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Monthly Archives

January 2009

WHOSE DOCUMENTS ARE THESE ANYWAY?

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

The Cincinnati Insurance Company terminated Kathleen Niswander after she provided proprietary documents to her lawyers in a class action lawsuit brought against the CIC. In determining whether or not the documents shared were confidential, the court looked at six factors:

  1. How the documents were obtained.
  2. To whom the documents were produced.
  3. The context of the documents, both in terms of the need to keep the information confidential and its relevance to the employee’s claim of unlawful conduct.
  4. Why the documents were produced, including whether the production was in direct response to a discovery request.
  5. The scope of the employer’s privacy policy.
  6. The ability of the employee to preserve the evidence in a manner that does not violate the employer’s privacy policy.

These factors are designed to take into account the employer’s “legitimate and substantial interest in keeping its personnel records and agency documents confidential” and yet protect the employee’s alleged “need for surreptitious copying and dissemination of the documents.” Although the court ruled that the documents were in fact confidential, and that her lawyer should have obtained them through discovery, it noted that there might be occasions, such as “when an employee reasonably believes she is being subjected to discrimination and takes confidential documents to an attorney for advice and counsel” that would be reasonable.
(Jefferies v. Harris County Cmty. Action Ass’n, 615 F.2d 1025, 1036 (5th Cir. 1980))

WELLNESS PROGRAM CHECKLIST

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

According to the SHRM, 68% of employers offered wellness benefits in 2007, compared to 57% in 2003. Most companies have no idea as to the ROI of their wellness program. For more information, check out the Wellness Counsel of America ROI Calculator located here.
http://www.welcoa.org/ freeresources/ pdf/aa_roi_calculator2.pdf

The Calculator lists these components of wellness programs:

  • Disease management
  • Employee assistance
  • Health risk screenings and appraisals
  • Onsite medical
  • Personal wellness profiles
  • Screening and preventive care
  • Smoke cessation
  • Weight management
  • Work-life balance
  • Stress management
  • Vaccinations
  • CPR/first aid training
  • Health fairs
  • Newsletters and other information
  • Fitness centers and memberships
  • Weight loss programs
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Onsite blood pressure machine
  • Massage therapy

Remember that medical inquiries or examinations of current employees regarding the existence, nature, or severity of a disability aren’t usually allowed unless the employee is asking for some form of accommodation. However, a company may ask for medical information as part of a voluntary wellness program that focuses on early detection, screening, and management of disease.

If you have, or are considering a wellness program, look at the DOL Field Assistance Bulletin #2008-02, issued Feb 14, 2008, which includes a Wellness Program Checklist. The types of health promotion or disease prevention programs your Group Plan offers must comply with the Department’s final wellness program regulations. To determine whether your program is in compliance, go to http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/regs/fab2008-2.html.

To avoid ADA, HIPAA, and other legal requirements, we recommend that you:

  • Use third party administrators to collect and analyze all medical information. Then do not disclose individual health data to the employer.
  • Only require the employee to participate in a health assessment; do not require the employee to achieve any standard. Again, only the third party administrator has the employee’s medical data.
  • Do not mandate that employees achieve some measurable health standard as a condition of employment.

Employers should also be concerned about protecting health information under state privacy statutes. Be aware of laws that prevent adverse action on the basis of lawful off-duty conduct (i.e., smoking or drinking too much), or the use genetic testing.

LEAVE MANAGEMENT

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Here are some notes from the recent California medical leave case of Forough Nadaf-Rahrov v. Neiman Marcus Group, Inc., which involved a seamstress whose doctor said her disability made it impossible for her to do her job:

  • When an employee seeks accommodation by being reassigned to a vacant position in the company, they satisfy the “qualified individual with a disability” requirement of the ADA by showing that they can perform the essential functions of the vacant position with or without accommodation.
  • The position must exist and be vacant, and the employer need not promote the disabled employee.
  • If there are vacant positions available, you might want to identify them to the medical provider to see if the employee would be qualified to work any of them. This obligation might include future known vacancies.
  • If a necessary accommodation is obvious but ignored; if the employee requests a specific and available reasonable accommodation that the employer fails to provide; or if the employer participates in a good faith interactive process and identifies a reasonable accommodation but fails to provide it, an employer may be sued.
  • An employer need not provide repeated leaves of absence for an employee who has a poor prognosis of recovery. However, the mere fact that a medical leave has been extended repeatedly does not necessarily establish that it would continue indefinitely. In some circumstances, an employee might need to consult directly with their physician to determine the employee’s medical restrictions and prognosis for improvement or recovery.
  • An employee can take unscheduled intermittent leave repeatedly, over nine hours per week, without exhausting their allocation of FMLA leave for a full year. Of course, this can result in staffing and morale problems.
  • In the case of a medical emergency, an employee may show after the fact that their absence was due to a qualifying disability as long as they do so within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Although regular attendance is considered to be an essential part of almost every job, absences from work are not automatically disqualifying. If an employee exceeds the employer’s absenteeism standard, due to a disability, the employer’s right to discipline or discharge depends on the circumstances of the case. Relevant considerations include:
    • The degree of absenteeism.
    • The degree to which the employee’s absences are predictable.
    • The degree to which employee’s absences adversely affect the business or ability to get the job done; and.
    • Whether the employee has any paid vacation leave or sick leave that could cover the absence.

