch tells Sundance Kid that he doen't mean to be a sore loser, but it the fight is done, and he's dead, kill his successor.

 

Here is the full scene. Your comments on leadership are welcome.

 

Transcript below:

Continue Reading...

Employer Dress Code Standards: "Neat, Clean and Professional" may not be Enough

The New York Times article Tattoos Gain Even More Visibility discusses the rising popularity of body art and challenges facing employers in regulating employee dress. The article focuses on tattoos but raises the larger issue of employer dress code standards and their challenges in terms of both employee retention and legal compliance.

Jon Hyman at the Ohio Employers Law Blog notes that Employment decisions based on tattoos are not discriminatory and I would add “per se”. In fact, most courts defer to an employer’s evaluation of dress standards focusing on whether the policy is discriminatory or fails to reasonably accommodate religious practices. For example, in Coulter v. Costco Wholesale Corp., a court determined that “Costco has made a determination that facial piercings, aside from earrings, detract from the "neat, clean and professional image" that it aims to cultivate. Such a business determination is within its discretion. As another court has explained, ‘Even assuming that the defendants' justification for the grooming standards amounted to nothing more than an appeal to customer preference, . . . it is not the law that customer preference is an insufficient justification as a matter of law.’"

Courts may not question the business reason for the dress code standard, but the application of the standard across the pool of applicants and employees is clearly, where discrimination can occur. Discrimination is more likely to occur where managers are called upon to subjectively evaluate compliance. As noted in the NYTimes article, “Defining what the courts in the Cloutier case called a “neat, clean and professional” workplace image becomes more challenging when you consider that in 2006, a Pew Research Center survey found that 36 percent of people age 18 to 25, and 40 percent of those age 26 to 40, have at least one tattoo.” The difficulty arises from both the prevalence of tattoos and the excessive subjectivity of the standard.

Human Resource Professionals and managers loathe their role as fashion policy, but the subjectivity of some dress code standards invites claims of discrimination. For example, an employer requires all applicants to have a “neat, clean and professional appearance”. If hiring managers are called upon to describe this qualification standard, it is likely that all will have different measures.  If the subjective dress standard disproportionately disqualifies applicants in a protected class, it may be challenged as discriminatory.

Kris Dunn at the HR Capitalist gives a great perspective on customer preference in his post  Your Employee's Tattoo Is Causing a Consumer Confidence Issue....John Phillips at The Word on Employment Law also comments on the subject in his post  Coming to Your Workplace: Visible Tattoos.

Managing Layoffs and Reductions in Force

As the economic meltdown cascades through the financial, banking and related sectors, many employers are planning staff cuts.  Selecting employees for lay off must be collaboration between managers and human resources. HR must be able to influence the process to reduce legal risks and assuage the anxiety of remaining employees:

Establishing Business Justification and Layoff Selection Criteria:

The business justification for the reduction in force or layoff must be established. The justification for layoff typically gives rise to the selection criteria. For example, if a large contract was lost, the production and support functions related to the lost contract will be the focus or the layoff.

Layoff decisions may be challenged under discrimination laws, so it is advisable to develop selection criteria that support the business reasons for selecting one employee over another. Unless dictated by union contract, employers have discretion in developing the selection criteria which can include factors like, seniority, relative skills, performance, and/or disciplinary record.  More than one factor may be used.

Forced Ranking Systems are sometimes utilized to rank employees against one another from the top down based on performance criteria. The subjectivity in forced ranking can be challenged as discriminatory unless uniformly and rationally applied.

Evaluating Impact of Selection Criteria including Bumping, Transfer and Recall Rights:

Once employees are identified for layoff, the results of the section criteria must be assessed in terms of disparate impact and other special circumstances. A disparate impact analysis should be conducted to assess whether the selection criteria have resulted in the disproportionate layoff of members of a protected class. Likewise, special circumstances should be evaluated such as employees with recent employment complaints, union activity, FMLA leaves, etc.  Consider documenting the final layoff decisions, but not the deliberations leading up to them.

Thought must be given to collateral job rights employees may have under employment policies and practices. Typical areas involve shift or department transfers, supervisor demotion in lieu of layoff, and voluntary layoffs. Likewise, the parameters of recall, if any, should be described.

WARNA Obligations:

Federal and state plant closing/mass layoff laws must be considered. Although Pennsylvania has no state law equivalent to WARNA, employers with multi-state operations must assess the application of such laws. Coverage under WARNA can be complex as it has look back rules which aggregate layoffs for determining triggering events. WARNA coverage will trigger the sixty-day notice period which has a tremendous impact on layoff planning raising issues of pay in lieu of notice, retention, and publicity.

Severance Benefits and Releases:

Careful consideration must be given to describing the benefit package, if any, offered to employees. If an employer is offering benefits that exceed those already provided by policy or mandated by law, it should consider obtaining a release. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) contains special rules for waivers of rights of claims of age discrimination including a 45-day consideration and seven-day revocation period for such releases. Furthermore, the ADEA contains informational requirements that mandate publication of summary of employee demographic information in connection with the release.

Communications Plan:

Effective communication is paramount in reducing employee legal claims and assuaging the anxiety of remaining employees. Everything that is said about the reasons for the layoff will be scrutinized in litigation. Consider scripting communications for group meetings and avoid individual discussions of the reason for selection. Large layoffs may generate news media interest for which a press release is a helpful way to influence the message.

 

UPDATE:

Jerry Kalish at the Retirement Plan Blog made a great observation about layoffs in his post Does a reduction in force or layoff beget a partial termination of a retirement plan?.  He refers to the IRS rules on partial termination of a retirement plan based on the significant reduction in plan participation resulting from the layoff.  IRS Guidance entitled 401(k) Resource Guide - Plan Participants - Plan Termination includes the following summary:

Although a 401(k) plan must be established with the intention of being continued indefinitely, an employer may (fully) terminate its 401(k) plan at its discretion. In certain cases, a partial plan termination is deemed to occur. Whether a partial termination occurs depends on the individual facts and circumstances of a given case. In general, a partial termination is deemed to occur when an employer-initiated action results in a significant decrease in plan participation. As an example, a partial termination may be deemed to occur when an employer reduces its workforce (and plan participation) by 20%.

ADA Amendments expand Disability Coverage

President Bush will sign legislation amending the Americans with Disabilities Act, which overwhelmingly passed through Congress. The ADA Amendments Act is designed to convey Congressional intent that “the primary object of attention in cases brought under the ADA should be whether entities covered under the ADA have complied with their obligations, and to convey that the question of whether an individual’s impairment is a disability under the ADA should not demand extensive analysis.”

The goal of expanding the coverage of the ADA is achieved by changing the definition of “disability” to:

  • Prohibit the consideration of measures that reduce or mitigate the impact of impairment—such as medication, prosthetics and assistive technology—in determining whether an individual has a disability under the law.
  • Cover workers whose employers discriminate against them based on a perception that the worker is impaired, regardless of whether the worker has a disability.
  • Clarify that the law provides broad coverage to protect anyone who faces discrimination on the basis of a disability.

