We all Fall Down! That’s What DOL Is Trying to Avoid With Construction Safety “Stand Down”

Working in a construction is more hazardous than many of those of us who merely watch such work realize.

Over one-third of construction fatalities occurred due to falls from elevation in 2016. Every worker in America should return home from work safe and sound at the end of the day.

Falls are preventable.

That’s why the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) holds an annual “National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls” each May. Across the nation and around the world, employers and employees voluntarily stop working to focus on safety concerns surrounding falls from elevation, which in construction is a height of six feet or higher.

This effort provides an opportunity to raise awareness of this serious danger, and a platform for employers and employees to discuss specific safety measures that can mitigate the risk of falls. Stand-down activities may include a discussion of job hazards, an assessment of potential risks, and the development of safety policies and goals.

This year, OSHA kicked off National Safety Stand-Down Week at the newly-constructed D.C. United Audi Field stadium in Washington, D.C. Department of Labor Deputy Secretary Patrick Pizzella and I joined safety experts and over 650 construction workers to discuss the importance of fall prevention, and encourage workers to participate in safety training.

Preventing falls is everyone’s responsibility. This stand-down campaign is a great reminder that we must be vigilant.

To share your story with OSHA on your Safety Stand-Down, Fall Prevention Programs, please email OSHA at oshastanddown@dol.gov.

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EEOC Gets Money for Employee Canned After Participating in Addiction Requirement Program

With opioid addiction spiraling out of country in this country, the last thing we want is for employers to punish their workers who participate in drug addiction recovery programs.

Foothills Child Development Center, Inc., a South Carolina corporation that owns and operates a preschool in Easley, S.C., will provide monetary relief to a former employee and modify its employment policies to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced on Tuesday.

According to the EEOC, the Foothills Child Development Center violated federal law when it terminated an employee, Leon Dabrowski, after he disclosed his participation in a supervised medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program. Foothills hired Dabrowski as an afterschool teacher at its Easley, S.C. facility. EEOC alleged that at the time of hire, Dabrowski disclosed his prior opiate addiction and participation in a MAT program, through which he was legally prescribed the drug Suboxone as part of his treatment. Foothills terminated Dabrowski about thirty (30) minutes into his first work day due to his Suboxone use. The EEOC contends that Foothills failed to conduct an individualized assessment prior to terminating Dabrowski. The assessment would have helped determine what effect, if any, the Suboxone had on Dabrowski’s ability to perform his job duties. Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability.

Prior to the EEOC initiating its lawsuit, which was filed on May 7, 2018 in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Greenville Division (EEOC v. Foothills Child Development Center, Inc.,Civil Action No. 6:18-cv-01255-AMQ-KFM), the EEOC and Foothills reached a resolution regarding the same.

As part of the settlement, Foothills is required to pay Dabrowski $5,000. In addition, the company has entered into a five-year consent decree which requires it to amend its written drug use policy to include a clear and specific exclusion to the policy for individuals who use legally-obtained prescription medication in a lawfully-prescribed manner. Foothills has agreed to create an ADA-compliant procedure for conducting an individualized assessment of an employee who is enrolled in any form of alcohol, drug, or illegal substance rehabilitation program in order to determine whether the individual can safely perform the essential functions of her/his position with or without reasonable accommodation. The consent decree also requires the company to provide annual training on the requirements of the ADA and its prohibition against discrimination and retaliation in the workplace, and to report to the EEOC the identities of all applicants who were denied employment and employees who were terminated due to current or past alcohol, drug, or substance use.

“Employers should make employment decisions based on an applicant’s qualifications and an employee’s performance, not based on disability or participation in a medically-assisted treatment program,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC’s Charlotte District Office. “We appreciate that Foothills Child Development Center worked with the EEOC to resolve this case fairly, expeditiously and without incurring unnecessary litigation expenses. This settlement is designed to help ensure that future applicants and employees are protected from disability discrimination.”

EEOC: Diversity Among Feds Up a Little

The federal government is always cajoling private sector companies to have more diverse workforces, holding itself out as a role model. So how is the government itself doing on that score?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Monday released its 2015 Annual Report on the Federal Workforce, showing small increases in both workplace diversity and equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint filings and small declines in complaint processing time.

