Category Archives: Forms and Policies

DOL Cracks Down on Using Contract Labor

The practice of many employers of using “contract labor” instead of employees to perform some jobs just got riskier as the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued new guidance on who is an independent contractor. (Click here to read the DOL’s lengthy guidance).

The DOL concluded in an Administrator’s Interpretation issued July 15 that “most workers are employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s broad definitions”.

If most workers are employees, that means it is a high bar for any company to jump to prove that a person performing any work for the company is actually an independent contractor who will pay his own payroll taxes and will forego overtime, worker’s compensation, family and medical leave, health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and the other perks of being an employee. Continue reading DOL Cracks Down on Using Contract Labor

Employers Addressing Employee Tattoos

Attorney Vicki Wilmarth provided Texas employers with advice about addressing employee tattoos in Amarillo Magazine’s latest cover story, “Invisible Ink.” Click here  to read the very informative article and for more information about your company dress code regarding facial piercings and body art.

How Texas Employers Should Respond to Marriage Decision

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states has Texas employers scrambling for a correct response. Businesses need to consider employee benefits, leaves of absence and many other Texas workplace policies to address the change in the definition of spouse.

Unlike some changes in the law, this one will not wait for Texas employers to catch up. Travis County had already issued 54 licenses to same sex couples by noon today. The Austin American-Statesman reported that clerks in Dallas, Bexar, Tarrant, Midland, McLennan and El Paso counties also began issuing licenses to same-sex couples and judges have already started marrying same-sex couples today in Texas.

Here are some of the employment law considerations that businesses need to address immediately: Continue reading How Texas Employers Should Respond to Marriage Decision

Employee Free Speech on Facebook

Is your employee free to post a Facebook rant about one of your supervisors that says, “Bob is such a nasty M___ F___ don’t know how to talk to people!!! F___ his mother and his entire f___ing family!!! What a loser!!! Vote YES for the UNION!!!”?

Many of my West Texas employers would fire the employee on the spot for that Facebook post.  But if you called an employment attorney, you would be advised against that termination because the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) just decided last month that the employer involved in this mess had to reinstate the foul-mouthed employee and pay him lost wages.

The NLRB reasoned that the employee’s vulgar rant was “protected, concerted activity” protected by the federal act relating to the formation of unions. The NLRB noted that the harassment policy in the company’s handbook didn’t prohibit vulgar or offensive language, even though that policy was cited as the basis for the discharge. No employee had ever been fired by this employer before for obscene language. In addition, the company was in the middle of an election to decide if the workplace would be unionized.

However, even if your workplace will never be unionized, your actions as an employer can be scrutinized on the basis of employees engaging in “protected, concerted activity” to improve their pay and working conditions. For a summary of the cases that the NLRB has pursued against non-union employers, see the NLRB’s new website dedicated to their enforcement of that law. http://www.nlrb.gov/rights-we-protect/protected-concerted-activity

The NLRB has also been very busy telling non-union employers what can and can’t be in an employee policy manual. On March 18, 2015, the NLRB’s general counsel released a memo concerning those employment policies that the NLRB believes have a “chilling effect” on employees’ rights to engage in protected activities. http://www.nlrb.gov/reports-guidance/general-counsel-memos

Here are precautions you can take as an employer to avoid running afoul of the NLRB or a crafty plaintiffs’ employment lawyer that sues you for your “illegal” handbook policies: Continue reading Employee Free Speech on Facebook

Accommodating Pregnant Employees

Employers often face the question of how to reasonably accommodate pregnant employees. Many of my male (and some of my female) clients panic when they discover that one of their employees is pregnant. They fear that the pregnant employee won’t be able to do the work, that the employee will have some kind of workplace injury or that the employee won’t return to work after maternity leave.

Most employers walk on eggshells around their pregnant employees, even afraid to ask when the baby is due so that the employer can plan for work to get done while the employee is out on maternity leave. Overall, employers are just scared that they will inadvertently do something that will get them sued for pregnancy discrimination.

Their fear is not unfounded. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the courts are taking a careful look at pregnancy discrimination. They want employers to reasonably accommodate the pregnant employee just as you would a disabled employee. You would do this anyway if the expectant mother had any pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes.