Congress expressly reversed several Supreme Court decisions that restricted the scope of the ADA. Congress rejected the standard that ameliorative effects of mitigating measures must be considered in determining whether a person is disabled found in Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc. Congress also rebuked the Court in its restrictive interpretation of “disability” by rejecting the terms “substantially limits ” and “significantly restricted” because the terms as outlined in Toyota Motor Mfg, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams are too narrow.

 

The ADA amendments will  refocus disability discrimination lawsuits downplaying the examination of whether an employee meets the definition of disability.  Daniel Schwartz of the Connecticut Employment Law Blog discusses the practical impacts.

How a Company's Bankruptcy impacts Employees may depend upon Strategic Communication

Lehman Brothers, a 158-year-old investment bank choked by the credit crisis and falling real estate values, filed for Chapter 11 protection in the biggest bankruptcy filing ever on Monday, putting its 25,000 employees worldwide on the unemployment lines or waiting for a selloff to another company. Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing allows a company to restructure its debt and contracts. The restructuring process has many impacts on employees including the following:

  • All equity-based compensation may be worthless. Employee stock options, ESOP holdings, Stock Appreciation Rights and other compensation and incentives tied to the value of the company’s stock may have no value or minimal value once the company emerges from bankruptcy. Lehman Brothers employees owned a large share of the company through its ESOP.
  • Company 401k matches made in company stock may also be worthless.  Employees can take a big hit to their retirement accounts when the company matches 401k contributions with its own stock.
  • Employment and union contracts may be voidable.
  • Employees may lose their jobs through downsizing and reorganization of the company.
  • Remaining employees may be poached by competitors or leave because of the uncertainty created by the bankruptcy.

Given the uncertainty created by a bankruptcy filing, Human Resources must communicate with employees concerning their future with the company. Matthew Angello is Founder and Principal at Bright Tree Consulting Group (www.brighttreecg.com) a leadership coaching and consulting company located in Lancaster, PA.   Matt has a wealth of experience in the strategic importance of communication and his commentary is as follows:

 

Having experienced leading an organization through Chapter 11 when I was the head of HR for Armstrong World Industries, I can personally attest to the power of regular and strategic communication with employees. In my current practice, I coach CEOs and other senior executives of the importance of communication, even to the extent that I call them the CCO (Chief Communication Officer).

 

In bankruptcy, the communication “ante is upped” by an order of magnitude. Even in normal business conditions, an information vacuum leads employees to “fill in the blanks” regarding the direction and vitality of the business, leading to loss of focus and compromised results. In bankruptcy, because the stakes are so high, information voids take on a more insidious nature as the workforce becomes fixated on the “rumor du jour” as opposed to those activities that are necessary to drive results (and ultimately facilitate the best outcome for all stakeholders).

 

Like any other successful aspect of the business, communication (especially during bankruptcy) must be strategic, planned, targeted and implemented. Informal channels cannot be relied upon during bankruptcy because the specific and technical content of the communication is vitally important. Put a plan together that includes regular written updates to employees, postings on the company intra-net (if you have one), and most importantly, regular briefings from the CEO (face to face or video presentations). The strategic communication plan should govern the frequency of the various forms of communication. I strongly advise that no more than a one-month interval between formal written communication and three months between all employee meetings. Even if there is little “new news” to report, these tools will be highly effective at blunting the “mis-information superhighway” that is prone to develop in a company in financial distress.

Managing a Business and its Employees in Financial Crisis Requires Communication from HR

The specter of business failure and personal financial setbacks wreak havoc on employee morale challenging Human Resources with dual management problems. First, HR needs to formulate a communication strategy to address the concerns of employees surrounding job security and compensation. Employee jitters surround the viability of their employer and the security of their jobs. Retirement savings evaporate as the stock market plummets leading some to forego matching 401k contributions. Compensation packages and incentives tied to stock continue their downward spiral. Wordsmith the message that the CFO might send out: “They are lucky to have a job.”

Second, HR must manage the collateral effects of an employee’s personal financial problems, which can lead to bankruptcy, foreclosure and even divorce, any of which may influence his or her job and job performance. Businesses must be prepared to respond to employee performance issues created by financial problems. Employers should be aware of legal limitations placed on their actions with regard to an employee’s financial problems. In addition, human resource professionals should appreciate the relationship between their performance management program and other resources to address employee issues created by financial distress.

 

Pennsylvania and federal laws limit actions employers may take against employees that file for bankruptcy or are subject to wage attachments. Many employers, particularly those in the financial sector, face customer relation problems when one of their employees does not pay his or her bills or files for bankruptcy. Legal limitations on employer responses are as follows:

  • Garnishment/Attachment of Wages. Pennsylvania prohibits garnishment/attachment of wages for the repayment of personal debts, except in limited circumstances for child support, alimony or student loans.   Employees may not be disciplined, discriminated against or discharged because of wage garnishments.
  • Employee BankruptcySection 575 of the Bankruptcy Act protects employees and applicants from discrimination if an individual:(1) is or has been a debtor under this title or a debtor or bankrupt under the Act; (2) has been insolvent before the commencement of a case under the Act or during the case but before the grant or denial of a discharge; or (3) has not paid a debt that is dischargeable in a case under this title or that was discharged under the Act. Courts have limited the reach of this provision by requiring that the discrimination be "solely because" of the individual's bankruptcy participation.
  • Worries about Temptation for Theft. Businesses may become concerned that an employee in financial distress may be more likely to embezzle and react by trying to find out the scope of an employee’s credit problems. The Fair Credit Reporting Act limits an employer’s use of employee credit information. A business’ usual financial controls should be uniformly applied, but, if inadequate, should be revised for all employees.

Employees experience financial distress are subject to performance problems including declining productivity, absenteeism and depression.  The usual performance management tools can be used: however, special attention should be paid to other resources like the EAP and Debt/Credit counseling.

 

EEOC Guidance Addresses Employee Performance and Conduct Issues Under the ADA

On September 3, 2008, the EEOC issued "a comprehensive question-and-answer guide addressing how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to a wide variety of performance and conduct issues."  The guidance contains a brief introductory section that includes some general legal requirements and definitions and then sets forth 30 questions and answers on various ADA-related subjects, including performance, conduct, and attendance issues, dress codes, drug and alcohol use, and confidentiality. Included within the EEOC's answers are numerous points of generally applicable "practical guidance."