As an employer, you face a number of challenges in this area:

  • What exactly does the word “serious” medical condition mean?
  • What does “intermittent” leave mean and how long does it last?
  • How should you deal with unforeseeable employee leaves?
  • How much information can you require before approving leave? What if you don’t trust or disagree with the medical information provided?
  • To what degree may you enforce your attendance requirements and what other rules impact on this, including the ADA and FLMA?

As you can see from this case, leave management is full of employer traps. Remember, if you have more than 15 employees, the ADA applies. If you have more than 50, the FMLA does too. Better yet- both laws change in January and you’d better be prepared!

KEEPING EMPLOYEES SATISFIED: A SIGN OF THE TIMES

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

In a 2008 SHRM Satisfaction Survey Report, employees identified job security, benefits, compensation/pay, feeling safe, and communication as the five most important aspects of their job satisfaction.

It’s interesting to note that this is the first time in years that job security ranked No. 1. In reality, there’s only one form of job security: doing a positive job, in a positive manner, where there is positive cash flow.

Wise employees will identify precisely what constitutes excellent performance, what types of attitudes are expected, and “open up” the books. To learn about the benefits of open book management, read Jack Stack’s book, The Great Game of Business. HR That Works users can watch the Webinar “Open Book Management: Driving Results from Engaged Employees.”

EEO TIPS: HOW TO AVOID BEING TABBED AS A ‘JOINT EMPLOYER’

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Under current case law a Charging Party may have an employment relationship with more than one employer at the same time. This would be the case if the operations of two or more employers become so integrated that they can be considered to be a single employer (or an “Integrated Enterprise”) with respect to the Charging Party.

For example, in Baker v. Stuart Broadcasting Company, et al, the Federal 8th Circuit overruled the District Court’s dismissal of a Charging Party’s complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and found that the broadcasting companies’ management and ownership operations were so closely interrelated that the companies could be consolidated as (Joint) “employers” for jurisdictional purposes under Title VII.

Similarly, in EEOC and Margaret Hasselman v Sage Realty, Monahan Commercial Cleaners and Monahan Building Maintenance, Inc. the court found that, although the companies involved were independently owned and operated under a contractual relationship, one of the companies, namely, Sage Realty, exercised almost complete control over the terms and conditions of employment of the employees of the other two entities. Accordingly the Court held that the companies had been operated as a joint employer.

Recently the EEOC obtained a $1.65 million settlement through four consent decrees against four independent contractors in EEOC v. Conectiv Energy, et al (E.D. Pa.; May, 2008). The EEOC considered the four contractor firms – Conectiv Energy, the general contractor, and Bogan Inc./Hake Group, A.C. Dellovade Inc., and Steel Suppliers Erectors Inc – to be a joint employer in maintaining a hostile work environment on the Bethlehem Project.

The four black workers, who will share in the settlement, allegedly had been subjected to various types of harassment, including racial slurs and nooses hanging from cross beams. The consent decrees include a provision that the defendants’ agreement to the settlement is not an admission of any violation of Title VII.

The important point is that if a charge of discrimination is filed under Title VII, the ADA or the ADEA a parent and its subsidiary, a contractor or subcontractor, or even a franchiser could be held to be a “Joint Employer” depending upon the interrelatedness of their actual operations.

