Archive for October, 2011

BLS Reports 2010 Workplace Injuries and Illness Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its 2010 report on workplace injuries and illnesses, and it shows a decline in the number of reported incidents, continuing a trend that started in 2002.

Key findings from the 2010 Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses include:

  • Incidence rates for injuries and illnesses combined among private industry establishments declined significantly in 2010 for total recordable cases and for other recordable cases. The incidence rates for cases with days away from work; for cases of job transfer and restriction; and for cases of days away from work, job transfer, or restriction together each remained unchanged from 2009.
  • Manufacturing was the sole private industry sector to experience an increase in the incidence rate of injuries and illnesses in 2010–rising to 4.4 cases per 100 full-time workers from 4.3 cases the year earlier. The increased rate resulted from a larger decline in hours worked than the decline in the number of reported cases in the industry sector.
  • The total recordable cases incidence rate in the private construction industry sector decreased by 0.3 cases to 4.0 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2010–a seven percent decline. Specialty trade contractors reported a similar decline of 0.3 cases in the injury and illness incidence rate–falling to 4.3 cases per 100 full-time workers–and was largely responsible for the reported decline in the construction industry sector.
  • Health care and social assistance experienced an incidence rate of injuries and illnesses of 5.2 cases per 100 full-time workers–down from 5.4 cases in 2009–and was the lone industry sector in which both reported employment and hours worked increased in 2010.
  • The incidence rate of injuries only among private industry workers remained unchanged between 2009 and 2010 at 3.4 cases per 100 full-time workers.
  • The incidence rate of illness cases alone remained relatively unchanged in 2010, as did rates among all illness categories with the exception of poisoning, whose rate increased from 0.2 cases per 10,000 full-time workers in 2009 to 0.3 cases in 2010.
  • National public sector estimates covering more than 18.4 million state and local government workers are available for the third consecutive year with an incidence rate of 5.7 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2010, relatively unchanged from 2009.
You can read more analysis of these figures and peruse the charts and graphs accompanying the report at the BLR website.

Chronic Disease’s Price Tag on Productivity:$153 Billion

It’s no secret the obesity and other chronic illness takes its toll on productivity, but a new Gallup survey puts a price tag on much that costs.

According to the survey, the annual productivity loss is $153 billion.

Not chump change, and considering the tepid growth in the U.S. economy, an unnecessary drag also.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index used self-reports of height and weight to calculate body mass index scores among about 110,000 full-time employees.

Full-time workers of normal weight without chronic health conditions make up 13.9 percent of the U.S workforce and average about 4 days a year of absence. Workers above normal weight with three or more chronic conditions average about 42 days of absence per year. According to the poll, 86 percent of full-time workers self-reported that they are above normal weight or have at least one chronic condition.

Here’s a golden opportunity for HR to get actively involved in helping employees manage their chronic conditions better.

There’s plenty of information out there on wellness programs and which ones are successful.

Here’s one place to start.

Interfering With Pregnancy, FMLA Leave Now Illegal in California

In case there were any doubts, it is now officially illegal in California to interfere with a pregnant employee’s right to take pregnancy leave or leave to care or bond with her newborn.

A bill recently signed by Governor Brown removes any ambiguity on that question.

Existing law prohibits an employer from refusing to grant a request by an employee to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid protected leave during any 12-month period to:

(1) Bond with a child who was born to, adopted by, or placed for foster care with, the employee,

(2) Care for the employee’s parent, spouse, or child who has a serious health condition.

Similarly existing law prohibits an employer from refusing to grant a female employee’s request for up to 4 months of leave if she is pregnant.

However, it appears that current law does not specifically prohibit employers from making it difficult for employees to exercise that right.

Now that oversight has been corrected.

Here’s the text of the bill Governor Brown signed into law. The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2012.

Women Again Sue WalMart for Sex Discrimination, This Time in California

Maybe the second time is a charm. Current and former female WalMart employees are again suing the retailer alleging sex discrimination. Four months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out their attempt to bring a massive class action against the company, concluding that the claims of each of the women were too different to be combined into one lawsuit.

Now, the women are trying again.  Today’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California charges WalMart with discriminating against women in that state alone.

“Each plaintiff has worked in Wal-Mart’s California regions and has been subjected to the discriminatory policies and practices alleged,” the amended lawsuit says.

Expect WalMart to make the same argument it made to the Supreme Court: the class is too diverse to combine all claims.

The case is styled Dukes v. Wal Mart Stores, Inc. (No 01-2252)–the same name as the suit that failed at the high court.

OSHA Fines Wegmans for Safety Violations

Even boutique food stores can fall down on the job when it comes to employee safety. On Tuesday the Occupational Safety and Health Administraiton cited Wegmans Food Markets for repeated violations at its corporate bakery and distribution center in Rochester, N.Y.

Wegmans is facing fines totaling $195,200, mainly for inadequate safeguards to prevent machinery from starting up unintentionally during maintenance. The agency says machines must be completely shut down before workers can carry out maintenance.

Read the agency’s press release on the citations here.

Labor Department Issues Rule Allowing Plan Administrators to Give Specific Retirement Advice

Employees will soon be able to get specific advice on retirement plan investments from their employer suitable for their particular situation.

The U.S. Department of Labor unveiled new rules Monday allowing employers to arrange for employees to get specific advice from the firm running their retirement plan. Until now, such advice could only come from an independent third-party.

To qualify for this service, the advice will have to be based on a computer model certified as unbiased and as applying generally accepted investment theories, or the advice is compensated on a “level-fee” basis. This means the fees do not vary based on investments selected by the plan participation.

