10 Thoughts on Working through an ADA Accommodation

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was originally published in 1991, with revisions and updates in the mid-2000’s.  The legislation prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace.  This article will focus on disability and accommodation during the application and employment relationship.  How does this impact our organizations?  What should we consider if an applicant or employee requires reasonable accommodation?  The steps below will assist our organizations in working through the complexity of accommodations.

Below are the 10 thoughts on ADA accommodations:

  1. Are you covered by the ADA? All employers with 15 or more employees are covered under the ADA at the federal level.  Review state regulations and legislation, to verify if there are stricter requirements at the state or local level. 
  1. Policies and Procedures in Place: Ensure your organization has handbook language, a policy, process and/or procedures in place to work through disability accommodations. This includes reviewing job descriptions; physical, standing, sitting or lifting requirements.  The more accuracy in the job descriptions, the better we can assess accommodations and determine the reasonableness of the accommodation request.
  1. Is the applicant qualified? The individual needs to satisfy the definitions under the ADA.  Applicants must meet the skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements.  They must be able to perform the essential functions of the position.
  1. The Interactive Process: Employers should engage in the interactive process in which the employee, health care provider and employer share relevant and important information on the position, the disability, accommodations and limitations of the applicant. This should be a good faith communication process between the parties.
  1. Employee Disability Under the ADA:
  • The ADA defines a disability as one of the following: a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; b) a record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited a major life activity; or c) being regarded as having such an impairment.
  • According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) includes impairments that would automatically be considered disabilities. They include deafness, blindness, intellectual disability, completely or partially missing limbs, mobility impairments that require the use of a wheelchair, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV or AIDS, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy, major depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia.
  • The definition of major life activities includes caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working. Major bodily functions include functions of the immune system; normal cell growth; and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine and reproductive functions.
  • The definition of a disability also includes situations in which an employer takes an action prohibited by the ADA based on an actual or perceived impairment—for example, removing from customer contact a bank teller who has severe facial scars because customers may feel uncomfortable working with this employee or may perceive the employee as having an impairment when, in fact, he or she does not.
  • The ADAAA directs that if a “mitigating measure,” such as medication, medical equipment, devices, prosthetic limbs or low vision devices eliminates or reduces the symptoms or impact of the impairment, that fact cannot be used in determining if a person meets the definition of having a disability. Instead, the determination of disability should focus on whether the individual would be substantially limited in performing a major life activity without the mitigating measure. This rule, however, does not apply to people who wear ordinary eye glasses or contact lenses.
  • The following are not disabilities under the ADA: transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, other sexual behavior disorders, compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, and psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.”[i]
  1. Reasonableness of the Accommodation: The accommodation can be a modification in the workplace. The price of reasonable accommodation will vary, case by case.  Determination of the accommodation should be an open process between the three parties and should be consistent throughout the organization with employees and applicants.
  1. Reasonable Accommodation versus Undue Hardship:
  • “The EEOC, when determining if the employee request creates an undue hardship to the employer, looks not only at the cost of the particular accommodation but also at the financial stability of a company. If the company is making significant profits or has a sizable net worth, the employer may not be able to prove that the requested accommodation would have a significant financial impact, therefore creating an undue hardship. For example, it may be an undue hardship for a nonprofit organization with limited funds to provide a special chair that costs $1,000 as an accommodation to an employee. However, the same request by an employee working in a for-profit organization that made sizable profits may not be seen as an undue hardship for that employer.
  • Accommodations that could result in an undue hardship include modifications that are “unduly extensive or disruptive, or those that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the job or business,” according to the EEOC. For example, small employers that require their employees to be able to perform a number of different jobs and tasks may not find it feasible or cost-effective to provide job restructuring as a “reasonable accommodation,” whereas in larger organizations, this may be a free or low-cost option.
  • The EEOC does not see impact on employee morale as a reasonable undue hardship defense.”[ii]
  1. Communication is Critical: The organization should notify the employee in writing if the accommodation has been approved or denied.  Details of the anticipated accommodation start date or reason for the denial should be included.  Copies of all material should be included in the employee files.  Make copies of all information.
  1. Review, Modify and Evolve: Just as we manage PFL and FMLA claims, we need to continue to review open accommodation cases, in the event accommodation requirements change, we need to be aware of these changes. Work with the employee and health care provider to ensure the communication channels remain open.
  1. Job Accommodation Network (JAN): “The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. Working toward practical solutions that benefit both employer and employee, JAN helps people with disabilities enhance their employability, and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace.”[iii] This is a great resource with helpful information.  The forms, templates and accommodation recommendations are useful for all organizations.  Be proactive and strategic in your approach to accommodations.