In the past the EEOC and the courts have used four general factors (adopted from the NLRB) to measure the degree of interrelatedness that would make two or more entities a joint employer:

  1. The degree of interrelatedness with respect to operations. For example, the degree to which two entities share management services such as check writing, related payrolls, personnel policies, business licenses, the services of managers or supervisors, sharing the use of office space or operating the two entities as a single unit.
  2. The degree to which the businesses share common management. For example, where there’s strong evidence that the same persons make day-to-day decisions for both entities, or where the entities have common officers, or boards of directors which set policy and supervise the operations of both entities.
  3. The degree of centralized control over labor or personnel policies and practices. For example, where the entities have a centralized source of authority for developing and implementing personnel policies and practices, or where one entity maintains the personnel records, screens, tests and maintains job applications for both entities. Also the degree to which the same person (e.g. a CEO or president) makes the employment decisions for both entities.
  4. The degree of common ownership or financial control over the entities in question. For example, where the same person or persons own or control both entities, or where the same persons serve as officers or directors in both entities; or where one of the entities owns a majority or all of the shares in the other entity.

EEOC Tip:

None of these general factors is absolutely compelling in deciding whether two given entities are necessarily a “joint employer.” That determination depends upon the facts in any given case. In some cases, separate entities have been found to be a joint employer where some of these factors are absent.

According to the EEOC’s Guidance, the critical factors in determining whether two entities should be considered to be a joint employer are whether there is:

  • A close interrelationship of operations
  • Common management
  • Centralized control of labor relations

To avoid potential liability as a joint employer, we’d recommend that you pay careful attention to these factors in entering into any contractual relationship with another independent firm or with a subsidiary of your own firm.

This article was prepared by Jerome C. Rose, EEO Consultant for the Worklaw Network firm of LEHR, MIDDLEBROOKS, & VREELAND, P.C. Before his association with the firm, Mr. Rose served for more than 22 years as the Regional Attorney for the Birmingham District Office of the EEOC.

EDITOR’S COLUMN: WHAT KIND OF HR DO YOU HAVE?

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

I recently received a solicitation for an HR opening.

Here�s part of what it said:
Title: HR Manager Compensation: $70k-$90k + Corp Benefits

The HR Manager serves as a strategic business partner to the Management team and is responsible for recommending, designing, planning, coordinating and implementing a full range of human resources services in the areas of recruiting and selection, employee relations and communications, compensation administration, performance management, employee development and training, benefit administration, HR administration, execution of company policies, and employment law compliance.

Principal Duties and Responsibilities:

  1. Assists managers in identifying organizational needs and developing strategies and programs to address these needs. Implements human resource process improvements relating to all phases of the human resource activities that support the goals of the company.
  2. Manages employee relations issues by assisting managers and supervisors with the interpretation and fair application of company policies and procedures.
  3. Facilitates and participates in employee corrective action meetings to effectively resolve concerns/issues.
  4. Partners with the management team to gain a detailed understanding of organizational goals and needs to develop staffing practices and procedures to meet the business needs.
  5. Develops and maintains a network of contacts to help identify and source qualified candidates including job boards, colleges and universities, minority recruiting sources, temporary agencies, newspapers, and professional organizations.
  6. Manages the full lifecycle of recruitment, including sourcing candidates, interviewing, reference checking background checks, negotiating with applicants, and closing the hire
  7. Performs new hire orientation, processes new hire paperwork, drug testing and reference checks. Maintains applicant and employee records, reports, and logs to conform to EEO regulations, including all applicant flow, promotional, terminations and new hire logs. Maintains OSHA reports and records.
  8. Participates in maintenance of the compensation program, including the job evaluation process, writing job descriptions as necessary; and managing the administration of the performance evaluation program. Maintains and recommend changes to the employee handbook and procedures manual.
  9. Conducts training on policies and procedures.
  10. Manages the company�s relationship with health-care service providers, and other appropriate vendors.
  11. Performs benefits administration, including change reporting (personnel requisitions, work comp claims, terminations, and new hires). Processes required documents through payroll and insurance providers to ensure accurate record keeping and proper deductions.
  12. Assists managers in preparation of performance management material and annual reviews. Does Stromberg/HRIS training with each manager (access, restricted accessibility).
  13. Assesses employee turnover data and makes specific recommendations regarding employee retention programs and strategies.
  14. Develops and administers employee development plans and training programs to meet the needs of the workforce and managers. Holds career discussions and assists managers and supervisors to identify outside training resources necessary for employee development.
  15. Tracks HR department metrics. Evaluates reports, decisions, and results of department in relation to established goals. Recommends new approaches, policies, and procedures to effect continual improvements in efficiency of department and services performed.
  16. Stays current on recent federal, state, and case law changes and monitors labor law updates and newsletters for changes that affect HR.
  17. Complies with and actively supports company policies and procedures such as equal employment opportunity, affirmative action, safety, ISO 9000, and ethical business practices.
  18. Performs related daily administrative duties as required.
  19. Carries out other related duties as assigned by the Vice President or General Manager.