The only change is that now you would be wise to accommodate an employee who is having a normal, healthy pregnancy, if the employee asks for a reasonable accommodation.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court case held that a plaintiff can establish an initial case of pregnancy discrimination by showing that she is pregnant, that she sought some sort of reasonable accommodation for her condition, that the employer did not accommodate her, and that the employer did accommodate others “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

In other words, if you let other employees work light duty jobs from time to time, you need to allow your pregnant employee the same privilege. If you would allow an employee who has severe back problems to skip the duty of lifting heavy boxes, do the same for a pregnant employee is she asks for that accommodation. If standing at a cash register all day is hard on an expectant mother, offer a stool for her to sit on, just as you would an elderly employee.

Don’t be patronizing and assume that a pregnant employee can’t work or needs an accommodation. Allow her the dignity of working without help if she chooses. But if an accommodation is requested, you should engage the employee in a discussion (“the interactive process”) to determine what help she needs. You can decide together if her request is reasonable or if there are other equally effective options. Work willingly with your employee to help her out for a few months and she will most likely be glad to return after her maternity leave to be a very productive employee.

Here are a few other quick tips for dealing with pregnant employees: Continue reading Accommodating Pregnant Employees

Workplace Romance

Since it is Valentine’s Week and I am an employment lawyer, my thoughts naturally turn to all of the ways that workplace romances can disrupt your business.

Don’t think it isn’t happening at your company. Of the almost 1,900 employees who responded to a 2014 office romance survey by Match.com, 56% of workers said they have been in a workplace relationship. Can you say “hostile environment”? It gets worse: of those who dated a co-worker last year, 20% of women and 9% of men said it involved dating a supervisor. Can you say “quid pro quo sexual harassment”?

Workplace romances are fraught with sexual harassment and retaliation risks. Many times the relationship creates opportunities for gossip, name-calling, sexual jokes and scorn. If the couple breaks up, the cold shoulder, the back-biting and the anger can easily be twisted into a claim that the workplace has become a hostile environment based on gender.

If a boss dates a subordinate and then the relationship ends, it gets even messier. The claim can become quid pro quo (loosely translated “this for that”), meaning that the subordinate may say that he or she was passed over for a raise or promotion or even fired because the boss isn’t getting what the boss wants. Quid pro quo cases involving a tangible job detriment, such as a demotion, are the worst kinds of sexual harassment cases for an employer to try to defend.

Many employers are hesitant to get involved in their workers’ “private” lives. If it is developing in your workplace, it is hardly private. If you have at least 15 employees (and are therefore subject to sexual harassment laws), you may need a written policy to establish clear boundaries regarding workplace romances. The policy can include: Continue reading Workplace Romance

ACA Standard Measurement Periods May Need to Be Set Now

If your business employs at least 50 full-time equivalent employees, you know that the Affordable Care Act will penalize you in 2015 if your business does not provide your full-time employees with affordable health insurance. But did you know that the determination of who is a full-time employee may need to start as early as November 1, 2013?

When deciding if an employee works full-time (30 hours per week), the ACA allows employers to set measurement periods during which you keep careful track of an employee’s hours of service (hours actually worked and hours of pay for vacation, sick leave, etc.) and then decide if that particular employee has actually averaged 30 hours per week over that measurement period.

For current employees whose hours fluctuate over and under the 30 per week criterion or whose hours fluctuate over the course of the measurement period (such as construction employees who may work 60 hours per week during the height of a building project and 10 or 20 hours per week when the project slows down), this standard measurement period can be between 3 and 12 months.

The standard measurement period is followed by an administrative period of no more than 3 months, during which the employer can make the calculation and offer the employee insurance if he/she is averaging 30 hours or more per week.

That administrative period is followed by a stability period of at least as long as the standard measurement period, during which the employee must be allowed to stay on health insurance even if he/she drops below the 30-hour per week standard.

Many employers are choosing a standard measurement period that lasts the maximum of 12 months. Then they will need at least a couple of months for their administrative period to make their calculation and get their employees enrolled. For employers who are on an insurance plan that renews with the calendar year, or for those who want to make sure they are completely in compliance with the Affordable Care Act before the employer penalties start in 2015, they would be well-advised to start their standard measurement period on November 1, 2013 and conclude it on October 31, 2014. The administrative period would then take all of November and December 2014. The result would be that all employees who are full-time would be measured and offered health insurance in time for a January 1, 2015 enrollment. The stability period would then run from November 1, 2014 to October 31, 2015, concurrently with the next standard measurement period.

