Archive for June, 2010

New FLSA Child Labor Regulations Effective July 2010

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

If you employee anyone under the age of 18 you should be aware of changes to the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) effective July 19, 2010.

FLSA child-labor regulations strictly enforce the employment terms of minors. In general, employment of minors who are 16 or older is allowed in most industries for work not falling within one of (Department of Labor) DOL’s 17 “Hazardous Occupations” and there are few FLSA limitations upon their times or hours of work.

Strict limitations already exist on allowed occupations and hours of work for minors under the age of 16. Youths aged 14 and 15 may not work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. (with the exception being from June 1 through Labor Day when they may work until 9 p.m. and for some occupations such as babysitting or newspaper delivery). Minors under the age of 16  may not work more than 3 hours on a school day; 18 in a school week; 8 hours on a non-school day; or 40 hours in a non-school week.  Additional state regulations may also apply to the employment of minors.

The new regulations expand the list of prohibited equipment, engagement in dangerous activities and any peddling or street sales (other than for charitable causes). Additional provisions expand work by minors as lifeguards at pools and amusement parks (if certified), and intellectual or artistically creative work like tutoring, computer programming, and teaching.

Working  hours restrictions still apply based on the schedule of the local public school district, regardless if the youth attends a private school or is home schooled. Additionally, the 3-hour restriction on school days includes Fridays. The revisions also newly define a “workweek” for 14- and 15- year olds as a “fixed and regularly recurring period of 168 hours – seven consecutive 24-hour periods.”

Don’t let the long list of restriction keep you from employing minors- minors can be a great resource for employers- just be aware of what they can and cannot do in the worplace.  A complete guide is available at

Join the conversation: Do you employee minors?

More benefits, less cost- consider childcare and dependent care programs

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Ever had to take a sick day not because you were sick but because a child or other dependent was?   Or how about when your childcare provider is sick, where does that leave you- and even if your children or other dependents can be left alone for a few hours so you went into work- you probably spent the whole day distracted and worried.  Wouldn’t it be be nice if you could just run downstairs or across the street and check on the kids- by the way employers, the ability to bring your kids to work with you on Saturday does not a childcare program make (although my kids have all spent some time coloring on my whiteboard while I just ran in for a “quick meeting” or hanging out in Dad’s office while he taught a class).

A recent study by Bright Horizons and Northwest University shows real benefits to employer provided childcare and dependent programs- specifically reduced  health care costs.

Employees offered benefits such as child and dependent care were:

  • 31% less likely to report lost productivity due to stress over the past month
  • 25% fewer personal health concerns due to stress

Employees who were not offered these benefits were:  

One-third more likely to report being down, depressed, or hopeless in the last month, 62 % more likely to experience sleep issues that impact their work and three times as likely to be treated for high blood pressure and diabetes.

In addition, the study noted that behavioral health problems cause more than 200 million missed work days each year in the U.S. at an estimated cost of $105 billion, according to the National Business Group on Health.

Join the conversation: does your company offer any type of childcare or dependent care program?

OSHA Severe Violator Enforcement Program Now in Effect!

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

“The New OSHA” as described by many department heads is showing its colors and making good on its promises.  The recently enacted Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) is  now in effect and being enforced.  What exactly does this mean to you?

In the words of David Michaels, OSHA administrator, “SVEP will help OSHA concentrate its efforts on those repeatedly recalcitrant employers who fail to meet their obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. It will include a more intense examination of an employer’s practices for systemic problems that would trigger additional mandatory inspections.”

In reality it means more inspections, bigger fines and larger inspection scope.  Basically if you’re not making real efforts to keep your employees safe, it’ll cost you.  Under this program OSHA has promised to visit more employers with higher incidence rates, automatically include employers for follow up inspections, visit other locations run under the same corporate umbrella and raise fines for the first time since the 1990s.  The fine increase is significant from a max penalty for a  willful violation from $70,000 to $250,000.