Job Accommodation Network

Below are the links for upcoming training’s both in person and online webinars:

Upcoming Compliance Key Trainings

Elmira College: SHRM Certification Exam Prep Course- Fall 2018 & Spring 2019

Upcoming Compliance Online Training

Compliance IQ Webinar

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/how-to-guides/pages/requestreasonableaccommodation.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/how-to-guides/pages/requestreasonableaccommodation.aspx

[iii] https://askjan.org/about-us/index.cfm

7 Reasons to Implement Stay Interviews in Your Organization

What is a stay interview?  “A stay interview is a structured discussion a leader conducts with an individual employee to learn specific actions the leader can take strengthen the employee’s engagement and retention with the organization.”[i]  What is the value of the stay interview?  The organization hears directly from the employee in a one-on-one discussion (not related to performance), with any issues, concerns and opportunities leadership improvement.  This provides us as leaders the opportunity to engage, communicate and retain the workforce.  The stay interviews should be conducted by the leader of the organization, with HR’s support.  I have used effectively used stay interviews.

Below are the thoughts on implementing stay interviews:

  1. Start at the Top: The leader at the top of the organization should set the tone for the organization and conduct stay interviews with their direct reports.  The process should cascade down throughout the rest of the organization to front-line supervisors and employees.  Employees at every level should take part in a stay interview, to ensure an effective and successful process.
  1. In Person: Stay interviews should not be conducted over the phone or via a video conferencing system, if possible. Remote workers should have the opportunity to sit one-on-one with their supervisor and have a discussion.
  1. Expectations of the Stay Interview: Ensure the employee understands the reason for the stay interview and how these interviews will focus on area’s that the manager can influence.  Not all of us can change company policy, mission statements and strategic goals.  However, if a trend in these interviews is consistent, we might have more say in strategic objectives.
  1. Schedule Time: “Most stay interviews take 20 minutes or less to conduct, but some will carry on longer. Leaders should consider telling employees to allow 20 minutes for their meeting, but even then, leaders should allow thirty minutes on their calendars.”[ii] Treat the employee as you want to be treated during the stay interview.
  1. Leave Performance Out of It: There is a time and place to discuss performance expectations. Stay interviews should remain focused on engagement, retention feedback, communication and concerns.  Scripted open ended questions are necessary.
  1. No Advanced Questions: This can limit the conversation to a list of memorized demands and responses. Open ended discussion with note taking, listening and probing for additional information will add tremendous value to the stay interview.
  1. Opening Script: The pre-drafted script is a great way to open the meeting. This will provide additional information to the employee on what the process will look like and the direction of the interview.  The messages will be consistent throughout the organization.

The Why of Stay Interviews:

  • “Employees hear directly from their supervisor that they care and want them to stay and grow with the company.
  • Supervisors further accept retention and engagement within their sphere of responsibility.
  • Employees are more likely to accept responsibility for staying.
  • Stay interviews build trust.”[iii]

Stay Interview Draft Template:

To open the stay interview, a manager may use the following (or similar) statements:

  • I would like to talk with you about the reasons you stay with ____, so I understand what I might be able to do to make this a great place to work.
  • I’d like to have an informal talk with you to find out how the job is going, how the job will change, so I can do my best to support you as your manager, particularly with issues within my control.
  • I will be taking notes throughout our discussion and might ask you to repeat yourself if I do not capture everything.
  • Do you have any questions before we get started?

