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Can You Get Time Off Work And A Paycheck For Jury Duty?

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United States citizens who receive a summons for jury duty must report to the courthouse and perform their civic duty. Your jury duty responsibilities could require anywhere from several hours to several months off work, though. What happens to your job and paycheck while you serve on a jury? Learn more about laws and your employer’s jury duty selection policy that affect your ability to get time off work and receive a paycheck when you’re called for jury duty.

Verify Your State’s Laws

The U.S. Department of Labor allows states to determine if jurors can receive time off work. Most states have established time off and paycheck guidelines employers must follow when an employee receives a jury duty summons, so verify your state’s specific jury duty leave laws.

In general, many states require employers to provide employees with time off work for jury duty. Some states also allow employers to offer different levels of time off based on the company’s industry and location and the employee’s job title.

Additionally, state laws determine if employers must pay employees who serve on a jury. The law may allow employers to provide unpaid leave or deduct jury pay from the employee’s paycheck. In most cases, though, employers cannot cut benefits, including insurance coverage and vacation time accrual, while employees serve on a jury.

Review Your Employer’s Jury Duty Selection Policy

Many companies include a jury duty selection policy in the employee handbook. It outlines time off and pay details for employees who receive a jury duty summons, so review the policy and follow it as you arrange for your jury duty service.

Keep in mind that federal law protects employees while they serve on jury duty. Employers may not discourage employees from serving or terminate, demote, harass, threaten or coerce an employee who reports for jury duty.

Steps to Take When you Receive a Jury Duty Summons

As soon as you receive a jury duty summons, notify your employer. Early notification gives your supervisor time to find coverage for your duties or time to write a letter and ask the court to postpone your jury duty date, which may be beneficial if you’re an essential employee or are involved in a major project.

You will also want to discuss your summons with the Human Resources department and review your employer’s jury duty selection policy. Your employer may require you to show proof of your summons before they grant you leave or pay.

Jury duty remains a privilege and responsibility for Americans but can disrupt your job. Understand your rights under state law and your employer’s jury duty selection policy as you perform your civic duty.

Employment and Labor Resolutions for the Coming Year

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While the year is still young, here are 15 resolutions that employers may want to make:

    1. Make sure your “independent contractors” are really independent contractors. “Independent contractors” are under scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board, state and local agencies, plaintiffs’ lawyers, and union organizers. A misclassification can cost you back taxes, back pay (including overtime), and back benefits, as well as penalties and interest.

 

    1. Review your email policies. The NLRB recently found that employees generally have a right to use employer email systems during non-working time in support of union organizing and concerted activity. The Board’s decision means that many employer email use policies, as currently drafted, would probably be found to violate the National Labor Relations Act if an unfair labor practice charge were filed or a union tried to organize employees and argued that the employer’s email policy interfered with the organizing efforts. In light of the new “quickie election” rule that the NLRB issued last month, both union and non-union employers would be well advised to review their email policies and revise as needed. (The “quickie election” rule is scheduled to take effect on April 14, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other employer groups, including the Society for Human Resources Management, filed suit on Monday seeking to block the rule.)

 

    1. Review your policies on social media, confidentiality, and “courtesy.” The NLRB is going after garden-variety employer policies, taking the position that the policies interfere with and have a chilling effect on employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity. Among the commonplace policies under attack are those requiring that information about the company or employees be kept confidential; policies requiring that employees treat each other with courtesy, respect, and civility; and even some policies requiring that employees not disclose confidential and proprietary information. As with the email policies, a non-compliant policy could result in an unfair labor practice charge or the setting aside of an employer victory in a union election.

 

    1. Review your severance agreements. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that certain standard provisions in employee separation agreements unlawfully interfere with employee rights to bring or cooperate in the investigation of discrimination charges before the EEOC, and has filed suit against some employers using agreements with terms that the EEOC doesn’t like. One of the lawsuits has already been dismissed, but the court in that case did not make a ruling as to whether the EEOC’s position had merit. Even if you decide to take your chances with your current agreement, it’s not a bad idea to consider toning down provisions that you know the EEOC will find objectionable.