We’ll see how all of this pans out for our clients, although with what we’ve personally seen in the past few months in much of the country, this program certainly seems to be on track.  Have any of you seen an increase in regulatory pressure?

FMLA Update- New Definitions for Sons and Daughters

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

When deciding if FMLA is the appropriate leave employers should consider the new interpretation of ” son ” or “daughter” issued by the Department of Labor under the the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) ).  The Administrator’s interpretation gives employees, who care for a child, parental rights to family leave regardless of the legal or biological relationship. The “son” or “daughter” being defined is under Section 101(12) of the FMLA as it applies to an employee standing “in loco parentis” to a child.

The Administrator’s interpretation was issued by Nancy J. Leppink, deputy administrator of the department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD).  The following examples of in loco parentis” were provided in the interpretation.

•An uncle or aunt caring for their young niece or nephew whose parent is on active military duty
•A grandparent who assumes responsibility for their ill grandchild when their own child is debilitated
•An employee who intends to share in the parenting of a child with his or her same sex partner and wants to bond with that child

FMLA allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to care for loved ones or themselves. FMLA also allows employees to take time off for the adoption or the birth of a child. FMLA affects private employers with 50 or more employees and all public employers.  Individual states may have additional FMLA regulations and employers should take both federal and state regulations into considerations when granting leave.

For more information on leave laws download a copy of the free KPA webinar “How to Solve the Riddle of Employee Leave Law”.

Employer Alert- New Rules on Background Checking

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Oregon employers need to review and update their policy on background checks  involving credits checks before July 1st, 2010.   A new law makes it an unlawful employment practice, except in very limited circumstances, for an Oregon employer to use credit history in making hiring decisions or any decision affecting current employees.  Employers in Oregon should also consider reviewing and updating their handbooks to ensure there is appropriate language indicating the employer does not discriminate toward applicants or employees on the basis of information obtained in a credit check.  Hawaii and Washington have recently enacted similar laws.

There are also bills pending in the following states: Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Legislation also is pending in the United States House of Representatives to amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to prohibit use of consumer credit checks in employment decisions.  See my earlier blog at for discussion on best practices in background checking and how much a background check can actually reduce your risks.

The new Oregon law provides for credit reports as part of of a background investigation in extremely limited circumstances – where required by law (for example bank employees or law enforcement) or for “substantially job-related reasons”.  The reason must be defined and disclosed in writing to the job applicant. I would encourage any employer who does wish to conduct a credit check under the substantially job-related reason clause to consult with their attorney before proceeding.  As an HR professional, who also worked for a leading background checking company, my recommendation is that unless required by state or federal law credit reports will add little value in the hiring decision.

Join the conversation: Do you check credit reports before hiring and if so why?

OSHA Administrator Announces Priorities: I2P2 and Electronic Reporting

Monday, June 21st, 2010

I just got back from ASSE 2010 where OSHA Administrator David Michaels Outlined some of the upcoming goals and priorities for OSHA. He made it clear that OSHA is looking to reinvent itself in some ways to become a stronger and more relevant agency with more personnel in enforcement, higher fines and a greater emphasis on prevention across all industries.

Looking to the future, he outlined top priorities OSHA is looking to address; with the top two being near and dear to KPA: Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (I2P2) and Electronic Recordkeeping.

We’ve been watching discussion of a federal Injury and Illness prevention standard grow and ebb over the past decade. It now looks like OSHA is making it their top priority. According to Michaels, this standard “could change workplace health and safety on a level we haven’t seen since OSH Act.” We couldn’t agree more. These regulations could have a tremendous effect on small business such as was felt when California passed their I2P2 standards. If done correctly, it can do a lot to shift the focus of safety from compliance to prevention. This is certainly one to watch as the discussions progress.

The number two priority, electronic recordkeeping, is another we’ve been following. With our online software solutions, we’re already tracking all of the information required for injury and illness records for our clients and would love to have a streamlined interface to report this information to OSHA at our client’s request. It will be interesting to see what OSHA comes up with for their data collection system. Again, depending on the implementation, the new regulation could have a big impact on small business and as a result OSHA is seeking more input from this sector. If you would like to have your opinion heard, you can submit it here.