The EEOC's new guide does not have the legal effect of federal regulations or change the ADA's existing accommodation and discrimination requirements. It does, however, contain a useful resource on an often difficult and complicated issue, namely what to do when an employee's performance or conduct problems may be, or are, caused by a disability. Among the guidance provided by the EEOC are the following:

 

Job Performance

 

  • An employee with a disability may be required to meet the same production standards, whether quantitative or qualitative, as a non-disabled employee in the same job. Lowering or changing a production standard because an employee cannot meet it due to a disability is not considered a reasonable accommodation.  However, a reasonable accommodation may be required to assist an employee in meeting a specific production standard.
  • An employer should evaluate the job performance of an employee with a disability the same way it evaluates any other employee’s performance.
  • If an employer gives a lower performance rating to an employee, and the employee responds by revealing she has a disability that is causing the performance problem, the employer still may give the lower rating. If the employee states that her disability is the cause of the performance problem, the employer should follow up by making clear what level of performance is required and asking why the employee believes the disability is affecting performance. If the employee does not ask for an accommodation, the employer may ask whether there is an accommodation that may help raise the employee’s performance level.
  • Ideally, employees will request reasonable accommodation before performance problems arise, or at least before they become too serious. Although the ADA does not require employees to ask for an accommodation at a specific time, the timing of a request for reasonable accommodation is important, because an employer does not have to rescind discipline (including a termination) or an evaluation warranted by poor performance.

Conduct Problems

 

  • If an employee’s disability does not cause the misconduct, an employer may hold the individual to the same conduct standards that it applies to all other employees. In most instances, an employee’s disability will not be relevant to any conduct violations.
  • If an employee’s disability causes a violation of a conduct rule, the employer may discipline the individual, if the conduct rule is job-related and consistent with business necessity and other employees are held to the same standard. The ADA does not protect employees from the consequences of violating conduct requirements, even where the conduct is caused by the disability.

Attendance

  • An employer may have to modify its attendance policies for employees with a disability as a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship.
  • Although employers may have to grant extended medical leave as a reasonaable accommodiation, they have no obligation to provide leave of indefinite duration.  Granting indefinite leave, like frequent and unpredictable request for leave, can impose an undue hardship on an employer's operations.

Business Websites Face Americans with Disabilities Act Accommodations Claims

Target Corp. has agreed to pay $6 million in damages to plaintiffs in California unable to use its online site as part of a class action settlement with the National Federation of the Blind. The issue centers on the Americans with Disabilities Act’s requirements that retailers and other public places to make accommodations for people with disabilities. Target had argued that the ADA covered only physical spaces. The California court held that the ADA covers an online retailer’s website. Websites can be made more accessible through screen-reading software that converts text into speech for visually impaired access. The court certified the case as a class action before it settled.

The case has important implications for retailers who may now face class action lawsuits. Employers that rely on a web-based application and recruiting processes should also examine their websites for compliance with the ADA’s employment provisions which require accessibility and accommodation in the hiring process.   A recent OFCCP Directive sets forth the agency's policy on review of employer websites where applications are solicited:

Effective immediately, all compliance evaluations shall include a review of the contractor's online application systems to ensure that the contractor is providing equal opportunity to qualified individuals with disabilities and disabled veterans. The review should include whether the contractor is providing reasonable accommodation, when requested, unless such accommodation would cause an undue hardship. In this directive, the term "online system" shall include, but not be limited to, all electronic or web-based systems that the contractor uses in all of its personnel activities.

Benchmarking against the Federal Government's EEO Performance

The EEOC released its Annual Report on the Federal Workforce for Fiscal Year 2007 (period October 2006 to September 2007).  For those employers who may be benchmarking against the federal government, it seems to me that the government performs at a level that the EEOC would never accept from other employers. Here is a sampling of report’s findings:

·         The federal government employs almost 2.6 million workers of which 56.8% are men and 43.2% are women.

·         The federal workforce’s demographic composition is 7.8% Hispanic or Latino; 65.8% White; 18.4% Black or African American; 6% Asian; 0.2% Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander, 1.7% American Indian/Alaskan Native; and 0.2% reported 2 or more races.

·         Hispanic or Latinos, Whites, women and persons of Two or More Races remained below their overall availability in the national civilian labor force, as reported in the 2000 census (CLF).  Black or African Americans, Asians, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders, American Indian/Alaska Natives and men remained above their overall availability in the CLF.

·         Federal employees and applicants filed 16,363 complaints alleging discrimination.

·         Unlawful discrimination was found in 2.8% of the 7,673 cases that were closed on the merits.

·         85% of federal agencies provided their EEO staff with required training.

·         58% of federal agencies have an Anti-Harassment Policy.

The good news is that the government is evaluating its EEO performance and publishing the results.

Drinking Establishment Exemption Process Detailed by PA Dept of Health

The Department of Health (DOH) released additional Guidance and an application for an exemption for drinking establishments, cigar bars, and tobacco shops under Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act (CIAA). The DOH information tangentially addresses the cross over between the prohibition on smoking in “workplaces” that may also be exempt “drinking establishments”.  For example, the law and guidance prohibit individuals less than 18 years of age in an exempt establishment at any time for any reason and require signage to that effect. Obviously, this creates a whole class of jobs that those under 18 may not perform supplementing existing child labor and liquor laws governing employment of minors.

The CIAA preempts local smoking ordinances except it does not apply to the City of Philadelphia, which has its own grandfathered Ordinance regulating smoking in public places.

 

Other postings on this subject include the following:

 

Pennsylvania enacts Clean Indoor Air Act Prohibiting Smoking in most Public Places including Workplaces

 

Department of Health Issued Guidance for Employer Compliance with Pennsylvania Clean Indoor Air Act

Revisiting Baseline Qualifications For Certain Positions: How Objective Qualifications, When Used Properly, Can Save The Day In Defending A Discrimination Claim

In Makky v. Chertoff, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently addressed the importance of objective job qualifications in evaluating the merits of a discrimination claim. Employers that establish clear baseline standards for position through their job descriptions, advertisements and other records are better able to defend discrimination claims by showing that the applicant or employee does not meet minimum qualifications for the position.

The Makky case involved the termination of employment of Dr. Wagih Makky who was employed by the United States government in the Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Safety Administration for fifteen years. In his various positions, Dr. Makky was required to obtain security clearance. A descendant of Egypt, Makky was the only Muslim and only person of Arab descent in his division. Makky's security clearance was suspended due to safety concerns, including his dual citizenship with Egypt, foreign relatives and associates, foreign countries visited, and alleged misuse of his government computer. Makky was placed on paid administrative and subsequently terminated when the TSA issued its final denial of security clearance. Although Makky appealed the determination through the government's processes, the determination was upheld.

