Articles Posted in Resources

Earlier this month, the President proclaimed October 2012 National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The observance is intended to raise awareness about disability employment issues and to celebrate the contributions of our country’s workers with disabilities. This year’s theme is “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?”

In conjunction with NDEAM, he U.S. Department of Labor has launched an online Workplace Flexibility Toolkit to “provide employees, job seekers, employers, policymakers and researchers with information, resources and a unique approach to workplace flexibility.”

According to the U.S. DOL, the toolkit “points visitors to case studies, fact and tip sheets, issue briefs, reports, articles, websites with additional information, other related toolkits and a list of frequently asked questions. It is searchable by type of resource, target audience and types of workplace flexibility, including place, time and task.”

People manage email in different ways. Some of us use our Inbox as a task list, filing everything that does not need attention.  Others use their Inbox as a storage site for any email that they may ever want to refer to again. You can imagine which group is better liked by IT departments across the globe.

We also have different standards for what is and is not acceptable from a usage or style perspective.  Emails that disregard sentence capitalization, for example, opting to use only lower-case letters, may drive some readers bonkers. Others may be more troubled by email senders who elect to use an atrocious and distracting “stationery,” which translates roughly to a pale beige background with fuzzy gray dots arranged in a grid pattern on which it is impossible to read any text smaller than 24 pts in bold font.

But what about the content of our emails?  There are tricky aspects of that, too, as many of us are all too well aware. Why is it that readers so often misinterpret messages as having a far more sinister or simply unfriendly intent?

Scott McDowell suggests some reasons in his post, Email Etiquette II: Why Emoticons (And Emotional Cues) Work.  I’ve been seeing a lot of articles like this lately and am thoroughly convinced of the accuracy of their premise. In short, despite our attempts to sound conversational in email correspondence, the electronic nature of the exchange prevents an actual conversation from occurring.  Without the chance to translate body language, intonation, and facial expressions, as we do so naturally during in –person conversations, we’re left to our own imaginations when putting emotions to the text we see on the screen.

And, as the post explains, if an email’s content is neutral (as many of us aim to achieve in our day-to-day business correspondence), he reader is more likely to assume that the tone is negative.  This theory of “negativity bias,” which is credited to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, also holds that, when the email’s tone is positive, the reader interprets the tone as neutral, as Mike Maslanka previously explained. 

So what’s a well-intended email author to do? smiley face icon

McDowell suggests an increased use emoticons.  Admittedly, I use a lot of smiley faces in my casual correspondence. I know, I know, it’s not exactly the most lawyerly way to write an email but it does the trick.  When used properly, the winking smiley face can lighten the tone of an otherwise serious-sounding sentence.  But I don’t imagine that I ‘d use a smiley face or even a winking smiley in an email to a new client with whom I don’t already have a rapport or who doesn’t already know smiley-type personality. 

Perhaps there’s an app waiting to be developed here-emoticons for the business environment. A little bow-tie wearing smiley face, maybe? Or maybe the smiley face could don a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, thus appearing both smart and friendly.

Until then, I’ll offer my own humble suggestion-not to to senders but to recipients. If you receive an email from a coworker or other person you generally consider to be on your side of the shooting range, and you have a moment of doubt about the tone or intention behind an email you receive, make an effort to start from the assumption that it’s positive or, at the very least, neutral. In other words, be consciously careful to avoid assuming that guy or girl down the hall has suddenly switched sides and is now a covert agent operating for the enemy.

Human-resource professionals often ask me about good online resources for their employment-law questions. You can add another to the list. Now available as a free download are the current drafts of the Restatement of Employment Law.

The Restatements, for those who may not know, are an incredible legal resource covering just about every possible aspect of a particular area of law. Restatements are published by the American Law Institute and are drafted by a group of amazing legal minds from across the country. For the employment-law Restatements, this means in-depth coverage of everything from contract formation to privacy to state common-law torts.

So, if you’re interested in taking your knowledge of the employment laws to a deeper level or if you fancy yourself as having such knowledge already, check out the latest draft of the Restatement.

[H/T Workplace Profs Blog]

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) continues in its initiative to provide employers and employees with online resources and tools designed, according to the DOL, “to help employers understand their responsibilities to report and record work-related injuries and illnesses” in accordance with OSHA regulations.  DOL 2 

From the DOL’s press release announcing the new web tool:

The OSHA Recordkeeping Advisor helps employers and others responsible for organizational safety and health quickly determine whether an injury or illness is work-related; whether a work-related injury or illness needs to be recorded; and which provisions of the regulations apply when recording a work-related injury or illness.  To help employers in making these determinations, the OSHA Recordkeeping Advisor relies on their responses to a series of pre-set questions. 

Some related resources:

OSHA Recordkeeping Rules CFR 1904

OSHA Recordkeeping Handbook

OSHA Recordkeeping-Related Letters of Interpretation

 

Of course, nothing can really top the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division’s new timekeeping app, which gives employees the ability to keep their own records of time worked, which may or may not match the records provided to the employer.

The Wage-and-Hour Division of the Department of Labor (DOL) has released an app called “DOL-Timesheet.”  The app works on the iPad and iPhone but may later be released for Android and Blackberry. As described by the DOL:DOL Timesheet app

This is a timesheet to record the hours that you work and calculate the amount you may be owed by your employer.  It also includes overtime pay calculations at a rate of one and one-half times (1.5) the regular rate of pay for all hours you work over 40 in a workweek.

The app does not handle tips, commissions, bonuses, deduction, holiday pay, shift differentials or other non-standard methods of pay.

