HR E-News Archives (August 2009 through 2010)

August 2010

July 2010

June 2010

May 2010

April 2010

March 2010

February 2010

January 2010

December 2009

November 2009

October 2009

September 2009

August 2009

$1 M in Back Wages for H-1B Workers

A computer consulting company has agreed to pay nearly $1 million in back wages and interest to 135 nonimmigrant workers employed temporarily under the H-1B visa program.

A U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) investigator determined that Smartsoft International, based in Georgia, had violated the visa program’s rules by paying some employees less than the prevailing wage applicable in the geographic locations where they performed the work. In addition, some employees were not paid any wages at the beginning of their employment and others were paid on a part-time basis despite being hired under a full-time employment agreement.

The company contested the DOL’s conclusions and requested a formal hearing with the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges. As part of this agreement, the company will drop any further challenge.

The H-1B program allows employers to hire nonimmigrant workers in specialty occupations. The law establishes certain standards in order to protect similarly employed U.S. workers from being adversely affected by the employment of the nonimmigrant workers, as well as to protect the H-1B nonimmigrant workers. Employers must attest to the DOL that they will pay wages to the H-1B nonimmigrant workers that are at least equal to the actual wages paid to other workers with similar experience and qualifications for the job in question, or the prevailing wage for the occupation in the area of intended employment, whichever is greater.

State Dedicates $21.5M for Training, Job Creation

The state Bond Commission has approved $21.5 million to fund a number of business loan and job creation initiatives called for in the bipartisan jobs bill passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year.

The funding includes:

  • $15 million for the Connecticut Credit Consortium, a small business loan program that will provide up to $500,000 in loans and lines of credit to businesses and nonprofits employing fewer than 50 people. It provides employers with access to financing for construction, working capital, and other costs to help them retain and create jobs. The program is administered through the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) which is now accepting applications. For more information on the Connecticut Credit Consortium go to www.decd.org
  • $5 million for the Pre-Seed Support Services Program, which is administered by Connecticut Innovations (CI), and will offer loans to eligible recipients of up to $150,000 to develop new concepts and technologies. The companies must provide at least 50% of private investment dollars for each dollar of public financing. For more information on the Pre-Seed Support Services Program go to www.ctinnovations.com and click on Funding Opportunities.
  • $1 million to help Connecticut Community-Technical College officials develop short-term retraining and education programs for unemployed individuals through a Community-Technical College Advisory Board . The board will assess training needs and expand access to programs that offer job skills and workforce credits. For more information on Connecticut Community-Technical colleges, go to the Connecticut Department of Higher Education at http://www.ctdhe.org/
  • $500,000 for a pilot program that will help manufacturers become more energy efficient through a Lean Green Manufacturing Initiative . Manufacturers that employ up to 250 people are eligible for assistance under the Lean Green program. Administered through the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), the program helps employers convert their facilities into energy-efficient plants by using proven lean manufacturing strategies, which focus on eliminating waste and improving productivity. For more information go to www.decd.org.
  • The Governor says the $21.5 million underscores the state’s commitment to job creation, jump-starting the economy, and small business, the prime driver of jobs in Connecticut.

Google Manager Sues for Age Bias

A former director of operations and engineering for Google has been given the green light on his age discrimination suit by the California Supreme Court.

The director said he was fired at age 54 after being told by his superiors that he had failed to adapt to the “Google culture,” described as having “young contributors” and a “super-fast pace.” He also claimed that during his tenure at Google he had been subjected to age-based comments by other employees, who told him his opinions were “too old to matter” and called him “fuzzy,” “lethargic,” and an “old fuddy-duddy.”

The trial court ruled for Google, discounting the employee comments as irrelevant “stray remarks” made by individuals who had no involvement in the decision to discharge. But the appeals court and now the supreme court disagreed, rejecting the “stray remarks” doctrine. Although stray remarks may not have strong probative value when viewed in isolation, said the supreme court, they may corroborate direct evidence of discrimination or gain significance in conjunction with other circumstantial evidence. Who made the comments, when they were made in relation to the discharge decision, and in what context they were made are all factors that should be considered.

The case will be returned to the trial court for a full review of all the evidence in the record.

Fewer Fatal Work Injuries in 2009

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says a preliminary total of 4,340 fatal work injuries were recorded in the U.S. in 2009, the smallest annual total since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries program was first conducted in 1992. Based on the preliminary count, the rate of fatal work injury for U.S. workers in 2009 was 3.3 per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, down from a final rate of 3.7 in 2008.

The BLS report suggests that economic factors played a major role in the fatal work injury decrease in 2009. Total hours worked fell by 6% in 2009, and some industries that have historically accounted for a significant share of fatal work injuries, such as construction, experienced even larger declines in employment or hours worked.

Some key findings:

  • Though wage and salary workers and self-employed workers experienced similar declines in total hours worked in 2009, fatal work injuries among wage and salary workers in 2009 declined by 20%, while fatal injuries among self-employed workers were down 3%.
  • Fatal work injuries in the private construction sector declined by 16% in 2009 following the decline of 19% in 2008.
  • Fatalities among non-Hispanic black or African-American workers were down 24%. This worker group also experienced a slightly larger decline in total hours worked than non-Hispanic white or Hispanic workers.
  • The number of fatal workplace injuries in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations rose 6%, one of the few major occupation groups to record an increase in fatal work injuries in 2009.
  • Transportation incidents, which accounted for nearly two-fifths of all the fatal work injuries in 2009, were down 21% from 2008.

For the full report: www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cfoi.pdf

BP To Pay $50 M for Texas Explosion

OSHA has announced that BP Products North America will pay a full penalty of $50.6 million stemming from the 2005 explosion at its Texas refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 170 others. The agreement resolves failure-to-abate citations issued after a 2009 follow-up investigation. In addition to paying the record fine, BP has agreed to take immediate steps to protect those now working at the refinery, allocating a minimum of $500 million to that effort.

The agreement identifies many items in need of immediate attention; the company has agreed to address those concerns quickly and to hire independent experts to monitor its efforts. The agreement also provides an unprecedented level of oversight of BP’s safety program, including regular meetings with OSHA, frequent site inspections, and the submission of quarterly reports for the agency’s review. Finally, BP has agreed to establish a liaison between its North American and London boards of directors and OSHA, which will allow the agency to raise compliance problems at the highest level.

During the 2009 follow-up investigation, OSHA also identified 439 new willful violations and assessed more than $30 million in penalties. Litigation before the OSH Review Commission regarding those violations and penalties is not impacted by the $50.6 million settlement.

For more information: www.osha.gov/dep/bp/bpagreement.html

Drinking Rate Edges Up

A recent Gallup poll finds that 67% of U.S. adults drink alcohol, a slight increase over last year and the highest reading recorded since 1985 by 1 percentage point.

Despite some yearly fluctuations, the percentage of Americans who say they drink alcohol has been remarkably stable over Gallup’s 71 years of tracking it. The high point for drinking came in 1976-1978, when 71% said they drank alcohol. The low of 55% was recorded in 1958.

A majority of Americans in most demographic subgroups of the population drink, though in some groups drinking is more prevalent than in others. Older Americans (59%) are less likely to drink than those who are younger (72%); those with the lowest education levels and lowest incomes are less likely to drink than others.

The poll also found that beer is the beverage of choice among Americans who drink alcohol, as it has been every year since 1992—with the exception of 2005, when wine edged into the top spot.

For complete poll results: www.gallup.com/poll/141656/Drinking-Rate-Edges-Slightly-Year-High.aspx

EEOC’s Federal Workforce Report

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released its annual report assessing the state of equal employment opportunity throughout the federal workforce.

The report includes trends in the composition of the workforce, data concerning complaints of employment discrimination in the federal sector, and practical tips for agencies to improve their performance.

Over the last ten years, the EEOC has found that there have been subtle changes in the composition of the federal workforce. Overall, the participation rates of women, Hispanics or Latinos, and Asians have increased slightly. The number of women in the federal workforce rose from 42.3% to 44.06%; Hispanics/Latinos from 6.81% to 7.90%; and Asians from 5.22% to 5.84%.

Additionally, in FY 2009, for the first time since FY 1995, the percentage of people with targeted disabilities in federal jobs held steady, halting a 13-year decline. However, despite a modest net gain, people with targeted disabilities still remain below 1% of the total workforce. Targeted disabilities include deafness, blindness, missing extremities, partial or complete paralysis, convulsive disorders, mental retardation, mental illness, and distortion of a limb and/or the spine.

In FY 2009, federal employees and applicants filed 16,947 complaints alleging employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability and reprisal. Of 6,905 cases closed on the merits, 2.98% resulted in findings of unlawful discrimination.

For the full report: http://www.eeoc.gov/federal/reports/ vfsp2009/index.cfm

USCIS Reviewing Employment-Related Issues

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced the first 10 issues it will address as part of an agency-wide policy review. Included on the list are several employment-related issues: H-1B visas; employment-based preference categories 1, 2, and 3 (priority workers, advanced professionals, and skilled workers); employment-based adjustment of status; and employment authorization and travel documents.

Earlier this year USCIS invited external stakeholders as well as its own workforce to complete a survey identifying their priorities for review. Nearly 5,600 stakeholders and 2,400 workforce members responded. Those responses along with operational and programmatic needs helped the agency select the first 10 issue areas.

USCIS is now convening internal working groups to focus on each of the areas and determine the appropriate course of action for each policy document under review. Outdated policies will be revised or deleted; inconsistent and redundant policies will be reconciled. If the policy review identifies the need for proposed regulatory changes, the agency will follow the federal rulemaking process.

Throughout the policy review, USCIS will continue to engage with the public and seek its feedback. As policies receive final approval, the agency will compile them into a single electronic resource for its workforce and the public.

Click here for more information.

Morale Biggest Workplace Challenge

Some 31% of human resources managers say morale and employee productivity is their biggest concern over the next six months, according to a survey by ComPsych, one of the world’s largest providers of employee assistance programs.

Many managers are attuned to workplace discontent, which is becoming more widespread as organizations continue to operate with lean staff, says ComPsych. Managers must take steps to insure employees receive recognition and that workloads and other issues related to morale, such as opportunities for growth and development, are addressed.

Rounding out the top five HR challenges:

  • Dealing with health care costs and new legislation (26%)
  • Finding qualified candidates (16%)
  • Handling organizational change (14%)
  • Retaining top performers (13%)

Find out what your employees really think with a CBIA Employee Opinion Survey.

New ADA Rules Proposed

The Justice Department has proposed new regulations intended to modernize the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The proposal addresses the accessibility of websites, the provision of captioning and video description in movies shown in theatres, accessible equipment and furniture, and the ability of 9-1-1 centers to take text and video calls from individuals with disabilities.

The proposal was published on July 26, the same day the ADA celebrated its 20 th anniversary.

The Justice Department says it is working hard to ensure that the ADA keeps up with technological advances that were unimaginable 20 years ago. Just as these quantum leaps can help all of us, they can also set us back, says the department, if regulations are not updated or compliance codes become too confusing to implement.

The Department is accepting public comments on the proposed regulations through Sept. 24, 2010. To read the proposal or to submit a comment: www.ada.gov/anprm2010/web%20anprm_2010.htm

OFCCP Targets Rehab Act Rules

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCCP) is looking at strengthening its regulations that require federal contractors to take affirmative action to employ and promote individuals with disabilities.

In a notice of proposed rulemaking, the agency invites the public to help revise the regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 503 has required equal employment opportunity and affirmative action since the 1970s, yet the percentage of people with disabilities who are unemployed or not in the labor force remains significantly higher than for those without disabilities. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.7% of people with disabilities were in the labor force in June 2010, compared with 70.5% of people with no disability.

The OFCCP is seeking comments on the following issues:

  • What employment practices have been effective in recruiting, hiring, advancing, and retaining qualified individuals with disabilities?
  • What data are available that could be used to establish hiring goals and conduct utilization analyses of individuals with disabilities?
  • How can linkage agreements between federal contractors and organizations that focus on the employment of qualified individuals with disabilities be strengthened to increase effectiveness?

The deadline for comments is Sept. 21, 2010. To read the proposal or to submit a comment:

www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#documentDetail?R=0900006480b1fd5a

Top Body Language Mistakes

Job seekers with shifty eyes or reluctant smiles in an interview may be hurting their chances of landing a job. A CareerBuilder survey of more than 2,500 hiring managers reveals that failure to make eye contact (67%) and not smiling enough (38%) would make them less likely to hire someone.

When asked overall what additional body language would make them less likely to hire job candidates, hiring managers reported the following:

  • Bad posture (33%)
  • Handshake that is too weak (26%)
  • Crossing arms over their chest (21%)
  • Playing with their hair or touching their face (21%)
  • Using too many hand gestures (9%)

In a highly competitive job market, job seekers need to set themselves apart in the interview stage, says CareerBuilder. To avoid body language missteps and ensure they’re remembered for the right reasons, job seekers should be prepared for common interview questions and try practicing ahead of time in front of a mirror or with family and friends.

DOL Issues Rule on Pension Plan Disclosure

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued an interim final rule that will enhance disclosure to fiduciaries of 401(k) and other retirement plans. The rule will assist plan fiduciaries in determining both the reasonableness of compensation paid to plan providers and any conflicts of interest that may impact a service provider’s performance under a service contract.

The new rule requires the disclosure of the direct and indirect compensation certain service providers receive in connection with the services they provide. The rule applies to plan service providers that expect to receive $1,000 or more in compensation and that provide certain fiduciary or registered investment advisory services, make available plan investment options in connection with brokerage or recordkeeping services, or otherwise receive indirect compensation for providing certain services to the plan.

To view the interim final rule, go to http://www.dol.gov/ebsa. The public may address written comments on the interim final regulation to the Office of Regulations and Interpretations, Employee Benefits Security Administration, Room N-5665, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC, 20210, Attention: 408(b)(2) Interim Final Rule. Comments may also be submitted electronically by e-mail to e-ORI@dol.gov or through the federal e-rulemaking portal at www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#home.

NLRB Elections Decline

The total number of representation elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board declined by 60% over the period 1997-2009, from 3,261 to 1,304, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Over the same period, the number of elections won in favor of union representation declined by 48%, from 1,656, to 865. Because the number of elections won in favor of union representation declined at a slower rate than the total number of elections, the percent of elections won in favor of union representation increased, from 51% in 1997 to 66% in 2009.

The report also shows that the number of employees eligible to vote in elections decreased by 69% over the period, from 224,262 in 1997 to 69,832 in 2009. Although the number of employees eligible to vote in elections won by unions has fluctuated from year to year, overall it declined by 51%.

Despite the decrease, if an employee was involved in a union representation election, the employee was more likely to gain union representation in 2009 than in 1997. In addition, there is a greater tendency for employees to choose union representation when two or more unions are seeking certification than when only one union is seeking certification.

For more information: www.bls.gov/opub/cwc/cb20100628ar01p1.htm

More Employers Using PTO Banks

A new WorldatWork survey finds that three out of four U.S. employers offer paid time off programs to compete in the labor market, and do so in traditional and non-traditional ways.

While most employers still prefer a traditional paid time off system, which gives employees separate allotments for sick, vacation, and personal days, an increasing number are moving to a paid time off (PTO) bank-type model, where workers receive a pooled number of days that can be used as needed. Of the companies surveyed, 54% said they have a traditional program; 40% use a PTO bank system, up from 28% in 2002; and a handful offer unlimited leave.

Other survey findings:

  • In a traditional system, 21 days (12 paid vacation plus nine sick days) are allocated on average for one to two years of service, 19 days in a PTO bank system.
  • Eighty-seven percent of employers with a traditional system provide paid sick leave (PTO bank systems do not distinguish between vacation and sick)
  • Employers offer an average of nine paid holidays each year
  • Fifteen percent of companies surveyed offer sabbatical leave programs, typically unpaid

Time is the new currency, says WorldatWork, and employers remain committed to providing paid time off as a key employee benefit and reward.

For more survey results: www.worldatwork.org/waw/adimLink?id=38913

Sex Bias Suit Settles for $175 M

Novartis Pharmaceutical and a nationwide class of female current and former sales employees have reached an agreement settling claims of systemic sex bias in pay, promotions, and pregnancy.

The $175 million settlement covers more than 5,600 female employees who worked for Novartis between 2002 and 2010. The group had filed a class action lawsuit against the company, claiming they were denied promotions, paid less than their male colleagues, and subjected to a hostile work environment. The female employees also contended that the human resources division routinely ignored their complaints, including those involving pregnancy issues.

Novartis has agreed to pay up to $152.5 million for back pay and compensatory damages, and an additional $22.5 million for equal employment opportunity improvements, training, and an improved bias complaint process.

HR Pros Prep for Green Job Creation

In a poll by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), four in 10 HR professionals said their organizations are currently focused on creating green jobs or adding green duties to existing jobs.

When asked what has taken place during the past 12 months to meet the demands for “greener” ways of working, 81% of the HR pros polled said new duties have been added to existing positions at their organization. Nearly one quarter (23%) reported the creation of completely new green jobs or the addition of green duties within newly created jobs.