This regulation is moving along quickly with OSHA’s prediction of a final rule by 2011.  We’ll keep you posted as more details emerge.

See our OSHA Safety Standards section for more information about the proposed OSHA I2P2 Standard.

Think Before You Text or Email At Work Or In A Word- DON’T!

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Are you using your company provided pager, phone or mobile device to send or receive personal messages? Try not to; it is not a career building practice and if you insist on doing it with company provided equipment be aware that anything (that’s right anything) can be audited by your employer. Don’t forget that hitting the delete key just gets a message out of your inbox – in today’s world nothing really goes away. 

If you are in a HR or executive role you need to make it clear to employees what the policy on using company equipment for personal activity is. The Supreme Court overturned a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling concerning employer-provided communication devices and workers’ privacy rights.  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the employer, the city of Ontario, ruling that the search of the employee’s text messages was reasonable and not in violation of the employee’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Some background: using an employer provided pager, the police officer sent and received personal text messages. The city’s contract with Arch Wireless Operating Co. contained a limit on the number of characters that could be texted on a monthly basis.  If the city’s employees exceeded that limit, the city would be charged extra fees.

The officer had signed a “Computer Usage, Internet and E-Mail Policy”, which states that the City “reserves the right to monitor and log all network activity…with or without notice”. While the policy did not include text messages, the City announced to employees, and put in writing in a separate memo, that text messages would be treated the same way as e-mails, and that they could be audited. However, the city had an “informal policy” but not a written policy that it wouldn’t audit such messages so long as employees who went over their monthly text messaging limit reimbursed the city for overcharges. Yet after several months of overages, the employer became concerned about the total number of messages, and requested copies from Arch. In auditing the messages they found the majority of the messages were personal, sent during work hours and sexually explicit. 

The Supreme Court noted “employer policies concerning communications will of course shape the reasonable expectations of their employees, especially to the extent that such policies are clearly communicated.” City of Ontario v. Quon, U.S. Supreme Court No.08-1332 (6/17/10).

Summer Office Party Primer

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

A summer party can be nice benefit for employees if done right.  Too often however, the party meant to be a morale booster and “thank you for a job well done” ends up creating tension and stress for all concerned, which is never a benefit.  Here are are some HR best practices to make your event a success.

1)  Don’t be fixated on having a party for the sake of having a party.  Each organization has its own style so make sure what you do is perceived as something fun not just another work obligation.  Too often executive management will dictates the type of the event without considering what the employees would really like.  If you don’t know what employees would prefer- take a simple survey of what type of party or alternative event would be most popular.   Some alternatives including offering everyone 2-4 extra hours of paid time off, working together to complete a project for a local charity or a gift certificate to a summer event they can use with their significant others.  Whatever you do should be perceived as a benefit by the majority of the employees.

2) Get out of the the office!  If you are having a party have it at offsite.  The local park is always a good option but make sure you reserve space with your local parks and rec department.

3) Friday afternoon is the ideal time for a summer office party if you can afford to close your office for the afternoon. Employees are not always thrilled to give up weekend time for work events- and make no mistake that even if you call this a party it is a work event.

4) Plan activities to keep people mixing and moving.  If you are inviting families this is even more important.  Set up volleyball net or have a water balloon toss, consider a scavenger hunt.  Again, make sure that the employees are doing something they enjoy.  Don’t force the issue- if somebody just wants to sit and observe the fun with a cold drink in hand- let them.

5) Carefully consider the question of should you serve alcohol.  For more information on the legal liability of alcohol at a company party check out this earlier post.

Have fun!

Join the conversation: Will you be having a summer office party or an alternative event?