The employer who faces this issue will need a written policy setting out the dates that the employer has chosen for its measurement periods with an explanation of how it works for the employees.

New COBRA Notice Requirements

When an employee leaves your company (if you employ 20 or more people), he or she is entitled for at least 18 months to continue any group health insurance coverage that you provide to your employees. This continuation coverage requires that the employee pay the insurance premiums to remain on your group health plan. Therefore the employee must be notified when he leaves your employ of the rights he has to elect to continue that coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). The same election notice must be provided to the employee or his/her dependents if the employee dies, the employee divorces, the employee becomes entitled to Medicare, or a dependent child ceases to be considered a dependent under the health plan.

On May 8, 2013, the Department of Labor updated the election notice you must provide to your employees under COBRA when these events happen. The notice has to be provided to the employee within 14 days of when the plan administrator (you as the employer or an administrator you pay to take care of this function) receives notice that one of the these events has occurred. The new election notice and a redlined version showing what has been changed from the notice you are now using is available on the DOL’s website at: http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/COBRA.html. COBRA carries a stiff daily monetary penalty for employers or administrators who do not timely and properly provide these election notices, so you should start using the new notice immediately.

The DOL also publishes a guide to help you understand and administer COBRA: http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/cobraemployer.pdf. However, because COBRA can be tricky, I prefer that my employer clients pay the little extra fee per month to have your insurance company act as your COBRA administrator and take responsibility to assure that the deadline and notice requirements are met.

 

 

Preventing Guns in Your Texas Workplace

In 2012 in the state of Texas, 584,850 citizens were actively licensed to carry a concealed handgun. That amounts to approximately one legally armed citizen out of every 45 people in Texas. As a business owner or manager, if you do not want anyone carrying guns on your commercial premises because you are concerned about the potential violence that could occur, you have two options. First, you can prevent your employees from carrying a handgun by having a written policy prohibiting that in your employee policy manual. However, a recent amendment of the law does allow employees to have their gun locked in their vehicles, even if they are parked in a parking lot on your property.

Second, to prevent the public from carrying a concealed handgun on your property, you must have a “30.06 sign” posted in a conspicuous place clearly visible to the public (at every entrance is the best idea). The sign requirements are a single sign, both in English and Spanish, with 1” high letters, in contrasting colors, containing the exact language from the Texas Penal Code section 30.06. The language in English must read: “Pursuant to Section 30.06, Penal Code (trespass by holder of license to carry a concealed handgun), a person licensed under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code (concealed handgun law), may not enter this property with a concealed handgun.”

Other signs, such as a picture of a handgun with a red slash through it, are ineffective in Texas and concealed handgun license class instructors tell their students to walk right past those signs. There is a one other valid sign in Texas called the 51% sign, but that only applies to prohibiting the public from carrying handguns on a premises that receives more than half of its income from serving customers alcohol.

It is still illegal for licensees to carry a handgun in Texas at a federal building, at a school, at a public sporting event, in a courthouse, at an election polling place or in a jail or prison, even if those places do not post any kind of sign prohibiting the carrying of a concealed weapon.

Employers Required to Post New FMLA Information

If you employ 50 or more employees (counted by names on a payroll, whether full-time, part-time, owner, etc.), your business is subject to the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which generally gives employees up to 12 weeks (26 weeks for military family leave) of unpaid leave for pregnancy, the birth or adoption of a child, a serious health condition of the employee or a family member or for leave associated with the call to active duty or the injury of a member of the military. If your business is subject to the FMLA, you must place a poster on your workplace bulletin boards about your employees’ rights under FMLA. A few weeks ago, the Department of Labor changed a little of the language of that poster with regards to military families and airline flight crews. Even if these changes don’t specifically apply to your workplace, if you employ 50 or more employees, you must post the new FMLA poster in your workplace by March 8, 2013. You can find the new poster and print out a free copy of it at: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/posters/fmlaen.pdf.