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New Federal Mandatory Sick Leave Looms: Potential Policies may Leave Employers Feeling a Little Under the Weather

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President Obama has been busy making his mark on business owners once again in a new bid for Congress to pass a bill designed to make employers pay employees at least 7 days for sick leave annually.  The memorandum, signed on January 15, 2015, currently allows Federal workers to take up to six weeks of sick leave under the new policy; however, until Congress passes this Bill, private employers are only “encouraged” to develop a paid sick-leave policy.

Although I anticipate this requirement being difficult for business-owners to swallow, the bill is not without altruistic merit.  This latest request from President Obama is largely designed to keep working mothers in the workforce, citing the financial burden that working mothers face when forced to take unpaid leave for maternity leave or to care for sick children.  Of course, new articles do not specifically mention fathers who are charged with the same responsibilities, but the final bill will likely address the situation as “any qualified employee” once Congress finally makes a decision.

Love or hate the idea, the labor law regarding paid leave has not been significantly modified since the 1930s, when most families had a stay-at-home mother.  The only current Federally-mandated leave, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), only covers about one-half of the current workforce, and in most states, this leave can remain unpaid and most employees are not able to afford the allowable 12-weeks of leave without pay.

Keeping in mind that the United States is the only developed country resisting government-sponsored paid maternity leave, one could argue that it is well past the time to explore other options. However, such a Bill comes at a time when Americans are weary of government-involvement, especially due to the confusing nature of the Affordable Care Act.

Still, a recent study concludes that employees who are offered paid time off are less likely to leave a job and tend to be more productive.  As a human resource professional, I am not altogether convinced that this will help employers thrive.  New mandates such as this will need to comingle with FMLA and seamlessly integrate with a multitude of Department of Labor laws and regulations, which will likely create more confusion and more opportunities for lawsuits.

So what is the answer?  Employers may want to consider modifying existing PTO policies to include paid sick leave to soften the blow when the inevitable mandates arrive.  It is incumbent upon employers to understand multi-state laws and address them in your handbooks.

 Current State Laws May Already Mandate Sick Leave

States that currently have MANDATORY sick leave (private employers) programs (NOTE:  This list is not all-inclusive; it is merely a breakdown of general guidelines

Arkansas No paid sick leave; however, it is mandatory for an employer to give employees 90 days of unpaid leave for organ/bone marrow donation.  Employers who offer paid sick leave programs may be entitled to a tax credit.
California There is no California state law that requires private employers to provide employees with paid or unpaid sick leave. Any employer who offers sick leave must allow employees to use part of their accrued and available sick leave time in a calendar year to take care of a sick child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, or child of a domestic partner. Each year, employees are entitled to use the amount of sick leave they would earn in six months for this purpose.  NOTE:  San Francisco employees have different criteria.  IF YOU HAVE EMPLOYEES IN CALIFORNIA, YOU WILL LIKELY NEED A SEPARATE HANDBOOK.
Connecticut State law mandates that paid sick leave be provided to service workers such as waiters, cashiers, and hairstylists. The law requires covered employers to provide service workers one hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per calendar year.  Circumstances and requirements for eligible employees vary for type of illness.  Other categories of employees may be covered under different mandatory paid time off laws for this state.
District of Columbia Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act of 2008 applies to all employers with one or more employees and the District government.  The amount of paid sick leave given to the employees depends on the size of the employer.
Hawaii Some mandatory paid time off protection for those under a collective bargaining agreement.
Louisiana Some mandatory paid time off protection is available for employees who wish to donate bone marrow or those who are victims of domestic violence.  Mandatory paid time off for those who work for a parish or city school board.
Maine Employers with 25 or more employees must allow an employee who receives paid leave, such as sick leave, vacation time, or compensatory time, to use that time to care for an ill immediate family member.
Maryland The state Flexible Leave Act (for employers with 15 or more employers for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding year) requires employers that provide paid leave under a policy or collective bargaining agreement to allow employees to use their paid leave for illness of an immediate family member.
Minnesota Some mandatory unpaid leave for bone marrow donations.  If employers offer sick leave, employers must allow employees to use sick leave to care for covered family members.
New Jersey Some Temporary Disability Benefits Law (TDB) requirements are available for employees under certain circumstances.
New York Earned Sick Time Act requires New York City employers with 20 or more employees to provide paid sick time at a minimum accrual rate of one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.  Time off for blood donations may also be paid for by the employer under some circumstances.
Oregon No state laws in Oregon; however, the City of Portland now requires employers with at least 6 employees to provide qualifying employees up to 40 hours (5 days) of paid sick leave per calendar year.
Pennsylvania No state laws in Pennsylvania; however, the city of Philadelphia requires certain employers who conduct business with the city to provide full-time employees with paid sick leave.
Rhode Island State temporary disability insurance (TDI) benefits provisions require up to 4 weeks of wage replacement in a benefit year for workers who take time off under certain circumstances.
Washington Several paid time off programs exist for private employers in Washington and Seattle.  These circumstances include family illnesses, sexual assault, domestic violence and/or stalking.
Canada There is no requirement to provide paid sick leave in any Canadian jurisdiction. The employment standards legislation of several jurisdictions requires employers to provide unpaid sick leave or emergency leave to their employees including the federal jurisdiction, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Yukon.