The annual report informs and advises the President and the Congress on the state of EEO throughout the federal government. Data in the report, available online at www.eeoc.gov, details government-wide workforce and EEO complaint statistics, with agency-specific data contained in appendix tables. This report continues the EEOC’s efforts to catch up on federal sector reporting obligations, after issuing the FY 2012-2014 Annual Reports on the Federal Workforce last fiscal year.

The federal government is the nation’s largest employer, with close to 2.5 million employees, and it strives to serve as a model employer by promoting EEO and an inclusive work culture. In FY 2015, most racial and ethnic groups had greater participation rates in the federal government than in the 2010 civilian labor force (CLF), except for Hispanic/Latino males (5.0% vs. 5.2% in the CLF), Hispanic/Latina females (3.6% vs. 4.8% in the CLF), white males (36.8% vs. 38.3% in the CLF), and white females (25.0% vs. 34.0% in the CLF). Statistics also reveal, however, declining participation rates for most groups at higher pay grades in the General Schedule pay system, except for white males, who continue to hold the majority of Senior Executive Service positions, and Asians of both sexes. Additionally, the percentage of federal employees with targeted disabilities increased to 1.00%.

“This information should be very useful to ensure that the federal government continues to make steady progress in achieving model EEO employer status,” said Carlton Hadden, director of the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations.

Pre-complaint counseling and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs addressed many employee concerns before they resulted in formal EEO complaints. Only 42% of completed counsel­ings resulted in a formal complaint filing. Nonetheless, 15,490 complaints alleging employment discrimination were filed against the federal government in FY 2015 – up 3.2% from the prior year. Once filed, investigators required an average of 184 days to complete investigations during FY 2015, down 6% from the previous year. Of the 6,009 cases closed on the merits, 2.8% resulted in findings of unlawful discrimination.

In addition, parties involved in discrimination charges entered into 3,495 settlement agreements, which were 26.1% of the total complaint closures. In FY 2015, the monetary benefits obtained through settlements and awarded for findings of discrimination at the complaint stage, including administrative judge decisions and final agency decisions, amounted to nearly $62 million, a 38% increase from FY 2014.

Race Discrimination Case Headed for Trial

A Wisconsin-based dental benefit administration company is going to have to back up its claim in court that a black job applicant wasn’t qualified for a permanent job with it.

A federal court has denied a motion by Scion Dental, Inc. to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit filed in September 2016 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before trial, the federal agency announced today. Scion Dental is a dental benefit administration company based in Menomonee Falls, Wis. The EEOC charged that Scion Dental violated federal law when it refused to hire an African-American temporary employee into a permanent position because of her race.

Scion Dental has, since the EEOC filed its lawsuit, merged with three other companies and is now known as SkyGen USA, Inc.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David E. Jones, of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, determined that the EEOC had presented evidence that Nartisha Leija, an African-American woman who had successfully performed her job with Scion Dental as a temporary employee, was qualified for the position she sought, despite Scion’s argument that she did not hold a college degree and/or did not interview well. The judge noted that Leija’s application was twice rejected during a time period when Scion hired nine non-African-Americans for the position, several of whom did not hold college degrees. The court held that this evidence, combined with the manager’s stated goal “to change the face” of the network development department, were enough to require a trial on the EEOC’s claim of race discrimination.

The court also agreed with the EEOC’s separate motion that Scion cannot argue to the jury that it would have fired Leija because she printed out e-mail messages, which praised her work performance, from her own work email account to bring to the EEOC, because Scion Dental failed to show that it had fired other employees for similar conduct. The court therefore found it unnecessary to address the EEOC’s argument that a termination for bringing evidence to the EEOC would, itself, have been a violation of the law.

The EEOC’s Chicago District office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

Fed. Contractor Out $2.9M in Wage Settlement

A major federal contractor has moved to put pay discrimination allegations behind it.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced today it has reached a settlement with Dell EMC that requires the company to pay more than $2.9 million in back wages to remedy alleged pay discrimination violations at four Dell EMC locations in California and North Carolina. Headquartered in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, Dell EMC is a federal contractor providing computing, networking, and data storage solutions.