While the number of organizations able to create completely new green jobs is relatively low, HR professionals said adding green duties to existing job categories is practical and achievable:

  • Office and administrative support occupations – 80% are making green
  • Transportation and material moving – 79%
  • Service – 76%
  • Construction trades – 74%
  • Installation, maintenance, and repair – 74%
  • Management, business, and financial – 72%
  • Production – 72%
  • Sales – 68%
  • Professional – 68%
  • Farming, fishing, and forestry – 67%

Among those organizations able to create completely new green positions—where 25% to 100% of the job has green duties—the occupations cited most often were sales; management, business and financial; professional; farming, fishing and forestry; and production.

To ready workers to assume green duties, 67% of organizations are providing or will provide on-the-job training, 31% are paying for employees to take skills courses, and 28% are paying for employees to obtain related certificates or licenses.

For complete poll results: www.shrm.org/Research/SurveyFindings/Pages/default.aspx

New WC Guidelines Effective July 1

The state Workers’ Compensation Commission has adopted new guidelines for resolving issues that may arise for either payors or medical providers who practice within the workers’ compensation system. The guidelines, which take effect on July 1, can be seen on the commission’s website.

Timely decisions on benefits and medical treatments are key to achieving the best outcomes for all stakeholders involved in workers’ compensation cases. Communication breakdowns between payors and providers, however, often lead to needless confusion and delays in resolving cases.

The new guidelines outline ways to minimize potential disruptions and ensure
compliance with workers’ comp laws and objectives. They establish a baseline of cooperation for stakeholders to agree on the delivery of appropriate medical services.

According to the commission, the guidelines are the product of months of meetings with representatives from the medical field, employer groups, labor groups, insurance carriers, and attorneys representing injured workers.

For more information, contact CBIA’s Kia Murrell at 860-244-1931 or kia.murrell@cbia.com.

Your Vote Matters!

On Primary Day, Tuesday, August 10, registered Republicans and Democrats will determine who will be on the November 2 ballot. All towns will have a primary. Some may include races for the state legislature or U.S. House in addition to U.S. Senate, Governor, and other state offices. For more information, visit CBIA’s Election Central 2010 website: www5.cbia.com/election/

DOL Clarifies Parental Leave Under FMLA

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has clarified when employees who do not have a biological or legal relationship with a child may nonetheless take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for the birth, adoption, or care of that child.

According to the DOL interpretation, either day-to-day care or financial support may establish an “in loco parentis” relationship where the employee intends to assume the responsibilities of a parent with regard to a child and therefore may qualify for FMLA leave under the same circumstances as a biological parent.

The following were offered as examples of situations that would allow for FMLA leave under the new interpretation:

  • An uncle who is caring for his young niece and nephew while their single parent is on active military duty
  • A grandmother who assumes responsibility for her sick grandchild when her own child is debilitated
  • An employee who intends to share in the parenting of a child with his or her same sex partner

In all cases, whether an employee stands in loco parentis to a child will depend on the particular facts. The fact that a child has a mother and/or father does not necessarily preclude a finding that an employee is in loco parentis.

Early Retiree Reinsurance Program Underway

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (OCIIO) has begun accepting applications for the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (ERRP). The $5 billion program was created under the Affordable Care Act to provide financial assistance for employers who continue to offer health care coverage for their retirees.

The ERRP will reimburse employers for medical claims for retirees age 55 and older who are not eligible for Medicare, along with their spouses, surviving spouses, and dependents. Employers, including state and local governments and unions, who provide health coverage for early retirees are eligible to apply.

Reimbursements will be available for 80% of medical claims costs for health insurance benefits between $15,000 and $90,000. Program participants will be able to submit claims for medical care going back to June 1, 2010.

The ERRP program is intended as a bridge to 2014 when more Americans will have access to the insurance marketplace through health insurance Exchanges.

For more information: www.hhs.gov/ociio

New WC Guidelines Effective July 1

The state Workers’ Compensation Commission has adopted new guidelines for resolving issues that may arise for either payors or medical providers who practice within the workers’ compensation system. The guidelines, which take effect on July 1, can be seen on the commission’s website.

Timely decisions on benefits and medical treatments are key to achieving the best outcomes for all stakeholders involved in workers’ compensation cases. Communication breakdowns between payors and providers, however, often lead to needless confusion and delays in resolving cases.

The new guidelines outline ways to minimize potential disruptions and ensure
compliance with workers’ comp laws and objectives. They establish a baseline of cooperation for stakeholders to agree on the delivery of appropriate medical services.

According to the commission, the guidelines are the product of months of meetings with representatives from the medical field, employer groups, labor groups, insurance carriers, and attorneys representing injured workers.

For more information, contact CBIA’s Kia Murrell at 860-244-1931 or kia.murrell@cbia.com.

Green Card Redesigned

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has redesigned the Permanent Resident Card—commonly known as the “Green Card”—to incorporate several new security features aimed at deterring immigration fraud.

Improvements to the card include holographic images, laser engraved fingerprints, high resolution micro-images, and tighter integration of the design with personalized elements.

Now colored green, the redesigned card will be issued to individuals newly approved for lawful permanent residency, as well as those who have sought a renewal or replacement card. Existing cards without a renewal date remain valid, although USCIS recommends that holders of those cards apply for the redesigned version.

USCIS says the enhanced security features will better serve law enforcement, employers, and immigrants, all of whom look to the Green Card as definitive proof of authorization to live and work in the U.S.

Attitudes Toward Hiring Vets

The greatest challenge veterans face in the civilian job market is how they translate and describe their military experience, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Well over half (60%) of the more than 400 HR professionals polled believe translating military skills to the civilian job experience is a challenge for veterans when it comes to writing resumes and interviewing. Other challenges include:

  • Difficulty transitioning from the structure and hierarchy in the military culture to the civilian workplace (48%)
  • Post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues (46%)
  • Combat-related physical disabilities (22%)

But the SHRM poll also suggests that, in reality, some of these hiring assumptions may be unfounded. Among the HR professionals who have actually hired and managed veterans, only 13% report issues in transitioning them back into the workforce. The job performance feedback on these employees is stellar as well. Nearly all employers who have hired veterans say they possess the following qualities:

  • Strong sense of responsibility to their work (97%)
  • Ability to work well under pressure (96%)
  • Ability to see a task through to completion (92%)
  • Strong leadership skills (91%)
  • High degree of professionalism (91%)
  • Strong problem-solving skills (90%)


New Board Ratifies Two-Member Decisions

For 27 months, from January 2008 through April 2010, the National Labor Relations Board operated with just two members. Its authority to issue decisions during that period was challenged, and in mid-June the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the two-member Board lacked such authority.

In response to that decision, the current Board with a full complement of five members, has ratified all actions taken by the two members during the 27 month period, including appointments of regional directors, administrative law judges, and senior executives. For more information: http://www.nlrb.gov/shared_files/Press%20Releases/2010/R-2766.pdf

Sigma Study: Shift HR From Being a Cost Center to a Profit Center

CBIA and nPlusOne Consulting (formerly the Susan Lesser Group) are pleased to present you with the opportunity to participate in a groundbreaking study, offered exclusively to CBIA members with 40 or more employees.

What is the Sigma Score Study and how does it relate to you? “By viewing human capital as an asset to be developed, companies can greatly improve their long-term sustainability.” (Susan Lesser, Co-Founder, nPlusone Consulting)

Grounded in objective statistical analysis, the Sigma Score Study is based on a companywide survey that measures the effectiveness of leadership, the quality of your communication, and the ability of your employees to work in teams.

What to expect from the Sigma Score Study

  • A Sigma Score measure (detailing the strength of your organization’s leadership, communication, and teamwork)
  • A Satisfactor score (measuring the employees’ morale level)
  • A customized explanation of these figures and what they mean to your organization’s performance

Benefits of participating in the Sigma Score Study

  • Shift HR from being a cost center to a profit center.
    • While organizations have mastered the metrics related to the cost of each employee, they have neglected the metrics associated with quantifying an employee’s value. This study is one of the first attempts to measure the asset portion of the employee-value equation.
    • If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it; if you can’t manage it, you can’t improve it.
    • Being able to measure critical areas of human capital will allow you to focus your attention on areas of greatest need, thereby enabling you to manage your resources more effectively.
  • Bring HR visibility to the forefront of company discussions.
    • By tagging HR roles and responsibilities to traditionally operational areas of the company, the HR discipline is given the attention it is due.
  • Additional benefits of participation in the Sigma Score Study:
    • Use as a motivational tool for employees.
    • Assistance in your talent acquisition strategy.
    • Inclusion in your bonus compensation structure.

CBIA has chosen nPlusOne Consulting as a partner in this HR-related study because of its 30+ years of experience in the areas of business management, technology, healthcare, education, and consulting. Its founders hold advanced degrees in business administration, business science, and counseling. They have presented at national conferences on such subjects as Measuring the Intangibles of Leadership, Communication and Teamwork, and International Business Development. nPlusOne cofounder Susan Lesser has been selected by the UCONN Family Business Center as its first female consultant to run an ongoing focus group.

Participation guidelines

  1. The survey responses are 100% confidential. Identifying information will not be disclosed to nPlusOne Consulting.
  2. For the best results, we will need full participation from every full-time employee in your company.
  3. Please allow 20-25 minutes for the completion of the survey.
  4. Each participating company will need to designate a survey administrator to ensure survey completion and communicate with CBIA.
  5. CBIA will provide each participating company with a link to the survey so it can be disseminated among employees.

This study has been designed to provide you with valuable information about the strength of your organization’s human capital. All information will be treated confidentially. CBIA will handle the administration and tabulation of the survey. All we ask you to do is to disseminate the survey among your employees and encourage them to fill it out. We are excited about this opportunity to continue bringing value to our members.

Please contact Phillip Montgomery, Director of Compensation and Benefits Services , at 860-244-1982 if you would like your company to be a part of this groundbreaking study.

New Rules on “Grandfathered” Health Plans

Federal regulators responsible for enforcing the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act have issued new rules on what constitutes a “grandfathered” health plan.

While the Act requires group health plans to provide certain new benefits to consumers, plans that already existed on March 23, 2010—”grandfathered plans”—are exempt from some of the new requirements. Grandfathered plans can continue to make routine changes, such as inflation-driven cost adjustments, and still maintain their grandfathered status. However, plans will lose their status if they choose to:

  • Significantly cut or reduce benefits
  • Raise coinsurance charges
  • Significantly raise copayment charges
  • Significantly raise deductibles
  • Significantly lower employer contributions
  • Add or tighten an annual limit on what the insurer pays
  • Change insurance companies

Under the rules, if a plan loses its grandfathered status, then consumers in that plan can gain additional new benefits including coverage of recommended prevention services and guaranteed access to OB-GYNs and pediatricians.

Plan changes enacted before March 23, with an effective date after that date, will not cause a loss of grandfathered status.

For details: www.healthreform.gov/newsroom/keeping_the_health_plan_you_have.html

Working Dads Feel the Pressure

The struggling economy is taking a toll on working dads across the nation.

According to Careerbuilder’s Annual Father’s Day survey, dads are working longer hours, experiencing more stress, and are spending less time with their families. Among the survey findings:

  • One-in-ten working dads say their spouse or significant other has become unemployed in the last 12 months, with half indicating it is causing stress at home
  • 42% are the sole provider for their families
  • 9% had to take a second job in the last 12 months
  • 31% who take work home do so five days a week
  • 30% bring work home on weekends
  • 37% spend two or less hours with their children each work day
  • 35% missed two or more significant events in their child’s life due to work in the last 12 months

CareerBuilder offers some tips for working dads navigating these difficult economic times:

  • Talk about what is happening at work, so everyone in the family understands why you are away or have to do some work at home
  • When possible, turn down work-related activities that take place during off-hours
  • Develop a master family calendar with every family member’s schedule
  • Talk to your supervisor about flexible work arrangements and saving vacation days for important events
  • Stay away from cell phones and e-mails for business until after the kids have gone to sleep
  • Hold a kid-friendly event at work

Click here for more info.

New E-Signature Option for Forms 5500, 5500-SF

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has announced that its EFAST2 electronic filing system for Forms 5500 and 5500-SF has a new e-signature option.

Starting this calendar year, retirement and welfare plans required to file an annual Form 5500 or 5500-SF must file electronically using the agency’s EFAST2 system. Now, it has a new e-signature option designed to simplify the filing process, especially for small businesses that use service providers to complete and file their annual forms.

Under the new e-signature option, service providers that manage the filing process for plans can get their own signing credentials and submit the electronic Form 5500 or 5500-SF for the plan. The service provider must confirm that it has specific written authorization from the plan administrator to submit the plan’s electronic filing. The administrator must manually sign a paper copy of the completed filing, and the service provider must attach a PDF copy of the manually signed Form 550 or 5500-SF as an attachment to the electronic fling submitted to EFAST2.

The new e-signature option is available in the government-sponsored IFILE application. Filers using EFAST2 approved software to complete and file the Form 5500 or 5500-SF should contact their software vendors for information regarding availability of the new option as part of their software.


High Court: NLRB Decisions Illegal

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was not authorized to issue decisions during a 27-month period when three of its five seats were vacant.

The Board operated with two members from January 2008 to late March 2010, when President Obama recess-appointed two additional members. In continuing to issue decisions during that period, the two members relied on a confusing section of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) as well as an opinion by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.

But the Court interpreted the NLRA differently, finding that it required no fewer than three members before the Board could act.

The ruling calls into question nearly 600 NLRB decisions.


New Poster Available

Executive Order 13496, signed by President Obama last year, requires federal contractors and subcontractors to post a revised workplace notice informing employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. The revised poster was issued recently by the U.S. Department of Labor and is available online for free at www.dol.gov/olms/regs/compliance/EO13496.htm .

Survey: Workers Prefer Employer-Provided Health Benefits

A majority of U.S. workers plan to rely on their employer-provided health care coverage now and in the future, according to a survey of 3,000 workers by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Hewitt Associates.

Most workers (61%) currently use employer-sponsored health care coverage, and nearly half (47%) plan to continue to do so for the next three-to-five years. However, more than one-third (35%) would consider dropping employer coverage if they become eligible to purchase similar coverage through other avenues.

Health care reform legislation will lead some employers to rethink their health benefits strategy, says NBGH, but employees overwhelmingly prefer and expect to see their employers continue to provide coverage in the future.

Other key survey findings:

  • Employees know how to get healthy, but many aren’t taking action. Most employees (84%) believe making smart choices in daily life leads to good overall health, and almost three-quarters (72%) think good health is a result of getting regular preventive care. Yet only half of employees think they do a great or good job of eating healthy, while less than half (46%) reported doing a great or good job of exercising on a regular basis.
  • Participation in many employer-provided health improvement programs is not as high as employers would like. The most popular programs include biometric screenings (61%), online health information tools (53%), and health risk questionnaires (41%). Stress management programs and employee assistance programs were the least popular, with just 9% participation in each.
  • Despite low participation rates, employees who do sign up are generally satisfied. Programs with the highest employee satisfaction rates include blood screenings (91%), on-site health centers (83%) and physical fitness programs (78%).
  • Workers want targeted and personalized communication. To help cut through the clutter of health care messages, employees are asking for more personalized communication that is relevant to them. Almost half (44%) want customized, targeted reminders that are appropriate for them based on factors such as their age and gender, 41% would like personalized health program recommendations, and 40% requested online personal health records.For more information: www.businessgrouphealth.org/pressrelease.cfm?ID=157

Employers Report Talent Shortages

Manpower’s annual Talent Shortage Survey finds that 14% of U.S. employers are having difficulty filling key positions, down from 19% in 2009. Worldwide, 31% of employers are experiencing challenges finding the right talent, similar to the 2009 figure of 30%.

The most difficult U.S. jobs to fill are skilled trades, sales representatives, nurses, and technicians. The global results are similar this year, with skilled trades, sales representatives, nurses and engineers being the hardest jobs to fill. These are among the same jobs that employers have reported struggling to fill for the past four years, suggesting that there is an ongoing, systemic global shortage in these areas.

Unemployment levels remain high in the U.S., yet employers continue to have difficulty filling select positions, says Manpower. The issue is not a lack of candidates, but rather a talent mismatch. There are not enough sufficiently skilled people in the right places at the right time.

For the survey, Manpower polled more than 35,000 employers across 36 countries, which included 2,000 U.S. employers.

Flood Victims Eligible for Disaster UI

Reversing an earlier decision, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has ruled that Connecticut residents who are unemployed due to the severe storms in March may be eligible for disaster unemployment assistance (DUA).

Gov. M. Jodi Rell had asked the agency to review its initial decision disqualifying state residents from federal DUA benefits. The new ruling applies to individuals who live or work in New Haven, Windham, Fairfield, Middlesex, and New London counties and lost their jobs as a direct result of the disaster. Those eligible may also include individuals:

  • Unable to reach their jobs because they must travel through the affected area and are prevented from doing so by the disaster
  • Who were to commence employment but were prevented from doing so by the disaster
  • Who became the major support for a household because of the death of the head of the household as a result of the disaster
  • Who cannot work because of an injury caused as a direct result of the disaster

The DUA program is a part of the federal disaster assistance process but is administered by the State of Connecticut Department of Labor (DOL). Before an individual can be determined eligible for DUA, the state DOL must establish that the individual is not otherwise eligible for regular unemployment insurance benefits under any state or federal law.