 

    1. Review your leave policies and their administration. It’s not just the Family and Medical Leave Act anymore, although that’s enough in itself. You’ve probably seen that a number of states – most recently, Massachusetts – have enacted paid sick leave laws. Do your leave policies comply with the laws of the all the jurisdictions where you operate? And what do you do when an employee reaches the end of a sick leave or disability leave period? If you automatically terminate, then you could be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as state or local disability rights laws.

 

    1. Audit your wage-hour compliance. Unintentional overtime and wage-hour law violations have a new name in many quarters: “wage theft.” Federal and state agencies and plaintiff’s lawyers, sometimes encouraged by labor unions and their affiliate groups, are saying “show me the money” and finding it. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor has said that it will attempt to narrow the white-collar exemptions this year. (Although the DOL says the changes will not be drastic, they are expected to be drastic.) Among other things, a good wage-hour audit will include ensuring that lower-wage employees are getting at least the applicable minimum wage; that employees are not being required or “pressured” to work off the clock, or “winked at” when they do so; that the employees classified as “exempt” really are; and that any “independent contractors” really are (see also Resolution No. 1). Be sure that the review includes compliance with applicable state and local minimum wage laws, too. Many states now have a higher minimum wage than the Fair Labor Standards Act rate.

 

    1. Update your EEO/no-harassment policies, and get that training done! In just the past year, the EEOC has taken the position that pregnancy and related conditions (including lactation) must be reasonably accommodated. The EEOC and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which enforces the affirmative action laws that apply to federal contractors, both agree that “gender identity” is a protected category and that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity violates Title VII. Do your policies reflect this? Do your employees know the new rules? Do victims of harassment and discrimination know that they have recourse?

 

    1. Review your use of criminal background and credit information in hiring decisions. Many state and local laws prohibit employers from asking about criminal history on employment applications, and the EEOC has taken an aggressive position on the use of criminal or credit information in making employment decisions. You can still get this information, but are you getting it properly? If you find that an individual has a criminal or credit problem, are you making the required “individualized analysis” that takes into account, among other things, the nature of the conviction, the years that have passed, and the particular position for which the individual is applying? Did you grab some “canned” rules from a website, or are your rules customized to fit your industry, your workforce, and the people you serve?

 

    1. If you’re a federal contractor, make sure you are up to date on all of the OFCCP’s new requirements. For example, the new requirement that you prohibit discrimination or harassment based on gender identity. The new minimum wage (applicable to some, but not all, federal contractors). The new scheduling letter and itemized listing. The proposed rule prohibiting employers from requiring that employees avoid discussing their pay. The rule requiring employers to “air their dirty linen” by disclosing certain violations of federal labor and employment lawsThe new rule on disability discrimination/accommodation and veterans. (“Perform compensation analysis” is another good resolution if you haven’t done one lately.)

 

    1. Make sure you’re in compliance with the new injury and illness reporting requirements under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which took effect on January 1. We reported on this new rule back in September.

 

    1. Are your non-competes enforceable? And are you using them judiciously? Laws on the enforceability of non-compete agreements vary from state to state. If your agreements have not been reviewed in a while, this would be a good time to have them reviewed to ensure that they’ll do you any good if you need them. You may also need to review your territorial or customer restrictions to ensure that they are serving your current business needs, as opposed to the needs you had 10 years ago. It’s also a good idea to take into account how your non-competes are being used, even if they are generally in compliance with the law. A national sandwich chain recently had a public relations nightmare after it came to light that some restaurants were requiring hourly, minimum wage delivery employees to sign non-competes.

 

    1. Keep on monitoring the “legal pot” issue. A patchwork of state and local laws is developing that permits medical or recreational use of marijuana. Right now, it’s still all right under federal law for employers to ban marijuana use, even in states where it’s legal, because use of marijuana violates federal law. But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t run afoul of state law. This issue is developing quickly, so keep watching, and be ready to make appropriate adjustments to your substance abuse policy depending on what happens.

 

    1. Make sure you’re ready for the Affordable Care Act. Review your current compliance with your benefits counsel and consultants. If you have collective bargaining agreements coming up for re-negotiation or renewal, consider building in some sort of “flexibility mechanism” to deal with the huge uncertainty that the ACA is generating. As examples of the moving target that the ACA has become, the Supreme Court agreed in November to hear a case challenging the subsidies to states that did not set up their own insurance exchanges. (A decision is expected this summer.) And just this week, the Republicans in Congress introduced two bills designed to mitigate parts of the employer mandate.