Makky filed a lawsuit including a claim for employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Makky's Title VII claim was premised on a mixed motive theory of discrimination which recognizes that an employment decision can at times be based on both (1) a legitimate non-discriminatory reason and (2) discriminatory animus. Here, Makky argued that while he was suspended without pay and terminated because he did not pass the security clearance, the TSA's actions were also motivated by discriminatory animus based on his national origin because the agency did not offer him other positions or keep him on paid leave. Although the Court recognized that the analysis is factually sensitive , it held that when a plaintiff does not possess the objective baseline qualifications to do his or her job, the discrimination claim will fail on its face because he or she cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Applying the holding to the facts at hand, the Court found that Makky's inability to retain a security clearance rendered him expressly unqualified for the TSA position. Analogizing Makky's situation to a more mainstream occupation, the Court explained, "if the hospital employing a person who has been performing surgery learns that the employee falsified his or her qualifications and never went to medical school, that employee could not establish a prima facie mixed-motive case irrespective of allegations of racial or ethnic discrimination."

So what can an H.R. specialist take away from Makky? When a position requires a baseline objective qualification, like a license or degree, make sure it is expressly stated in all hiring materials including: (1) job advertisements; (2) position descriptions; and (3) application materials. Notably, if the degree or license it is merely the company's "preference" for someone in the position, it is important to consider whether making the "preference" appear as a "qualification" may lead to problems in the future. For example, suppose that Company X states that a sales position requires a Bachelor's Degree. When Company X interviews its two top choices, however, the female candidate who possess a Bachelor's Degree has the personality of dry toast, while the male candidate who has waitered all his life and does not have a Bachelor's Degree has a dynamic sales personality and will surely do well with Company X. If Company X believes that the male applicant is better suited for the position than the female applicant, should the Bachelor's Degree have been a required qualification in the first place? Probably not. Accordingly, it is important to have a process in place to review your company's job advertisements and position descriptions before posting for openings. While certain baseline objective qualifications can often be beneficial in refuting a prima facie discrimination claim, turning a mere "preference" into a "qualification" can have the opposite result because it may be used as evidence of a discriminatory motive.

Electronic Monitoring of Teleworkers

John Phillips at The Word on Employment Law posted about the “Electronic Leash” and cites to a Wall Street Journal post by Sue Shellenbarger that conjures up visions of 1850 sweatshops with following description of employer’s exploitive electronic monitoring of home workers:

In a budding trend some employment experts say is invasive, companies are stepping up electronic monitoring and oversight of tens of thousands of home-based independent contractors. They're taking photos of workers' computer screens at random, counting keystrokes and mouse clicks and snapping photos of them at their computers. They're plying sophisticated technology to instantaneously detect anger, raised voices or children crying in the background on workers' home-office calls. Others are using Darwinian routing systems that keep calls coming so fast workers have no time to go to the bathroom.

The Home Shoring business proponents put a different spin on the work environment tauting flexibility for workers and accountability for businesses using their services. Although I have never worked in a call center, my interaction with employers that have them shows me that they are highly structured work environments where productivity is closely monitored. Many employees who do not work at home are subject to some of the same types of electronic monitoring that seems objectionable to home workers. Maybe this begs the question, but why should the home-work environment be any less supervised than the at-work environment?

Employer’s biggest concern for at home workers is the lack of supervision. Many advocates of working at home know it has limitations. Teleworking is not for everyone. As noted by Brittany Maling at HR World, it requires self-disciplined and efficient workers who are most successful if their home office mimicks the traits of the traditional work environment. Perhaps the future of telecommuting has reached its tipping point, but there are still many issues to be worked out including the proper balance between mistrust and obsessive monitoring.

From a legal perspective, the degree of electronic supervision directed toward an independent contractor will likely result in a recharacterization of the relationship to one of employee/employer.   We have previously outlined the other legal issues in Legal issues in Telecommuting: Gas Prices make Businesses Reconsider Policies.

First Amendment Free Speech Protections Limit University's Enforcement of its Sexual Harassment Policy

A Federal Appeals Court in Philadelphia enjoined Temple University from enforcing its “facially overbroad” sexual harassment policy because some speech that creates a “hostile or offensive environment” may be protected speech under the First Amendment. In DeJohn v. Temple University, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated a public university’s Policy on Sexual Harassment that reads like that of many private employer’s, finding fault with the italicized language:

For all individuals who are part of the Temple community, all forms of sexual harassment are prohibited, including the following: an unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors,  or other expressive, visual or physical conduct of a sexual or gender-motivated nature when… (c ) such conduct has the purpose and effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work, educational performance, or status; or (d) such conduct has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.

The court found three areas of the policy language that were overboard so as to potentially stifle protected free speech:

  • The phrase “gender-motivated nature” is too indefinite taking into account the speaker’s motivations not limiting only the affect of speech and possibly inhibiting expression of a broad range of social issues. The Court also cautioned that “we must be aware that ‘gender’ to some people, is a fluid concept.”
  • The phrase “conduct which has the purpose and effect of unreasonably interfering” is too broad as it prohibits speech that “intends” to cause disruption. The university may only prohibited speeches that it reasonably believes will actually and materially disrupt the learning environment. (Interestingly, the “purpose and effect” language used by the EEOC.)
  • The phrase “unreasonably interfere[s] with an individual’s work” is too restrictive because it may encompass speech that creates a hostile or offensive environment but is protected nonetheless. A policy may prohibit speech that “substantially” interferes by using an additional standard like “severe and pervasive.”

Many employees in the private sector believe they have a constitutional right to say whatever they want in the workplace.  This is not the case and employees in the private sector may be disciplined for violating workplace conduct standards.

Private employers are not subject to the free speech protections of the First Amendment.  They can also take solace in the fact that a federal court is less likely to wordsmith their employment policies. The case shows the difficulty that all employers face in regulating workplace speech and conduct.  There are obvious challenges in drafting a harassment policy that is not so replete with legalese that is becomes incomprehensible to the workforce.

Legal System to Blame for Humorless Work Environment?

Hard economic times, perpetual threat of layoffs, workers stretched too thin could all be contributing to the “increasingly humorous American workplace” according to MSNBC author Eve Tahmincioglu in her post No joke! The workplace needs a good laugh. However, others are pointing to our legal system’s clamp down on “hostile work environments” as the cause of a joyless workplace:

What’s exacerbating the joylessness this recession has spawned, some believe, is decades of joke slap-downs in offices and factories. “The whole issue of political correctness has gone too far when it comes to the criteria for determining an offensive comment,” says Thierry Guedj, workplace psychology expert and professor at Boston University. “If anybody is offended, then it’s offensive. The criteria has become much too personalized. It only takes one person being slightly upset at something for it to become offensive.” It started in the 1980s, he continues, got worse in the 1990s and “has now reached its maximum.”

It is true that more claims of workplace harassment are being filed. The EEOC received 27,112 charges of harassment in 2007, up almost 18% from the prior year. Employer’s settlement payments of $65.6 million for these charges are no laughing matter. From a legal perspective, should employees be worried about injecting humor into the workplace and is an employer’s “joke slap-down” necessary? If your humor doesn’t demean people based on their membership in a protected class, then joke away.

It is the “off-color jokes” and other “humor” related to gender, race, national origin, religion or other protected classifications that can be considered harassment. These types of comments always find their way into allegations of discrimination or harassment when a complaint is filed. However, there is an important distinction between remarks uttered by a supervisor (quid pro quo harassment) verses those spoken by a co-worker (hostile environment harassment).