One notable feature of the app is the ability to send a copy of the report via email.  This may be of particular use to employees who work “on the road” or even from home, especially if their time entries are sporadic.  For example, if an employee sends a series of emails from his iPhone at home, after the end of the normal business day, this may be a helpful way for him to record that time worked and communicate it to his employer.

To set up the app, the user is asked to enter the Employer name, the hourly rate of pay, and the start of the workweek.  (Picture at left).  A nifty little feature occurred when I entered $6.00 as the hourly rate.  A warning popped up, alerting me that I’d entered an amount less than the federal minimum wage.  (Picture at right).

DOL Timesheet appPicture3

The three screens below show how users can create a new timesheet; create a new time entry using either the timer or manually; and send the report via email.

Picture1

There is also a glossary of wage-and-hour terms and, conveniently, contact information for the DOL’s WHD.

Picture2

Ah, technology.  Whatever will they think of next?

Employers may want to take advantage of a new online toolkit to facilitate the return-to-work process for employees following a disability-related leave of absence.  The toolkit is intended to provide guidance to both employees and employers with the goal of getting employees back to work as soon as possible. The employer toolkit includes tips for possible accommodations, such as changes to work duties or schedules.  The site also includes suggestions for ways to reduce workers’ compensation costs and improve workplace safety. 

If you need specific information on how to accommodate an employee with a disability, be sure to check out the Job Accommodation Network (JAN)JAN is a free service with an unmatched library of informative resources.

Any human-resource professional who conducts internal investigations of employee complaints (i.e., discrimination, harassment, bullying) would be well advised to read the new book, The Invisible Gorilla.  The book is written by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, the two minds who collaborated on a famous psychological experiment for which they were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology. 

If you haven’t heard of the “gorilla experiment” (also known as a “selective-attention test”), you can (and should) check it out on the authors’ website.  You can watch the video to take the test-but be warned that you may be very, very surprised by the results!  According to the authors:

This experiment reveals two things: that we are missing a lot of what goes on around us, and that we have no idea that we are missing so much.

And they’re not kidding.  As they explain in the the book, we have an amazing ability not to see what’s going on around us.  And, as also explained in the book, we also have an amazing ability to remember facts incorrectly; in other words, we get the story really, really wrong.  More notable, though, is how convinced we become that our memory is accurate. In fact, we are so sure that our recall of a traumatic event is correct that we can’t be convinced even with documentary evidence.

So how does this potentially affect HR?  At a minimum, the authors’ findings will change the way you conduct your next internal investigation. When you’re interviewing potential witnesses, you will be keenly aware of the tricks that our memories can play on us-and how convinced we can be that our memories are not being tricked at all.

Employers are affected by the health-care legislation, also known as the Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act, in numerous ways. One of the lesser-known parts of the Act is Section 4207, which amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Section 4207, also called Reasonable Breaks for Nursing Mothers, requires employers to provide nursing mothers reasonable breaks to express breast milk and a separate room where they can take the break for up to the first year after the child’s birth. (See FLSA Now Requires Breastfeeding Breaks and a Place to Take Them).  baby bottle

The law took effect in March but employers have been without any guidance on what the law requires.  Until now, that is.  The Department of Labor has issued an official fact sheet providing some guidance on the specific requirements under the law.  Fact Sheet #73 offers the following guidance:

Who Is Eligible for Breaks

Only non-exempt employees are affected by the law.

Frequency and Duration of Breaks

Breaks must be provided “as frequently as needed by the nursing mother.”  The frequency of breaks and the length of each break “will likely vary.”

Location of Breaks

The Fact Sheet makes clear that a bathroom, even if private, is not considered a suitable location for nursing mothers to express milk.  The Fact Sheet states that, “[i]f the space is not dedicated to the nursing mother’s use, it must be available when needed in order to meet the statutory requirement.  A space temporarily created or converted into a space for expressing milk or made available when needed by the nursing mother is sufficient provided that the space is shielded from view, and free from any intrusion from co-workers and the public.”

Exceptions to the Rule

Employers with less than 50 employees are not subject to the rule if it would impose an undue hardship. “Hardship” is relative, compared to the employer’s size and financial resources.

Click here to read the entire Fact Sheet #73 (PDF)

Employers and human-resource professionals have been anxiously awaiting the issuance of the final rules interpreting Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). We remain hopeful the regulations will address some thorny issues, such as the implications of employers’ use of internet and social media sites, which may in turn reveal the genetic information of an employee or applicant.

Looks like we shouldn’t hold our collective breaths for the final answer. Deadline after deadline set by the EEOC for its publication of the regulations for Title II of the Act, which applies to employers, has come and gone. Most recently, the EEOC’s Spring 2010 Agency Rule List indicated that GINA regulations were in the Final Rule stage and were expected to be finalized in May. May has come and gone and still no regulations.

In the meantime in GINA news, a new website, http://www.ginahelp.org/ has been created by the Genetic Alliance, the Genetics and Public Policy Center at the Johns Hopkins University, and the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics through funding by The Pew Charitable Trusts. This online resource on the GINA and its protections in health insurance and employment includes answers to common questions about GINA and hypothetical examples.

The information is fairly basic, but could serve as a helpful resource for those trying to get quickly up to speed on the fundamentals of GINA.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), offers a resource called eLaws Advisors, to help employers and employees understand the many federal employment laws.  The website is actually more of an interactive tool that guides users through a series of question to provide specific information relevant to their particular circumstances.  There are eLaws Advisors on wage and overtime issues, workplace poster requirements, health benefits, federal contractor compliance, and other topics. 

Contact Information