 

    1. Review your contracts with staffing services and true independent contractors. This is a good time to examine your contracts with staffing providers and genuine independent contractors to be as certain as possible that you have properly allocated risks and responsibilities, including insurance obligations, indemnification rights and obligations, compliance with wage and hour and other recordkeeping obligations, employee supervision, employee safety, discrimination or other required training, benefits compliance, anti-discrimination compliance, and recordkeeping obligations and procedures. (If you aren’t sure whether your “independent contractors” are true independent contractors, then go back to Resolution Nos. 1 and 6.)

 

    1. Review your alternative dispute resolution policy, or consider adopting one. If you already have an arbitration agreement, is it drafted, published, and executed through agreements with employees in a manner to be enforced by a court? The NLRB still refuses to recognize arbitration agreements that eliminate the possibility of class or collective arbitration, but the Board’s position has been rejected in three federal circuits. The courts generally favor arbitration agreements, so if you do not have one, it might be worth consideration. For employers with collective bargaining agreements, consider whether you should negotiate to obtain grievance and arbitration provisions that would help to meet the NLRB’s new standard for post-arbitration deferral.

 

Courtesy of David Phippen, Esq. Metro Washington D.C. Office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP

Don Phin, Esq. is VP of Strategic Business Solutions at ThinkHR, which helps companies resolve urgent workforce issues, mitigate risk and ensure HR compliance. Phin has more than three decades of experience as an HR expert, published author and speaker, and spent 17 years in employment practices litigation. For more information, visit www.ThinkHR.com.

Affordable Ways To Supplement Your Dental Insurance

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Your benefits package from work probably includes dental insurance. With this valuable coverage, you can access regular preventative care and dental procedures that protect your smile and health. Your dental insurance coverage may not extend to your spouse, children or other dependents, though. Consider several affordable ways you can meet your family’s dental needs and protect their health, too.

Purchase Private Dental Insurance

Research private insurance companies that offer dental insurance, and choose one that offers the dental care your dependents need. With this option, you can save money by choosing a policy with a higher deductible or a limited number of in-network dentists.

Find Group Dental Insurance

Certain organizations like AARP, Costco and the Veterans Administration offer group dental insurance for members. In most cases, these options are affordable because numerous members purchase coverage.

Choose a Discount Dental Plan

As an alternative to private or group dental insurance, participate in a discount dental plan. Pay an annual fee that allows your loved ones to access a dental network that offers numerous preventative and other dental services, such as cleanings, orthodontia, root canals and cosmetic dentistry, at reduced rates.

Pay Out-of-Pocket

You could choose to pay only for the dental services your family members receive. When you pay out-of-pocket, you may be able to negotiate with the dentist and receive a discount for services.

Visit a Dental School

A local dental school often offers free or reduced cost dental services. Students perform the procedures under supervision, and you save money.

Find a Dental Clinic

Dental clinics provide a variety of oral care services for adults and children who don’t have insurance. Search the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service website to find a clinic near you.

Take Care of Your Teeth

While regular cleanings are important for oral health, your family members will also want to maintain good daily oral hygiene. Reduce bacteria, plaque, gum inflammation, cavities and decay when they:

  • Brush at least twice a day.
  • Floss daily.
  • Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash in the morning.
  • Rinse with a fluoridated mouthwash in the evening.

Tips to Choose the Best Option

To choose the most affordable dental care option for your loved ones’ needs, compare the annual cost of their dental services to the amount you would pay for a private, group or discount plan. Then be sure the coverage is right for them when you check details like the plan’s:

  • Maximum yearly benefit
  • Availability, location and customer reviews of covered dentists
  • Coverage restrictions that may limit your ability to get fluoride treatments, sealants or orthodontia
  • Restricted coverage for pre-existing conditions

Even without dental insurance, your family has affordable options that protect their health. For more assistance, talk to your insurance agent.

