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July 31, 2008

Sexual Orientation Debate Intensifies

Filed under: Employment Law7:19 am

A national debate is intensifying about whether or not sexual orientation should be added to the list of classifications protected by federal law from employment discrimination.

A bill (H.R. 3685) prohibiting discrimination based on such a classification is slowly making its way through Congress. The House has passed the bill and it awaits action in the Senate, but the Senate has not announced a schedule for considering it.

The bill got a recent boost when national SHRM released a statement on June 19, 2008 supporting it. President Bush has not stated a position on the pending bill. However, many state laws already prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, as do many business policies even when not required by applicable laws.


July 29, 2008

Suicide Tied to Work Injury Ruled Compensable

Filed under: Safety — Tags: , 7:59 am

A suicide sufficiently connected to an industrial injury is compensable under Nevada’s workers’ compensation system, the state’s highest court has ruled.

State law barring family members from collecting workers’ comp benefits if a worker’s death resulted from a “willful intention to injure himself” does not apply when a “sufficient chain of causation is established,” the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in Sharon Vredenburg v. Sedgwick CMA and Flamingo Hilton-Laughlin.

To establish such a chain, claimants must demonstrate that the employee suffered an industrial injury that in turn caused a psychological injury severe enough to override rational judgment. Claimants must then establish that the psychological injury caused the employee to commit suicide, the court said.

The decision stems from a back injury that Danny Vredenburg, a bartender, suffered from slipping on a flight of stairs, causing disc derangement in several locations along his spine, court records show. Despite surgery and the use of pain medications and anti-inflammatory agents, he continued to experience pain.

A doctor diagnosed Vredenburg as psychologically destabilized because of his chronic pain and recommended that he claim permanent disability status. When Vredenburg killed himself, a second doctor opined that Vredenburg did so because of the unrelenting pain, and his spouse then filed for death benefits.

But the insurance administrator for Vredenburg’s employer ruled that the doctor’s opinion lacked a medical rationale linking the suicide to his industrial injury and denied the claim.

A workers’ comp appeals officer agreed, and a district court denied the claimant’s petition for judicial review. But the Nevada Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for proceedings consistent with its opinion.

Source: Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance.


July 25, 2008

HR Fact Friday: Rising Commute Costs = Rising Telework Spending

Filed under: Management Practices6:00 am

Prior to 2008, telecommuting (i.e. working from home) was a perk reserved for the chosen few, road warriors, or employees of progressive companies that embraced the ‘virtual workplace’ concept.  But with gasoline costs burning through a larger and larger share of employee income, employers are now looking for ways to ease the financial hardship of commuting workers.

Some employers are subsidizing public transit costs. Others are modifying work hours and offering 4 day workweeks. Movie passes and dinners for two are quickly being replaced by gas gift cards as the preferred job-well-done workplace reward. But what about cutting out the commute altogether and having some employees work from home?

Many employers remain skeptical about the productivity levels of teleworkers. But at the federal government level spending for telecommuting technology is on the rise. A survey of federal government managers released by Telework Exchange, and partially funded by Research In Motion, shows that spending on telecommuting technology (laptop computers, BlackBerry type mobile communication devices, remote access security software, tech support, network  infrastructure, etc.) is set to increase.

In the next two years 68% of respondents predicted IT spending on telework would increase. Defense Department officials predicted a spending increase of 15%, compared to 17% in civilian agencies.

Desktop and laptop computers are expected to account for more than one-fifth of telecommuting expenses the survey found. Respondents were asked to rate the most important aspects of telework technologies. The responses were:

Voice, e-mail, or instant messaging communications (66%)

Remote network access tools and infrastructure (43%)

Remote access to desktop applications including intranet and files (41%)

Remote security (30%)

Remote access to back-end systems and databases for IT staff (25%)

Source: HR Magazine, July 2008, pg 22, Telework Influencing Technology Investments by Rita Zeidner


July 23, 2008

E-Verify Obligations Clarified

Filed under: Hiring & Jobs12:12 pm

Executive Order 12989 signed on June 6 requires all federal contractors to use E-Verify to confirm the identity and work authorization of employees who perform work on future federal contracts.

E-Verify is an Internet based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA).

A Proposed Rule intended to clarify employers’ obligations was published several days later. The Proposed Rule makes clear that both contractors and subcontractors that involved in work in the U.S. are covered and that a low $3000 contract floor applies (except for commercially available off-the-shelf goods).

Also, an employer must enroll in E-Verify within 30 days of being awarded a contract, employees assigned to the contract must be verified within 30 days of the contract, and newly hired or assigned employees within 3 days. Note that employers participating in E-Verify must still complete I-9s.

More information on E-Verify is available at:


July 22, 2008

HR Lessons from the Texting World

Filed under: Communication7:22 am



A recent U.S. Court of Appeals case had a little something for everyone.   It included elements of sex, the police, charges of illegal searches, privacy, new and old fashioned technology, and garden variety HR practices.  While it’s not likely that it will soon become a movie of the week, it does provide a lot of lessons.