Review Job Description and Changing Expectations

  • These are the current changes to the job description
  • These will be the changes to the position and current expectations/accountabilities
  • Discuss the reporting structure
  • Communication expectations
  • System reporting expectations
  • Do you have any questions or concerns?

Questions

The following are questions you may ask during a stay interview. You should have several open-ended questions on hand. It’s important to listen and gather ideas from the employee about how you and your organization can retain him or her.

  • Tell me specifically, what factors cause you to enjoy your current job and work situation (including people, job, rewards, job content, coworkers, management etc.), and as a result, they contribute to your staying at our firm as long as you have?
  • What gets your excited to come to work here every day?
  • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
  • What do you like most or least about working here?
  • What keeps you working here?
  • If you could change something about your job, what would that be?
  • What would make your job more satisfying?
  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • What talents are not being used in your current role?
  • What would you like to learn here?
  • What motivates (or demotivates) you?
  • What can I do to best support you?
  • What can I do more of or less of as your manager?
  • What can we be doing differently as a management team?  Communication, meetings, etc.
  •  If you “managed yourself,” what would you do differently (in relation to managing “you”), that I, as your current manager, don’t currently do?
  • What might tempt you to leave?

Below are the links for upcoming training’s both in person and online webinars:

Upcoming Compliance Key Trainings

Elmira College: SHRM Certification Exam Prep Course- Fall 2018 & Spring 2019

Upcoming Compliance Online Training

Compliance IQ Webinar

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/stay-interview-how-to-core-features-and-advantages.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/stay-interview-how-to-core-features-and-advantages.aspx

[iii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/stay-interview-how-to-core-features-and-advantages.aspx

6 Final Guidance Updates to the New York State Sexual Harassment Prevention Laws

As we are all aware, in August 2018, the state published drafts of guidance materials concerning the new legislation, including a model sexual harassment prevention policy, a model complaint form, and model training materials. The state accepted public comments on these materials and, in the October 1, 2018 final guidance, made several changes as a result. On October 1, 2018, New York State released final guidance on the state’s new sexual harassment prevention laws. The new legislation requires all employers in New York State to publish policies concerning sexual harassment, adopt a sexual harassment complaint form, and conduct sexual harassment training.

 Below are final guidance updates:

  1. Employers have additional time to ensure all employees receive the required sexual harassment training. Training must now be completed by October 9, 2019, rather than the original January 1, 2019 deadline.
  1. New hires must be trained “as soon as possible.” Previously, the draft guidance specified new hires should be trained within 30 days of their start date.
  1. The model sexual harassment prevention policy was modified in several respects, including:
    1. The definition of harassment was amended to include harassment based on “self-identified or perceived sex” and “gender expression.”
    2. “Sex stereotyping” was added as an example of sexual harassment.
    3. The language concerning investigations was softened, with the policy now noting the investigation process “may vary from case to case.”
  1. The model complaint form was shortened to omit questions concerning whether the employee filed an external complaint or retained an attorney
  1. The training, which may be presented to employees individually or in groups; in person, via phone or online; via webinar or recorded presentation, should include as many of the following elements as possible:
  • Ask questions of employees as part of the program;
  • Accommodate questions asked by employees, with answers provided in a timely manner;
  • Require feedback from employees about the training and the materials presented.
  1. The training must:
  • Be interactive;
  • Include an explanation of sexual harassment consistent with guidance issued by the Department of Labor in consultation with the Division of Human Rights;
  • Include examples of unlawful sexual harassment;
  • Include information concerning the federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment and remedies available to targets of sexual harassment;
  • Include information concerning employees’ rights of redress and all available forums for adjudicating complaints; and
  • Include information addressing conduct by supervisors and additional responsibilities for supervisors.

