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January 31, 2011

Overtime Going to the Dogs?

Filed under: Salaries & Pay2:50 pm

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) apparently reaches into the world of kibble, sit, and stay.  A Tennessee federal court has found that a former K-9 officer is entitled to be paid and receive overtime for the hours spent caring for and training JJ, a canine narcotics officer.   JJ lived with the officer.  The court found that the off duty work was primarily for the county’s benefit and was integral to the employee’s job as a K-9 officer.  (Lewallen v. Scott County, E.D. Tennessee)


January 24, 2011

Controlling Unemployment Costs

Filed under: Salaries & Pay2:51 pm

In the “old days,” before the great recession, most companies didn’t think much about their unemployment insurance (UI) costs.   Times were good for many companies, layoffs were few, and there may have not been many terminations of problem employees.  But the good old days are gone, and even organizations that experienced few involuntary terminations in the past are dealing with the issue.  Additionally, the high unemployment rate has drained many state unemployment trust funds.   To replenish those funds employers will be charged ever increasing unemployment rates.  Companies that have had more unemployment claims against them pay more.

Employers have the burden of showing that an involuntarily terminated employee did something bad enough not to qualify for unemployment benefits.  Further, good documentation will be required to make that case.  So how do you control these costs?   As with many things, good solid HR practices can minimize costs and control risks.

They include:

  • Sound hiring.  For a lot of reasons, including saving on UI, employers should be patient and thorough in the hiring process.  Don’t settle.  Bad hires invariably come back to haunt you.
  • Implement a sound performance appraisal system.  Again, there are many good reasons for this, but one clearly is to be able to justify corrective action and to inform employees of problems.   An employee who claims that he “didn’t know” there was a problem is often a winner in a UI case.
  • Be proactive.  Problem employees don’t generally become problems overnight.  Address issues early.   Many concerns can be fixed.  If not, document well.
  • Maintain good employment records, leave requests, employment actions, etc.
  • Conduct exit interviews.  Consider conducting “stay interviews” among your current employees.
  • Train managers regarding the issues.
  • Finally, if an ex-employee files an unemployment claim, provide detailed, thorough, and timely documentation to the state.  Appeal claims as appropriate and provides good, knowledgeable  witnesses.

January 19, 2011

The Sweet Smell of … a Lawsuit

Filed under: General HR Buzz2:55 pm

The City of Detroit learned the hard way that the process of providing a reasonable accommodation can apply to an employee who is sensitive to odors…no matter how sweet smelling.  The case involved an employee who alleged that her chemical sensitivities made her allergic to a co-worker’s perfume, making it hard to breathe.  The court, in finding for the employee, ruled that the City had failed to provide a reasonable accommodation such as establishing a “no scent” policy which prohibited or limited perfumes, colognes, hairspray, and other grooming products, asking the co-worker to stop wearing perfume, relocating one of the employees, or installing an air filter.  What’s the lesson?   Once again, discuss the issue with the complaining employee early and seriously and, as appropriate, accommodate.  In this case as in most, the accommodation was cheap (or free) as opposed to the lawsuit and settlement, which were not.  [McBride v. The City of Detroit]


January 12, 2011

WikiLeaks Implications for the Workplace

Filed under: General HR Buzz3:01 pm

If the recent WikiLeaks release of hundreds of thousands of pages of classified government documents hasn’t gotten you thinking about the security of your confidential materials and trade secrets…well it’s probably a good time to start pondering it now.

You’ll remember that a young Army private has been arrested for stealing U.S. State Department files and memos and giving them to WikiLeaks, a website that publishes sensitive data.  Most observers believe that this has been both embarrassing and damaging to U.S. interests.

There are a couple of lessons arising from this story.   Employees at all levels of your organization may have both access and the ability to misuse your organization’s confidential information.  And, since it’s pretty hard to “unring this bell,” prevention not damage control is the best approach.

If you don’t have an ongoing practice of regular review and updating of policies and procedures surrounding maintenance and access to your confidential materials, think about doing it.

It only takes one unhappy employee to do a lot of damage to your reputation and organization’s success.


January 10, 2011

Final GINA Regulations Issued

Filed under: Genetic3:22 pm

GINA, the federal Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act, became effective almost a year ago. After numerous delays, the EEOC has published final regulations that provide guidance in implementing the employment provisions of the Act.  GINA prohibits use of genetic information to make decisions about health insurance and employment, and restricts the acquisition and disclosure of genetic information.  The final regulations provide examples of genetic tests; more fully explain GINA’s prohibition against requesting, requiring, or purchasing genetic information; provide model language employers can use when requesting medical information from employees to avoid acquiring genetic information; and describe how GINA applies to genetic information obtained via electronic media, including websites and social networking sites.   The regulations can be found here.


January 5, 2011

Potentially Groundbreaking Facebook Case

Filed under: Discipline & Termination3:31 pm

The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB’s) Hartford Office has filed a complaint against American Medical Response of Connecticut, Inc. for violating the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by firing an employee for posting negative comments about her manager on her Facebook page.   The employee’s coworkers also posted supportive comments on her page, criticizing the manger.   The company’s social networking policy prohibited employees from making demeaning and critical remarks about the organization or its employees on social networking sites.  Such prohibitions included off duty posts on employee’s own personal computers.   This type of policy is quite common.

The issue is:  does the company’s policy violate employees’ Section 7 rights of the NLRA by interfering with the right to engage in “concerted, protected activity.”  In essence, employers may not prohibit employees from communicating with each other about the terms and conditions of employment.   Section 7 applies to both union and nonunion workplaces.   With numerous possible appeals the case could take several years to be resolved.    Stay tuned.


January 3, 2011

Can Companies Agree Not to Contact Each Others’ Employees?

Filed under: Hiring & Jobs2:46 pm

The U.S. Justice Department has entered into an agreement with 6 high tech companies (Adobe Systems, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit and Pixar) that prohibits them from agreeing not to solicit or recruit employees.  The companies had agreed not to “cold call” (which includes emails, etc.) each others’ employees.  The government found that these actions decreased competition for workers, impacted wages, and limited employees’ job opportunities.   The result was a restraint of trade, in violation of the Sherman Act.