This is what strategic HR can be � and should be � even if it�s only a part-time job! If you�re an HR That Works member, the tools on the Web site will support your HR person in performing these duties and responsibilities. The result will be a healthier bottom-line.

STAY-AT-HOME SPOUSE ALSO NEEDS LIFE INSURANCE

By Life and Health | No Comments

There is a serious misconception about not buying Life insurance for a stay-at-home spouse that is all too common. Many people feel that because a spouse doesn’t work outside the home, Life insurance is not necessary because there’s no salary to replace.

The problem with this thinking is that it fails to account for all the jobs a stay-at-home spouse performs during a typical day, one of the most important being childcare. All of those tasks would still need to be completed if the stay-at-home spouse passed away. Either the surviving spouse would have to quit his or her job, go part-time, or hire someone else to help out. If the stay-at-home spouse had Life insurance, the policy proceeds could be used to pay someone to tackle the household tasks and care for the children so that the remaining spouse could continue to work and support the family.

When you buy coverage for a stay-at-home spouse, you need to consider how long you would need help. If your children are infants or toddlers, then you’ve got many years of childcare before they can be left on their own. If they are teenagers you will need less help because the children are gone most of the day and they can also help out with household chores.

Until you do a needs analysis, you can’t really know for sure how much coverage the stay-at-home spouse should own. The best way to ensure you have accounted for all the ways your family depends on the stay-at-home spouse, is to talk with your insurance agent. They can help you determine how much coverage to purchase.

There are two basic types of Life policies. Permanent Life insurance provides life long protection as long as premiums are paid when due. This coverage also accumulates tax-deferred cash value. Such cash value can be borrowed against for education, to buy a home, and supplement your retirement income. Keep in mind that any unpaid loans made against the policy’s cash value accrue interest and reduce the policy’s death benefit if the insured should die before the loan is fully repaid.

Most permanent policies offer a fixed premium for the life of the policy. Other plans offer flexible premiums and benefits to suit your needs.

The other option is Term Life insurance. This coverage provides affordable protection for a specified number of years. Term policies are available ranging from 5 years to 30 years, many of which are annually renewable after the initial term period. Look for a term policy with a conversion privilege. This permits you to convert your term policy to a permanent policy without providing evidence of insurability.

Consumers often choose term policies because of large coverage needs and affordability is always a factor. However, a term policy is only in force for a specific time and once it expires, you lose the death benefit unless you renew. Renewal costs can be sky high on these policies.

Since there are many issues to consider with your family’s Life insurance needs, it is important to discuss your options with your insurance agent. That way, your family will be financially prepared if they lose the person upon whom they are so dependent.

NEWLYWEDS SHOULD FOCUS ON FINANCIAL FUTURE

By Life and Health | No Comments

There’s so much to plan when getting married that it’s easy to get bogged down in the details. It’s crucial not to lose sight of what really matters, and one of the most important matters to consider is your financial future as a couple.

According to an August 2007 survey, conducted by Allstate Insurance, the typical newlywed couple has combined assets of approximately $107,000. In spite of this, few newlyweds make provisions to protect their financial future through purchases such as Life insurance. In fact, 61% of those polled said they hadn’t purchased Life insurance before marriage, and 64% of that group still hadn’t purchased coverage within the first three years of marriage. A mere 23% of the respondents said they bought Life insurance during their first year of marriage. Another 9% did so before the end of the third year.

The study revealed some other interesting findings.

  • Of the men who responded, 42% had Life insurance beyond their employers’ coverage prior to marriage. Only 35% of the women respondents had coverage in addition to what their employer provided.
  • Of those surveyed, 53% said purchasing Life insurance showed a commitment to their future together as a couple.
  • Of those questioned, 42% said that Life insurance would be a thoughtful and meaningful gift for their spouse, but only 3% said they received or would likely receive a card or note to meet with a life insurance agent as an anniversary gift.

Even though Life insurance isn’t traditionally thought of as a romantic token of affection, it is an important gift that shouldn’t be overlooked. To help you find the coverage that’s right for the two of you, consider the following tips:

  • Talk to an expert. Meet with an insurance professional to evaluate your financial needs and goals and to determine how much life insurance you and your spouse need. Your insurance agent can also explain possible coverage amounts and options.
  • Plan for the future. Will you have debts that would need to be paid? Will you have enough to cover your children’s education costs? Will you have aging parents that may need care? Having Life insurance in the event of untimely death can help provide the funds to meet these situations.
  • Don’t rely on savings alone. Most people do not have nearly enough in their personal savings to allow their family to pay off final expenses or hold onto assets, such as the family home, without the added protection of Life insurance.