The tools and resources that were released on October 1 include:

  • Updated website with resources for employers, employees, state contractors and targets of sexual harassment
  • Updated model sexual harassment prevention policy
  • Updated model sexual harassment complaint form
  • Updated model training (script book and PowerPoint presentation)
  • Updated minimum standards for sexual harassment prevention policies and trainings
  • Updated FAQs
  • Toolkits for employers and employees and a sexual harassment prevention policy poster are also being made available.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace 

Employer Resource Link

Frequently Asked Questions Link

Below are the links for upcoming training’s both in person and online webinars:

Upcoming Compliance Key Trainings

Elmira College: SHRM Certification Exam Prep Course- Fall 2018 & Spring 2019

Upcoming Compliance Online Training

Compliance IQ Webinar

-Matthew W. Burr

11 Changes to New York State Sexual Harassment Laws

Yes, that does read correctly, 11 upcoming changes.  New York State legislators have passed multiple regulations related to sexual harassment in the workplace; training, policies, reporting, etc.  Many of these new regulations and rules are in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the many issues we have seen with sexual harassment in the workplace in a variety of industries, organizations and professions.  As leader’s we cannot tolerate harassment of any kind.  The new law(s) require employers to provide sexual-harassment training to all workers and much more.

The 11 changes to sexual harassment legislation (for now):

  1. October 9, 2018: As of now, and by October 9, 2018, employers in New York State must implement annual sexual-harassment training. The state is developing a model program, which can be used by employers.  Any training implemented must meet or exceed the minimal state requirements.  More to come on this area of change.

Training Requirements:

  1. “An explanation of sexual harassment and specific examples of inappropriate conduct.
  2. Detailed information concerning federal, state and local laws and the remedies available to victims of harassment.
  3. An explanation of employees’ external rights of redress and the available administrative and judicial forums for bringing complaints.”[i]

Sexual-Harassment Prevention Policy

The state is requiring organizations to adopt a sexual-harassment prevention policy and distribute to employees (yes now you must have a handbook of sorts), the expectations of the new requirements could vary from what your organization is currently using.  The state has strict requirements for organizations policies and procedures.  Be aware of expectations and implement accordingly.  The policy is required to include (for now):

  1. “A statement prohibiting sexual harassment and providing examples of what constitutes sexual harassment.
  2. Information about federal and state sexual-harassment laws and the remedies that are available to victims—and a statement that there may be additional local laws on the matter.
  3. A standard complaint form.
  4. Procedures for a timely and confidential investigation of complaints that ensures due process for all parties.
  5. An explanation of employees’ external rights of redress and the available administrative and judicial forums for bringing complaints.
  6. A statement that sexual harassment is a form of employee misconduct and that sanctions will be enforced against those who engage in sexual harassment and against supervisors who knowingly allow such behavior to continue.
  7. A statement that it is unlawful to retaliate against employees who report sexual harassment or who testify or assist in related proceedings.”[ii]

Senate Passes Comprehensive Strengthening of New York’s Sexual Harassment Laws

The Senate Bill

Guidance on Sexual Harassment for All Employers in New York State

These changes are significant across the state.  As leaders, we need to begin planning for training needs throughout the organization and updating policies and procedures.  The training should have a sign in and sign out sheet to ensure employees did attend and stayed to complete the training.  Recording the training to verify all were in attendance was a suggestion I recently heard at a training, but to also show new employees during the new hire orientation process.  Remember this is an annual training.  However, new hires need training as well.  Policies that are modified need to have signatures and witness signatures to verify receipt and understanding.  We are all learning about these changes together.  We need to be proactive and seek guidance, as these laws continue to change and evolve.  New York City has laws above and beyond state requirements (more to be written on this).  Continue to monitor for new updates coming out of Albany.  There are many legal seminars throughout the state on this topic, which will be helpful to organizations of all sizes.  More to be written on these new requirements in upcoming articles!

 

 

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/new-york-sexual-harassment-training.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/new-york-sexual-harassment-training.aspx

3 Thoughts on What Should and Should Not Be Included in the Personnel Files

In a March 2015 article written by the Society of Human Resource Management, the article provided guidance on separating employee files for relevancy and confidentiality.  Employee records can be separated into three types of files.  “A general personnel file, a confidential employee file and a common file.”[i]  Organizations should always consider and be aware of sensitive information (date of birth, marital status, Social Security numbers, HIPAA protected information, criminal history, court orders, financial history, etc.), that can be included in any of the three separated files.  Other considerations should include relevancy to the supervisor or management of the workforce.  “Is it related to the employee’s performance, knowledge skills, abilities or behavior?”[ii]  This should also be a determining factor, when separating information and organizing new files.  Does the supervisor or manager need access to all the information?