DOL’S Companionship Rule Gets the One-Two Punch

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Employers of companionship and domestic employees can breathe a little easier, now that a court has set aside major portions of a rule that may have required that such employees receive the minimum wage and overtime under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

At issue was a Final Rule issued by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2013, which was to take effect January 1, 2015. Companionship workers have historically been exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements. But under the Final Rule, the definition of“companionship services” not only was substantially narrowed, but also employees of third-party home health-care agencies (as opposed to employees who were employed directly by the individuals needing care or their family members) were excluded from the exemptions. If the Final Rule had not been vacated, many more companionship workers would be entitled to the FLSA minimum wage and, if applicable, overtime.

Even though the 2013 Final Rule was scheduled to take effect on January 1 of this year, the DOL announced that it would not begin taking enforcement action until June 30. However, as we previously reported, the delay in DOL enforcement action would not have prevented individuals from bringing private lawsuits starting January 1.

This has all become a moot point, though, because of the two court rulings that came about in late December and early January.
On December 22, Judge Richard Leon of the District of Columbia vacated the part of the Final Rule that excluded employees of third-party providers from the minimum wage and overtime exemptions.

Judge Leon noted that the statutory language supporting the use of the exemptions by third-party employers had been in place since 1974, and specifically upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition, despite “efforts by legislators in the majority party in both the House and the Senate in three consecutive Congresses” to change the law, Judge Leon said, no bill excluding third-party employers had ever made it out of committee. On this basis, he rejected the DOL’s attempt to substantively change the law through the administrative process:

Undaunted by the Supreme Court’s decision . . ., and the utter lack of Congressional support to withdraw the exemption, the Department of Labor amazingly decided to try to do administratively what others had failed to achieve in either the Judiciary or the Congress.
Then, on January 14, Judge Leon vacated the DOL’s narrow definition of “companionship services,” granting a motion for emergency injunctive relief filed by a number of home care providers.

Under the Final Rule, “the term companionship services also includes the provision of care if the care is provided attendant to and in conjunction with the provision of fellowship and protection and if it does not exceed 20% of the total hours worked per person and per workweek.” Once again, Judge Leon found that the DOL had overstepped its bounds by trying to administratively change longstanding interpretations:

Home care workers have been providing care to the elderly and disabled, under the umbrella of the companionship services exemption, since the enactment of the 1974 amendments. Here, I am once again faced with a long-standing regulation left untouched by Congress for 40 years…Congress has not shown one iota of interest in cabining the definition of companionship services which has been interpreted by the Department in the same way for 40 years…

Thus, the judge found that there was no indication that Congress had intended to impose a “20-percent limit” on caregiving services to elderly and disabled individuals.

As a result of Judge Leon’s two orders, the DOL’s Final Rule, as it applies to third-party employers and companionship services, will not go into effect. It remains to be seen whether the DOL will appeal. It should be noted that there are some other provisions of the DOL’s Final Rule that were not addressed in the Court’s ruling and will therefore remain in effect unless stayed or vacated by a future court order. These involve certain definitions and recordkeeping requirements.
Courtesy of Tony McGrath, Esq. Madison Office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP

Don Phin, Esq. is VP of Strategic Business Solutions at ThinkHR, which helps companies resolve urgent workforce issues, mitigate risk and ensure HR compliance. Phin has more than three decades of experience as an HR expert, published author and speaker, and spent 17 years in employment practices litigation. For more information, visit www.ThinkHR.com.

The Significance of Dress Codes under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

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Dress codes may entail something simple like a requirement that employees wear a specific type of clothing because of the environment or because of the type of business. In a medical facility, for example, registered nurses might be required to wear a certain color and type of medical scrub. In a manufacturing facility, managers may have to wear shirts with their names on them and a different color hat. A transportation company may require a specific uniform or type of shoes. Dress codes may also forbid any jeans or sneakers while requiring business formal attire. Or, dress codes could forbid the wearing of hats, sunglasses, or open-toed shoes. Dress codes establish guidelines for the workplace, but they can vary among industries, regions, and even based on whether the facility is open to the public. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (2011):

Employers may require employees to wear certain articles of clothing to protect themselves, coworkers, or the public (e.g., construction workers are required to wear certain head gear to prevent injury; health care workers wear gloves to prevent transmission of disease from or to patients). Sometimes employers impose dress codes to make employees easily identifiable to customers and clients, or to promote a certain image (e.g., a movie theater requires its staff to wear a uniform; a store requires all sales associates to dress in black). A dress code also may prohibit employees from wearing certain items either as a form of protection or to promote a certain image (e.g., prohibitions on wearing jewelry or baseball caps, or requirements that workers wear business attire).