Residents who lost their jobs due to this disaster can file a claim over the phone through TeleBenefits. To find that number, check the blue pages of the telephone directory, visit the DOL’s web site at www.ct.gov.dol, or contact Infoline at 2-1-1. Under federal guidelines, the deadline for filing for DUA benefits is July 1, 2010.

FTC Delays ID Theft Rule

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is further delaying enforcement of the “Red Flags” Rule through Dec. 31, 2010 while Congress considers legislation that would affect the scope of entities covered by the rule.

The rule was issued under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, which directed the FTC and other agencies to develop regulations requiring “creditors” and “financial institutions” to address the risk of identity theft.

Under the rule, all such entities that have “covered accounts” must implement written prevention programs to detect and respond to patterns, practices, or specific activities—”red flags”—that could indicate identity theft.

The rule became effective on Jan. 1, 2008, with full compliance for all covered entities originally required by Nov. 1, 2008. Since then, at the request of certain Members of Congress, the FTC has issued several enforcement policies delaying enforcement of the rule.

The Commission is urging Congress to act quickly to pass legislation that will resolve any questions as to which entities are covered by the rule and obviate the need for further enforcement delays. If Congress passes legislation limiting the scope of the Red Flags Rule with an effective date earlier than Dec. 31, 2010, the FTC will begin enforcement as of that effective date.

For more information: www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/redflagsrule/index.shtml.

Be Glad You Don’t Manage These Folks

Nobody’s perfect, and that includes employees. A survey by Caliper, the Princeton, N.J.-based leadership development firm, uncovered these stories of some of the worst employees ever:

  • After one week on the job, a worker asked for a week off to go to Florida. When the request was turned down, he called in sick all the following week…and returned to work with a suntan.
  • A new hire was discovered on his second day of work sound asleep…in the CEO’s office.
  • An administrative assistant who worked in a two-person office would put up a sign saying “Closed” and leave whenever her boss stepped away.
  • An employee didn’t show up for work, so the manager called him at home. The wife answered, told the manager her husband was at work, and gave him a work phone number. The employee had started a new job.

New Law Extends COBRA Coverage

Gov. Jodi Rell recently signed into law Public Act 10-13, which permits certain employees who lose group health coverage to elect state or COBRA continuation coverage for up to 30 months.

Previously, employees who lost coverage because of layoff, reduction of hours, leave of absence, or termination of employment were eligible to keep their continuation coverage for 18 months.

Now, with this change, employees covered under Connecticut fully insured small employer and large employer group health plans can extend coverage for 30 months. Individuals who are currently on state or federal COBRA continuation due to one of the above events are also eligible to extend their current continuation under the new law.

The law applies to Connecticut group health insurance policies issued by a health insurer or HMO to employers of all sizes. The law does not apply to self-insured employer health plans or to policies issued outside of Connecticut.

The new legislation does not apply to dental, vision or prescription drug coverage that is part of a free-standing policy. The law does apply if the dental, vision, or prescription drug coverage is combined with, and included under, the group health policy.

It is important to note that, although Connecticut has extended the maximum continuation period to 30 months, the maximum period of premium subsidy available for qualified employees on or before May 31, 2010 under federal subsidy law is 15 months. Eligible individuals would be responsible for full payment of the continuation premium for the period after the federal subsidy expires.

For more information: www.ct.gov/cid/lib/cid/BullHC77.pdf.

New WC Guidelines Effective 7/1

The Workers’ Compensation Commission has adopted new guidelines for resolving issues that may arise for either payors or medical providers who practice within the workers’ compensation system. The guidelines take effect on July 1, 2010.

Copies may be downloaded from the Commission’s website at http://wcc.state.ct.us/download/acrobat/payor-provider-guidelines.pdf or picked up at any of the Commission’s district offices.

Coming up…Innovative Study

CBIA is pleased to partner with nPlusOne consulting (formerly SusanLesserGroup) for an innovative study focusing on quantifying the intangible assets of leadership, communication and teamwork.

Consider that “71% of Americans who go to work every day are not engaged in their job” and that “disengagement costs $250 billion due to low productivity alone” (Gallup Group). It is imperative for today’s businesses to move beyond the more traditional HR metrics. The Sigma Score Assessment TM measures the gap between your potential organizational capacity and current organizational performance, identifying particular areas of strength or weakness. With the understanding that labeling a challenge is the first step in solving it, this identification will help you target your training resources to maximize the functioning of this otherwise costly line item in your budget-personnel.

Discover your human capital competitive advantage. Understand how to increase the sustainability of your company through vision and long-term investment. In mid-June, look for an invitation to participate in this exciting new study.

New IRS Guidance on Small Employer Health Care Tax

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued guidance to help small businesses determine whether they are eligible for the new health care tax credit under the Affordable Care Act and estimate the amount of the credit they will receive.

The guidance, Notice 2010-44, also clarifies that small businesses can:

  • Receive state health care tax credits and still qualify for the full federal tax credit
  • Receive the credit not only for regular health insurance but also for add-on dental and vision coverage.

The credit is designed to encourage small employers to offer health insurance coverage for the first time or maintain coverage they already have. In general, the credit is available to small employers that pay at least half the cost of single coverage for their employees.

The maximum credit is 35% of premiums paid in 2010 by eligible small business employers and 25% of premiums paid by eligible tax-exempt organizations. In 2014, the maximum credit increases to 50% and 35% respectively.

The credit is specifically targeted to help small businesses and tax-exempt organizations that primarily employ low- and moderate-income workers. It is generally available to employers that have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees and pay wages averaging less than $50,000 per employee per year. Because the eligibility formula is based in part on the number of FTEs, not the number of employees, many businesses will qualify even if they employ more than 25 individual workers.

The maximum credit goes to smaller employers—those with 10 or fewer FTEs—that pay annual average wages of $25,000 or less.

Eligible small businesses can claim the credit as part of the general business credit starting with the 2010 income tax return they file in 2011. For tax-exempt employers, the IRS will provide further information on how to claim the credit .

10 Fields Hiring New Grads

In this tough economy, a study from the University of California San Diego Extension reveals some of the hottest career options for recent college graduates. Among the top 10:

• Healthcare information technology

• Mobile media

• Data mining

• Embedded engineering

• Geriatric healthcare

• Occupational safety and health

• Spanish/translation and interpretation

• Sustainable business practices and the greening of all jobs

• Feature writing for the web

• Teaching English as a foreign language

For the full study: http://extension.ucsd.edu/about/images/careerReport.pdf

$250M Award in Sex Bias Case

A federal jury has ordered the drug maker Novartis to pay $250 million in punitive damages for discriminating against thousands of female sales representatives over pay, promotions, and pregnancy.

After a five week trial and four days of deliberation, the jury of five women and four men found that the company had engaged in a pattern of discrimination against women from 2002 through 2007.

The jury also awarded $3.3 million in compensatory damages to twelve women who testified at trial. That award opens the door for nearly 5,600 others who can apply for compensatory damages. Those damages will likely be determined on an individual basis by a court-appointed special master.

Novartis said it would appeal the verdict. Over the past ten years, the company had repeatedly been declared one of the 100 best companies by Working Mother magazine.

Employers Worried About Losing Top Talent

Nearly one-third (32%) of employers are concerned about losing their high performing workers when the economy picks up, while one-third (33%) of workers say it is likely they will start looking for a new job, according to a survey by CareerBuilder. As a result, employers are turning to a variety of different retention strategies to hold onto those workers. The survey was conducted among 2,700 employers and 4,800 workers.

Increased workloads, longer hours and fewer resources related to the recession may be contributing to higher job dissatisfaction, says CareerBuilder. Looking at key factors that influence job satisfaction and company loyalty, workers reported the following:

Pay. Nearly one-third (32%) of workers said they are dissatisfied with their pay, up from 29% at this time last year. Work/life balance. Nearly one-quarter (22%) of workers said they are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their work/life balance, up from 20% last year.

Career progress. Twenty-seven percent of workers are dissatisfied with the career advancement opportunities provided by their current employer, up from 24% last year.

In addition to competitive pay and benefits, most workers set on making a career move are looking for good career advancement opportunities (60%) and good work culture (57%) in a new employer. Other attributes:

• Financial stability and company’s growth potential – 52%

• Training and learning opportunities – 47%

• Less stressful work environment – 45%

• Flexible work arrangements – 43%

• Sense of ownership in their position, that they can make a difference – 42%

• Camaraderie, more family-like work environment – 34%

Employers are implementing different measures to help hold onto top talent and reduce turnover. Offering more flexible arrangements, investing more in training and promising future raises or promotions topped the list. More performance-based incentives such as trips and bonuses and providing a higher title also ranked in the top five.

National Safety Month Almost Here

The National Safety Council (NSC) is reminding businesses that June is National Safety Month.

Each week in June carries a theme that brings attention to critical safety issues. NSC encourages employers to get involved and help promote the safety message to their employees, vendors, customers, and communities. Dates and themes for this year’s campaign:

Week 1 June 1-6 Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention

Week 2 June 7-13 Teen Driving Safety

Week 3 June 14-20 Preventing Overexertion at Work and at Home

Week 4 June 21-27 Dangers of Cell Phone Use While Driving

Week 5 June 28-30 Summer Safety

For more information and sample materials: www.nsc.org/nsc_events/Nat_Safe_Month/Pages/home.aspx

Directive on Non-English Speaking Workers

OSHA has issued an enforcement memorandum directed at protecting non-English speaking workers from workplace hazards. It instructs compliance officers to check and verify that workers are receiving OSHA-required training in a language they understand.

This directive conforms with the Secretary of Labor’s clear and urgent goal of reducing injuries and illnesses among Latino and other vulnerable workers, says OSHA. These workers represent an integral and essential part of the key industries that keep our country running.

OSHA requires that employers provide training to their workers on certain job hazards and safe methods for performing work. Investigators will now check and verify that training was provided in a language and vocabulary that the workers understand.

Top 10 Best Cities for College Grads

College graduates around the country will soon collect their diplomas and face some life-changing decisions about where to settle down and find a job. According to an annual list from CareerBuilder, here are the top ten best cities for this year’s new grads, along with the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment:

  1. Atlanta $723
  2. Phoenix $669
  3. Denver $779
  4. Dallas $740
  5. Boston $1,275
  6. Philadelphia $938
  7. New York $1,366
  8. Cincinnati $613
  9. Baltimore $1,041
  10. Los Angeles $1,319

An affordable apartment and a good job are important, but we also look at cities offering the culture and lifestyle young adults enjoy, says CareerBuilder. With so many factors to consider, we want to provide new grads with a reliable resource to help them make informed decisions about these important next steps.

EEOC Collects $471,000 in Harassment Case

A waterproofing company has paid a jury award of $471,096 in damages, plus $86,581 in post-judgment interest, to 13 mostly teenage victims of sexual harassment.

The payout satisfies a judgment obtained by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) following a four-week trial in federal court. The individual payouts range from about $24,000 to $56,000, including the interest, which covers the time the young women had to wait to receive their jury awards. The substantial interest was assessed after the resolution of the case was delayed by the company’s appeal challenging various aspects of the jury’s award and other trial court rulings.

The case concerned a prolonged period of physical and verbal sexual harassment of young female telemarketers by male managers and coworkers. The EEOC charged that the harassment included repeated demands for sex, constant sexual jokes and comments, and physical contact. On one occasion, a male manager requested sex from a teenager with the promise of a raise if she consented.

The damages award includes compensatory damages for pain and suffering and punitive damages meant to punish and deter the company from engaging in further sexual harassment.

IRS Guidance on Non-Taxable Adult Child Coverage

As a result of changes made by the recently enacted Affordable Care Act, health care coverage provided for an employee’s children under 27 years of age is now generally tax-free to the employee.

According to the IRS, these changes immediately allow employers with cafeteria plans—where employees choose from a menu of tax-free benefit options and cash or taxable benefits—to permit employees to begin making pre-tax contributions to pay for this expanded benefit.

The expanded benefit applies to various workplace and retiree health plans. It also applies to self-employed individuals who qualify for the self-employed health insurance deduction on their federal income tax return.

Employees who have children who will not have reached age 27 by the end of the taxable year are eligible for the new tax benefit from March 30, 2010 forward, if the children are already covered under the employer’s plan or are added to the employer’s plan at any time. For this purpose, a “child” includes a son, daughter, stepchild, adopted child, or eligible foster child. This new age-27 standard replaces the lower age limits that applied under prior tax law, as well as the requirement that a child generally qualify as a dependent for tax purposes.

The new tax credit should not be confused with the new requirement under the Public Health Services Act to extend coverage to children up to age 26, effective for plan years beginning on or after Sept. 23, 2010.

For more information on the tax credit, see IRS Notice 2010-38.

Telecommuting: New Tool Quantifies Savings

By Telecommute Connecticut

Return on investment, remaining competitive, and improving job satisfaction are issues Connecticut employers struggle with all the time.

Implementing a telecommuting program can help employers effectively manage these concerns. In fact, according to a 2009 CBIA survey, the top reasons Connecticut companies offer telecommuting to their employees are employee retention, increased productivity, recruitment and business continuity.

Telecommute Connecticut, a free service available to Connecticut employers, believes now is the perfect time to reassess ways to maximize your competitive advantage through telecommuting. Most often, cost savings achieved through telecommuting are attributable to increased productivity, decreased turnover, and reduced office/parking requirements. But how do you quantify these savings?

Telecommute Connecticut has developed a Cost-Benefit Analysis Calculator, a new telecommute interactiveonline tool that provides a customized means of determining ROI for your company. “Cost-benefit analysis is often the primary driver of the telecommuting process,” says Laura Collins, a Human Resources Consultant for Telecommute Connecticut. “This is a very effective tool that helps businesses turn the intuitive benefits of telecommuting into tangible financial returns. The goal of the Cost-Benefit Calculator is to help support an organization’s business plan from a financial perspective.”

By using the Cost-Benefit Calculator, you can analyze the potential costs and benefits of telecommuting to your own unique organization. The calculator is easy to use and allows you to perform a cost-benefit analysis for each potential telecommuter by either plugging in your own numbers in the categories impacted by telecommuting or utilizing the default assumptions that Telecommute Connecticut has developed based on actual experience with Connecticut businesses.

To start putting the calculator to work for you, visit Telecommute Connecticut at www.telecommutect.com and click on “Employers’ Info.”

To learn more about the calculator and how Connecticut companies that offer telecommuting have been able to improve cost-efficiency and ROI, view a free Telecommute Connecticut webinar, “Outperform Your Competition by Leveraging Telecommuting to Enhance ROI” at www.telecommutect.com/employers/resources.php.

For more information on the benefits of telecommuting or to schedule a free consultation with a program expert, visit www.telecommutect.com or call Telecommute Connecticut at 1-800-255-7433. Telecommute Connecticut is a statewide initiative funded through the Connecticut Department of Transportation and has provided free assistance to more than 230 Connecticut employers with the design, development, and implementation of telecommuting as a work-site alternative.

Workers Feel Heavier Workloads

Just over three-quarters of employees say their workloads increased as a result of layoffs at their companies, according to a survey by Right Management, the talent and career experts within Manpower.

The survey found that 57% of employees believe their workloads have grown “a lot.” Other key findings:

  • Employees at large organizations feel the heat more, with 68% saying their workloads have increased “a lot,” compared to only 33% at small organizations.
  • Younger workers are experiencing increased workloads the most, with 60% of workers age 25-34 reporting their workloads have increased “a lot,” followed by 59% of those age 18-24.
  • Twenty-one percent of men believe their workloads “were about the same,” compared to only 14% of women.

Employers must pay attention to the new realities, advises Right Management. Acknowledge increased workloads and instill a spirit of collaboration and opportunity during tough times. Encourage employees to build new skills. Look for solutions together. Giving employees ownership and engaging them in the discussion enhances satisfaction and commitment, say the experts. This will put the firm in a much stronger competitive position as the market improves.

DOL Secures $4M in Back Wages

Raceway Petroleum will pay nearly $4 million in back wages and other damages to resolve a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The award covers more than 700 current and former Raceway employees, predominantly gas attendants. At trial, employees testified that they were given less than one half-hour of break time each day; but were docked for up to two hours of breaks daily. Others testified they worked as many as 100 hours in a week and never received time-and-a-half overtime pay. The DOL also accused the New Jersey-based company of failing to keep accurate time and payroll records.

Under the settlement, the company must retain an independent monitor to ensure FLSA compliance and train employees on their rights under the Act. The company must also install a mechanical or electronic timekeeping system that accurately records hours at every gas station and provide training on its proper use.

Tax Credit Helps Small Employers Provide Health Coverage

Many small businesses and tax-exempt organizations that provide health insurance coverage to their employees now qualify for a special tax credit.

Included in the new health care reform legislation, the credit is designed to encourage small employers to offer health insurance coverage for the first time or maintain coverage they already have, says the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In general, the credit is available to small employers that pay at least half the cost of single coverage for their employees.

The maximum credit is 35% of premiums paid in 2010 by eligible small business employers and 25% of premiums paid by eligible tax-exempt organizations. In 2014, the maximum credit increases to 50% and 35% respectively.

The credit is specifically targeted to help small businesses and tax-exempt organizations that primarily employ low- and moderate-income workers. It is generally available to employers that have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees and pay wages averaging less than $50,000 per employee per year. Because the eligibility formula is based in part on the number of FTEs, not the number of employees, many businesses will qualify even if they employ more than 25 individual workers.