To protect participants, employers will have to disclose the fees they pay to advisers and annually audit the arrangement.

The new rule will take effect on Dec. 27. It should help employees make better investment decisions and minimize what the agency terms “costly investment errors because of flowed information or reasoning.”

According to the DOL, the financial losses resulting from such mistakes amounted to more than $114 billion in 2010.

Read the final rule here.

Wal Mart Won’t Insure New Part-Time Employees

Wal Mart announced Friday that it will not offer health benefits to new part-time employees, continuing an unfortunate trend of employers dropping these benefits and forcing employees into the healthcare marketplace.

Only 16 percent of employers offer health insurance to part-timers, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s most recent Employer Health Benefit Survey.

The Affordable Care Act, the new health care reform law, is supposed to reduce the number of uninsured Americans by offering employers incentives to insure their workers. Individuals will also be able to shop for insurance in state-run exchanges where insurance companies will market their offerings and shoppers will get to choose among competitively priced plans–or so the theory goes.

The government will offer tax credits to the uninsured to be used toward buying insurance.

The law requires employers to offer coverage to “full-time” employees or pay a penalty if they fail to do so. The law defines “part-time” as anyone who works fewer than 30 hours per week. The Internal Revenue Service is working on further guidance to define the difference between full time and part time.

Meanwhile, the percentage of part-time workers receiving health benefits just shrank considerably with Wal Mart’s announcement

Competing Claims Over Whether Hertz Had the Right to Fire Muslim Drivers Who Prayed Without Clocking Out

Is it a violation of federal civil rights laws for an employer to fire Muslim drivers because they refused to clock out for daily breaks during which they normally pray?

That’s the question raised by the decision of Hertz Car Rental to fire more than two dozen Somali Muslim drivers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for did just that.

The union representing the drivers-Teamsters Local 117–claims Hertz agreed last year to not require union members to clock out during prayer breaks. According to Hertz, the workers are in violation of a settlement agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to a company spokesman, eight of the 34 suspenced workers signed the company’s new clock-out agreement and have returned to their jobs. The company sent termination letters to the remaining 26 drivers.

New 401(k) Limits Announced for 2012

Contributing to a 401(k) plan is a good deal if the individual can afford it. The money is not taxed until retirement. Many employers match all or a portion of the employee’s contribution.

The IRS is required by law to raise the contribution limit to adjust for inflation. The rate hasn’t gone up since 2009 because inflation was too late to trigger an increase.

Well, the good news is there’s enough inflation now to warrant an increase in the contribution limit.

The IRS announced last week that for 2012, the maximum contribution to a 401(k) plan will be $12,000–an increase of $500 from 2011.

Employers can limit the maximum contribution to a number below the legal ceiling.

According to data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 34 percent of workers ages 21 to 64 used 401(k) plans in 2009; only 9 percent of 401(k) particpans contributed the maximum dollar limit to their plans in 2005, the most recent year for which that data are available.

Slew of New Employment Laws Signed by California Governor

Get ready, California employers. Enjoy New Year’s Eve while you can, since your life is going to get more complicated after the clock strikes midnight. Governor Brown just signed several employment bills into law. Unless otherwise specified, the laws take effect on Jan. 1, 2012. Here’s the rundown:

SB 459 Misclassification of Independent Contractors–This new law creates stiff penalties for willful misclassification of employees as independent contractors.  The law defines “willful” as “voluntarily and knowingly misclassifying” an individual.  The law also makes it unlawful for an employer to charge an individual who has been willfully misclassified any fees or other deductions from compensation if those fees and deductions (e.g. for licenses, space rental, equipment) would have been prohibited had the individual been properly classified as an employee. In the event of a finding of willful misclassification, penalties may be assessed in the range of $5,000 to $25,000 per violation.

AB 469 Notice of Pay Details:  This new law requires employers to provide each employee, at the time of hire, with a notice that specifies (1) the pay rate and the basis, whether hourly, salary, commission or otherwise, as well as any overtime rate, (2) allowances, if any, claimed as part of the minimum wage, including meals or lodging, (3) the regular payday, (4) the name of the employer, including any “doing business as” names used by the employer; (5) the physical address and telephone number of the employer’s main office or principal place of business, and a mailing address if different, and (6) the name, address and telephone number of the employer’s workers’ compensation carrier.

AB 887 Gender Identity and Expression:  This new law amends the Fair Employment and Housing Act (as well as various other laws) to make clear that discrimination on the basis of gender identity and “gender expression” is prohibited.  Gender expression refers to a person’s gender-related appearance and behavior, whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.  The new law also requires employers to allow an employee to appear or dress consistently with the employee’s gender expression.

AB 1236 E-Verify:  This new law prohibits the state, or a city or county, from requiring employers to use E-Verify as a means of verifying employees they hire are authorized to work in the United States.

AB 243 Farm Labor Contractors:  This new law requires employers who are farm labor contractors to disclose to employees the name and address of the legal entity that secured the employer’s services.  This information must be disclosed as part of the employees’ itemized wage statements required by Labor Code section 226.

SB 126 Agricultural Labor Relations:  This new law deals with petitions objecting to the conduct of an election before the Agricultural Labor Relations Board and specifies that where the ALRB refuses to certify an election because of employer misconduct that, in addition to affecting the results of the election, would render slight the chances of a new election reflecting the free choice of employees, the labor union shall be certified as the exclusive bargaining agent for the bargaining unit.

Unless otherwise specified most new laws take effect January 1, 2012.

Thanks to the California Labor and Employment Law blog for this information.