So, may an employer require that an employee with a disability follow the dress code imposed on all workers in the same job? Most agencies treat dress codes as “conduct rules,” but classify them as the type of conduct rule that must be justified as “job-related and consistent with business necessity” before being enforced. So, if a person with a disability requests modification to a dress code as a reasonable accommodation, an employer must consider allowing the modification unless the employer can show that the dress code is required for the job in question.

The EEOC (2011) provides several examples of modification to a dress code as guidance.

An employee is undergoing radiation therapy for cancer which has caused sores to develop. The employee cannot wear her usual uniform because it is causing severe irritation as it constantly rubs against the sores. The employee seeks an exemption from the uniform requirement until the radiation treatment ends and the sores have disappeared or are less irritating. The employer agrees, and working with the employee, decides on acceptable clothes that the employee can wear as a reasonable accommodation that meet the medical needs of the employee, easily identify the individual as an employee, and enable the individual to present a professional appearance.

A professional office requires that its employees wear business dress at all times. Due to diabetes, Carlos has developed foot ulcers making it very painful to wear dress shoes. Also, dress shoes make the ulcers worse. Carlos asks to wear sneakers instead. The supervisor is concerned about Carlos’s appearance when meeting with clients. These meetings usually occur once a week and last about an hour or two. Carlos and his doctor agree that Carlos can probably manage to wear dress shoes for this limited time. Carlos also tells his supervisor that he will purchase black leather sneakers to wear at all other times. The supervisor permits Carlos to wear black sneakers except when he meets with clients.

If the employee cannot meet the dress code because of a disability, the employer may still require compliance if the dress code is job-related and consistent with business necessity. An employer also may require that an employee with a disability meet dress standards required by federal law. If an individual with a disability cannot comply with a dress code that meets the “business necessity” standard or is mandated by federal law, even with a reasonable accommodation, he will not be considered “qualified.”

Courtesy of Beth Loy, Ph.D., Principal Consultant, Job Accommodation Network

Don Phin, Esq. is VP of Strategic Business Solutions at ThinkHR, which helps companies resolve urgent workforce issues, mitigate risk and ensure HR compliance. Phin has more than three decades of experience as an HR expert, published author and speaker, and spent 17 years in employment practices litigation. For more information, visit www.ThinkHR.com.

SAVING FOR A RAINY DAY IS KEY TO YOUR FINANCIAL FUTURE

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In our nation’s tumultuous environment of skyrocketing unemployment and plummeting home values, saving up for an emergency fund or retirement might be the farthest thing from your mind. Considering the sad state of our economy, most consumers are happy to just make ends meet. Although some economists encourage consumers to spend to stimulate the economy, most financial experts say saving is still as important as ever.

Is saving money a lost art? Recently, Bank of America Merrill Lynch conducted a study to determine whether Americans are saving enough. In the four decades after World War II, the average American saved between 6% and 10% of their after-tax income. However, around 1985, that number started to decline, dropping below an average of zero in 2005. That’s when consumers started spending more than they earned with the help of easily accessible credit cards and loans.

For the most part, the average American has saved less than 3% of their income during the past five years. That number has increased slightly to 4% as gun-shy Americans scramble to save in this depressed economy. However, many economists say that’s still not nearly enough. It almost seems as if saving has become a thing of the past, but consumers run the risk of serious financial turmoil if they don’t start saving for a rainy day. And then there’s the retirement issue. Without a healthy nest egg, far too many retirees will outlive their money.

A mountain of debt. Of course, a lack of savings isn’t our nation’s only financial problem. Most families are facing a mounting load of debt, as well. In 1960, the typical American family’s debt equaled about 55% of their after-tax disposable income. Today, the average debt-to-income ratio (DTI) for a U.S. household is a whopping 125%. Of course that’s better than 2008, when household debt reached an all-time high of 130%.

Financial experts say that a 100% DTI is a healthy debt ratio. Let’s say you and your spouse earn $150,000 a year, but you owe a total of $200,000 on your house, car, student loans and other financial obligations. If you want to reach 100 percent DTI, you should try to pay down your debt by $50,000 to reach a “healthy” DTI.