NOTE:  The following states have ADDITIONAL FMLA requirements (private employers only; state and federal employers may have different requirements not addressed here):  Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Canada.

Understanding Employment Law in Multi-State Locations

The trick to all this chatter is that we must determine which state laws must be followed in an organization that has multiple locations in different states.  In other words, if you have multiple locations in different states, it would be prudent to follow that states’ employment laws.  AskLinda HR Consulting Services can help you develop easy methods to unravel the mysteries – we always have a solution for you.  Remember, if you are using the same handbook for every state, you are unnecessarily exposed to lawsuits.

If you require further information or more details as to how we can help you comply with this or any other multi-state location laws, please contact Linda Drassen at Linda@asklindahr.me or 210.846.4900 to schedule a meeting today.

E-verify: Not time to panic…YET!

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AskLinda HR Consulting Services strives to keep our clients abreast of major changes that may affect their businesses. Some of you may have received an advertisement (cleverly disguised as a fact) that states all Texas employers are now required to begin using E-Verify for all employees. I have to admit, it looks real, but I can assure you that this is NOT the case.

Governor Rick Perry has signed an Executive Order which makes it mandatory for STATE AGENCIES to begin using E-Verify. Private employers still have a choice whether or not to begin using the system.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with E-Verify, it is a free government-based system which informs employers whether or not an individual is permitted to work in the United States. Keeping in mind that E-Verify CAN NEVER be used as a pre-screening tool (you cannot pre-screen eligibility on E-verify or ANY OTHER system) prior to the first day an employee begins working for pay (the day your new employee must complete his or her Form I-9).

Typically, new mandates such as this one generally give way to more audits – and according to the numbers released last year, more fines are levied against your Form I-9 being completed incorrectly rather than the number of undocumented individuals you employ. We have had tremendous success in our auditing, training and correction packages to help you prepare for an I-9 audit should ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) knock on your door with a subpoena.

The new year brings new budgets…it is better to budget for proactive steps than it is to budget for thousands of dollars in fines. I promise you – IT IS MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE to have us come out and help you now than it is to call us after a subpoena has been delivered. This is especially true because of what we witness every day – ICE has been categorically harder on those companies who wait until a subpoena has been issued than for those employers who have received third-party assistance (each form is worth up to $1,100.00 in fines).

There is a lot of bad information out there – I have heard of seminars where employers were told to destroy existing I-9 forms, not to correct existing I-9 forms or that it is okay to simply make new I-9 forms for your employees. ALL OF THIS INFORMATION IS INCORRECT.

Please reach out to me at Linda@asklindahr.me or 210.846.4900 so we can meet to discuss your particular situation. Anyone who has attended my webinars or seminars has heard me say that it is my personal goal (which sounds better than “vendetta”) that ICE never receive another dime in fines associated with this form. While we cannot guarantee a zero fine (no one can because ICE has a lot of flexible discretion with their rules), we can guarantee that you will be much better off after we have helped you than if we do not.

For additional information about how AskLinda HR assist you with changes to the E-Verify requirements or other HR services that can help your company maintain compliance, Linda at Linda@asklindahr.me or call me at 210.846.4900.

ICE is at it AGAIN! 2.5M Awarded for Immigration Violations

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Hello All!

The following article is a prime example of why I am an insomniac…!

I wake up at night and worry about every person who states, “we are good on our I-9s..” or, “…we conducted an internal audit and made our corrections so we are good…”  This is more than a sales pitch designed to frighten people into spending useless dollars on the thing that may or may not lurk under our proverbial beds.  This is real – and it is terrifying the level of reach that ICE has when it comes to businesses.

Know that AskLinda HR Consulting Services has a way to help mitigate the risk your company faces.  The solution is much less expensive than any fine potential you may be facing from ICE.