The maximum credit goes to smaller employers—those with 10 or fewer FTEs—that pay annual average wages of $25,000 or less.

Eligible small businesses can claim the credit as part of the general business credit starting with the 2010 income tax return they file in 2011. For tax-exempt employers, the IRS will provide further information on how to claim the credit.

The agency will use postcards to reach out to millions of small businesses that may qualify for the credit and encourage them to take advantage of it if they qualify

To determine if your small business/tax exempt organization qualifies for the credit: www.irs.gov/pub/irs-utl/3_simple_steps.pdf;

For frequently asked questions: www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=220839,00.html.

Higher Fines, More Inspections

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will increase civil penalty amounts and implement a new Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP)—all part of an effort to encourage certain “recalcitrant” employers to provide safe and healthy workplaces for their employees.

Last year, OSHA assembled a group to evaluate its penalty policies and found that currently assessed penalties are too low to have an adequate deterrent effect. Based on the group’s recommendations, several administrative changes are being made to the penalty calculation system. These changes will take effect over the next several months. While the penalty changes will increase the overall dollar amount of all penalties, OSHA will continue its policy of reducing penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith.

The current maximum penalty for a serious violation, one capable of causing death or serious physical harm, is $7,000. Under the new policy, the average penalty for a serious violation will increase from about $1000 to an average $3000 to $4000.

In addition, the SVEP will focus on employers who have demonstrated indifference to their obligations under the OSH Act by willful, repeated, and failure-to-abate violations. Enforcement actions include increased OSHA inspections in these work sites, including mandatory follow-up inspections of other work sites of the same employer where similar hazards may be present. The SVEP should be running in the next 45 days.

For more information on the penalty policy: www.osha.gov/dep/penalty-change-memo.pdf For more information on the SVEP: http://www.osha.gov/dep/svep-directive.pdf

Ten Percent Jump in Green Workplaces

The number of U.S. employers with formal “green workplace” programs rose significantly last year, with many organizations reporting cost savings from their efforts.

According to an annual survey by Buck Consultants, 53% of employers have green programs in place, an increase from 43% last year. Among the organizations that have a formal program, more than half have implemented each of the following:

  • Recycling and paper reduction (95%)
  • Web and/or teleconferencing (85%)
  • Healthy living and wellness (80%)
  • Internal green communication program (78%)
  • Online HR communications (72%)
  • Green Web site via organizational intranet (58%)
  • Online Summary Plan Descriptions (57%)
  • Telecommuting (57%)
  • Rideshare (52%)

Companies surveyed identified favorable returns on investment (ROI) from green programs in their workplace. Nearly two-thirds report cost savings related to paper use and electricity. While 94% list cost savings as the most desired ROI from green programs, 82% cited community goodwill, and 59% mentioned improved stakeholder perception.

Leadership is critical to the success of green initiatives in the workplace. The survey found that 80% of employers with green programs include the CEO in development and communications, while 86% appointed a dedicated leader for their green efforts.

Among employers that provide incentives to encourage green behaviors, 31% provide special employee recognition, 24% give prizes, and 9% provide a monetary reward.

New Tax Breaks for Hiring

Two new tax benefits are now available to employers hiring workers who were previously unemployed or working only part-time. The new provisions are part of the federal Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act signed recently by President Obama.

Employers who hire unemployed workers after Feb. 3, 2010 and before Jan. 1, 2011, may qualify for a 6.2% payroll tax incentive, in effect exempting them from their share of Social Security taxes on wages earned by these workers after March 18, 2010. The reduced tax withholding will have no effect on the employee’s future Social Security benefits, and employers would still need to withhold the employee’s 6.2% of Social Security taxes, as well as income taxes. The employer and employee’s shares of Medicare taxes would also still apply to these wages.

In addition, for each worker retained for at least a year, businesses may claim an additional general business tax credit of up to $1,000 per worker.

The new tax benefits are especially helpful to employers who are adding positions to their payrolls, says the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). New hires filling existing positions also qualify, but only if the workers they are replacing left voluntarily or for cause. Family members and other relatives do not qualify.

The new law requires that the employer get a statement from each eligible new hire certifying that he or she was unemployed during the 60 days before beginning work or was employed fewer than a total of 40 hours for someone else during the 60-day period. The IRS has developed a form employees can use to make the required statement.

The IRS says further details on these new provisions will be posted on the agency’s website at www.irs.gov/ during the next few weeks.

Fewer Workers Late to Work

A tighter job market may be contributing to increased punctuality at work. A new CareerBuilder survey reveals that 16% of workers arrive late to work at least once a week, down from 20% in last year’s survey. Nearly one-in-ten (8%) said they are late at least twice a week, down from 12% last year.

Workers shared a variety of reasons for being tardy, led by traffic (32%) and lack of sleep (24%). Seven percent said getting their kids ready for school or day care was the cause of their lateness, while the same number (7%) said bad weather was the culprit. Other common reasons included public transportation, wardrobe issues or dealing with pets.

Among the most outrageous excuses employees offered for arriving late at work:

  • My deodorant was frozen to the window sill.
  • My car door fell off.
  • It was too windy.
  • I dreamt I was already at work.
  • I had to go to the hospital because I drank antifreeze.
  • I had an early morning gig as a clown.
  • A roach crawled in my ear.
  • My dog swallowed my cell phone.
  • I got mugged and was tied to the steering wheel of my car.

While some employers are more lenient with workplace tardiness, others have stricter policies, says CareerBuilder. More than one-third (34%) of employers report they have terminated an employee for being late.

New Poster for H-2A Employers

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a new poster to comply with changes made recently to the H-2A work visa program.

The H-2A nonimmigrant visa classification applies to foreign workers coming to or already in the U.S. to perform agricultural work of a temporary or seasonal nature. The Department of Homeland Security may not approve an H-2A visa petition unless the DOL certifies that there are not sufficient U.S. workers qualified and available to perform the labor involved in the petition and that the employment of the foreign worker will not have an adverse effect on the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.

In February 2010, the DOL published a final rule governing the labor certification process and strengthening protections for both U.S. workers and H-2A workers. Effective March 15, employers participating in the program must comply with the new requirements, including the posting of the new poster.

For a copy of the poster: www.dol.gov/whd/posters/pdf/WHD1491Eng_H2A.pdf

For a DOL fact sheet on the rule: www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/eta/eta20100198-fs.htm

Corporate Giving Optimistic

Corporate planning for community involvement has moved out of crisis mode and into a recovery mindset, according to the Conference Board’s annual survey of corporate giving strategies.

The Board asked 114 U.S. companies about planned changes to their corporate giving programs. More than three-quarters said that they would make no recession-driven changes to their 2010 programs. Strategic priorities such as aligning more closely with business needs, rather than economic concerns, are driving priority-setting in contributions says the Board.

Twenty percent of companies surveyed said that they would reduce their giving budgets in 2010, compared with 53% in 2009. In addition, only 4% plan to reduce the size of their giving staff, compared with18% in 2009.

As in 2009, most companies are increasing the resources devoted to volunteerism programs, and event sponsorship will see the most decreases.

In terms of focus areas, international development, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and environment/sustainability will see the greatest increases. Capital campaigns and arts/culture will lose the most.

Other key findings:

  • Just 6% of companies plan to reduce their contributions-related administrative budgets, compared with 34% last year.
  • Only 11% of companies said they would make fewer grants in 2010, compared with 34.8% in 2009.
  • Only 8% said they would make smaller grants, compared with 20.9% last year.

Retail Giant Sued for Religious Bias

A national retail chain committed religious discrimination by requiring an employee to work on his Sabbath and by harassing and retaliating against him, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charges in a lawsuit filed recently. The EEOC also claims that while the retailer has an asserted policy for requesting religious accommodations, its actual practice is to refuse to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of its employees, in violation of federal law.

According to the lawsuit, the retailer refused to accommodate a current employee after he advised his employer of his sincere religious belief as a Baptist against working on the Sabbath, Sunday. The employee submitted two written requests for a religious accommodation not to be scheduled to work on Sunday. The retailer ignored the two requests for two months and then denied the request because it would create a hardship on other employees who might like to have Sundays off. After this employee and others were reduced from full-time to part-time status, the employee was not allowed to apply for other open full-time positions due to his belief against working on the Sabbath.

The law requires that an employer demonstrate that it made some attempt to accommodate the religious beliefs of its employees, says the EEOC. To simply ignore the request for an accommodation obviously fails to meet that test. The retailer has not shown that allowing the employee to be off from work on his Sabbath would impose an undue hardship.

The lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction prohibiting this sort of discrimination in the future and to order that the employee be reinstated to full-time status, with the requested accommodation. The lawsuit also asks the court to award back pay, compensatory damages for the employee’s emotional distress, and punitive damages.

CBIA Releases Latest Comp Report

CBIA’s Compensation Report (28th Edition)—the most extensive report of its kind providing data specifically on Connecticut salaries—is now available. The report provides salary data on positions in the following job families: accounting, purchasing, clerical, information systems, engineering, human resources, manufacturing, and marketing. Due to the recession, some jobs experienced little if any salary growth in 2009, while others showed healthy increases—some as much as 10%. Find out what changed and how your company’s salaries and wages compare. Order CBIA’s Compensation Report online or call Lise Cliche at 860-244-1977.

Early Report: Lower Average Salary for Class of ’10

Starting salary offers to Class of 2010 college graduates are down, compared to those offered a year ago, according to a new study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

The Winter 2010 issue of NACE’s Salary Survey shows the average offer to a bachelor’s degree graduate is $48,351, down 2% from the average offer of $49,353 made to 2009 bachelor’s degree graduates.

While the overall average offer fell, the salary direction of individual majors varied. Among the business disciplines, for example, accounting majors ($47,982) and finance graduates ($49,607) saw their average fall, but by less than 1%. Business administration/management graduates saw their average offer drop 1.5% to $45,200.

But not all majors experienced salary decreases. As a group, graduates with computer-related degrees posted a 6.1% increase—the highest increase reported in the Winter 2010 survey, which pushed their average up from $56,128 to $59,570. Among those earning the specific computer science degree, the average rose 4.8% to $61,205.

Engineering graduates also fared well. Their average salary offer is up by 1.2% to $59,245. Although that increase is modest, engineering majors account for eight of 10 top-paid bachelor’s degrees in the survey.

As a group, liberal arts majors saw their average offer fall significantly compared to the average reported last year. Currently, the overall average stands at $32,555, down almost 11% from $36,445.

It’s important to put this first look at salaries for the Class of 2010 in perspective, says NACE. Data are limited, and graduation is several months away. NACE will provide a second look at salaries in April with the release of the Spring 2010 Salary Survey.

Coming Soon: CBIA’s Compensation Report (28th Edition)

Competitive compensation rates are critical to attracting and retaining top performers. Find out if your company’s wages and salaries are in line with those of similar businesses right here in Connecticut. This report contains real wages and salaries paid by small, midsize, and large Connecticut employers representing various industries. More than 120 positions are included in the areas of manufacturing, engineering, accounting, data processing, clerical/administration, purchasing, and sales/marketing.

  • CBIA member price, $120; nonmember price, $350.

For more information, contact Phillip Montgomery at 806-244-1982 or at phillip.montgomery@cbia.com .

DOL Adds Veterans’ Reps

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has announced that federal funds provided to the state Department of Labor have allowed the agency to add four Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program specialists to better assist veterans seeking employment.

The new positions mean the state will have additional resources to help its veterans, both those who have recently left the military and those who served our country in the past, said the governor.

The new employees, who are veterans themselves, will work with clients in the Bridgeport, Hamden, New Britain, Torrington and Waterbury CTWorks Career Centers. They will provide a wide range of services, including resume assistance, job search strategies, case management, counseling services and referrals, with special emphasis on assisting those who have service-related disabilities.

The four newest employees join nine other veteran employment specialists serving clients throughout the state. All Labor Department veterans’ services staff are federally funded positions.

Veterans wishing to speak to an employment specialist can visit www.ctvets.org to make an online appointment or stop by their local CTWorks office.

Top 10 Office Time-Wasters

With March Madness upon us, some estimates of just how much time and money employees burn while following the NCAA men’s basketball tournament have reached as high as $1.8 billion nationally.

But what do those same workers do with the rest of the year? The Boston Globe caught up with Bill Driscoll, president of the New England district of staffing firm Robert Half International, for his take on some of the most common ways employees slack off on company time. His top 10 list:

  • Surfing the web
  • Making personal calls
  • Shopping online
  • Social networking
  • Checking e-mail
  • Socializing
  • Arriving late or leaving early
  • Searching for other jobs
  • Spacing out

For Driscoll’s suggestions on how to combat these time-wasters go to

www.boston.com/business/gallery/wastingtimeatwork/.

ICE Serves I-9 Audit Notices

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has notified 180 businesses in five states that the agency will be inspecting their hiring records to determine whether or not they are complying with employment eligibility verification laws and regulations.

The inspections will take place in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The new initiative is part of ICE’s increased focus on holding employers accountable for their hiring practices and efforts to ensure a legal workforce.

Employers are required to complete and retain a Form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States. This form requires employers to review and record the individual’s identity document(s) and determine whether the document(s) reasonably appear to be genuine and related to the individual.

In 2009, ICE implemented a new, comprehensive strategy to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect employment opportunities for the nation’s lawful workforce. Under this strategy, ICE is focusing its resources on the auditing and investigation of employers suspected of cultivating illegal workplaces by knowingly employing illegal workers.

New ADA Video Dispels Myths

Ten Employment Myths: Information about the Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA) is a new 17-minute video for employers from the U.S. Department of Justice. The video uses a question-and-answer format to explain the ADA in commonsense terms and refute misconceptions and fears that some employers may have about hiring people with disabilities. The new video and other ADA-related streaming videos are available for free at www.ada.gov/videogallery.htm

Crackdown on Independent Contractors

A state commission investigating the misclassification of employees as independent contractors has recommended a number of measures to combat the problem in Connecticut.

The proposed measures include increasing the penalty on employers from $300 per violation to $300 a day per violation; strengthening criminal sanctions against misclassification, and joint investigations of misclassification complaints by various state agencies.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and acting Labor Commissioner Linda Agnew co-chair the commission. Other commission members include the Department of Revenue Services and the Workers’ Compensation Commission. The commission is advised by a group that includes representatives of labor unions, industry associations and other business groups.

A crackdown on misclassification is overdue, says Blumenthal, because it causes harm to workers, taxpayers, and businesses. Calling workers independent contractors when they are really employees costs workers benefits, taxpayers revenue, and other businesses a fair opportunity to compete for work.

Help Stop Mandatory Paid Time Off and Workers’ Comp Cost-Raising Bills

State lawmakers are considering proposals that will increase your business costs and make it harder for your company to operate in Connecticut. It’s important to contact the members of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee and tell them how the following proposals will affect your business costs and operations.

The proposals will:

  • Mandate paid time off (Senate Bill 63). Employers will have to provide a minimum of one hour of paid time off for every 40 hours an employee works. This costly, one-size-fits-all mandate would make Connecticut the first state in the nation to mandate paid time off for employees. For more information:
    5 Reasons to Oppose Mandating Paid Sick Leave (PDF), and
    CBIA story about SB-63 Mandatory Paid Time Off
  • Mandate paid time off for home health industry employers (Senate Bill 172). This is the same mandate as SB-63, except that it supposedly targets just home health care employers (in case SB-63 doesn’t succeed). But advocates of mandatory paid time off have made clear they want mandatory paid time off to apply to all other industries—which is what they will try next year if SB-172 becomes law. For more information, read this CBIA story: Is Connecticut pricing itself out of the job market?
  • Eliminate preapproval in workers’ compensation cases (Senate Bill 61). Workers’ comp costs will rise because SB-61 eliminates the requirement that employees must seek preapproval from their employers and insurers for routine medical exams and treatments in workers’ compensation cases. However, preapproval is an essential gatekeeping function that makes sure only necessary and appropriate medical care is given to injured employees in workers’ compensation cases. SB-61 also defines “routine examination or treatment” as “including but not limited to prescription drugs, diagnostic tests, physical therapy, or evaluation recommended by an approved physician or surgeon.” For more information, read: CBIA Testimony to the Labor Committee Against SB-61

Contact members of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee today and urge them to reject these costly proposals. For more information, contact CBIA’s Kia Murrell at 860-244-1931 or kia.murrell@cbia.com.

Committee Wants to Add to HR pros’ Work Load

As if human resources pros in Connecticut don’t already have enough work to do, two proposals in the Labor Committee would drop new administrative tasks and burdens onto their desks.

CBIA testified this week against the proposals which also would weaken Connecticut’s prospects for more job-creation with added costs.

Reason for Termination
Under SB-169, employers would face a $300 fine if they fail to specify a reason, in writing, for terminating their employees. In addition to adding more red tape, the proposal undercuts the basic principle of at-will employment which allows parties to break an employment relationship at any time and for any reason, or no reason at all.

Many employers in the state already provide employees with a reason for termination. Connecticut unemployment law requires employers to provide separating employees with a notice of the potential availability of unemployment compensation benefits, and that form indicates the reason for separation.

Sometimes, a neutral reason such as “failure to meet job requirements” is indicated, in order not to stand in the way of the employee’s eligibility for unemployment benefits—or to keep company information confidential. Being forced to specify a reason could hurt both the terminated employee and the company if information that should be confidential is disclosed.