Slowly rising savings rate. As mentioned, the savings rate has inched up to about 4% recently. Some economists say that as the savings rate continues to slowly rise, U.S. consumers will use about 80% of their savings to pay down debt and the other 20% to invest in interest-earning assets. Although this is certainly a financially responsible move, some experts point out that the U.S. economy depends on consumer spending. Therefore, if consumers stop spending as much and saving more, the economy will not bounce back any time soon.

Based on a study by Federal Reserve economists Reuven Glick and Kevin Lansing, the savings rate would need to climb to 10% within the next eight years for U.S. households to lower their debt to normal levels. Reuven and Lansing say that would shave 0.75 percentage points off economic growth each year, which could lead to a continued depressed economy and a lack of new jobs.

Saving is still important. Regardless of these new theories about “saving too much,” most financial experts say that saving is still critical. After all, your financial well-being depends on it — now and well into the future. Although the idea of saving less and spending more is a popular one, it’s probably not the smartest move for most consumers. First of all, saving is absolutely necessary if you want to ensure a comfortable retirement. Secondly, financial experts say consumers should also save up for an emergency fund. Think about it this way: What would happen if you lost your job tomorrow? What if you suffered from a severe illness and faced thousands of dollars worth of medical bills? Could you afford it? Probably not. And that’s precisely why you should keep between three and six months worth of living expenses in your emergency fund.

Unemployment Benefits For Seasonal Layoffs

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The slow winter season may lead certain employers to lay off employees for a few weeks or months.  If you’re affected by a layoff, you could file for unemployment. Understand this coverage and how to file for it so you can receive financial benefits as you wait to return to work.

What are Unemployment Benefits?

Most employers pay unemployment insurance so employees who lose their jobs or are laid off can receive temporary unemployment benefits. While your state administers the benefits, you are responsible to file a weekly claim for the benefits.

How to Qualify for Unemployment

Every state sets different guidelines for unemployment eligibility. Typically, you may receive benefits if you are laid off seasonally, and these benefits will last up to 26 weeks or until you return to work. However, you may need to meet certain employment qualifications. For example, in some states you must work for your employer for a certain number of weeks or earn a set income per month before you can apply for unemployment. You also must receive a W-2 from your employer, which means independent contractors or freelancers will not qualify for unemployment benefits.

Check with your Human Resources department to ensure you qualify for unemployment benefits. In most cases, you’ll receive details about your eligibility and information on how to file for benefits before your layoff starts.

How to File for Unemployment

It may take a week or longer to begin receiving unemployment benefits, so file a claim for benefits as soon as possible. You can sign up online or over the phone, and you will need your:

  • Social Security and driver license number
  • Complete mailing address and daytime phone number
  • Names and addresses of all employers from the last 18 months
  • Information from your W-2 form

After you file the initial claim, you will file for benefits weekly either online or through the automated phone system. Be prepared to answer questions about how many days you were willing and able to work that week. To continue receiving benefits, you also may need to prove that you’re actively looking for work even if you expect to be rehired in the near future.

Amount of Benefits you will Receive

Your state’s unemployment program and your job history affect the amount of unemployment benefits you receive. Typically, you can expect to receive up to half of your regular wages. Weekly benefits are capped, however, so you might earn less than half if you are a high-earner.

Unemployment benefits provide financial income if you’re laid off for a season from your job. Discuss your specific benefits with your Human Resources department to ensure you understand the specific benefits you can receive.

OFFICE SAFETY AND SECURITY: WHAT WORKERS NEED TO KNOW AND DO

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Although most people think of business places as safe and serene, in fact they’re rife with risks, both inside and outside the building. Security experts recommend taking these safety precautions:

Parking Lot Security/Lighting. 

Because crime flourishes in the dark, implement a “buddy system” to ferry workers to and from their cars. Limit parking lot access to controlled points and have the lots as well lit as possible. In fact, light is such a deterrent to crime that it’s wise to keep your entire facility lit, inside and out, during non-business hours.

Entrance Area Safety. 

Make sure a receptionist is on duty at all times. Provide a registration system for all visitors (even if they wear the uniform of contract cleaning or other service personnel). Have all doors, windows, and locks checked frequently for proper operation. Use badge or other photo ID systems, with frequent checks of entry code systems. Never let employees prop open a door with a chair so that it doesn’t lock behind them outside on a break.