Dress Code 101

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

As the summer heats up, it’s time to make sure your dress code covers appropriate summer attire.  Don’t spend the summer as I did many years ago, as a new HR manager, acting as the “shorts police”  Make sure your employees know what is and is not appropriate attire for the office during warm summer days with a written policy.  If you don’t yet have a dress code, it is not too late, write one now and distribute it. Here are a seven simple steps to creating a dress code:
1. Decide what you want the dress code to say about your business. A creative type of business may allow more discretion, while a more formal approach is most appropriate when there is much customer interaction. However, bare feet and an excessive display of skin is never appropriate unless your employees are lifeguards!

  2. Be specific. If you do not want employees wearing shorts or graphical tee shirts you need to say so.  Do not rely on statements such as “in good taste”- what is good taste to one person is not to another.

3.   Be flexible. Recognize that what is appropriate dress for the loading dock may not be appropriate for the sales staff.

 4. Be realistic. Consider having uniforms for those positions were a certain “look” is necessary or preferred but employees may not have the funds to accomplish your desired “look”.

5. Ask for employee feedback and listen to it. A casual dress code (within reason) is a highly desired benefit for employees.

6. Publish the code to all employees and have them acknowledge they understand it. Err on the stricter side first. It’s easier to relax a dress code than to tighten it.

7. Try it and see how it works. Adjust as necessary. No HR policy should ever be static!

Join the conversation:  Do you have a published dress code or an unspoken one?

Summer fun (or not) for HR managers

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Ah summer, warm weather and a more relaxed attitude equal  fun times- but not  for the HR department…between more casual dress codes and summer events HR managers have their hands full during the summer months.

 Setting and monitoring dress codes is one of those tasks that HR ends up with but wish they didn’t.  I still laugh and cringe simultaneously when I remember the general manager I once worked for who decided allowing shorts during the summer on Friday was a great idea, but “not too short”.   Despite my pleading that HR had better things to do then be the “shorts police”,  I ended up crafting a policy regarding the exact length of inseam shorts should have (9 inches for the record).  The rest of the summer was spent constantly counseling employees on what was and was not appropriate.  The experience left me with a real bent toward uniforms for everyone and a strong recommendation to clients that a special dress codes for summer is never a good idea.   For a bit of real HR fun I give you this joke, its been around forever but when I saw it recently on the Employee Benefit News website it made me laugh and think about all the interesting roles we have in HR and how the best of intentions to improve the workplace for employees can go awry.

Casual Fridays:

Week 1 – Memo No. 1
Effective this week, the company is adopting Fridays as Casual Day. Employees are free to dress in the casual attire of their choice.

Week 3 – Memo No. 2
Spandex and leather micro-miniskirts are not appropriate attire for Casual Day. Neither are string ties, rodeo belt buckles or moccasins.

Week 6 – Memo No. 3
Casual Day refers to dress only, not attitude. When planning Friday’s wardrobe, remember image is a key to our success.

Week 8 – Memo No. 4
A seminar on how to dress for Casual Day will be held at 4 p.m. Friday in the cafeteria. A fashion show will follow. Attendance is mandatory.

Week 9 – Memo No. 5
As an outgrowth of Friday’s seminar, a 14-member Casual Day Task Force has been appointed to prepare guidelines for proper casual-day dress.

Week 14 – Memo No. 6
The Casual Day Task Force has now completed a 30-page manual entitled “Relaxing Dress Without Relaxing Company Standards.” A copy has been distributed to every employee. Please review the chapter “You Are What You Wear” and consult the “home casual” versus “business casual” checklist before leaving for work each Friday. If you have doubts about the appropriateness of an item of clothing, contact your CDTF representative before 7 a.m. on Friday.

Week 18 – Memo No. 7
Our EAP has now been expanded to provide support for psychological counseling for employees who may be having difficulty adjusting to Casual Day.

Week 20 – Memo No. 8
Due to budget cuts in the HR Department we are no longer able to effectively support or manage Casual Day. Casual Day will be discontinued, effective immediately.

Join the conversation: Do you allow a more casual dress code during the summer months?