SB-169 is unnecessary and another government mandate on employers at a time when many need to have the utmost flexibility in managing their workplaces.

E-verify
SB-240 requires that after Jan. 1, 2011, any employer who employs 50 or more employees must register with and utilize the federal E-Verify system to verify the work eligibility status of each newly hired employee. E-Verify is an Internet-based system administered by the federal government to determine if an employee is eligible to work in the country.

However, the system has been riddled with problems since it began. Specifically, the E-Verify system has been plagued with problems such as

  • Data information errors
  • Computer system malfunctions
  • Erroneously reported Social Security information
  • Failure to detect fraudulent information on I-9 forms

A study completed in December 2009 found the E-Verify system wrongly cleared illegal workers about 54% of the time. As a result of that study, key members of Congress have stated publicly that it doesn’t make sense to expand and invest in E-Verify without first addressing the many problems that affect the system.

CBIA agrees and urges lawmakers to reject SB-240. For a complete listing of labor-related measures CBIA is watching this year, see “CBIA’s Legislative Status Report.”

Or, for more information, contact CBIA’s Kia Murrell at 860-244-1931 or kia.murrell@cbia.com.

EEOC Issues New Age Bias Rule

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued a proposed rule addressing the “reasonable factors other than age” (RFOA) defense in disparate impact cases under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The agency is seeking comments from the public by April 19, 2010.

The new rule follows a March 2008 proposed rule on disparate impact under the ADEA. The 2008 rule, issued in light of a Supreme Court decision, explained that an employment practice that has a disproportionate impact on older workers is discriminatory unless the practice is justified by a reasonable factor other than age. In addition to requesting comments on its substance, the 2008 rule asked whether the Commission should provide more information on the meaning of the RFOA defense. Most commenters supported addressing the issue, so the EEOC has now issued this newest proposal on RFOA.

The new rule explains that the RFOA defense applies only if the challenged employment practice is not based on age and that a neutral practice that disproportionately affects older workers can be justified only by showing that the practice is objectively reasonable when viewed from the perspective of a reasonable employer under like circumstances. The rule sets forth non-exhaustive lists of factors relevant to determining whether an employment practice is “reasonable” and whether it is based on a factor “other than age.”

The EEOC will consider the public comments received and will make appropriate changes based on those comments. For more information: www.eeoc.gov/laws/regulations/qanda_resonable_factors.cfm

State Transportation Projects Advancing

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has announced that the $455 million in federal stimulus funds awarded to the state Department of Transportation have been 100% obligated to 152 projects around the state, clearing the way for a busy spring construction season.

The 100% obligation means that the projects have received approval for funding by the Federal Highway Administration or Federal Transit Administration and can be put out to bid. The two agencies, which partner with the state on transportation projects, have confirmed commitments for 62 state-level projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and 90 local projects.

The state and its construction industry are benefiting in countless ways under ARRA and we are making real progress through our transportation initiatives, says the governor. At the one-year anniversary of the federal stimulus program, it is an achievement to be able to say that we have already obligated 100% of the funding we’ve received for specific projects.

Connecticut currently has 49 state-level ARRA projects where work has begun and another three under contract; $51.5 million of the $455 million awarded to the state for transportation has been spent.

For more information: www.recovery.ct.gov/recovery/cwp/view.asp?a=3704&Q=434152

Salary Increase Budgets for 2010

Salary increase budgets were hit hard in 2009. The good news for 2010—budgets are projected to be higher. The bad news—the forecasted increase has dipped below 3%, the lowest in more than two decades.

According to the Conference Board’s Salary Budget Increase for 2010-Winter Update, the revised forecast for salary increase budgets now stands at 2.8% for all employee groups except executives (2.75%). Despite the relatively low figure, the danger of inflation eroding the real value of the increase appears slight, says the Board, as the projected inflation rate for 2010 is 2%.

Responses from 285 organizations are included in the winter update.

Coming Soon: CBIA’s Compensation Report (28th Edition)
Competitive compensation rates are critical to attracting and retaining top performers.

Find out if your company’s wages and salaries are in line with those of similar businesses right here in Connecticut.

This report contains real wages and salaries paid by small, midsize, and large Connecticut employers representing various industries. More than 120 positions are included in the areas of manufacturing, engineering, accounting, data processing, clerical/administration, purchasing, and sales/marketing.

  • CBIA member price, $120; nonmember price, $350.

For more information, contact Phillip Montgomery at 806-244-1982 or at phillip.montgomery@cbia.com .

Landmark $6.2 M to Settle ADA Suit

Sears, Roebuck & Co. has agreed to pay $6,200,000 to settle a landmark disability lawsuit filed against the retail giant by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In the lawsuit, the EEOC claimed that Sears maintained an inflexible workers’ compensation leave exhaustion policy and terminated employees instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations for their disabilities, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The case resulted in the largest ADA settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history.

Under the terms of the agreement, the EEOC provided claim forms to certain Sears employees who had been terminated under Sears’ workers’ compensation policy. The claimants were asked to report to the EEOC the extent of their impairments, their ability to return to work at Sears, and whether Sears had made any attempt to return them to work. Based on these criteria, the EEOC found that 235 individuals were eligible to share in the settlement. The average award was approximately $26,000. More than twenty claimants were found to be ineligible.

Survey: Employees Have Ideas

Fifty-seven percent of employees say they make suggestions in the workplace, according to a survey by Right Management, a subsidiary of Manpower employment services.

The firm analyzed responses from more than 600 individuals nationwide via an online poll. Among the key findings:

  • Nearly one-third of respondents indicated they offer more than 20 suggestions a year
  • Thirty percent made more than ten suggestions, but fewer than 20
  • Only 6% offered no suggestions at all
  • Management and executives were most likely to offer more than 20 suggestions a year
  • By function, sales people were most likely to make the most suggestions (50%) followed by HR professionals (28%)
  • Women were more likely than men to make more than 10 yearly suggestions (61% and 46% respectively)
  • Workers aged 55-plus were more likely to make ten or more suggestions than those aged 25–34 (76% and 51% respectively)
  • The number of suggestions made does not vary by company size.

Right Management cautions that companies often lose out on this opportunity to engage with their workforce. The findings suggest a surprising number of employees go the extra mile by making suggestions in the workplace, says the firm. At the same time, there is little evidence that companies really listen to employee suggestions—or, more important, try to benefit from their perspective and enthusiasm.

Census: More Home-Based Workers

The number of people who worked at home increased from about 9.5 million in 1999 to about 11.3 million in 2005, according to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly half of those home workers had college degrees, and nearly half of them earned $75,000 or more per year.

Home-based workers made up 8% of the total U.S. workforce in 2005, an increase from 7% in 1999. Among those who worked at home in 2005, about 8.1 million did so exclusively, an increase from 6.7 million in 1999.

The most popular occupations among those who reported working at home were professional (25%); executive, administrative, and managerial (22%;) and sales (18%).

The median monthly earnings of workers who worked at home were about $2,400 in 2005; the median annual family income for those workers was about $68,000.

High-paying jobs were more likely to involve working at home for some or all of the work time. In 2005, 46% of people who said they worked at home some or all of the time earned at least $75,000 per year, compared with 34% of non-home workers who made at least that much. Those who worked both at home and in an office had the highest percentage of high-paying jobs—about 54% of whom made $75,000 or more annually in 2005.

Along with more money came longer hours. About 11% of those who worked at home for some or all of their workweek reported working 11 or more hours in a typical day in 2005. Only about 7% of workers who worked outside the home reported doing so.

Despite the long hours, there seemed to be more flexibility for people who worked at home. In 2005, about 23% of home-based workers reported that their weekly hours varied compared with only 10% of those who worked outside the home.

For the full report: www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/workathome.html

Top 10 Office Annoyances

Nearly two-thirds of workers say their stress levels have been increased by office irritations, and one in 10 have left a job because of them, according to a survey by Opinium Research.

The survey found the top 10 office annoyances were:

  • Grumpy or moody colleagues (cited by 37%)
  • Slow computers (36)
  • Small talk/gossip (19)
  • Use of office jargon or management speak (18)
  • People speaking loudly on the phone (18)
  • Too much health and safety in the workplace (16)
  • Poor bathroom etiquette (16)
  • People not turning up for meetings on time or at all (16)
  • People not tidying up after themselves in the kitchen (15)
  • Too cold/cold air conditioning (15)

And the most annoying jargon:

  • Thinking outside the box (21%)
  • Let’s touch base (20)
  • Blue sky thinking (19)
  • Blamestorming (16) (sitting down and working out whose fault something is)
  • Drill down to a more granular level (15) (looking into something in more detail)
  • Let’s not throw pies in the dark (15) (we need a plan rather than a haphazard approach)
  • I’ve got that on my radar (13)
  • Push the envelope (12)
  • Bring your A-game (11)

Quarterly Report on Stimulus Funds

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has announced that a quarterly review of federal stimulus funds and the initiatives they support shows gains in jobs created and retained as well as a dramatic increase in spending for assistance programs, health and welfare services, the environment, and crime prevention.

The governor said that Connecticut has been awarded more than $2.5 billion to date and state agencies continue to pursue any and all eligible grants. In the last three months, the state has spent nearly $240 million on a number of programs, a 577% increase over the first cycle.

As reported by state agencies, stimulus activity in the state shows:

  • Jobs created/retained—6,184 (up from 6,110 in October)
  • Unemployment benefits—$1.1 billion
  • Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program—$59 million
  • General assistance—More than 7,400 home-delivered meals to senior citizens
  • Health—5,000 additional rotavirus vaccinations administered to children
  • Public safety—130 Internet Crimes against Children cases have been opened, more than doubling the number (54) in October; 10 full-time forensic officers have been hired; 6,369 DNA profiles have been processed, compared to 39 in October
  • Energy and environment—90 more Department of Transportation trucks have been retrofitted to reduce diesel emissions (bringing the total to 140); 700 more housing units have received energy audits through the Weatherization Program, and 180 units have been weatherized.

The governor also said she expects even more activity in the coming months as spring arrives, construction season commences, and dozens of local road and bridge projects are put out to bid.

For more on the recovery: www.recovery.ct.gov/recovery/site/default.asp

New Data on Private Sector Job Patterns

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has posted extensive new data on job patterns for women and minorities in the private sector.

The posting—11 aggregate data sets from the agency’s most recent EEO-1 survey results—contains comprehensive labor force profiles of race, gender, and ethnicity divided by various job categories. Among the highlights:

  • Of the approximately 62 million private sector employees nationwide covered by the survey, about 30 million (48%) were women and 21 million (34%) were minorities.
  • The rate of minority employment tripled between 1966 and 2008 from 11% to 34%.
  • Among the four minority groups continuously measured, the employment rate for blacks or African Americans increased steadily from 8% in 1996 to 14% in 2008.
  • Hispanics or Latinos had the fastest growth rate in the private sector, increasing from 2.5% to over 13% between 1966 and 2008.
  • Women’s overall participation rate in the private sector jumped from 31% to 48% between 1996 and 2008.

To access the data: www.data.gov/catalog/raw/category/0/agency/119/filter/2008/
type//sort//page/1/count/25

Survey: 401(k) Match is Back

A survey by Hewitt Associates shows that 80% of employers that suspended or reduced their 401(k) company match in 2009 are planning to restore it in 2010.

The survey also showed a continued emphasis among employers on automating 401(k) plans to help workers maximize the benefits of their retirement plans. Almost half (46%) of employers that do not already offer automatic rebalancing—a tool that helps employees regularly balance their portfolios with their target allocations—are very or somewhat likely to add it to their plan in 2010. Nearly four in 10 (38%) are very or somewhat likely to add automatic contribution escalation—where employees can elect to have their contribution rates increased automatically over time.

An increasing number of employers are also offering investment services and tools to help employees make better investment and savings decisions. Half (51%) currently offer online investment guidance and another 42% are very or somewhat likely to do so in 2010. In addition, 28% of employers currently offer managed accounts, which allow workers to delegate the overall management of their accounts to an outside professional. One-quarter of companies (25%) indicate they are very or somewhat likely to offer managed accounts in the coming year.

While there has been marked growth in 401(k) balances since the market recovery began, too many workers still are not saving and investing in a way that will help them achieve their retirement goals, says Hewitt. Employers are trying to do their part to help, which is why they are restoring their matching contributions and offering features and tools that push workers to save more throughout their working years.

DOT: No Texting by Truck Drivers

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced a federal ban on texting by drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks and buses.

DOT says its research shows that drivers who send and receive texts messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every six seconds while texting. At 55 miles per hour, that means the driver is traveling the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road. Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get into an accident.

The ban covers commercial vehicle drivers who drive in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle:

  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or
  • Is designed or used to transport more than eight passengers, including the driver, for compensation; or
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
  • Is used in transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placarding under federal regulations.

For details:http://frwebgate6.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/TEXTgate.cgi?WAISdocID=43099514295+1+1+0&WAISaction=retrieve

Injury Database Goes Public

Every year since 1996, OSHA has collected work-related injury and illness data from more than 80,000 employers. For the first time, the agency has made the data from 1996 through 2007 available in a searchable online database, allowing the public to look at establishment- or industry-specific injury and illness data. The data is available at http://www.osha.gov/pls/odi/establishment_search.html and Data.gov.

OSHA uses the data to calculate injury and illness rates to guide its strategic management plan and focus its Site Specific Targeting Program.

The database information includes an establishment’s name, address, industry, associated Total Case Rate (TCR), Days Away, Restricted, Transfer (DART) case rate, and the Days Away From Work (DAFII) case rate. The data is specific to the establishments that provided OSHA with valid data through the 2008 data collection (collection of calendar year 2007 data). The database does not contain rates calculated by OSHA for establishments that submitted suspect or unreliable data.

Dip in WC Mileage Rate

The Workers’ Compensation Commission has reduced the mileage reimbursement rate for all travel expenses incurred on or after Jan. 1, 2010, to 50 cents per mile, down from 55 cents last year.

The new rate applies to all claimants, regardless of injury date, who use their private motor vehicles to travel to medical appointments necessitated by work-related injuries. The rate coincides with the federal mileage reimbursement rate.

To learn more about mileage reimbursement rates, including those for travel expenses incurred in past years go to: http://wcc.state.ct.us/gen-info/rec-legis/01-mileage.htm

DOL Collects Back Pay for 500

The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) will recover more than $1.8 million in back wages for more than 500 employees of a New York based trucking company under contract with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to haul mail. The company and its principal officers also will be debarred from receiving future government contracts for a three year period.

USPS mail haul contracts are subject to the prevailing wage and fringe benefits provisions of the federal McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act. The Act requires contractors and subcontractors performing federal service contracts in excess of $2500 to pay service employees no less than the wage rates and benefits found prevailing in the locality for the classification of work that they perform.

The USDOL’s Wage and Hour Division cited the company and its officers for failing to pay the required hourly rates and benefits, and eventually filed an administrative complaint with the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges (ALJ). The complaint was resolved when the company agreed to pay a total of $1,830,800 in back wages and interest from the period December 2005 to December 2008. In addition to the debarment, the ALJ also ordered the company to establish a program to ensure future compliance with wage and hour laws.

UI Tax Form Available Online

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has announced that the state is offering a new online service that allows unemployment insurance claimants to print their UC-1099G tax form directly from the Department of Labor’s (DOL) web site.

The UC-1099G is required by the Internal Revenue Service so claimants can report the benefits they have received, in the same way that a W-2 fom is used to report regular income. The governor says the 24/7 service, funded by a federal grant, will speed the processing time for claimants and state employees and save the state postage and printing costs.

The service allows claimants to enter their information into a secure system to obtain unemployment data for the current tax year or previous years dating back to 2005. The printout includes all necessary tax information and is available to all claimants, whether they were filing weekly, for as little as one week, or as part of the state’s Shared Work program.

A special UC-1099G information line—860 263 6099—is now in operation from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through April 15 to answer questions about the tax form. Representatives at this number are not able to answer questions about specific unemployment insurance claims.

Union Membership in ’09

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union—was 12.3% in 2009, essentially unchanged from 12.4% a year earlier. The number of workers belonging to unions declined by 771,000 to 15.3 million, largely reflecting the overall drop in employment due to the economy. In 1983, the first year for which comparable data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1%, representing 17.7 million union workers.

Other highlights from the 2009 data:

  • More public sector employees (7.9 million) belonged to a union than did private sector employees (7.4), despite there being five times more workers in the private sector.
  • Workers in education, training,and library occupations have the highest unionization rate at 38.1%.
  • Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.
  • Among states, New York had the highest union membership rate (25.2%) and North Carolina had the lowest (3.1%).

For complete data: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/union2_01222010.pdf

OSHA Proposes Recordkeeping Change

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed changing its Form 300 Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses by adding a separate column for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The agency says the proposed rule does not change existing requirements for when and under what circumstances employers must record MSDs.

OSHA first proposed an MSD column in 2001. At the time, the injury and illness log contained a column for repetitive trauma disorders that included both MSDs and hearing loss. OSHA separated MSDs and hearing loss into two columns, but the MSD column was deleted before the provision became effective. The agency is now proposing to restore the MSD column to improve the accuracy of reported illness data.

