Planning is the key to estate planning and that planning should account for digital assets.
To address lawyers' use of social media, law firms should have in place a good social media policy. This policy should be flexible and take into account the personality of your firm -- whether strict about toeing the party line or more informal.
The Ordinance requires employers who have more than four full-time employees to provide paid sick and safe leave to any employees who perform more than 240 hours of work within the City of Seattle per calendar year. Depending upon the size of the employer, the employer may be required to provide as many as 72 hours of paid safe/sick leave each year.
While the Ordinance is too lengthy to be fully summarized here, the following are some of the notable provisions of the Ordinance:
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. How does this affect employers? Studies have shown that approximately 10% of women in the workforce are a victim of domestic violence, and 19% percent of those victims state that some abuse occurred at work, including stalking, threats, and physical aggression. Aside from the human toll, there are financial consequences for employers: in addition to lost productivity, domestic violence victims spend 42% more on health care each year.
Domestic violence has legal implications for the employer as well. Employers have an obligation to provide a safe workplace under the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act. If the victim is injured, time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans With Disabilities Act may apply. And, in 2009, Washington State passed the Domestic Violence Leave Act. It provides leave for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, among other protections, and applies to employers with as few as one employee.
The National Labor Relations Board has issued a Final Rule requiring most private-sector employers, union and non-union, to notify employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") by posting a notice. The rule will take effect on November 14, 2011.
Similar postings of workplace rights are required under other federal workplace laws. The 11-by-17-inch notice is similar in content and design to a notice of NLRA rights that must be posted by federal contractors under a Department of Labor rule.
NLRB regional offices will provide the notice of rights at no charge on or before November 1, 2011, or it can be downloaded from the Board website and printed in color or black-and-white. Translated versions will be available, and must be posted at workplaces where at least 20% of employees are not proficient in English.
Employers must also post the notice on an intranet or an internet site if personnel rules and policies are customarily posted there.
by Claudia Kilbreath
Two recent National Labor Relations Board cases highlight a new issue for employers – the right to monitor or discipline employees who comment on their employment situation in social media postings.
Just last month [June 2011], the National Labor Relations Board filed suit against a nonprofit corporation for firing five employees after they criticized their working conditions, including comments about workload and staffing, on Facebook. According to the NLRB complaint, the Facebook discussion was protected "concerted activity" because it involved a conversation among co-workers about the terms and conditions of their employment, including job performance and staffing levels. Although the employees were not unionized, their activities are subject to protection under the National Labor Relations Act.
In another recent case, the National Labor Relations Board upheld the discharge of a newspaper reporter for sending sarcastic tweets deemed unprofessional and inappropriate by the employer. The NLRB held that because the tweets did not relate to the terms and conditions of the reporter's employment or seek to involve other employees in issues related to employment, it was not protected and concerted activity.
The National Labor Relations Act protects employees who engage in concerted activity (e.g., discussing wages, hours, and working conditions) and it applies to unionized and nonunionized workforces alike. The first case makes clear that the NLRB believes the "forum" for such activities does not matter, and that the rule therefore applies to activities occurring on social media sites. While employers can, and should, enforce internal policies that prohibit discrimination, harassment and other inappropriate workplace behavior, employers cannot discourage employees from raising issues about their wages, hours, or working conditions. A policy or practice that chills the right to air workplace grievances with co-workers, even on a social media site, can run afoul of this rule.
The passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ("ARRA") provides short-term relief to individuals needing to maintain health care benefits following a layoff. The law also means new Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act ("COBRA") obligations, and costs, for employers.
COBRA premiums. COBRA, enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1986, provides certain former employees, retirees, spouses, former spouses, and dependent children the right to temporary continuation of health coverage at group rates if coverage is lost due to specific events such as layoffs or involuntary reduction in work hours. Employers with 20 or more employees are covered under COBRA.
For many employees, COBRA is too costly to consider. Because employers usually pay at least part of the premium themselves for active employees, while COBRA participants generally pay the entire premiums themselves, employees are often surprised by the size of their premium.
Cap on employee contributions. To make COBRA benefits more accessible to the large number of people who have recently lost their jobs, ARRA, also known as the Stimulus Act, puts a temporary cap of 35 percent on the amount of COBRA premiums eligible individuals can be asked to pay. Their employers must pay the remaining 65 percent, which will later be returned to them through a federal payroll tax credit.
To be eligible for the subsidy, individuals must be involuntarily terminated between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009, and earn less than $125,000 annually in the year they receive the benefits ($250,000 annually if married and filing taxes jointly). While COBRA typically also applies to individuals who lose health benefits because their hours fall below minimum eligibility levels, ARRA only covers individuals who lose their jobs.
Plan switches. Traditionally, former employees electing COBRA coverage stayed in the same health plan they were in when they were working. Under the new law, they can, if their former employer allows it, choose a different plan as long as the costs do not exceed those of their existing plans.
Other coverage. Yet another difference between COBRA and the new Act is that if a former employee is eligible for alternative insurance coverage, such as a spouse's plan or Medicare, they cannot receive the COBRA subsidy. Under COBRA, an individual has to actually be enrolled on another plan (not just eligible) to lose COBRA coverage.
Notification requirements. Employers must notify every individual who lost or loses their job between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009, about the subsidy. Individuals who lost their job prior to February 17, 2009 (the law's effective date) and did not elect COBRA must be given a second COBRA election period to reconsider their decision in light of the subsidy.
The U.S. Department of Labor is expected to release a model notice that employers can use as a template.
Payroll tax credit. To avoid transferring the costs of the reduced premiums to employers, the new law reimburses employers for their portion of the premium costs through payroll credits. Employer can claim the subsidy quarterly by reporting 65 percent of COBRA premiums as an overpayment of payroll taxes on Form 9421 or more frequently by offsetting payroll tax deposits during the quarter.
Beginning February 1, 2009, employers are required to post a summary of the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred during 2008. Employers must use the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Form 300A (a summary form using information gathered on the OSHA Form 300). The 2008 summary must be posted from February 1 to April 30, 2009.
The summary must include the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred in 2008 and were logged on the OSHA Form 300. Information about the annual average number of employees and total hours worked during the calendar year is also required.
If a company recorded no injuries or illnesses in 2008, the employer must enter "zero" on the total line. The form must be signed and certified by a company executive.
Form 300A should be displayed in a common area where notices to employees are usually posted.
Employers with 10 or fewer employees and employers in certain industries are normally exempt from federal OSHA injury and illness recordkeeping and posting requirements. A complete list of exempt industries in the retail, services, finance, insurance and real estate sectors is posted on the OSHA Website.
Remember that all employers covered by OSHA need to comply with safety and health standards. All accidents that result in one or more fatalities or in the hospitalization of three or more employees must be reported verbally within eight hours to the nearest OSHA office.
Copies of OSHA Forms 300 and 300A are available on the OSHA Recordkeeping Web page at http://www.osha.gov/recordkeeping/index.html in either Adobe PDF or Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet format.
In 2006, Washington voters enacted Initiative Measure 901 to address concerns about the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. Initiative 901 expanded the 1985 ban on smoking in public places, as set forth in RCW 70.160, and added a prohibition against smoking "in any place of employment."
The Washington Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of the amendment in American Legion Post v. Dept. of Health, 164 Wn. 2d 570 (2008).
A "place of employment" is very broadly defined as "any area under the control of a public or private employer which employees are required to pass through during the course of employment." In light of the broad reach of this amendment, if you allow smoking on your premises, you may need to revise your personnel manual accordingly.