Potentially discriminatory remarks or jokes spoken by a decision maker are evidence of discriminatory motive in adverse employment decisions as noted by the Supreme Court in Ash v. Tyson Foods. A couple of off-color jokes followed up by a disciplinary suspension may give a discrimination charge some merit. On the other hand, mere utterance of a joke or other inappropriate remarks by a co-worker may not sufficiently affect conditions to create a hostile environment as noted in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.   But that’s your risk.

According to EEOC Policy Guidance, a "hostile environment' harassment takes a variety of forms, many factors may affect this determination, including: (1) whether the conduct was verbal or physical, or both; (2) how frequently it was repeated; (3) whether the conduct was hostile and patently offensive; (4) whether the alleged harasser was a co-worker or a supervisor; (5) whether the others joined in perpetrating the harassment; and (6) whether the harassment was directed at more than one individual. 

Severity and the pervasiveness of alleged hostile activities are the focus of the legal analysis. This is a very fact sensitive inquiry which depends in part on what a reasonable person would find offensive. For example, the New Jersey Supreme Court has held that some racial slurs and jokes are so historically offensive that their use in the workplace, even once, can lead to liability for an employer who doesn’t respond appropriately. A single utterance of an epithet can create a hostile work environment if it is viewed as “severe” and it is aimed at the individual rather than a generalized comment.  

Professor Guedj is correct that workplace humor has changed; but, perhaps the change was needed.  The impact of hypersensitivity is theoretically mitigated by the reasonable person standard.  However, the gray of the law may have led some workplace humorist to abstinence. Alternatively, practicing “safe humor” could include the following prophylactic measures:

  • Evaluate the content of the humor; some words and subjects are never appropriate for the workplace.
  • Know your audience.
  • Save your stand up routine for the comedy club where patrons are willing participants.
  • Don’t make jokes personal by singling out one individual as the butt of your humor.
  • Stop joking with people who seem uncomfortable with it.
  • Don’t ridicule co-workers who don’t like your humor
  • Try ask whether someone is offended by the humor.
  • If a co-worker’s joke offends you, then say something to the jokester.
  • Don’t e-mail jokes to everyone in the office.
  • Take seriously complaints about inappropriate humor, but remember the conduct must offend a reasonable person.

 

FLSA causes Global Warming: Sixteen Other Reasons to Consider a 4-day Work Week

It’s no secret that the FLSA is anachronistic, but now it’s ruining the planet too. The 40-hour week divided into 5 consecutive workdays is a product of the FLSA, which was enacted in 1938. During the last 70 years, we have been consuming energy by commuting to work and operating facilities all the while pumping green house gasses into the atmosphere for an extra day a week.

Aaron Newton makes this brilliant observation in his post on The 4 Day Work Week:

The notion of our standard work week here in America has remained largely the same since 1938. That was the year the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed, standardizing the eight hour work day and the 40 hour work week. Each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday workers all over the country wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast and go to work. But the notion that the majority of the workforce should keep these hours is based on nothing more than an idea put forth but the Federal government almost 70 years ago. To be sure it was an improvement in the lives of many Americans who were at the time forced to work 10+ hours a day, sometimes 6 days of the week. So a 40 hour work week was seen as an upgrade in the lives of many of U.S. citizens. 8 is a nice round number; one third of each 24 hour day. In theory it leaves 8 hours for sleep and 8 hours for other activities like eating, bathing, raising children and enjoying life. But the notion that we should work for 5 of these days in a row before taking 2 for ourselves is, as best I can tell, rather arbitrary.

Mr. Newton then goes on to offer Sixteen Reason Why this is an Idea Whose Time has Come. This post is a “must read” for HR Professionals whose businesses may be evaluating the 4-day workweek option and looking for supporting reasons. The key downsides to the four-day week are losses in employee productivity and customer service. Comments challenging the 4-day workweek appear at the Oil Drum, which reprinted Newton’s post.

We have also outlined some legal limitations on the four-day concept in previous posts as it continues to garner a lot of media attention:

Four-Day Work Week Wave is Coming and Energy Expenses And Gas Prices Motivate Employers To Move To Four Day Workweek: What Are The Legal Issues?

 

Use of Subjective Hiring Criteria May Require Procedural "Safeguards"

Most hiring decisions are predicated in some part on subjective criteria. Let’s take for example, “Attitude and communication skills” which are on the top the hiring criteria for Phil Gerbyshak at Slacker Manager’s based on his post 5 Must Have Skills. Undoubtedly these traits were assessed by one or more members of the Phil’s hiring team based on how the candidates presented themselves at the interview. This hiring approach is universally practiced by companies across the country and loathed by government enforcement agencies.

The EEOC and OFCCP have initiatives targeting an employer’s selection process. The EEOC announced its focus on employment testing and screening resulting in a fact sheet Employment Tests and Selection Procedures. Likewise, OFCCP has a program targeting Systemic Discrimination, which examines criteria used in the hiring process. Subjective criteria are scrutinized because of the fear that they will be manipulated for a discriminatory purpose.

Courts examining subjective hiring criteria have not outright prohibited their use, but have cautioned against their advancement because they are “easily fabricated”. Recently in Wingate v. Gage County School District, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an employer’s use of subjective criteria did not create an inference of age discrimination when objective criteria were also utilized to make the employment decision.

The legal analyses of subjective hiring criteria revolve around theories of disparate treatment or disparate impact. The measure of compliance has its origin in the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, which define interview questions as means of selection criteria and set forth the parameters for compliance.

The legal compliance for disparate treatment focuses on the following:

  • Whether the subjective criteria are job related
  • How they are measured
  • Whether the criteria are uniformly applied

According to Section 30 the OFCCP Compliance Manual, employers that utilize subjective hiring criteria will be evaluated for disparate treatment based, in part, upon their use of “safeguards” in the hiring process:

Safeguards consist of efforts made by the contractor to limit the possibility of differential application of the selection criteria/processes. In other words, treating members of a minority group or women differently than others in the application/evaluation of the criteria/processes. An example of a uniformly applied subjective process with safeguards could be an interview where all persons who pass the required test are interviewed regardless of minority or sex status; all interviewers are professionally trained in interviewing; all persons interviewed are asked the same questions; responses are documented; and answers are all evaluated in the same manner.

The legal compliance hurdles for disparate impact have a slightly different focus. The EEOC describes this process as follows:

  • If the selection procedure has a disparate impact based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, can the employer show that the selection procedure is job-related and consistent with business necessity? An employer can meet this standard by showing that it is necessary to the safe and efficient performance of the job. The challenged policy or practice should therefore be associated with the skills needed to perform the job successfully. In contrast to a general measurement of applicants’ or employees’ skills, the challenged policy or practice must evaluate an individual’s skills as related to the particular job in question.
  • f the employer shows that the selection procedure is job-related and consistent with business necessity, can the person challenging the selection procedure demonstrate that there is a less discriminatory alternative available? For example, is another test available that would be equally effective in predicting job performance but would not disproportionately exclude the protected group?