The settlement follows routine compliance evaluations by the Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) that found, beginning in 2014, Dell EMC systemically discriminated against females in engineering, marketing, and sales roles at its Pleasanton, California, facility and females in engineering and manufacturing roles at its Santa Clara, California, facility. OFCCP investigators found that the company paid women and African Americans in engineering roles at its Durham, North Carolina, facility less than white males. Investigators also found that the company paid African American females in manufacturing roles in Apex, North Carolina, less than white males.

“The Department of Labor appreciates Dell EMC’s cooperation to resolve these issues,” said OFCCP National Director Ondray Harris. “Together, we will ensure that the company complies with equal employment opportunity laws in its compensation practices.”

In its conciliation agreement with OFCCP, Dell EMC denies liability but will pay more than $2.9 million in back pay and interest to the affected class members. The company will also make pay adjustments, and take steps to ensure its pay practices meet legal requirements.

In addition to Executive Order 11246, OFCCP enforces Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974. These laws, as amended, make it illegal for contractors and subcontractors doing business with the federal government to discriminate in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, or status as a protected veteran. In addition, contractors and subcontractors are prohibited from discriminating against applicants or employees because they have inquired about, discussed, or disclosed their compensation or the compensation of others subject to certain limitations. For more information, please call OFCCP’s toll-free helpline at 800-397-6251 or visit https://www.dol.gov/ofccp/

Teamwork: Seven Steps to Make It Happen

Supervisors are often cheerleaders for teams, but how best to get your employees to actually work as a team? Our resident guest blogger Robin Paggi has some suggestions.

Getting Your Employees to Work as a Team

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This African proverb neatly explains why you should get your employees to work as a team: individuals can go fast, but a team can go far.

How do you do it? People who have been there, done that, and wrote a book about it said you need to have a variety of things in place to make it happen.

One of those people is Dr. Gregory E. Huszczo, a professor in Eastern Michigan University’s master’s degree program in human resources and organizational development and consultant for numerous big-name companies like Ford Motor Company.

Huszczo’s book Tools for Team Excellence identifies the following seven components necessary for successful teams:

A clear sense of direction. Employees need to know why the business exists, where it’s headed, and the part they play in it. A few tools commonly used to communicate those things are a mission statement, a vision statement, and goals.

A mission statement says what a business does and why it exists. Isn’t the mission of a business to make as much money as possible? In the article The Key to Better Business Culture: Establishing a Company Mission, psychotherapist Jasmin Terrany says, “Employees these days are not as motivated by simply a paycheck. If you want employees who are going to go to battle with and for you, they need to feel connected to a deeper purpose or mission.”

A vision statement indicates where the organization wants to be in the future. Bill Gates’ vision for Microsoft 30 years ago was to have a computer on every desk and in every home. His vision and talent helped make it happen.

Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (SMART) goals need to be set for every department and employee to make the vision a reality.

Clear roles and responsibilities. Employees need to understand what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it. Job descriptions, employee handbooks, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) help with that. Organizational charts also help employees understand what everyone does and how it all fits together.

Constructive interpersonal relationships. Relationships are created through communication. Unfortunately, the way we communicate sometimes causes problems for others and prevents us from working effectively with them. Teambuilding training can help with that.

“In team building training, we learned how our personality styles impact how we communicate, how we tend to annoy our co-workers, and what we can do to communicate more effectively with each other,” said Asta Fowler, Operations Manager of Empire Eye and Laser Center in Bakersfield.

“Teambuilding training was beneficial for our group because it helped us understand how we can work better together to achieve our company’s goals,” Fowler said.

Reasonable and efficient operating procedures. Systems must be in place for how the work gets done and should be regularly reviewed to ensure they are as efficient as possible.

Constructive external relationships. Employees need to be able to work well with people outside their department and organization. Regular meetings to discuss how to work more effectively with each other often improve these relationships.