Employer-based coverage is not enough. Furthermore, Group Life insurance through an employer isn’t typically portable. This means that if an employee leaves the job, they are also leaving their Life insurance behind. That’s why it’s necessary to have an Individual Life insurance policy that is yours no matter where you are working. Call one of our Life specialists today!

KEY TO INSURER’S FINANCIAL RATING IS ITS LONGEVITY

By Life and Health | No Comments

You buy Life insurance for the financial protection it offers. The proceeds from a Life insurance policy can replace the income your family loses after you’re gone. When deciding on which policy to buy, it’s imperative that you choose an insurance company that will still be around after you’re gone.

The key to an insurance company’s longevity is its financial rating, which is represented by a letter grade. Insurers are graded by credit rating companies that have been designated as Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations (NRSRO) by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). A credit rating company receives this designation if the SEC feels it has a reputation in the United States as an issuer of credible and reliable ratings by the majority of financial institutions that use its information.

After a credit rating company receives its NRSRO designation, it can then rate financial firms like insurance companies. There are specific criteria that an NRSRO uses when rating an insurer. These criteria include:

  • Potential for growth
  • Diversification of the types of businesses it is involved in
  • Earnings
  • Profitability
  • Management of operating expenses

After all of these factors are considered, the NRSRO assigns the insurance company a letter rating. Keep in mind that each NRSRO’s rating system is a little different; however, all of them use some form of an “A” rating for indicating a top rated company. Generally speaking, you want to purchase a policy from an A-rated company.

There are five main NRSROs that rate insurers:

After you have researched an insurer’s ratings, you should:

  • Call their customer service line and ask for the company’s ratings from each of the ratings services. If the service representative refuses to tell you or lies about the ratings, don’t buy any products from that company.
  • Ask the insurance company for copies of its ratings reports. If it complies with your request, it is a sign that the company is consumer-friendly.
  • Ask your agent to explain each rating service report to you in simple terms. If the agent can’t explain the various ratios and terms, it is a sign that they have not been properly trained. That same lack of training may also manifest itself when you need your agent to handle a claim, evaluate future insurance needs, or recommend additional products.

MANY AUTO INSURANCE POLICIES LACK COVERAGE FOR YOUR GPS

By Personal Perspective | No Comments

If you’ve recently gone somewhere on vacation and your car did not have a Global Positioning System (GPS), you probably wish it did. GPS systems have become increasingly popular as their prices have dropped. Navigationally challenged drivers who used to decipher hard-to-read maps can now rely on these small devices to help them reach their destinations. However, the popularity of GPS devices makes them particularly attractive to thieves. They are also susceptible to damage in car crashes, like any other item in a car. How will an Auto insurance policy cover a stolen or damaged GPS?

Unfortunately, standard policies provide little or no coverage for a GPS. Many older policy editions explicitly state that they do not cover losses to any electronic equipment that receives or transmits data signals. A GPS would seem to fall within that description. More recent policy editions do cover electronic equipment, but only if it is permanently installed in the vehicle. These policies provide a small amount of insurance for electronic equipment; $1,000 coverage is typical.

It is possible to buy additional coverage for GPS devices. Any car owner with equipment worth more than $1,000 should speak with their insurance agent about buying a special policy form. It increases the coverage to a specific amount shown on the form. Typically, insurance companies will not offer more than $5,000 coverage.

If the policyholder has an older edition of the policy, she will need a different form to cover a GPS. This form covers sound reproducing equipment; audio, visual and data electronic equipment; and tapes, records and disks while in a vehicle. A GPS device falls within the data electronic equipment category. Coverage applies if the unit is permanently installed in the vehicle or if it is removable from a permanently installed housing unit, designed to be powered solely by the car’s electrical system, and in or upon the car at the time of the loss. The form provides coverage for devices in cars the policyholder owns and those she rents or borrows. As with the other form, she can buy coverage in amounts up to $5,000.

The additional premium for this coverage is normally small. A rate of $4 for every $100 of coverage is typical. For example, the cost for $2,500 of coverage might be around $100.

As car buyers ask carmakers to add more and more gadgets to cars, insurance coverage for those gadgets will continue to evolve. It is unwise to assume that an insurance policy automatically provides much coverage for these gadgets. All insurance buyers should review their policies carefully. In addition, ask one of our agents questions if GPS coverage is a concern. With a GPS and the right insurance coverage, drivers can be confident that they’re going in the right direction.