Employers who want to assess attitude and communication skills should consider the following additions to their hiring procedures:

  • Make attitude and communication skills an express criteria in job descriptions and summaries of minimum job requirements
  • Describe its job relatedness and business justification
  • Assess whether the criteria is creating an adverse impact
  • Implement “safeguards” in the hiring process describe in OFCCP Guidance

Violence in the Workplace: A Legal Perspective

HR professionals are reminded of their workplaces’ vulnerabilities every time an episode of workplace violence is reported in the media like this morning’s headline “6 dead in plastics factory shooting rampage.”  The scope of the problem set out in statistics. There were 5734 workplace fatalities reported to OSHA (2005 is the last year statistics are available). Assaults and Violent Acts accounted for 792 workplace fatalities.

Media accounts typically report about the “warning signs” that were missed and speculate on how the incident may have been prevented. There are, of course, psychological tests and assessment tools that are predictive of violent behavior, but there are significant legal restrictions on their use. Assessments that are not "medical tests" may be used on a pre-employment basis, but should not be used as the principal reason for a hiring or promotion decision.

There is no profile of a potential workplace violence perpetrator; however, there are traits when coupled with at risk situations that increase the likelihood of violent behavior. Sheryl and Mark Grimm of the Workplace Violence Headquarters have developed a Formula for Workplace Violence that includes a list of traits as follows:

  • Previous history of violence, toward the vulnerable, e.g., women, children, animals
  • Loner, withdrawn; feels nobody listens to him; views change with fear
  • Emotional problems, e.g., substance abuse, depression, low self-esteem
  • Career Frustration, either significant tenure on the same job of migratory job history
  • Antagonistic relationships with others
  • Some type of obsession, e.g., weapons, other acts of violence, romantic/sexual, zealot (political, religious, racial), the job itself, neatness and order.

There is a major legal distinction made between an employer's treatment of an applicant with a potentially violent personality and addressing employee conduct that expresses violent behavior. The EEOC has stated that its position on the distinction between perception and conduction in its  Enforcement Guidance for Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities :

34. When can an employer refuse to hire someone based on his/her history of violence or threats of violence?

An employer may refuse to hire someone based on his/her history of violence or threats of violence if it can show that the individual poses a direct threat. A determination of "direct threat" must be based on an individualized assessment of the individual's present ability to safely perform the functions of the job, considering the most current medical knowledge and/or the best available objective evidence. To find that an individual with a psychiatric disability poses a direct threat, the employer must identify the specific behavior on the part of the individual that would pose the direct threat. This includes an assessment of the likelihood and imminence of future violence.

30. May an employer discipline an individual with a disability for violating a workplace conduct standard if the misconduct resulted from a disability?

Yes, provided that the workplace conduct standard is job-related for the position in question and is consistent with business necessity. For example, nothing in the ADA prevents an employer from maintaining a workplace free of violence or threats of violence, or from disciplining an employee who steals or destroys property. Thus, an employer may discipline an employee with a disability for engaging in such misconduct if it would impose the same discipline on an employee without a disability. Other conduct standards, however, may not be job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity. If they are not, imposing discipline under them could violate the ADA.

OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” OSHA provides some resources to help employers meet this requirement.

Given the legal limitations confronting employers in their efforts to provide a safe workplace, the following are some suggestions in development of a Violence Program:

  • Establish and communicate a written violence policy
  • Consider pre-employment assessments and background checks
  • Establish an Employee Assistance Program
  • Train supervisors to recognize warning signs of employee violence
  • Recognize "at risk" situations like employee discipline or discharge and plan accordingly
  • Consider professional evaluations of at-risk employees based on objective signs of workplace problems
  • Assess workplace security measures
  • Develop and Communicate a Disaster Management Plan

E-Verify Coverage and Criticisms: Government Contractor Compliance Quandary

The Amendment to Executive Order 12989 has government contractors and subcontractors scrambling to evaluate their legal obligations. Details remain sketchy, but the following information may help prepare a compliance strategy:

What is the Effective Date for Using E-Verify?

Employers have no immediate requirement to start using E-Verify. According to a SHRM news report, the deadline for federal contractors to sign up for E-Verify “still needs to be determined” and will be made public through the standard government regulation process, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) Acting Director Jonathan Scharfen said, following his testimony June 10, 2008, on E-Verify before the House Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law Committee. Once a deadline has been determined, E-Verify will be able to handle the roughly 200,000 contractors who will have to sign up or risk losing their federal contracts, he said.

Which Employers will be Covered?

The Amendment to E.O. 12989 requires E-Verify use for (i) all persons hired during the contract term by the contractor to perform employment duties within the United States; and (ii) all persons assigned by the contractor to perform work within the United States on the Federal contract.The original E.O. 12989 set forth the parameters of the order by referencing the debarment provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulations. Based on the combination of references it appears that the new E-Verify system will be applicable to the employees of all first tier contractors (and their affiliates) and the employees of sub-contractors working on the government contract. It is unclear whether E-Verify applies to existing contracts and/or existing employees.

Are there Alternatives to E-Verify?

An alternate program called New Employee Verification Act (NEVA) (H.R. 5515), has been introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas. NEVA would transform the current paper-based employment verification process by requiring employers to participate in one of two electronic employment verification systems. Employers would enroll through their state’s existing “new hire” reporting program which was originally designed to enhance child support enforcement. The new hire-reporting program is an electronic portal already used by 90 percent of U.S. employers. Commentators have noted “serious flaws” in this program too.

Have the Accuracy Issues with E-Verify been Resolved?

The DHS report “Debunking the E-Verify Error Rate” touting the accuracy of the E-verify System is based on 1000 queries conducted by an independent reviewer noted automatic confirmation of 942 (94.2%) of the sample queries. Five (.5%) of applicants were able to resolve the mismatch by correcting information with the Social Security Administration. The balance of 52 (5.2%) applicants could not be hired because of unconfirmed information. There is no analysis as to whether the rejected applicants where illegal workers or erroneous rejections.

GAO Report issued on June 10, 2008 entitled “E-Verification: Challenges Exist in the Implementing the Mandatory Electronic Employment Verification System” evaluates the accuracy of E-Verify as follows:

According to USCIS, under the current voluntary program the majority of E-Verify queries entered by employers--about 92 percent--confirm within seconds that the employee is authorized to work. About 7 percent of the queries cannot be immediately confirmed as work authorized by SSA, and about 1 percent cannot be immediately confirmed as work authorized by USCIS because the employee information queried through the program does not match information in SSA or DHS databases. With regard to SSA tentative nonconfirmations, USCIS and SSA officials told us that the majority of erroneous tentative nonconfirmations occur because employees' citizenship or other information, such as name changes, is not up to date in the SSA database, generally because individuals have not contacted SSA to update their information when changes occurred.

