Violence in the Workplace Statistics

I recently gave a Preventing Violence in the Workplace presentation to a group of business owners (you can get the white paper here).

There’s good news and bad news about workplace violence.

The good news:

  1. Workplace violence is less prevalent than most people think. About 800 people die each year from workplace violence. (Homicide – the workplace issue that gets the most media attention – is only the fourth leading cause of deaths in the workplace).
  2. There are a number of inexpensive techniques that can mitigate workplace violence, such as implementing an Illness and Injury Prevention Plan, conducting simple training programs, and implementing background checks on job applicants.

The bad news:

  1. Incidents of workplace violence are likely on the increase.
  2. While most conceptions of incidents involve ‘the post office’ or large organizations, it’s affecting small businesses more and more, since small businesses generally don’t have the infrastructure to support training programs and knowledge about how to prevent workplace violence.

Thanks to Centre Daily Times.

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I-9 Audits and Fines On The Rise

The United States ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Department) is no longer kidding around.

Last month, ICE Assistant Secretary Julie Myers stated that in 2008 there will be “a lot more I-9 inspections of employers.”

Now the Bush administration has announced substantially larger penalties for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

“This is a way to keep that pressure up, to make sure people are complying with the law,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (pictured).

Under the plan, effective March 27, the minimum penalty for willingly hiring an unauthorized worker would go from $275 to $375. The maximum penalty will jump from $2,200 to $3,200, and the maximum for multiple violations will increase from $11,000 to $16,000.

Penalties for inadequate record-keeping range from $100 to $1,000 per violation – even if you unknowingly hired an illegal immigrant.

Make sure to audit your operations process. Employers are being arrested as well as fined.

It no longer makes sense to skirt the law.

Thanks to:

Dallas Morning News
Baker Donelson

Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Age Discrimination will surely become a hot topic in the upcoming months, as the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review five cases involving this issue.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA‘s protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment — including, but not limited to, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.

It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on age or for filing an age discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under the ADEA.

The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.

In California, virtually every employer (regardless of size) must comply under similar regulations for the Fair Employment & Housing Act.

When the Supreme Court hears cases, more and more workers become aware of this issue, which will lead to additional claims by ‘older’ workers.

In Fiscal Year 2006, EEOC received 16,548 charges of age discrimination. EEOC resolved 14,146 age discrimination charges in FY 2006 and recovered $51.5 million in monetary benefits for charging parties and other aggrieved individuals (not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation).

Michael Phelan, a personal injury attorney in Virginia, notes also that “in the current recessionary climate, there is an uptick of companies being accused of using illegal age factors in trying to reduce costs”.

What to Do:

  1. Review your policies immediately.
  2. Make sure that no possible discrimination is taking place in your hiring and employment practices.
  3. Get a human resources consultant or labor attorney to audit these procedures.
  4. If you are considering a layoff or reduction-in-force program, make sure you and your counsel are familiar with the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act.

Via Forbes and InjuryBoard.com.

FMLA Proposed And Approved Changes

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – has long been a difficult thing for employers to manage, largely because of the vagueness throughout the act.

News reports have been blaring about ‘proposed changes’, but they really are only proposals.

The one firm change that has been enacted is the Military Leave provision, which went into effect on January 28. It says, in part:

Employers to provide up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave to eligible employees to care for recovering injured or ill service members.

The proposed changes – which have not been enacted yet, are:

  • 12 weeks of leave because of any qualifying “exigency” arising out of the fact that a covered family member is or has been called to be on active duty.
  • Employees would need to notify their employer that they need FMLA leave no later than the next day following a qualified need for the leave.
  • Employers will now have to provide notice of FMLA rights annually, but will have longer to provide designation of leave – 5 days instead of the current 2 days.
  • A proposed change would allow employers to contact a worker’s health provider about the need for leave. The proposed changes would remove that restriction. Some employers have looked for this change so doctors have fuller information about the worker’s responsibilities and working conditions before making judgments on a worker’s need for time off.
  • Another change would require workers to make two medical visits in a 30-day period to qualify as needing continuing treatment.

Employers have until April 11 to file comments with the Department of Labor.

Smoking In The Workplace – Even Off Hours?

A Massachusetts employer decided to ban employees from smoking. Even when they aren’t at work. And finally terminated an employee whose urine tested positive for nicotine.

Needless to say, the employee sued under a novel concept: that the termination may constitute an interference with that employee’s right to participate in the company’s benefits plan in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Trying to save a few dollars in health insurance by banning employees’ smoking all the time may seem like a good idea, but I suspect the money they saved will be nullified by the court battle that’s ensuing.

Generally speaking:

  • You can ban employees from smoking in the workplace (most states prohibit smoking indoors).
  • You can limit employees’ rest breaks – i.e. a smoke break – to the minimum allowed by state law (normally 10 minutes for every four hours worked)

But overly prohibiting off-premises conduct is not a good idea.

From Thomas J. McCord, Gary J. Oberstein, Renee M. Jackson of Nixon Peabody.

Racial Harassment On The Rise

The EEOC is reporting that cases of racial harassment increased 24% in 2007. Nearly 7,000 complaints were filed last year.

Of particular concern in the workplace is the outbreak of ‘noose’ displays.

It’s nearly impossible to conceive that in this day and age, race harassment is still prevalent – to say nothing of the increase.

To reduce your liability of workplace harassment, remember these steps.

1) Get a handbook (or update your non-harassment policy);
2) Train your managers and supervisors;
3) Make sure no offensive displays are anywhere in your workplace;
4) Develop a policy that indicates e-mail and internet use are for business use only.

From USA Today.

Dealing With Problem Employees

The Employment Law Alliance conducted a study showing that 44% of all employees have violated workplace rules or regulations.

No surprise there, except that the number is so low.

The study further identifies some of the common attributes of a poor employee, as written in the New Hampshire Business Review:

  • Late arrivals and early departures on a regular basis (that are not part of an accommodation)
  • Unexcused excessive absenteeism
  • Disrespectful, abusive, vulgar or rude language towards co-workers, managers and/or customers
  • Poor attitude toward the company and/or co-workers
  • Constant complaints, gossip or other disruptive behaviors that bring down employee morale
  • Poor or unprofessional job performance and/or quality of work

The lesson for employers is DON’T WAIT! If you see these behaviors in an employee, do not delay. Immediately sit down with that person and correct the behavior immediately. You cannot afford to wait. A negative employee is a cancer on the workplace, spreading that disease throughout your organization. If you allow poor behavior from one employee, others will believe they can get away with that behavior as well.

Some of Swenson’s Management Principles apply here:

What you allow, you encourage.
Inspect what you expect.