Interested parties may submit comments on the proposed rule electronically at http://www.regulations.gov, the federal e-rulemaking portal; or by mailing three copies to the OSHA Docket Office, Room N-2625, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20210; or by fax at 202-693-1648 if the comments and attachments do not exceed 10 pages.

Comments must include the agency name and docket number for this rulemaking (Docket Number OSHA-2009-0044). The deadline for submission is March 15.

To access the proposal: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=FEDERAL_REGISTER&p_id=21314

EEOC Sues Law Firm for Age Bias

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has charged an international law firm with violating federal age discrimination law through its compensation system.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, attorneys who practiced law at the firm after turning 70 years of age received dramatically reduced compensation compared to similarly productive younger attorneys, solely because of age. The EEOC further charged that the firm retaliated against an attorney who has practiced law there for 40 years by further reducing his compensation after he complained about the discriminatory policy.

The EEOC says that the firm requires all partners to give up their ownership interest in the firm at age 70. If an attorney continues to work, his or her compensation consists of an annual “bonus” payment in an amount totally within the discretion of the firm’s executive committee.

In addition, the attorney who complained says that since he turned 70, even though he routinely has obtained over $1 million in fees annually from his clients, his compensation has been substantially less than younger lawyers at the firm with similar productivity. Moreover, after he had complained internally about the age-based compensation system—ultimately resulting in his filing an age discrimination charge with the EEOC—the firm reduced his bonus payment by two-thirds.

A law firm’s compensation system for its attorneys should be based on ability and production, not on age-based stereotypes about declining effectiveness, says the EEOC. The lawsuit should serve as a wake-up call for law firms to examine their own practices and ensure they comport with the law.

In FY 2009, the EEOC received 22,778 age discrimination charges, the second highest level ever, accounting for 24% of its private sector caseload.

Connecticut Business Day 2010 — Join the Fight!!

If you believe it’s time to focus on fiscal responsibility and a strong plan for economic revival that will retain and create jobs in Connecticut, you need to attend Connecticut Business Day on February 24 at the State Capitol and advance a pro-growth legislative agenda.

The program includes keynote addresses and issue interest sessions on labor, taxes, manufacturing and small business.

Don’t miss this opportunity to get your views across to state legislators and help them focus on the key business and economic issues facing our state.

Appliance Giant to Pay $1M in Harassment Case

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has announced a final court judgment of more than $1 million against Whirlpool Corporation in a race and sex discrimination lawsuit on behalf of a former employee at the company’s Tennessee facility. The EEOC claimed that the appliance manufacturing giant failed to protect the African American female employee from persistent harassment by a white male co-worker, which ultimately resulted in her being physically assaulted by him.

Following a bench trial, a district court judge awarded the employee $773,261 in back pay and front pay, and $300,000 in compensatory damages, the maximum allowed under federal law. During the four-day trial, the evidence showed that the employee reported escalating offensive verbal conduct and gestures by the male coworker over a period of two months before he physically assaulted her. Four levels of Whirlpool’s management were aware of the escalating harassment, but failed to take effective steps to stop it. The employee suffered permanent mental injuries that will prevent her from working again as a result of the assault and Whirlpool’s failure to protect her.

Whirlpool unsuccessfully argued that because it had posted a policy prohibiting harassment, the company relieved itself of responsibility for the employee’s injuries. However, the court pointed out that when those charged with enforcing a policy don’t take that responsibility seriously, an employer has not met its duty under federal antidiscrimination law to prevent and stop illegal harassment in its workplace.

The EEOC says the significant monetary award should put employers on notice that there can be extraordinary consequences for tolerating or overlooking egregious discrimination.

DOJ Challenges Civil Service Exam

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a discrimination suit against the state of New Jersey, challenging its use of a written examination for promotion to the rank of police sergeant.

The DOJ complaint alleges that African American and Hispanic candidates pass the exam at significantly lower rates than white candidates. It also alleges that even those African American and Hispanic candidates who pass the exam suffer discrimination because their passing scores are significantly lower than those of white candidates, and New Jersey certifies candidates for promotion in descending rank-order based primarily upon each candidate’s written exam score.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits not only intentional discrimination but also the use of employment practices that result in a disparate impact upon a protected group, unless an employer can prove that such practices are job-related and consistent with business necessity. According to the DOJ, New Jersey has not demonstrated that the written exam and the certification process meet Title VII requirements.

The DOJ is seeking a court order prohibiting New Jersey from continued use of the exam. It is also asking the court to award “make whole” relief—including, where appropriate, offers of promotion, backpay, and retroactive seniority—to individual African Americans and Hispanics who have been or will be harmed as a result of the state’s use of the exam.

Pay Freezes More Prevalent than Pay Cuts

In response to the sluggish economy, many corporations either froze or cut pay in 2009. Even as the economy starts showing signs of life, a majority of firms plan to remain conservative when it comes to pay practices in 2010.

A January update to the WorldatWork’s annual Salary Budget Survey found that 52% of U.S. employers froze pay for some or all employees in the 2009 recession, while 13% cut pay.

Will employees see pay restored in 2010? At least 22% of organizations that froze pay in 2009 are planning to prolong the freeze into 2010, while 54% plan to resume normal pay activities this year. More than a third said they were in a recession and were not in a position to unfreeze pay.

Of those organizations that cut pay, 37% said they remained in a recession and were not yet considering recovery actions; 29% planned to restore pay in full, while 15% said the pay cuts were permanent.

Moving too fast in restoring salaries leaves employers vulnerable if the recovery fails to materialize, says WorldatWork. Moving too slowly creates the risk of turnover as employees look for a better opportunity with another company. Even with jobs scarce, there are always opportunities for employees with the right skill set.

As salary budgets remain tight and employee satisfaction low, organizations are turning to other ways to motivate and reward employees. Employers are focused on providing or enhancing career development opportunities (33%), noncash rewards and recognition (28%), flexibility options (20%), monetary rewards for high performers (19%), and monetary rewards for mission-critical talent (15%).

For more information: www.worldatwork.org/waw/adimLink?id=33282

FMLA Report Due 4/10

Companies that employed 75 or more employees during the payroll week that included Oct. 1, 2008, need to file their Annual Family and Medical Leave Experience Report by April 1. The form should be completed online for calendar year ’09 at the Department of Labor’s website and transmitted back to the agency.

Employers are required to report leaves of absence for the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a seriously ill family member, or for the employee’s own serious illness. Leaves lasting for less than five days and portions of leave exceeding 16 weeks need not be reported.

Click here to access OSHA’s Recordkeeping Handbook, a free resource of agency-approved recordkeeping materials, including the regulation and related interpretations of the rule.

Time to Post Injury Summary

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is reminding employers about the requirement to post the OSHA300A summary of the total number of work-related injuries and illnesses that occurred last year. Only the 300A summary—not the OSHA 300 log—must be posted from February 1 to April 30.

The form should be posted in a common area where other employee notices are usually displayed. A copy of the summary must also be made available to workers who move from worksite to worksite or who do not report to any fixed worksite on a regular basis.

The summary must include the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred in 2009 and were logged on the OSHA 300. To assist in calculating incidence rates, 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 2009, the employer must enter “zero” on the total line. The form must be signed and certified by a company executive.

To access OSHA’s Recordkeeping Handbook, a free resource of agency-approved recordkeeping materials, including the regulation and related interpretations of the rule: http://www.osha.gov/recordkeeping/handbook/index.htm

Tips for Greening Your Break Room

—reprinted with permission from Business & Legal Resources (BLR)

Businesses going green is hot as companies seek to reduce the effects of climate changes and want to be seen as responsible. But it means more than that. Businesses with conservation programs know that conservation benefits their bottom line. Start a conservation program with these tips to cut down on waste (and spending) in your break room:

  • Waste not. Use real dishes, not disposable products. All you need is a sink, soap, sponge and dish rack.
  • If you must. If your only option is to use disposable cold cups, plates, or cutlery, look for sustainable products, especially compostable ones—avoid Styrofoam products and plastic.
  • Make yourself at home. Have everyone bring in their own mug from home, or purchase some mugs, cups, cutlery, plates, and bowls for the break room.
  • Buy Energy Star. If you must buy new appliances, look for energy efficient ones, ones that are Energy Star certified. This is another green tip that also saves money.
  • Lose the baggage. Cut down on needless packaging. For example, share milk and cream for coffee instead of using individual cream or creamer packets, and spoons for stirring instead of disposable stirrers.
  • Skip the water cooler. If you don’t like your tap water, consider a water filter in the fridge instead of a water cooler or individual bottled water. This one will save you a ton of money!
  • Unplug the energy vampires. Plug all the nonfridge appliances, such as microwave, coffee maker/grinder, toaster, etc., into a power strip (surge protector) so that you can switch their power off at the end of the day. Appliances plugged in, even if not in use, suck some energy.

It means more that just protecting the environment—conservation, and investing in conservation programs, means saving money.

BLR is the leading provider of employment, safety and environmental compliance solutions. For more information, visit www.BLR.com or call 800-727-5257.

$19M Settles “Glass Ceiling” Suit

Outback Steakhouse has agreed to pay $19 million to settle a lawsuit alleging sex discrimination against thousands of women at hundreds of its corporately-owned restaurants nationwide.

In the lawsuit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claimed that female employees hit a glass ceiling at Outback and could not get promoted to the higher-level profit-sharing management positions in the restaurants. The EEOC also alleged that women were denied favorable job assignments, particularly kitchen management experience, which was required for employees to be considered for the top management job in a restaurant. As part of the settlement Outback has also agreed to:

  • Institute an online application system for employees interested in managerial and other supervisory positions.
  • Employ a human resource executive in the newly created position of Vice President of People.
  • Employ an outside consultant for at least two years who will determine compliance with the terms of the settlement and analyze data from the online application system to determine whether women are being provided equal opportunities for promotion.
  • Report on its progress every six months to the EEOC.

The $19 million in monetary relief will be administered through a claims process with an administrator sending letters to all female workers employed at corporately-owned Outback restaurants from 2002 through the present who have at least three years of tenure. The EEOC is also encouraging all current female employees at Outback to take advantage of the new application process and let Outback know that they are interested in promotion.

Top 10 Best Jobs

Actuary, a job that entails calculating the probability and financial impact of illness and property loss, ranks as the best job for 2010, based on research into 200 different positions in this year’s CareerCast.com Jobs Rated report. Using five key measurement criteria—stress, working environment, physical demands, income, and hiring outlook—the report compares and contrasts careers across a multitude of industries, skill levels, and salary ranges, sorting them into a definitive list of jobs that can be called “best” and “worst.”

So why is actuary rated number one? For starters, the position ranks especially well for its low physical demands and stress levels, finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively. More importantly, its strong performance overall helped it rise to the top of the list. The job ranks no worse than 10 th in any measurement category, save one—median income, where it finishes 22nd.

Moving down the list, math- and science-related professions continue to rule for the second year in a row, with software engineer ranking as the second best job for 2010. Involving the design and maintenance of software and hardware systems, the job rates well across all categories, finishing 5 th for work environment and inside the top 30 for stress, income, and physical demands. But what helps software engineer stand out from other career choices is its hiring outlook. With low unemployment compared to the national average and projected job growth of nearly 45% through 2016, software engineer currently has the best hiring outlook of any available job in 2010.

The rest of the top 10:

  1. Actuary
  2. Software engineer
  3. Computer systems analyst
  4. Biologist
  5. Historian
  6. Mathematician
  7. Paralegal assistant
  8. Statistician
  9. Accountant
  10. Dental hygienist

To see the Jobs Rated 10 worst jobs: http://www.careercast.com/jobs/content/ten-worst-jobs-2010-jobs-rated

COBRA Subsidy Extended

President Obama has signed a bill extending the COBRA premium subsidy that was first instituted under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). ARRA created a temporary government subsidy of COBRA premiums for individuals who were involuntarily terminated from employers with 20+ employees between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009, and who also became eligible for COBRA continuation coverage during that time period.

Effective immediately, the new bill extends the COBRA premium subsidy in two ways:

  • It extends the eligibility period for the COBRA premium subsidy to any individual who is involuntarily terminated (called Assistance Eligible Individuals, or AEIs) for an additional two months (through February 28, 2010).
  • It extends the maximum premium subsidy period for AEIs receiving the subsidy for an additional six months (from nine to 15 months).

Unlike the initial ARRA rule, this new bill does not require that COBRA coverage begin by the end of the eligibility period (February 28, 2010). Rather, it states that a person is considered an AEI as long as the involuntary termination that qualifies the individual for COBRA occurs by February 28, 2010. Therefore, an individual who is involuntarily terminated on February 28 and becomes eligible for COBRA on March 1, 2010, would be eligible for the subsidy.

In addition, AEIs who reached the end of their premium subsidy period prior to this legislation and then dropped COBRA must again be offered the subsidized coverage so they can pay the reduced premium for up to six more months. AEIs whose subsidy ended on December 1, 2009, but remained on COBRA at the full premium rate for December and/or January will be notified and will receive credit for 65% of their premium that is once again considered subsidy eligible.

According to the Connecticut Department of Insurance, the extension also applies to employers with under 20 employees subject to state continuation coverage.

Employers currently enrolled in CBIA’s free COBRA Continuation Service can expect CBIA to administer these new subsidy provisions without interruption.

Employers Doing More to Improve Health

Despite budget-related pressures, many U.S. employers are ramping up initiatives to improve worker health and productivity, according to a survey by the consulting firm Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health, an employer organization. At the same time, more workers are experiencing higher levels of stress and using company-offered health services.

The 2009 Staying@Work Report shows that 42% of employers are seeing an increase in employee utilization of the company health plan. Almost half (47%) of employers note an increase in their workers’ use of the employee assistance program (EAP), and 30% cite an increase in workers filing disability claims. And unplanned absence is rising among workers at 22% of U.S. companies.

The survey also showed employers strengthening their benefit programs and initiatives. More than half (51%) of companies are planning no change or a slight increase to their health and productivity program budgets, compared with 44% that are planning cuts. In addition, nearly three-quarters (72%) of employers have already enhanced their onsite offerings or expect to do so in the next 12 months, with programs geared toward stress management, EAPs, or health coaches.

Yet effective solutions for addressing worker stress remain elusive for many companies. Although 78% of employers cite excessive work hours as a leading cause of employee stress, only 21% of employers indicate they are taking action to address it properly. Lack of work/life balance and fear of job loss were also cited as leading stressors, but are being actively addressed by just over one third of employers.

Not only are stressed workers less productive, they are also likely to incur higher health costs for themselves and their employer, says the National Business Group on Health. Companies most effective at mitigating the impact of stress are moving in the right direction—helping employees become more efficient while working to lower benefit costs and strengthen balance sheets.

To view the full 2009/2010 Staying@Work report: www.watsonwyatt.com/StayingAtWork .

Bias Charges Approach Record High

The EEOC reports that 93,277 workplace discrimination charges were filed with the agency nationwide during Fiscal Year (FY) ’09, the second highest level ever. Monetary relief obtained for victims totaled more than $376 million.

The FY ’09 data show that private sector job bias charges alleging discrimination based on disability, religion, and national origin hit record highs. The number of charges alleging age-based discrimination reached the second-highest level ever. Continuing a decade-long trend, the most frequently filed charges with the EEOC in FY ’09 were charges alleging discrimination based on race (36%), retaliation (36%), and sex-based discrimination (30%). Multiple types of discrimination may be alleged in a single charge filing.

According to the EEOC, the near-historic level of charge filings may be due to a number of factors: economic conditions; increased diversity and demographic shifts in the labor force; employees’ greater awareness of their rights under the law; and changes to the agency’s intake practices that cut down on the steps needed for an individual to file a charge.

For complete FY ’09 statistics: http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/index.cfm

Job Satisfaction Lowest in Two Decades

Americans of all ages and income brackets continue to grow increasingly unhappy at work, says a report from the Conference Board, a long-term trend that should be a red flag to employers.

Based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. households, the report finds only 45% of those surveyed say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1% in 1987, the first year the survey was conducted.

Fewer Americans are satisfied with all aspects of their employment, and no age or income group is immune. In fact, the youngest employees—those under age 25 —express the highest level of dissatisfaction ever recorded by the survey for that age group.

The downward trend in job satisfaction could spell trouble for the overall engagement of U.S. employees and ultimately employee productivity, says the Conference Board.

The drop in satisfaction between 1987 and 2009 covers all categories in the survey, from interest in work (down 18.9 percentage points) to job security (down 17.5 percentage points). It also crosses all four of the key drivers of employee engagement: job design, organizational health, managerial quality, and extrinsic rewards.

Find out what your employees really think… You’ve got employees who are working hard and want to do more. But they need to connect with you. Open your company’s channels of communication with a CBIA Employee Opinion Survey. It’s a high-quality, low-cost, efficient solution to the challenge of keeping in touch with the heart and soul of your company—your employees. For details:http://www.cbia.com/HR/CompAndBenefits/employeerelations/
employopinionsurveys.htm

Widespread reports of a possible compromise among U.S. Senate Democrats on the Senate’s version of health care reform legislation have emerged, but details are sketchy and still troubling to many in the business community. The potential compromise reportedly scraps the controversial public option and replaces it with a system in which Americans aged 55 and older would be permitted to buy into the federal Medicare program.