Should a Contractor get a “Head Start” by signing up for E-Verify in Advance of the Effective Date?

A wait and see approach may still be the best play as the uncertainties of the effective date and coverage are resolved by regulations. In any event, employers should carefully considered a compliance strategy based on yet unresolved contingencies:

  • Scope of Operations covered by E-Verify
  • Whether Verification applies to existing employees or just new hires
  • Effect on Hiring and Retention of Workforce
  • Centralization of Hiring Process
  • Communication with No-Match Employees and/or Applicants
  • Assistance to Employees in correcting No-Match
  • Appreciating the Scope of the No-Match Safeharbor and IRCA's Anti-discrimination protections

White House Mandates use of E-Verify by All Government Contractors

On June 6, 2008, President Bush amended Executive Order 12989 to require that all federal contractors verify the legal status of their employees by using the government’s electronic employment verification system or face sanctions including debarment from future contracts:

Executive departments and agencies that enter into contracts shall require, as a condition of each contract, that the contractor agree to use an electronic employment eligibility verification system designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security to verify the employment eligibility of: (i) all persons hired during the contract term by the contractor to perform employment duties within the United States; and (ii) all persons assigned by the contractor to perform work within the United States on the Federal contract.

DHS has designated E-Verify as the employment eligibility verification system for all federal contractors and touted its effectiveness:

More than 69,000 employers currently rely on E-Verify to determine that their new hires are authorized to work in the United States. Employers have run more than 4 million employment verification queries so far in fiscal year 2008. Of those queries, 99.5 percent of qualified employees are cleared automatically by E-Verify.

Commentators have questioned the accuracy and capacity of the E-Verify system. Michael Aitken, SHRM Government Affairs Director has said, “ mandating participation in a system that doesn’t really work won’t give employers the tools they need to ensure a legal workforce.” DHS has responded publicly in its release “Debunking the E-Verify Capacity Problem.” I have suggested taking a Wait and See Approach to E-Verify. However, the wait is over for government contractors who will soon see how the system fairs. Bush’s Order has no clear effective date, but appears to be prospectively applicable to new or renewed government contracts.

Carnival of HR # 34

The Carnival of HR has its usual compliment of excellent postings on interesting topics.

Leading off is a discussion of the two sides of generational differences in the workforce. Dr. Ira Wolfe from the Perfect Labor Storm 2.0 posts on Gray ceiling disrupts succession plans for Gen Xers which discusses the recruiting challenges created by older workers remaining in the workforce and impeding the career advancement of younger employees. On the other side, Jon Agno of So Baby Boomer: Life Tips posts on Boomer Executive Challenges in which he fears that decades of institutional memory may be wiped out leaving organizations without many of the skills and insider knowledge businesses had taken for granted. 

Blogging is the subject of several of the Carnival submissions. Lisa Rosendahl at HR Thoughts asks the question “Why do you blog?” and answers it by stating that  “In doing so, you may very well be creating your legacy”. Her post is called "Moving Forward While Capturing the Past." Perhaps there is another answer to that question found in a post by Totally Consumed in which he comments On Personal Branding and Anonymous Blogging. The queen of anonymous blogging, The Evil HR Lady, chimes in recognizing that “I Haven’t Complained About Recruiters Lately.”

Legal risks sometimes cross the minds of HR pros.  Jon Ingham’s Strategic Capital Management (HCM) Blog assesses risk in his contribution Human Capital Risk and Reporting which argues that risk is an important area for all HR professionals. Dan Schwartz of the Connecticut Employment Law Blog kicks off our summer with some legal thoughts in his post called Start of the Summer Season: HR Topics to Ponder Now Before They AriseJon Hyman of the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog comes up with another compelling title for his post called Cat fight on aisle 6: court leaves open the possibility that a handbook can create a contract.  Most importantly, we should all keep in mind of Marcy McCullough’s post evaluating whether we can be dooced for On-Line Postings And Your Corporate Image: Can You Terminate Employees For Personal Postings?!?

Speaking of minds, Alvaro Fernandez at SharperBrains offers a superb introduction to what working memory is and why it is critical for our productivity, complemented with daily tips on Try Thinking and Learning Without Working Memory. Nina Simosko’s post describes "Comfortable Misery", a state of mind wherein you are miserable, but you have gotten used to it.  She states that far too many people live in "comfortable misery". A subsequent post offers a survey on the topic. If you are looking for a coping mechanism, the Career Encouragement Blog notes that it's okay to acknowledge that sometimes you are irrelevant on a particular project or even in a whole job. That’s Job Search Rule # 30 for those who are counting. I wonder if comfortable misery is one of the “10 Things I Learned About Working in HR” as recounted by Dan McCarthy at Great Leadership when he makes observations about his 18 month develop assignment as an HR generalist.

Employee benefits and compensation are the subjects of several posts. Michael D. Haberman at HR Observations advocates helping employees at the gas pump as an employee benefit in his post Pumping Up Your Employees: No Rah-Rah, Just Help With Gas.   Ann Bares at Compensation Force posits that merit pay systems create a dilemma that occurs when the short-term interests of individuals are at odds with the long-term interests of the grouping her post  “The Tragedy of the Commons and Merit Pay”.  Wayne Turmel who is the host of The Cranky Middle Manager Show submits a post called Lousy Quality and Small Portions in which he confronts the paradoxes of middle managers. Greg Pernula at i4cp writes about a recent survey that found a majority of companies lack various support, training or education when it comes to workplace diversity matters.

There are lots of insights on Talent Management and Employee Empowerment. Wally Block’s Three Star Leadership Blog observes that The best and the brightest are not always the best fit because setting out to hire "the best and the brightest" without attention to ethics, work habits, or organizational fit is just asking for trouble and minimizing your chances for success. Steve Roesler at All Things Workplace writes in his post titled “Making Change? Pay Attention to High Achievers” that, when it comes to making change, the talented people you think will be most helpful just might be the least. Chris Young of Maximizing Possibilities thinks that Talent Management is an increasingly important strategic issue for most organizations.  Given the value placed on effective talent management practices the question must be asked: “Is talent management too important to be left to HR?”   Alice Snell’s at Taleo’s Talent Drives Performance Blog  has a post called “Strategic Is As Strategic Does” that explains how embedding talent management into the business process—facilitated by HR and owned by line managers and employees—puts strategy into action. Susan Heathfield at About.com Guide to Human Resources discusses Employee Empowerment as the goal of forward thinking HR processes and practices in her post Want Empowerment? You Get What You Request and Reward.