Effective reinforcement systems. Holding employees accountable and rewarding positive outcomes encourages people to perform. Additionally, employees must value the rewards they are given for them to be effective.

Talented members. Huszczo said, “For a team to be effective, the necessary talent must be there, and it has to be utilized and continually developed and improved.” Additionally, you must have talented leadership. Most teams are not self-directed and cannot function without a good leader.

How do you get employees to work together as a team? Lee Iacocca summed it up nicely: “Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss.”

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

For other columns by Robin Paggi, search “paggi” in the blog search box.

Mopping Up: EEOC Settles Title VII Lawsuit Against Goodwill Industries, Affiliate for $850K

This case is an object lesson in not allowing sexual harassment and retaliation to take root in the workplace.

Goodwill Industries of the East Bay Area and its affiliate, Calidad Industries Inc., will pay $850,000 to eight former and current employees to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced yesterday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, six female janitors assigned to work the night shift at the Oakland Federal Building faced routine sexual harassment by their direct supervisor. The claimants included young women with developmental disabilities who were relatively new to the workforce, and were employed by Goodwill/Calidad’s janitorial operations under a federal government contract. The EEOC also charges that two managers were unfairly criticized and disciplined in retaliation for supporting the women’s sexual harassment claims, and one manager was compelled to resign.

“I was only 19 years old when I worked at Calidad — it was my first job, and I enjoyed being able to earn my own money,” said former employee Crystal Edwards. “But after my boss put his arms around me, I did not feel safe at work. My complaints were ignored. I am so glad the EEOC filed this lawsuit to stop the harassment and to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Former employee Phyllis Sloan said, “I reported the harassment as soon as it started, but nothing changed. So I went to the EEOC, and they were able to help me. I just wanted justice, so that other disabled workers know that they don’t have to put up with harassment from their bosses.”

Former manager Lisa Short added, “Within weeks of my start date, my employees trusted me enough to describe the harassment they faced on the nightshift. I knew my job could be on the line, but I needed to make sure my workers were safe.”

Concerned when higher management failed to take effective action, Short sought help from the Federal Protective Service and ultimately assisted the women in filing discrimination complaints with the EEOC.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from subjecting their employees to sexual harassment and specifically protects employees from retaliation for reporting or otherwise supporting claims of sexual harassment in the workplace. The EEOC filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. Goodwill Industries of the Greater East Bay, Inc. and Calidad Industries, Inc., Civil Action No. 4:16-CV-07093) after an investigation conducted by EEOC investigator Christopher Green and attempting through its conciliation process to reach a settlement out of court.

According to the consent decree signed by Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers, Goodwill/Calidad will pay $850,000 to the claimants. The employers will also revise their EEO policies and complaint and investigation procedures; institute supervisor accountability policies concerning discrimination issues; conduct comprehensive training of their workforce; and hire a consultant to monitor any responses to future complaints. The companies are also required to provide reports to the EEOC regarding adherence to the decree’s terms.

EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney Roberta Steele said, “The EEOC vigorously defends people like Lisa Short, the courageous supervisor who spoke out on behalf of her employees, as well as the individuals who are harassed. Whether you are a target or a bystander, if you see harassment in the workplace, please take action now and call on the EEOC as a resource to end workplace abuse. And if you’re an employer, know that EEOC offers technical assistance programs to prevent and remedy harassment.”

EEOC San Francisco District Director William R. Tamayo added, “The #MeToo movement illustrates that sexual harassment impacts people across industries, from white collar to blue collar work, across class, race, age, gender and abilities. In this case, there were many factors that contributed to the vulnerability of these janitors – all were African-American, many were young females new to the workplace, with disabilities, working the isolated night shift. Employers must take proactive measures to stop predators who would abuse their power over vulnerable workers.”

Protecting vulnerable workers from harassment, disparate pay, and other discriminatory policies is one of the priorities identified in EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). The EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace provides practical resources for employers who want to address workplace harassment.

According to its website, Calidad Industries is a subsidiary of Goodwill Industries of the Greater East Bay and provides vocational training and employment to those with significant disabilities.