But details on what the compromise actually does are elusive. Because the bill’s costs are being studied by the Congressional Budget Office, all the specifics on the legislation won’t be publicly released until the pricing is completed.
Until then, many questions and concerns from the business community remain over the proposal’s cost and content.

As more is revealed about the possible compromise language, there are at least three reasons why the current Senate version is off to a bad start:

  • The current Senate bill imposes $28 billion in new taxes on employers that do not provide government-approved health benefits. This will not relieve employers of the staggering premium increases with which they have been burdened in recent years; in fact, it will increase that burden for many.
  • The Senate is under pressure to include a public plan option to “compete” with private health plans. There can be no level playing field with a public option, even if it is at first scaled back. Ultimately, public plans will eliminate consumer choice in health care, forcing millions of Americans to lose the coverage they now have and leading to the demise of private health insurance plans and the inevitability of a government-run, rationed health care system.
  • To pay its fully implemented $2.5 trillion price tag, the bill includes half a trillion dollars in new taxes on payrolls, health benefits, health insurance, prescription drugs and medical devices that will be passed through to employer-provided plans.
  • Government has a very poor track record in administering and paying for health care. Cost-shifting caused by the government’s severe underfunding of Medicare and Medicaid has made private health insurance unaffordable for many people and businesses.

    We need reform that will truly reduce costs, improve quality and increase access to health care—not legislation to expand government and endanger our economy.

    Contact Senators Dodd and Lieberman, and Connecticut’s U.S. representatives, and urge them to reject any public option in their health care reform legislation. You can contact these elected officials using the following link:
    http://www.responsiblehealthreform.com

    For more information, contact CBIA’s Eric George at 860-244-1921 or eric.george@cbia.com.

    Why Are Health Care Costs So High?

    Missing from most of the health care reform proposals being made is the attempt to truly deal with the biggest reason many people don’t have health insurance coverage: the high cost of health care.

    Fully 87% of all health insurance premiums are spent on the actual delivery of medical care—by far the most significant of all the complex factors driving the cost of health care, says PricewaterhouseCoopers. And health care costs keep rising—why?

    Here are some of the top reasons:

    Government Cost-Shifting
    Government continuously and significantly underfunds its health care programs (Medicare and Medicaid). As a result, individuals, employers and insurers are being forced to subsidize the government obligations on top of paying for their own coverage.

    Unfortunately, Connecticut is one of the worst offenders. According to the legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee, Connecticut’s Medicaid program underfunds hospitals by almost 30%–a gap that shifts costs to individuals, employers and insurers by approximately the same percentage.

    When state government fails to pay its portion of the health care bill and instead pushes it onto others, it throws off the entire health care system. In Connecticut, private individuals, employers and insurers are paying $300 million a year more than they should because of state government’s cost-shifting, says the Connecticut Hospital Association.

    Government Insurance Mandates
    For decades, lawmakers have been mandating insurance coverage for scores of special treatments and procedures. The problem is that these expensive government add-ons help some but significantly increase costs for everyone. In Connecticut, lawmakers have approved more than 50 of these mandates, increasing the cost of health insurance in the state by 20% to 50%.

    Bearing much of the burden of these higher costs are small businesses. That’s because state mandates apply only to fully insured plans, and smaller businesses are more likely to be fully insured (as opposed to larger companies that have the resources to self-insure).

    Poor health behavior (such as smoking and obesity)
    Common sense says that the healthier you are, the less medical care you need, but Americans make behavioral and lifestyle choices that compromise their own health and well-being. Unhealthy behaviors have a big impact on the cost of care.

    According to MedicalNewsToday.com, obesity alone increased the nation’s health care costs by $78.5 billion in 1998. And this figure grew to $147 billion in 2008, with the cost to treat obesity related conditions representing 12.9% of private insurance expenditures.

    Combined with the cost of other unhealthy lifestyle choices (such as smoking and alcohol abuse), the impact on insurance costs is overwhelming.

    More Expensive (and Expansive) Technologies and Treatments
    While technology has the potential to reduce health care costs, many studies have found that more widespread use of newer more advanced and expensive technologies and treatment expansion has increased health care costs between 38% to 65% over the years.

    Ultimately, lawmakers must tackle the cost of health insurance in order to address the issue of increasing health care coverage.

    For more information visit the “Cost of Care” page at cbia.com, or call CBIA’s Eric George at 860-244-1921.

    ICE Targets 1,000 Employers

    U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued Notices of Inspection (NOIs) to 1,000 employers across the country associated with critical infrastructure, alerting business owners that the agency will audit their I-9 forms to determine compliance with employment eligibility verification laws.

    According to ICE, the 1,000 businesses served with audit notices were selected for inspection as a result of investigative leads and intelligence and because of the business’ connection to public safety and national security.

    In April, the Department of Homeland Security issued updated enforcement guidance on ICE’s major enforcement priorities, specifically focusing on dangerous criminal aliens and employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. In this strategy, ICE identified Form I-9 audits as the most important administrative tool in building criminal cases and bringing employers into compliance with the law.

    In July, ICE issued 654 NOIs to businesses nationwide—at the time, the largest enforcement operation of its kind. Statistics resulting from those audits include the following:

    • ICE agents reviewed more than 85,000 Form I-9s and identified more than 14,000 suspect documents, approximately 16% of the total number reviewed.
    • 61 Notices of Intent to Fine (NIFs) have been issued, resulting in $2,310,255 in fines. In addition, 267 cases are currently being considered for NIFs.
    • ICE closed 326 cases after businesses were found to be in compliance with employment laws or after businesses were served with a Warning Notice in expectation of future compliance.

    Some employers believe they can unfairly get ahead by cultivating illegal workplaces, says ICE. The increased enforcement efforts and tough employer sanctions should help even the playing field for employers who play by the rules.

    DOL Withdraws Rule on Investment Advice

    The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has published a notice withdrawing a final rule on the provision of investment advice under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

    The Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA) had amended ERISA to add a new prohibited transaction exemption allowing greater flexibility for participants in 401(k) and other pension plans to obtain investment advice. The EBSA notice withdraws a June 2009 final rule that implemented the PPA prohibited transaction exemption and provided an additional administrative class exemption.

    The department says it decided to withdraw the rule based on public comments that raised sufficient doubts as to whether the conditions of the final rule and the class exemption associated with the rule could adequately protect the interests of plan participants and beneficiaries. The applicability and effective dates of the rule had been extended several times, but the department has now withdrawn the rule completely.

    The department intends to publish a proposed rule that conforms to the PPA exemption relating to investment advice.

    Alert: Unapproved Flu Disinfectants

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is warning consumers to beware of unregistered products or services that claim to disinfect surfaces or entire rooms against the H1N1 influenza virus.

    Unfortunately, some vendors may try to take advantage of people’s fears in the current flu-conscious climate, says EPA. Americans need to be aware of what they may be buying.

    EPA registers disinfectants for use on hard surfaces, and when used according to label directions, such products will be effective against influenza A viruses, including the 2009 H1N1 pandemic strain. There are no products registered by EPA for use in residential settings that will disinfect or sterilize the air or a room by fogging. Claims for disinfecting carpeting, drapes, and other porous surfaces are also false. The products approved by EPA are for use on hard surfaces only, and the label must state that the product is registered for the influenza A virus.

    It is important to follow label instructions to ensure the safe and effective use of these products in specific sites, says EPA, including health care settings, homes, schools and offices. A list of more than 500 antimicrobial products registered by EPA for use against the influenza A virus and H1N1 virus on hard surfaces is available on the agency’s website.

    Employers and employees are encouraged to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) recommendations for preventing the spread of the 2009 H1N1 influenza, which stress washing hands frequently with soap and water.

    For more from the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu.

    State Launches “CTParenteen” Safe Driving Campaign

    Gov. M. Jodi Rell has announced that Connecticut’s Teen Safe Driving Week, which runs through December 12, will kick off a year-long campaign called “CTParenTeen” to encourage parents and teens to make responsible choices around safe driving issues.

    The special safe driving week in w:st=”on”>Connecticut provides an opportunity for public agencies, schools, communities, and safe driving advocates to spotlight a range of awareness programs for parents and teens.

    “There are far too many hearts broken and far too many tears shed over the tragic results of irresponsible driving,” says Gov. Rell. “Every moment that a parent and child can spend together to discuss safety behind the wheel and fully understand the laws that govern teen driving is time well spent. It may someday save a life and keep a family whole. CTParenTeen is a wonderful way to show that teen safe driving is about both parents’ responsibilities as well as their joint responsibilities with their children,” says the governor.

    Gov. Rell signed new and tougher teen driving laws after several crashes that claimed the lives of teen drivers and their young passengers. The strengthened laws for 16- and 17-year-old drivers include more passenger restrictions, an earlier nighttime driving curfew beginning at 11 p.m., an increase in training requirements, and new suspension penalties for certain moving violations.

    Employees Report Low Morale

    A new CareerBuilder survey of 2,900 employees finds that nearly a quarter (23%) rate their organization’s current employee morale as low. In addition, 40% of workers report that they have had difficulty staying motivated at work in the last year and a quarter (24%) do not feel loyal to their employer.

    Low morale is an unfortunate side effect of this recession, says CareerBuilder. As a result, employers are taking measures to help address negative workplace sentiment and motivate their employees. Whether it’s through stepping up communication, offering more employee recognition programs, or providing flexible work opportunities, organizations are doing what they can to proactively manage low morale.

    Workers revealed a variety of factors that could be contributing to low morale. Two-in-five said that their stress level at work is high and nearly half (47%) said that their workload has increased in the last six months. One-in-five are dissatisfied with their work/life balance.

    Nearly two-in-five workers (38%) said they felt there was departmental favoritism at work, which could also play a part in low morale. More than a quarter of workers (28%) don’t think their department is important to senior leadership.

    Sales (15%), human resources (11%), and accounting/finance (6%) topped the list of departments believed to receive preferential treatment.

    Lower Mileage Rate for 2010

    The Internal Revenue Service has announced that the optional standard mileage rate for employees who use their own cars for business purposes will drop to 50 cents per mile on Jan. 1, 2010. The new rate compares with a rate of 55 cents per mile for 2009.

    Employers who use the standard mileage rate to reimburse employees may deduct the reimbursement as a business expense. The rate is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile.

    Also for 2010, the standard mileage rate for miles driven for medical or moving purposes will be 16.5 cents, and the rate for miles driven in service of charitable organizations will be 14 cents, both down slightly from last year.

    For more information on mileage rates, see Revenue Procedure 2009-54.

    Find out what your employees really think. You’ve got employees who are working hard and want to do more. But they need to connect with you. Open your company’s channels of communication with a CBIA Employee Opinion Survey. It’s a high-quality, low-cost, efficient solution to the challenge of keeping in touch with the heart and soul of your company—your employees. For details:http://www.cbia.com/HR/CompAndBenefits/employeerelations/
    employopinionsurveys.htm

    Federal Paid Sick Leave Mandate Proposed by Dodd

    Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is proposing emergency federal legislation that would require employers of 15 or more employees to provide seven paid sick days for workers affected by seasonal or swine flu.

    According to the senator’s office, the proposal is aimed at slowing the spread of illness by encouraging people who have the flu to stay home and by making it easier for parents to care for sick children or deal with school closings. Read more.

    Departing Workers Cash Out 401(k)s

    Increased efforts to caution Americans about the negative financial consequences of cashing out their 401(k) plans have had little impact in changing their behavior over the past few years, say global consultants Hewitt Associates.

    In a study of 170,000 401(k) participants who terminated employment in 2008, Hewitt found that nearly half (46%) cashed out their accounts. The remainder either rolled over their money to a qualified IRA or other retirement plan (25%) or kept their savings in their prior employer’s plan (29%). A similar Hewitt analysis conducted in 2005 revealed almost identical results: 45% of workers took a cash distribution; 23% rolled over their savings; and nearly a third (32%) left their money in their prior employer’s 401(k) plan.

    The study also showed that younger workers are more likely to cash out their 401(k) accounts than those who are older and more tenured. Six in ten employees in their 20s took a cash distribution compared to just one third of those in their 50s.

    The high cash-out rates are troublesome, particularly among young workers, says Hewitt. Over the course of 20 or 30 years, modest amounts of savings can turn into surprisingly large sums of money.

    There was also a direct correlation between 401(k) plan balance and cash-out rates. Just 8% of workers with plan balances of $100,000 or more cashed out, and less than one in five workers (17%) with plan balances between $20,000 and $99,000 did so.

    Conversely, the number of cash outs among employees with smaller balances is much higher. Almost half (45%) of workers with balances between $1,000 and $5,000 took a cash distribution. Eighty-five percent of those with balances under $1,000 cashed out either voluntarily or due to force-out provisions.

    Price Tag for Not Hiring Men: $1M

    A restaurant chain has agreed to pay more than $1,000,000 to settle a class action lawsuit that challenged the company’s long standing policy of hiring only women into food server positions.

    The case began when a male applicant in Las Vegas filed a sex discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In investigating the complaint, the agency learned that the restaurant chain’s policy barring men from being hired as food servers had existed since 1938. The chain claimed that the policy was based on tradition, but the EEOC decided it amounted to sex-based discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court, the EEOC filed suit.

    The chain has agreed to pay $500,000 in monetary relief to the class of individuals; to spend $300,000 on an advertising campaign actively promoting the hiring of men into food server positions; and to spend $225,000 to train all of its employees on anti-discrimination law. The company will also revise its hiring and other policies to comply with Title VII, appoint an equal employment opportunity officer, and submit progress reports to the EEOC over the next three years.

    IRS Guide for Recently Unemployed

    Publication 4128 from the Internal Revenue Service—Tax Impact of Job Loss—discusses the tax implications related to severance pay, unemployment compensation, pension plans, and job search and moving expenses. It also includes information on self-employment.

    The publication is available for free at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4128.pdf.

    GINA Poster Released

    The EEOC has revised its “Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law” poster to add information about the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), which takes effect Nov. 21, 2009.

    Federal law requires employers to post notices describing the laws prohibiting discrimination in employment based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability and, now because of GINA, genetic information

    The revised poster also includes updates from the Department of Labor.

    Employers may post either the newly revised poster or a supplement alongside the older poster. Both are available for printing on the EEOC’s website. The poster is available from CBIA as part of the federal 5-in-1 poster for $15. To order, contact Lise Cliche at 860-244-1977.

    Governor Says Stimulus Creating Jobs

    Gov. M. Jodi Rell has announced that federal stimulus funds have created more than 6,000 jobs in Connecticut to date and preserved thousands more. The numbers were released after submission of the first American Recovery and Reinvestment Act quarterly reports by state agency officials.

    More than 750,000 state residents have benefited from federal Recovery Act programs. The direct impact on state residents is as follows:

    • 552,000 K–12 students
    • 5,200 educators
    • 4,100 summer jobs for teens
    • 25,000 recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance benefits
    • 60,000 receiving unemployment benefits
    • 2,600 working on transportation projects
    • 1,300 people receiving job training

    The goal from the start has been to get this stimulus money back into the economy as soon as possible and put people back to work, says Governor Rell.

    More Companies Plan to Reverse Wage, Hiring Freezes

    Approximately half the companies that froze salaries and hiring in the past year now plan to unfreeze them in the next six months, according to the latest update to an ongoing series of surveys by Watson Wyatt. Nevertheless, employers remain concerned about their ability to attract and retain critical-skill employees, both currently and in the long run.

    Fifty-four percent of employers that froze salaries plan to unfreeze them within the next six months, the survey found, a sharp increase from 33% in August and 17% in June. Almost half (49%) also plan to reverse hiring freezes at least partially in the next six months, compared with 33% two months ago.

    The survey also showed that an increasing number of employers (35%) are planning to reverse reductions to 401(k) match contributions in the next six months, up from 24% two months ago and only 5% in June.

    Almost all companies (96%) said they have made offers to new hires in the past three months, and the vast majority (93%) anticipate making offers in the next three months. However, about one-fifth still anticipate making layoffs in the remainder of 2009 or in 2010. In addition, almost two-thirds report they are more concerned about the retention of critical-skill and top-performing employees than they were before the economic downturn hit.

    Looking ahead three to five years, half of employers expect an increase in difficulty in attracting critical-skill employees, and 55% expect an increase in difficulty in retaining critical-skill employees. In light of the downturn, 44% of employers have encouraged managers to make greater use of recognition plans.

    Federal Workers: No Ttexting While Driving

    President Obama has signed an Executive Order banning federal employees from text messaging while driving on the job. The order also encourages federal contractors and others doing business with the government to adopt similar policies.

    The policy applies to federal employees when driving in any government-owned vehicle, driving a privately-owned vehicle on official government business, and when using electronic equipment supplied by the government while driving.

    The administration also announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will consider a number of other steps to combat distracted driving, including

    • Making permanent restrictions on the use of cell phones and other electronic devices in rail operations
    • Banning text messaging altogether and restricting the use of cell phones by truck and interstate bus drivers
    • Disqualifying school bus drivers convicted of texting while driving from maintaining their commercial driver’s license

    The DOT has called on state and local governments to help reduce fatalities and crashes by making distracted driving part of their state highway plans and by continuing to pass state and local laws against distracted driving in all types of vehicles, especially school buses.

    OSHA Targets Underreporting

    OSHA is initiating a national emphasis program (NEP) on recordkeeping to assess the accuracy of worker injury and illness data.