To add to our international flair, Frank Mulligan at Talent in China tries to explain the skills shortage for both professionals and workers in a land of 1.3 billion people, with the added contradiction of a shortage of jobs for Chinese graduates in his post "The Ups & Downs of China's Labor Shortage".  Somewhere in Ireland, Rowan Manahan of Fortify Your Oasis conducted a radio interview on job equality somewhat irreverently titled and unlikely to pass prudish US internet filters.

All good stuff for us to consider as we address today’s challenges. Thanks for all those who contributed to this Carnival. Jon Ingham’s Strategic Capital Management (HCM) Blog will host the June 11th Carnival of HR.

Applicants with Criminal Records: The Pros and Cons

Anyone who has spent any time recruiting knows that it is difficult to sift through a pile of applications without finding several job seekers with criminal convictions. About 3.2 percent of the U.S. adult population, or one in every 31 adults, was in the nation’s prisons or on probation or parole at the end of 2006.   Getting Out of Prison and Into a Job posted by Eve Tahmincioglu highlights the job search difficulties for convicted felons. It also reports that 700,000 people are released from prison annually, two-thirds of which are back in prison within 3 years. Similar demographic facts are compiled by Dr. Ira Wolfe in his book The Perfect Labor Storm 2.0 .

Many employers shy away from this pool of available labor even though it might be socially compelling to give someone a "second chance".  Federal and State governments have reacted to this situation by creating tax incentives for employers who hire convicted felons.  A federal tax credit of $2,400 is available for employers who hire ex-felons. Philadelphia offers a $10,000 tax incentive. Both programs have minimum employment periods.

Employers must weigh the following with regard to applicants with criminal convictions:

  • Prohibited Employment: State and federal laws may prohibit employment of a convicted felon in certain jobs such as financial services, teaching, adult and childcare, law enforcement, etc.
  • Negligent Hire:  Many states recognize legal claims by customers and employees when an employer negligently hires an employee when the employer knew or should have known that the employee would pose a safety risk to others. Applicants with criminal convictions for violent crimes may fall into this category.
  • Disparate Impact Discrimination: The EEOC’s guidance on the consideration of arrest records notes that blanket exclusions from hiring will likely have an adverse impact on minorities. Employers should establish a business justification for use of criminal record by evaluating the nature and gravity of the offense, the time that has passed since the offense, and the requirements of the job sought.
  • Limitations on the Use of Criminal History: Section 9125 of Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act states that felony and misdemeanor convictions may be considered by an employer only to the extent to which they relate to the applicant's suitability for employment in the position for which he has applied. Employers must give a rejected applicant written notice that the criminal conviction was used in whole or in part as the basis for the employment decision.

How Good are Your Business's I-9 Forms?

Immigration related enforcement activity is on the rise making HR professionals question their company practices for immigration compliance including completion of the I-9 Form.    On May 12, 2008, a kosher meatpacking plant in Iowa was the site of the largest immigration raid ever held which netted 300 suspected illegal aliens.   The joint ICE and DOL operaton targeted aggravated identity theft, fraudulent use of Social Security Numbers and other crimes.  Similar raids have been held in Pennsylvania like the one at Iridium Industries' Artube Division in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania where 81 employees were arrested in an immigration raid.  

The immigration raids are conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as part of its "Worksite Enforcement Initiative". These raids target "egregious employers involved in criminal activity or worker exploitation." However, the scope of ICE operations might suggest more as it operates 17 teams making 15,049 immigration arrests.  ICE also reports that over 90 individuals in company supervisory chains were arrested on criminal charges including harboring illegal aliens, knowingly hiring them and other immigration related violations.

The INS has several mechanism to discover the employment of illegal workers including the following:

  • Social Security Mismatch Letters: Coordination between the IRS and the SSA began in 2002 with the issuance of "mismatch letters" that require an employer to check and report on discrepancies between SSN# and W-2 forms. 
  • DOL and OFCCP Audits: Several government agencies conduct random audits of employer's I-9 forms as a part of their other audit activities.
  • Proposed Electronic Employment Verification System (EEVS)E-Verify allows employers to check whether there is a match between a prospective employee’s name and social security number.

The consequences to a business and individuals for noncompliance with immigration laws including correct I-9 reporting are significant. The following is a partial list of penalties:

  • For employers who fail to properly complete, retain, or make I-9 Forms available for inspection, fines range from $100 to $1,100 per individual I-9.
  • For employers who knowingly hire or knowingly continue to employ unauthorized workers, civil penalties range from $250 to $11,000 per violation.

Sex may Sell, but Gender-based Employment Decisions are Unlawful Discrimination

The EEOC announced a $1 million settlement for sex discrimination against men arising from a restaurant’s preference for hiring and promoting only women into bartending positions. The lawsuit highlights the tension between a business’s marketing efforts and legal compliance. What marketers may pander to in the name of “customer preference,” employment laws prohibit as discrimination.

Businesses spend millions of dollars to find out what motivates customers to buy by evaluating their preferences. Demographics play an important role in tying the right product to the right market. Also critical is having the “right” salesperson to make the pitch.

A business’s natural, but unlawful reaction may be to make staffing decisions based upon appealing to a target demographic group.  The “customer preferences” for the right salesperson cannot create employer hiring or promotion criteria for someone of a particular gender, religion, age, etc. Courts have universally rejected this form of customer preference, except in the narrow case where it is a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ). A BFOQ may exist where it is necessary for the purpose of authenticity or genuineness, such as, a model for gender specific clothing. 

In its lawsuit, the EEOC said that Razzoo's, a Cajun food restaurant chain, refused to hire or promote men to the position of bartender. The EEOC had evidence that the restaurant's management set up and communicated to managers by e-mail, a plan for an 80-20 ratio of women to men behind the bar. Male applicants and servers were told that management wanted mostly “girls” behind the bar. Men who worked as servers at the restaurant were generally denied promotion to bartender because of their gender. The few men who were promoted to bartender were not allowed to work lucrative “girls-only” bar­tend­ing events.

The EEOC’s settlement with Razzoo shows a developing trend in the agency of making an employer improve its approach to human resources. In addition to paying $775,000 to be divided among a class of male applicants, male servers, and male bartenders who were discriminated against, Razzoo's was also required to retain the services of a human resources consultant or to develop an in-house human resources department spending no less than $225,000 for these human resources services.   Razzoo's agreed to injunctive relief requiring training on equal employment opportunity for all its employees, the posting of an anti-discrimination notice, and EEOC monitoring of employee complaints of discrimination.

Suzanne M. Anderson, EEOC supervisory trial attorney and lead counsel on the lawsuit, summed up the EEOC’s position by saying that, "Some may think that sex sells drinks, but gender ratios are illegal… Razzoo's decision to hire and promote by gender is a clear violation of federal law. A hiring ratio is illegal whether it is 80-20 whites to blacks or 80-20 women to men."   It will be interesting to see how far the law will go in policing an employer’s efforts to appease a customer preference. For example, would an OBGYN practice be subject to an EEOC lawsuit if it specifically hired a female doctor based on the preference of its patients?