Suspicious Activity. 

Urge employees to report any suspicious persons or activity around the building. Never allow employees to open suspicious packages. Instead, report them to the authorities for proper search and disposal.

Information Safety. 

Unfortunately, it’s increasingly easy for computer hackers or disgruntled employees to steal your organization’s vital business information. To guard against this threat, use the latest security software for your entire system, updated frequently, and make sure to have regular backups for this information. Shred paper documents with critical information as soon as they’re no longer needed.

Equipment Security. 

Keep an inventory of all your critical equipment, hardware, and software. This is especially important as electronic devices keep shrinking in size, making them easier to conceal and remove. Having an inventory (many experts suggest taking photos of important items) will also make it easier for your insurance carrier to process any claim if anything “goes missing.”

Employee Valuables. 

Provide secure places, such as lockable drawers and closets, for employee property and encourage their use. Valuables, especially any item that reveals personal information, should be locked away during company gatherings or breaks.

Safety Team. 

Set up a group of managers and employees who meet regularly with a set agenda. Our experts would be happy to work with you in creating a comprehensive workplace safety program. Feel free to give us a call.

Work Resolutions That Improve Your Health

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With the launch of a new year, you may resolve to improve your career and expand your skills, mentor someone or climb the corporate ladder. Have you considered workplace resolutions that improve your health? Stay strong, fit and active and succeed on the job with several resolutions.

Learn Something New

Stimulate your brain function, improve memory and stay young when you learn something new. Study a new language, take a college or professional development class or engage in a new hobby during your work breaks as you expand your mind and improve your health.

Change Your Eating Habits

Skipping breakfast, chowing on donuts in the break room and eating fast food for lunch cause you to gain weight, feel sluggish and struggle to focus at work. Resolve to make dietary changes as you improve your health. Prepare portable burritos or egg muffins for breakfast, bring nuts and fruit for snack time and pack a balanced lunch. These simple eating habit changes assist you in staying healthy at work this year.

Move More

Your body and your brain need movement to function properly. Adequate movement improves your physical health, focus and sleep, so plan to walk at least 10,000 steps per day with these tips.

  • Hold walking meetings.
  • Pace your office as you talk on the phone.
  • Stretch every 30 minutes.
  • Walk during breaks.
  • Join an intramural sports league with your coworkers.

Reduce Stress

Stress affects your motivation, productivity and morale, and it can cause health problems like headaches, obesity and depression. While you can’t remove all stress from your work day, resolve to identify unhealthy stressors and reduce those challenges. That may mean transferring to a different department, addressing problems with your boss or rethinking expectations and saying no to extra projects as you lower stress and improve your health.

Achieve Better Work-Life Balance

Productivity, creativity and problem-solving skills actually decrease as your work hours increase because your brain and body need downtime to relax and recharge. Instead of working over your lunch hour, take a walk, read a book or call a friend, and turn off your phone at home. With work-life balance, you actually relax, improve your health and perform better at work.

Get Social

Strong relationships reduce health problems, improve sleep and increase longevity, so resolve to cultivate beneficial relationships with your coworkers. As you get social and chat more, improve collaboration and spend time together during breaks, you build relationships that help you live longer.

With these work resolutions, you can get healthy this year. You may also talk to your doctor or health insurance agent to discover additional resolutions that improve your health in 2018.

Managing Mental Disabilities

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It takes the EEOC 56 pages to define a “mental disability.” Approximately 58 million Americans, one in four adults, experience a mental health impairment in a given year (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2007). One in 17 individuals lives with a serious mental health impairment, such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder (National Institute of Mental Health, 2008).