So, my loyal blog readers, if this article causes you to wake up in the middle of the night, make sure you drop me a line or two and see how I can help.  Chances are good I will be up, hoping the seriousness of the situation has created an urgency to get third-party help.  At least knowing that we are here might let you get back to sleep.

By the way – note that the company below used E-verify and they were NOT a construction company…

Immigration Violations Cost Resort Chain $2.5M – What Is Your Compliance Exposure? by Dawn M. Lurie

Chilean Mining Accident: How Does Your Idea of Teamwork Measure Up?

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No one can whistle a symphony.  It takes a whole orchestra to play it.  ~H.E. Luccock

On October 13, 2012, 33 men were finally rescued after spending 69 days trapped over 2,000 feet underground in a collapsed mine shaft in northern Chile.

I watched the scene, captivated by the strength of the men to have survived such an ordeal with only minor injuries, but the human resource professional in me began to focus on one question: how can one possibly survive with ones co-workers 24 hours a day for 69 straight days in a space that was about the size of a one-room apartment in complete darkness with temperatures holding steady at about 99 degrees?  Once the details of their survival began to emerge, it became clear how they survived – they worked as a team and focused on one common goal: survival.

Luis Urzua, the shift foreman (who, by the way, was the last to be rescued from the mine), immediately split the men into three teams who alternated shifts between sleeping, working and playing.  Each shift lasted eight hours and included some form of group exercise so that the miners could remain thin enough to fit through the small capsule that would eventually bring them to the surface.

The group voted on everything including how and when to distribute and ration food and water and the decisions were usually unanimous; the men rarely argued because Luis kept the group focused on the goals while remaining in control throughout the entire ordeal using compassion and complete honesty later stating, “…whether good or bad, you have to speak the truth.”

Teams frequently fail for a variety of reasons including fear of conflict, lack of accountability, mistrust, and failure to monitor results and/or a lack of commitment.  So how does one cultivate a teamwork environment when we are brought up to believe we should stand out as individuals?  The answer is not easy, but with commitment to the value of teamwork, it is possible.

To create a culture of teamwork, these powerful actions must occur:

  • Leadership must clearly communicate the expectations and face conflict directly.  Conflict can be healthy, but employees tend to remain there if the conflict is completely ignored.
  • Leaders must be direct and honest with those employees who choose to avoid accountability.  Gaining buy-in from employees is an investment in motivation for employees to want to be part of a team.
  • Employees who do not know the facts behind decisions or if they are not given appropriate timely information will be more likely to make up their own scenarios to fit situations; this is never good.  The best defense against mistrust is to be honest and open with employees regarding changes – they will see the change happen anyway, so you might as well give them the real scoop.
  • Leaders should also be able to admit mistakes and be vulnerable to the team first; once the employees realize that leaders are just like them, teamwork becomes easier.
  • Leaders are responsible for putting the teamwork concept into motion and then constantly supporting the initiative.  Once the leader can show they are intimate with the goals throughout the entire process, the team will be more cohesive.
  • Much like the miners, employees must share the same goal and objectives.  Employees who understand what they are doing and why they are doing it tend to be happier and more focused.
  • Discuss the failures once they happen (without assigning blame).  Discussing the issues surrounding failure allows teams to discuss prevention of a re-occurrence. The team can learn a lot from failure – do not be afraid to address it.
  • The hardest step to take is identifying dysfunctions within the team – the process can be painful and often takes time (something we have little of).  Once you have addressed and dealt with the dysfunctions, employees will begin to focus more on the goals and not on the unnecessary issues.
  • Remember that the most frustrated employee is typically the one who cares the most but do not feel their opinions are valued.  Instead of labeling this employee with a negative connotation, perhaps find out what is really going on – they usually want to help and will be excited by the opportunity and your interest.
  • Leaders must encourage the use of the terms “we” and “our” versus “I” and “me.”
  • Remember that no one works alone – ever.  Even if we believe that we have single-handedly closed a sale, there are always a lot of people backing up the effort.  Rewarding and recognizing these efforts create harmony within teams.

Managers can learn a lot from the leadership of Luis Urzua. He celebrated every small win with his team always aware that his actions and moods affected the other miners.  Those that were in the mine with Luis knew that he had their back – they trusted him and were eager to follow his lead. It should also be noted that while Luis had all the power in this situation, he never used it to his advantage. He never received more than his share of food or water and took the same shifts as everyone else.  The miners made particular note of this once they were released.

Although we will likely not find ourselves trapped in a mine, ask yourself one important question: how would you and your team handled the same situation?  If the first thing you think about is a cynical retort, maybe it is time to start over.