The Basic Personnel File (supervisor and manager relevant):

  • Recruiting information, resumes, job application and academic transcripts
  • Job descriptions (signed)
  • Job offer, promotion, rates of pay, compensation information, training records
  • Handbook and policy acknowledgements (including revised policies)
  • Recognition
  • Disciplinary information, warnings, coaching and counseling
  • Performance evaluations
  • Termination records, exit interview, closure of the file (goes without writing)

The Confidential Personnel File:

  • EEO records
  • Reference and background checks
  • Drug test results
  • Medical and insurance records
  • Child support and garnishments
  • Legal documents
  • Workers compensation and short-term disability claims
  • Investigation notes
  • Form I-9*

The Common File:

  • Form I-9 Audits
  • Form I-9’s* (my recommendation is to put active employee’s I-9’s in a binder that is accessible, confidential and locked in a cabinet, for auditing and reviews).

Regardless of the filing process(s) your organization has implemented, the information contained in any of the employee files needs to be kept confidential and locked in secure filing cabinets.  During trainings with supervisors and managers, my statement is simple, treat your employee’s information as it is your own confidential information.  The last thing we want is open personnel files on desks, doctor’s notes attached to calendars and unlocked filing cabinets.  When an employee exits the organization, I consolidate all files and information into one folder and store in a terminated employee file section, with the exit interview (if applicable).  “Maintaining records in separate files as discussed above allows managers, employees and outside auditors to see the information they need to make decisions, yet does not allow inappropriate access.”[iii]  Filing and organizing paperwork is not always fun, but it is necessary to ensure legality and confidentiality.  If you are confused on employee files and appropriate storage, seek guidance.  Electronic files and legal requirements related to electronic filing can vary by state, a thorough understanding of these laws is necessary prior to implementing an electronic filing system.  We should be proactive and take all precautions, related to employee records and record retention.

[iv]

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/includedinpersonnelfile.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/includedinpersonnelfile.aspx

[iii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/includedinpersonnelfile.aspx

[iv] http://cyquesthr.com/access-personnel-files-laws-50-states/

4 New Hire Forms Needed in New York State

As we have now entered the second month in 2018, some of our organizations will be hiring new employees for continued operation and some for the upcoming seasonal summer months.  Hiring new employees into the workforce is great, we have a tremendous opportunity to set the new hire up for success with a great onboarding process and introduction to the organization.  With new hires, comes legal paperwork.  State and federal forms get updated and posted on government websites for all of us to use.  As leaders and business owners, we need to ensure our forms are updated and legal.

Below are the new hire forms needed in New York State:

  1. Form I-9, Eligibility to work in the United States: This form is required in every state for new hires and needs to be reviewed for expired ID’s; driver’s license, passport, etc. Organizations must verify that each new employee is legally eligible to work in the United States.  Ensure the form is filled out correctly and signed by the right person in the organization.  This form changed in late 2017.
  2. Form W-4, wage Withholding Allowance Certificate: This form is necessary for federal withholdings. All employees should complete and sign a Form W-4 prior to starting work.  Currently, the 2017 form is still being used.  Watch for any updates or changes in 2018, related to the new tax legislation.
  3. Form IT-2104, Employer Allowance Certificate (NYS): This is the New York State withholding form required to be completed in full prior to an employee starts working for the organization. Ensure you are using the 2018 version of the form.
  4. Wage Forms Required by New York Labor Laws: Organizations are required to provide wage notification forms to all employees. The forms vary by hourly, salary, salaried nonexempt, etc.  The link above provides a definition on which form to use based on the classification of the employee.  Reminder, these forms were updated in 2017 as well.