Common mental impairments include:

    • Bipolar disorder, sometimes referred to as manic depression, “is a medical illness that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. Bipolar disorder is a chronic and generally life-long condition with recurring episodes of mania and depression that can last from days to months that often begin in adolescence or early adulthood, and occasionally even in children.” An estimated 10 million American adults have bipolar disorder.
    • Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is “an often misunderstood, serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self image, and behavior. It is a disorder of emotional dysregulation. This instability often disrupts family and work, long-term planning, and the individual’s sense of self-identity.” It’s estimated that 1% to 2% suffer from BPD.
    • Major depression is “persistent and can significantly interfere with an individual’s thoughts, behavior, mood, activity, and physical health. Among all medical illnesses, major depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States and many other developed countries.” There are approximately 15 million American adults with major depression.
    • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) “occurs when an individual experiences obsessions and compulsions for more than an hour each day, in a way that interferes with his or her life.” Estimates indicate that 2% of American adults have OCD.
    • Panic disorder occurs when a person “experiences recurrent panic attacks, at least one of which leads to at least a month of increased anxiety or avoidant behavior. Panic disorder may also be indicated if a person experiences fewer than four panic episodes but has recurrent or constant fears of having another panic attack.” Approximately 2% to 5% of American adults suffer from panic disorder.
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is “an anxiety disorder that can occur after someone experiences a traumatic event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror. While it is common to experience a brief state of anxiety or depression after such occurrences, people with PTSD continually re-experience the traumatic event; avoid individuals, thoughts, or situations associated with the event; and have symptoms of excessive emotions.

      People with this disorder have these symptoms for longer than one month and cannot function as well as they did before the traumatic event. PTSD symptoms usually appear within three months of the traumatic experience; however, they sometimes occur months or even years later.” It’s estimated that 2% to 9% of adult Americans (including 15% to 30% of veterans) have PTSD.

    • Schizophrenia “often interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly; to distinguish reality from fantasy; and to manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others. Some 2 million American adults are schizophrenic.
    • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is “characterized by recurrent episodes of depression — usually in late fall and winter — alternating with periods of normal or high mood the rest of the year.” Note: SAD is not regarded as a separate disorder by the DSM-IV (APA, 1994), but is an added descriptor for the pattern of depressive episodes in patients with major depression or bipolar disorder.

Here’s a quick overview of some job accommodations that might be useful for people with mental health impairments.

Maintaining Stamina During the Workday:

  • Provide flexible scheduling
  • Allow longer or more frequent work breaks
  • Allow employee to work from home during part of the day, or week
  • Provide part-time work schedules

Maintaining Concentration:

  • Reduce distractions in the work area
  • Provide space enclosures or a private office
  • Allow for use of white noise or environmental sound machines
  • Allow the employee to play soothing music using a portable player and headset
  • Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting
  • Plan for uninterrupted work time
  • Allow for frequent breaks
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals
  • Restructure job to include only essential functions

Staying Organized and Meeting Deadlines:

  • Make daily TO-DO lists and check items off as they are completed
  • Use several calendars to mark meetings and deadlines
  • Remind employee of important deadlines
  • Use electronic organizers
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals

Dealing with Memory Deficits:

  • Allow the employee to tape record meetings
  • Provide type written minutes of each meeting
  • Provide written instructions
  • Allow additional training time
  • Provide written checklists

Working Effectively with Supervisors:

  • Provide positive praise and reinforcement
  • Provide written job instructions
  • Develop written work agreements that include the agreed upon accommodations, clear expectations of responsibilities, and the consequences of not meeting performance standards
  • Allow for open communication to managers and supervisors
  • Establish written long term and short-term goals
  • Develop strategies to deal with problems before they arise
  • Develop a procedure to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodation

Interacting with Coworkers:

  • Educate all employees on their right to accommodations
  • Provide sensitivity training to coworkers and supervisors
  • Do not require employees to attend work-related social functions
  • Encourage employees to move non work-related conversations out of work areas

Handling Stress and Emotions:

  • Provide praise and positive reinforcement
  • Refer to counseling and employee assistance programs
  • Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for needed support
  • Allow the presence of a support animal
  • Allow the employee to take breaks as needed

Maintaining Attendance:

  • Provide flexible leave for health problems
  • Provide a self-paced work load and flexible hours
  • Allow employee to work from home
  • Provide part-time work schedule
  • Allow employee to make up time

Dealing with Change:

  • Recognize that a change in the office environment or of supervisors may be difficult for a person with a mental health impairment
  • Maintain open channels of communication between the employee and the new and old supervisor in order to ensure an effective transition
  • Provide weekly or monthly meetings with the employee to discuss workplace issues and productions levels

To learn more, visit the Job Accommodation Network’s Accommodations Ideas for Mental Health Impairments.