The case, Quon v. Arch Wireless Operating Co. Inc.,  involved a California police officer who used a city owned pager to text both business and personal messages. The city contracted with a 3rd party for a certain number of characters per pager per month and beyond that, would have to pay overage charges.  While the city didn’t have a policy that specifically addressed texting with pagers, it did have a general “Computer Usage, Internet, and Email Policy.”   The policy stated that those communication tools were for city business and that employees should have no privacy expectations when using them.  It also required that employees sign an “Employee Acknowledgement” stating that the city reserved the right to “monitor and log all network activity including e-mail and Internet use, with or without notice,” and that “users should have no expectation of privacy or confidentiality.”




July 18, 2008

HR Fact Friday: Office Spouse Tops HR Search

Filed under: General HR Buzz10:09 am

Like most every technology-based company, regardless of industry or product, the Internet has become a key component of an overall marketing strategy. This certainly is the case here at HRN. The Internet has allowed us to grow and reach an ever growing audience across the country and around the world.

We spend a lot of time and effort refining our web presence to be ‘search engine friendly’ in hopes that when a user types a relevant human resources or employee performance management phrase into Internet search engine, our website will appear in the displayed results. On a weekly and sometimes daily basis I evaluate our search engine marketing results and make refinements. I often am surprised by what I see; especially in the area of top keywords or phrases.

So I find gratification in seeing that our ‘keyword strategy’ accurately tracks with keyword search results. But more often I am utterly surprised by what folks actually typed in that brought them to our website or blog.

For example, “office spouse” is a top 5 keyword phrase that it never occurred to me to build into our keyword strategy, but apparently there are a lot of folks out there interested in learning more about office spouses. And of these several found their way to our very own HR News & Views Blog.

Below are the top keyword search phrases on the HRN blog last week.
1. Office spouse
2. Office TV show
3. e-verify
4. Challenges of open enrollment
5. HR trivia
6. Example employee performance appraisals
7. HR announcement
8. Succession planning 2008
9. employee mental health day

And here’s my all time favorite (remember this is the exact phrase someone typed in)
10. Countries examined in a recent study, the US finished last

Go figure. So if you get nothing else for spending time reading this post . . . if you want folks to find your website and hit on your listing, liberally pepper your meta tags and content with the phrase “office spouse”.


July 16, 2008

Improve It By Looking At It Another Way

Filed under: Employment Law10:10 am

Chicago-style deep dish pizza is delicious, but different. It is almost as if someone looked at regular old pizza a different way and said, “let’s make this good by turning it inside out and putting the cheese and toppings underneath the tomato sauce!”

Sometimes, such an approach also works with HR and legal compliance. A Colorado employment lawyer explained HR, always concerned about risk to the company, must also consider that HR professionals are often sued along with their employers, and thus they should take steps to minimize such risks.

He recommended the following steps:

1. Make sure the employer stands behind and indemnifies HR;
2. Centralize approval processes for employee relations decisions that could lead to lawsuits;
3. Implement policies and procedures consistently;
4. Communicate with employees in a truthful, dignified and professional manner;
5. Don’t act out of anger or in retaliation;
6. Educate decision-makers about litigation risks; and
7. Know and follow the law even if it conflicts with company orders.


July 11, 2008

HR Fact Friday: Workplace Flexibility and Benefits Trends

Filed under: Benefits11:45 am

Nearly 8 in 10 employers with 50 or more employees now allow staff to periodically change their arrival and departure times. Those with the most women and minorities in top positions are most likely to offer flexible schedules, according to a survey released in May 2008 of more than 1,100 U.S. companies conducted by the New York-based Families and Work Institute.

The survey also reported that since 1998 there has been a 16% increase in flexible work schedules. The number of companies allowing workers to move from full-time to part-time work and back again while remaining in the same position or level fell from 57% in 1998 to 47% now.



July 10, 2008

Watch Out for Workplace Investigation Fires

Filed under: Employment Law11:23 am

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which wiped out most of the city, is said to have started when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern.

A Philadelphia lawyer offered tips on how to minimize the risk of similar fiery explosions related to workplace investigations. His key tips:

1. Don’t defer your investigation just because the government is investigating too;
2. Make sure your investigator knows how to investigate and does so without a conflict of interest or bias;
3. Drill down to the details;
4. Assume an alleged perpetrator is innocent until you conclude he or she is guilty;
5. Document why you did not interview certain witnesses;
6. Document interviews;
7. Explain your credibility findings;
8. Don’t rely on “non-defenses” such as “it was only a joke” or “I didn’t intend to hurt anyone;”
9. Take appropriate corrective action; and
10. Take proactive measures to avoid retaliation.


July 8, 2008

Pay Final Wages Promptly

Filed under: Legal Issues9:55 am

Current and former SuperValu (Albertson’s, Lucky, Sav-on) employees in California will participate in a $15 million settlement of a case alleging that the company failed to immediately pay employees their final wages on their last day of work for an involuntary termination (or within 72 hours of a resignation) as required by state law.

Under California law, wages continue as a penalty for up to thirty days after termination. Most states have similar laws, but they each vary a bit. You must follow the law of the state where your employee works, not the law of the state where company headquarters is located. Save yourself 15 million bucks and pay attention to this issue.

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