These are the legally required forms that employees are required to complete prior to starting work (I-9 the first three working days).  Other forms will vary by organization; direct deposit, safety rules and regulations, handbooks and policies, IT and login information, safety and security, vehicle registration, cellphone policy, tour of the facility, labor and employment posters, payroll deductions, payroll processing, etc.  Remember, state forms will vary.  Pennsylvania uses a different withholding form from that used in New York.  Consultants should be providing a signed an updated (revised 11.2017) federal Form W-9.

Develop a checklist for your organization to ensure we consistently cover information for all new hires.  The onboarding process is an important part of the employment relationship and many people will decide during this process how long they will potentially stay with an organization.  As leaders, we need to ensure all employees feel welcome and engaged on day 1, while covering the legalities of the employment relationship.  If you need assistance developing a new hire orientation checklist, seek guidance, the last thing we want is to place a new hire in a conference room and have the individual read policies and sign paperwork alone all day.  I have been part of process like this and it does not work!

2018 OSHA 300-A Posting Timeline

As many of us know; all employers are required to keep OSHA Form 300 (Injury and Illness Log) records throughout the year and must post Form 300A.  This annual summary of job-related illness and injuries, must be posted in the workplace by February 1, 2018.  The OSHA 300-A from should be posted in common areas, comparable to locations of labor and employment posters, workers compensation certification and paid family leave certification (break rooms, meeting rooms, kitchens, etc.).  The summary must include the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred in 2017.

Areas to remember:

  1. Posting Period: The posting period starts on February 1, 2018 and ends on April 30, 2018.
  2. What is a Form 300A: The form reports a business’s total number of fatalities, missed workdays, job transfers or restrictions, and injuries and illnesses as recorded on the OSHA Form 300.  The information posted should also include the number of employees and the hours they worked for the year.  No recordable illnesses or injuries?    However, an organization must still post the form, with zeroes on the appropriate lines.
  3. Helpful Links:

OSHA Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements

Injury & Illness Recordkeeping Forms

OSHA Recordkeeping Advisor

Partially Exempt Industries List

“The Trump administration continues to look for ways to lessen the regulatory burden on employers. As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) electronic recordkeeping regulation continues to be whittled down. OSHA’s latest Regulatory Agenda sets out new changes to the already beleaguered rule. Specifically, OSHA intends to propose to amend the Electronic Recordkeeping rule to eliminate the requirement that establishments with 250 or more employees submit OSHA 300 Logs and 301 forms. Instead, two types of establishments would continue to submit 300A summary forms: (1) establishments of 250 or more employees; and (2) establishments with between 20 and 249 employees in the high-hazard industries listed in Appendix A to the regulation. Employers with establishments meeting these criteria electronically submitted OSHA 300A summaries with 2016 data on or before December 31, 2017 and will submit their calendar year 2017 summaries by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019, and every year thereafter, covered establishments must submit the information by March 2.”[i]

As we see with many of the HR laws and regulations, OSHA is continuing to evolve and change under the new administration.  Ensure that you are monitoring for recent or upcoming changes and posting as required under the federal and state law.  Public sector rules will vary as well.  If you have questions, seek guidance.  Safety rules and regulations can be complex, just as HR laws and regulations are.

[i] https://ogletree.com/shared-content/content/blog/2018/january/osha-anticipates-more-changes-to-the-electronic-recordkeeping-rule

 

 

2018 Employee Handbook Changes, IRS Mileage Rate and Labor Poster Updates

A new year brings new changes to our organizations, employment relationships, laws, regulations, handbooks and policies.  As more states continue to pass state specific legislation, we need to ensure that our handbooks and labor posters are updated accordingly.

 Below are 5 areas to watch related to employee handbooks:

  1. Workplace Conduct and Social Media: Under the new administration, we could see more flexibility in social media policies (pro-employer).  Social media is a concern in many organizations, ensure that your policy is legal, up-to-date and not overreaching.
  2. Arbitration Agreements: There are multiple lawsuits in federal courts related to employer arbitration agreements.  These decisions can impact our organizations.  I have not implemented arbitration agreements.  However, they are growing in popularity.
  3. Sexual Harassment/Harassment Policies: This speaks for itself.  California and Maine have modified their current laws related to sexual harassment, we could see significant changes in New York State, as stated by the Governor recently.  Ensure that there is a zero-tolerance and retaliation policies in place, and all employees are trained on current policies and procedures.  Organizations need to be proactive and not reactive to issues.
  4. Parental Leave: Paid Family Leave was effective January 1, 2018. Ensure that you have updated policies and handbook language to reflect this significant legislative change.  The state has a website full of information to utilize as we move forward in 2018.

PFL Resource Page

Model Language for Employer Material

  1. Disability and Other Accommodations: Review language related to the ADA, FMLA and medical marijuana.  Medical marijuana law(s) continues to evolve.  “In 2017, several courts ruled that registered medical marijuana users who were fired or passed over for jobs because of their medicinal use could bring claims under state disability laws.”[i]

As laws continue to evolve, now is the time to review handbooks, policies and procedures.  If you are unclear on a path-forward or what to look for, seek guidance.  Do not assume a Google search will provide legal and accurate information, draft handbook language or valid training material.

2018 IRS Mileage Rate:

“Beginning on Jan. 1, 2018, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also a van, pickup or panel truck) will be:

  • 5 cents for every mile of business travel driven, up 1 cent from the rate for 2017.
  • 18 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, up 1 cent from the rate for 2017.
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations, unchanged from 2017.”[ii]

Notice 2018-03

Mandatory State Labor Law Poster Changes Effective January 2018:

  • Alaska— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Arizona— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • California— Transgender Rights, effective Jan. 1, 2018, Discrimination, Jan. 1, 2018
  • Colorado— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Florida — Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Hawaii — Wage and Hour Laws, effective July 10, 2017, OSHA, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Maine — Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Minnesota– Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Missouri— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Montana— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Nevada — Rules to Observed by Employers, effective July 1, 2017
  • New Jersey— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • New York— Minimum Wage, effective Dec. 31, 2017
  • North Carolina — Wage and Hour Notice to Employees, effective Dec. 31, 2017
  • Ohio— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Rhode Island — Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • South Dakota — Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Vermont— Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnancy, effective Jan. 1, 2018
  • Washington— Minimum Wage, effective Jan. 1, 2018, Your Rights as a Worker, Jan. 1,2018

[i] https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/5-Employee-Handbook-Issues-to-Watch-in-2018.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/benefits/Pages/2018-standard-mileage-rate.aspx

As always-if you feel uncertain or want an extra set of eyes, finding a consultant or strategic legal partner is a good idea. For more information about these subjects, click on the links here or reach out to schedule a meeting and consultation.

-Matthew W. Burr

3 Changes in New York State and 3 to Watch in 2018

As we near the end of 2017 and begin planning for 2018, leaders need to be aware of upcoming changes and potential changes in New York State and at the federal level in 2018.  The law continues to evolve, which causes greater complexity for organizations throughout the country.  Proactive knowledge and planning will help any leader in managing through these significant changes.

Below are 3 upcoming changes in New York State:

  1. Executive and Administrative Exemption: The federal FLSA has an overtime threshold at $455 per week. In NY State (Southern Tier), the threshold for Executive and Administrative positions is $727.50 per week.  This will be increased to $780.00 per week after 12/31/17.  We could see changes to the federal FLSA in 2018, under the current administration, but no changes have been decided, currently.
  • $727.50 per week on and after 12/31/16
  • $780.00 per week on and after 12/31/17
  • $832.50 per week on and after 12/31/18
  • $885.00 per week on and after 12/31/19
  • $937.50 per week on and after 12/31/20[i]

https://labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/wp/Part142.pdf

  1. Minimum Wage Increases: Minimum wage will increase on 12/31/17, from $9.70 per hour to $10.40 per hour in the Southern Tier.  The rates vary in NYC and Long Island, but they also increase.  Watch for wage compression in your salary schedules.

https://www.ny.gov/new-york-states-minimum-wage/new-york-states-minimum-wage

  1. Paid Family Leave: This is a significant change throughout the state and will impact most organizations.  Ensure that your organization is prepared for the change on January 1, 2018.

Below are 3 potential changes to watch in 2018:

  1. NY State Call-In Pay Proposal: If passed, this law will be a significant change to the call-in pay, employees wearing a pager and scheduling laws in New York State.  This is currently a proposal and has not been finalized yet.  More to come in 2018
  2. Medical & Recreational Marijuana: Continue to watch for changing legislation in the state and at the federal level that could impact medical marijuana legislation.  These laws continue to evolve at the state level throughout the country.
  3. Salary History Requirements: These laws have changed in certain states and cities throughout the country.  We could see more change to these laws, locally and nationally.

Other changes to monitory; ban the box, federal exempt level changes, federal minimum wage, FMLA, healthcare, tax legislation, NLRA changes (significant changes proposed under the new administration) and immigration legislation.  Be proactive in your approach to these changes and ask for guidance if you are confused or unclear on expectations.  Enjoy a safe & Happy New Year!

[i] https://labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/wp/Part142.pdf

5 Thoughts on Sexual Harassment Investigations

Recently, we have seen a significant number of workplace sexual harassment allegations and legal claims in the media.  Many of these allegations have been ignored for years, if not decades.  As organizational leaders, we have an obligation to take harassment claims of any nature seriously and address these claims proactively.  Investigating sexual harassment allegations, bullying, retaliation, etc. and addressing these issues is never easy, but it is necessary.

Below is a summary of my 5 thoughts on sexual harassment investigations:

  1. Take it Seriously: As recent news has shown us that ignoring a problem and/or covering it up isn’t a solution to any employee relations issues or sexual harassment claim. Employees should feel comfortable discussing these allegations with a supervisor, manager, business owner or the human resources department and have the confidence that the system will not fail them.  Make time to listen and address any concerns that are brought to your attention.  The worst thing we can do is ignore it or that make statements, that we are too busy to listen and proactively deal with the situation.
  2. Ensure Confidentiality: Organizations must protect the confidentiality of employee claims to the best of its ability.  Within protecting confidentiality, we must also conduct a prompt and proactive investigation.  Explain to the party putting forth the allegations and all individuals involved in the investigation process, that all information gathered will remain confidential, to the extent possible for an effective investigation.  However, organizations cannot guarantee absolute confidentiality to any party involved in the investigation.
  3. Provide Interim Protection: “Separating the alleged victim from the accused may be necessary to guard against continued harassment or retaliation. Actions such as a schedule change, transfer or leave of absence may be necessary; however, complaints should not be involuntarily transferred or burdened.  These types of actions could appear to be retaliatory and result in a retaliation claim.  The employer and the accuser must work together to arrive at an amenable solution.”[i]  Reinforce policies and communicate proactively with the party that has put forth the allegations.
  4. The Investigator: The appropriate investigator is necessary to ensure credibility of the investigation. Investigators must have the ability to investigate objectively without bias and remain neutral.  The investigator should have no stakes in the outcome.  There should be no personal relationships with either party involved in the situation.  Investigators need investigation skills that include; previous investigatory experience and working knowledge of labor and employment laws.  They must be able to build rapport with the parties involved, have attention to detail (notes, questions, fact-finding and summarizing) and the right temperament to conduct the interviews.  Investigating allegations is not easy.  Patience, efficiency and fluid communication is necessary to be effective.
  5. Investigation Closure: Ensure that thorough notes are documented throughout the process, interviews are closed out and the investigation ends. Loop closing communication is necessary to ensure investigations are effective and impactful.  Leaving the alleging party with no closure can lead to additional issues.  This does not mean communicating discipline, training and/or termination impacts.

Throughout my career, I have conducted many workplace investigations, including; harassment, bullying, retaliation, workplace violence, threats and sexual harassment.  Investigations are never easy, but they are necessary.  Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but it is necessary.  If you are unsure on investigating or recognize that an internal investigation will not be effective and impactful, bring in a third party to assist the organization throughout the process and seek the necessary guidance to protect your workforce and your organization.

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/how-to-guides/pages/howtoconductaninvestigation.aspx