    The NEP involves inspecting occupational injury and illness records prepared by businesses and enforcing regulatory requirements when employers are found to be underreporting. The inspections include a records review, employee interviews, and a limited walkaround inspection of the workplace.

    The most likely places to have underreported injuries and illnesses would be low-rate establishments operating in historically high-rate industries, says OSHA. Selection for an inspection is limited to establishments with 40 or more employees that reported a Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred (DART) rate from 0.0 to 4.2 in 2007 in the following industries:

    • Animal (except poultry) slaughtering
    • Scheduled passenger air transportation
    • Steel foundries (except investment)
    • Other nonferrous foundries (except die-casting)
    • Concrete pipe manufacturing
    • Soft drink manufacturing
    • Couriers
    • Manufactured home (mobile home) manufacturing
    • Rolling mill machinery and equipment manufacturing
    • Iron foundries
    • Nursing care facilities
    • Fluid milk manufacturing
    • Seafood canning
    • Marine cargo handling
    • Copper foundries (except die casting)
    • Bottled water manufacturing
    • Refrigerated warehousing and storage
    • Motor vehicle seating and interior trim manufacturing
    • Pet and pet supplies stores
    • Poultry processing
    • Support activities for animal protection

    The NEP will pilot test OSHA’s ability to target establishments to identify underreporting. The agency will also pilot test the inspection procedures in no more than five randomly selected establishments in the construction industry.

    CDC: Americans Living Longer

    U.S. life expectancy reached nearly 78 years (77.9) and the age-adjusted death rate dropped to 760.3 deaths per 100,000 population in 2007, both records, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over a decade, life expectancy has risen 1.4 years from 76.5 years in 1997.

    Other findings:

    • The gap between male and female life expectancy has narrowed from a high of 7.8 years in 1979 to 5.1 years in 2007, the same as in 2006
    • For the first time, life expectancy for black males reached 70 years
    • Heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death, accounted for nearly half (48.5%) of all deaths in 2007
    • Between 2006 and 2007 mortality rates declined significantly for eight of the 15 leading causes of death. Declines were observed for influenza and pneumonia, homicide, accidents, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer
    • The mortality rate for HIV/AIDS declined 10% from 2006, the biggest one-year decline since 1998
    • The death rates for chronic lower respiratory diseases, Parkinson’s disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, and Alzheimer’s increased slightly, but these gains are not considered statistically significant

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a final rule rescinding the controversial No-Match Rule, which was never implemented and had been blocked by a federal court.

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) sends employers a ‘no-match’ letter when an employee’s name and Social Security number provided on the W-2 form does not match SSA’s records. In 2007, DHS proposed the No-Match Rule, outlining steps employers should take when they receive such a letter. The new final rule formally drops the No-Match Rule.

    DHS says its will focus its enforcement efforts on increased compliance through improved verification, including E-Verify, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Mutual Agreement Between Government and Employers, and other programs.

    No-Match Rule Dropped

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a final rule rescinding the controversial No-Match Rule, which was never implemented and had been blocked by a federal court.

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) sends employers a no-matc’ letter when an employee’s name and Social Security number provided on the W-2 form do not match SSA’s records. In 2007, DHS proposed the No-Match Rule, outlining steps employers should take when they receive such a letter. The new final rule formally drops the No-Match Rule.

    DHS says its will focus its enforcement efforts on increased compliance through improved verification, including E-Verify, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Mutual Agreement Between Government and Employers, and other programs.

    Pension Plan Limits the Same for 2010

    The Internal Revenue Service has announced that the maximum contribution limits for 401(k) and other retirement plans will remain unchanged for tax year 2010 because of a falling cost-of-living index.

    Employee participants will be able to contribute $16,500 to their 401(k) plans in 2010, the same amount as in 2009. Other highlights of the 2010 limits:

    • 403(b) maximum: $16,500
    • Catch-up amounts for those age 50 and over: $5,500
    • Defined contribution limits under 415(c)(1)(a: $49,000
    • Highly compensated employee definition: $110,000

    Section 415 of the Internal Revenue Code provides for dollar limitations on benefits and contributions under qualified retirement plans and requires the IRS commissioner to annually adjust these limits for cost-of-living increases.

    For more information: http://www.irs.gov/retirement/article/0,,id=96461,00.html

    Seven More Weeks of UC

    Gov. M. Jodi Rell has announced that Connecticut’s unemployment rate has qualified the state to provide additional weeks of unemployment benefits to unemployed individuals. Under federal guidelines, individuals can begin filing their claims November 15.

    The federal extension called High Extended Benefits (HEB) is triggered when a state’s total unemployment rate averages 8% or higher over three consecutive months.

    According to Gov. Rell, the HEB is in addition to the 26 weeks of regular state benefits, the 33 weeks of federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), and the 13 weeks of Extended Benefits (EB) currently being provided to the state’s jobless residents. With the addition of the seven weeks of HEB, claimants can potentially receive 79 weeks of unemployment benefits.

    The HEB will be available to those claimants still searching for work who have exhausted all 72 weeks of the current state and federal benefits. Claimants now receiving the 13 weeks of EB will automatically receive the additional seven weeks. For those who have exhausted their 72 weeks of benefits, the state Labor Department will send letters to all potentially eligible individuals to notify them of the additional HEB weeks.

    For more information about the HEB extension, including Frequently Asked Questions: http://www.ctdol.state.ct.us/messages/HEBfaqs.htm


    Watch now:

    Nanotechnology: Safety and Health, Environmental, Liability and Intellectual Property Issues…new Web seminar presented by McCarter & English…free to CBIA members

    Check out this two part, cutting-edge discussion about emerging issues in nanotechnology, the technology of controlling matter at the scale of one-billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology is increasingly prevalent in our products. More and more workers are being exposed to nano particles in the production of those products, but little is known about how such materials could affect them. In addition, OSHA does not have a specific standard that addresses permissible exposure limits for nanomaterials. Get up to speed on the topic considered the next big issue in worker safety, environmental, product liability and intellectual property concerns.

    To access the webinar:

    http://www.cbia.com/hr/presentation/2008/nanotechnology1/

    http://www.cbia.com/hr/presentation/2008/nanotechnology2/

    Governors Request More UC Aid

    Gov. M. Jodi Rell has joined 21 other governors in urging top Congressional leaders to pass legislation that will extend unemployment benefits to those struggling to find work amid the continuing economic slump.

    Unless Congress acts, more than 400,000 workers nationwide will soon exhaust their federal extended benefits with exhaustion rates expected to increase over the coming months, the governors said in a letter to House and Senate leadership. The letter urged immediate action to extend the unemployment insurance benefits contained in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

    Gov. Rell said that Connecticut’s unemployment rate has generally held steady in recent months in the range of 8%. However, economists believe overall unemployment has not yet peaked, and may not do so until the second half of 2010.

    The governor also noted that the federal stimulus plan has sharply reduced the cost of continuing health care benefits for Connecticut workers who lose their jobs. Under federal COBRA and the state continuation law, workers who lose their jobs can elect to continue their health insurance but must pay the full cost, often more than an unemployed person can afford. Under the stimulus plan, the federal government is currently paying 65% of the continuation premiums for unemployed individuals. This benefit is scheduled to end on December 31, and Gov. Rell said Congress should extend it as well.

    Revised ADA Rules

    The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued a proposal revising its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations to conform to changes made by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.

    The Amendments Act, which took effect on January 1, 2009, rejected the holdings in several U.S. Supreme Court decisions that Congress believed construed the term “disability” too narrowly. The Act retains the basic definition of “disability”—as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment—but changes the way key terms under the definition should be interpreted. The effect of these changes is to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability.

    Consistent with the Amendment Act’s provisions, the EEOC proposal:

    • Provides that the definition of “disability” shall be interpreted broadly
    • Revises the portion of the regulations defining the term “substantially limits” to provide that a limitation need not “significantly” or “severely” restrict a major life activity in order to meet the standard
    • Provides that “major life activities” include “major bodily functions”
    • States that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability
    • States that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active
    • Changes the definition of “regarded as” so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity. Instead, it provides that an applicant or employee who is subjected to an action prohibited by the ADA because of an actual or perceived impairment will meet the “regarded as” definition of disability unless the impairment is both transitory and minor
    • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation
    • States that qualification standards, employment tests, or other selection criteria based on an individual’s uncorrected vision shall not be used unless shown to be job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity

    The EEOC has also issued a question-and-answer guide about the proposal along with instructions for submitting public comments.

    1,500 Providers to Give Flu Vaccine

    Gov. M. Jodi Rell announces that the state has enlisted more than 1,500 health care providers to administer the H1N1 vaccine to Connecticut residents as part of a statewide vaccination plan.

    The governor says Connecticut is expected to begin receiving vaccine as early as the first week of October. By mid-October the state is expected to receive more than 500,000 doses, with subsequent shipments of 20,000 per week. The vaccine will be provided by the federal government to the state at no cost.

    The vaccine will first be made available to those who are at greatest risk due to complications from H1N1 influenza: pregnant women; caregivers of children younger than six months old; health care and emergency medical services personnel with direct patient contact; children aged six months to four years, and children aged 5 to 18 with chronic medical conditions.

    The state began recruiting health care providers in August to administer the vaccine. Providers include private physicians, community health centers, hospitals, long-term care facilities, visiting nurse associations, retail-based outlets and public health providers.

    State health officials also encourage Connecticut residents to get their seasonal flu vaccination as well as the H1N1 vaccination. The H1N1 vaccine is effective only against the H1N1 virus and does not protect against seasonal influenza.

    Employers Expect to Hire Fewer Grads

    Employers expect to hire approximately 7% fewer graduates from the Class of 2010 than they hired from the Class of 2009, according to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Other highlights from NACE’s Job Outlook 2010 Fall Preview:

    • The largest group of employers (43 percent) plan to maintain their college hiring levels.
    • The bulk of recruiting activity will take place in the fall.
    • There are promising signs of hiring increases in certain industrial sectors (trade, construction, and the federal government) and geographic regions (Northwest and Midwest).
    • In terms of recruiting activity, employers expect to attend fewer career fairs, travel less, and put more emphasis on social networking in 2009-10 than they did in 2008-09.

    NACE members can download a free copy of the full report at http://www.naceweb.org/open/formslogin.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2fpubs%2fJobOutlook%2fdefault.htm.

    Record-Breaking ADA Settlement

    Sears, Roebuck and Co. has agreed to pay $6.2 million to settle a class lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming the company’s inflexible leave policy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The agency says it is the single largest ADA settlement in EEOC history.

    The case arose when a former Sears service technician complained to the EEOC that he had been injured on the job, took workers’ compensation leave, and although still somewhat disabled, had repeatedly tried to return to work. According to the technician, Sears refused to provide him with a reasonable accommodation that would have put him back to work and instead fired him when his leave expired. The EEOC eventually uncovered that hundreds of other employees who had taken workers’ compensation leave were also terminated without Sears seriously considering reasonable accommodations to return them to work while they were out on leave or whether a brief extension of their leave would make their return possible.

    The settlement also calls for Sears to amend its workers’ compensation leave policy, provide written reports to the EEOC detailing its workers’ compensation practices’ compliance with the ADA, train its employees regarding the ADA, and post a notice of the settlement at all Sears locations.

    New Rule Protects Genetic Info

    The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury have published an interim final rule preventing employers, insurers, health care providers, and others from using genetic information adversely in determining health care coverage. The agencies say the new rules will encourage more individuals to participate in genetic testing, which can help better identify and prevent certain illnesses.

    The interim rule with request for public comments implements Title I of the federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). Under GINA and the new rule, group health plans and issuers in the group market cannot: increase premiums for the group based on the results of one enrollee’s genetic information; deny enrollment; impose pre-existing conditions; or do other forms of underwriting based on genetic information. In the individual health insurance market, GINA prohibits issuers from using genetic information to deny coverage; raise premiums; or impose pre-existing conditions.

    In addition, group health plans and health insurance issuers in both the group and individual markets cannot request, require, or buy genetic information for underwriting purposes or prior to and in connection with enrollment. Finally, plans and issuers are generally prohibited from asking individuals or family members to undergo a genetic test.

    The new rule also modifies the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule to clarify that genetic information is considered personal health information (PHI).

    2010 Holiday Survey

    Every fall, CBIA surveys member companies to find out what paid holidays they will be offering their employees during the upcoming year. To view the results for 2010, click here. For more information, contact Phillip Montgomery at 860-244-1982 or phillip.montgomery@cbia.com.

    New Proposal on Pension-Related Fines

    The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed a regulation to assess civil penalties against plan sponsors of multiemployer defined benefit plans that fail to take corrective funding action in accordance with the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (ERISA) as amended by the Pension Protection Act (PPA).

    The PPA amended ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code to require those plans certified to be in endangered or critical status to adopt a funding improvement plan or rehabilitation plan within 240 days of the certification date. PPA also gave DOL authority to assess civil monetary penalties of up to $1,100 per day against plan sponsors that fail to timely adopt funding improvement or rehabilitation plans. The proposed regulation sets forth the administrative procedures for assessing and contesting such penalties.

    The public may submit comments on the proposal to e-ori@dol.gov or through the federal e-rulemaking portal at www.regulations.gov. Paper-based comments should be sent to the Office of Regulations and Interpretations, Employee Benefits Security Administration, Room N-5655, U. S. DOL, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210, Attention: Civil Penalties Under 502(c)(8). The deadline for submissions is Nov. 3, 2009.

    Employees Don’t Want Manager Jobs

    More than half of employees with the experience to become managers don’t want any part it, according to the tenth annual World of Work survey by the staffing firm Randstad.

    When asked about managing employees, 50% of Baby Boomers and almost seven out of 10 workers aged 64 and older said they had “no interest” in the prospect. Increased stress was the number one reason (cited by 82%), followed by increased paperwork (63%) and having to terminate or lay off employees (63%). However, Generation Y (ages 18 to 29) cited handling disgruntled employees as their number one reason for rejecting the idea of becoming a manager.

    The positives of performing in a management role today are clearly not coming through to employees, says Randstad. Especially in periods of economic recession, companies rely on managers to problem solve, drive productivity and innovation, motivate and provide opportunities for workers to learn new skills, and achieve new successes. It’s not just doom and gloom that managers are focusing on these days. To head off a potential shortage, organizations need to rethink how they define and communicate managerial roles, says Randstad, and be sure they are consistently reiterating managers’ valuable contributions.

    The survey also asked respondents why they might want to become a manager. Respondents did not point to increased power, recognition, or even more money. Instead, eighty-nine percent reported they would be interested in managing if they were able to share their knowledge and experience with others. Eighty-five percent cited both being responsible for the success of an organization and being able to influence decisions as other positives.

    Federal Contractors: E-Verify Required

    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is reminding federal contractors and subcontractors that effective Sept. 8, 2009, they are required to use the E-Verify system to verify their employees’ eligibility to work in the United States if their contract includes the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) E-Verify Clause.

    E-Verify, which compares information from the Employment Eligibility Verification Form (I-9) against federal government databases to verify workers’ employment eligibility, is a free web-based system operated by the Department of homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration. The system facilitates compliance with federal immigration laws and helps to deter unauthorized individuals from attempting to work.

    FAR; Case 2007-013; Employment Eligibility Verification extends use of the E-Verify system to covered federal contractors and subcontractors, including those who receive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Applicable federal contracts awarded after Sept. 8 will include a clause committing government contractors to use E-Verify.

    Companies awarded a contract with the E-Verify clause on or after Sept. 8 will be required to enroll in E-Verify within 30 days of the contract award date. E-Verify must be used to confirm that all new hires, whether employed on a federal contract or not, and existing employees working directly on these contracts, are legally authorized to work in the U.S.

    More than 145,000 participating employers at nearly 550,000 worksites nationwide currently use E-Verify to electronically verify their workers’ employment eligibility. Since Oct. 1, 2008, more than 7.6 million employment verification requests have been run through its system.

    DOL Recovers $8.1M for Workers

    The state Department of Labor’s Division of Wage and Workplace Standards recovered more than $8.1 million in legally due wages for workers during the past fiscal year—an increase of more than $1 million from the previous year.

    This amount included $3,905,298 recovered by staff responding to complaints that owed wages had not been paid. The division also recovered $1,887, 365 by enforcing the state’s prevailing wage laws and returned $2,115,133 to workers that were not paid overtime or the minimum wage. An additional $227,506 was recouped in back pay owed to service workers hired by private contractors.

    In addition, a total of 171 Stop Work Orders were issued to employers in the state who did not comply with Workers’ Compensation requirements. Following on-site investigations, the division required these companies to cease work on a construction project until certain workplace regulations were met. In some cases, the division determined that employers misrepresented employees as independent contractors or provided incomplete information regarding the number of their employees with the idea of paying lower insurance premiums.

    The division also handled more than 25,000 telephone and written inquiries during the past fiscal year and provided outreach services to businesses and schools, especially in the area of regulations related to the employment of youth.

    Bias Suit Over Fragrance Sensitivity

    In a lawsuit filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says a national grocery chain unlawfully refused to accommodate a pharmacy worker with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, known as COPD, and severe allergies to cosmetic fragrances.

    According to the EEOC, the employee requested that her co-workers at one of the chain’s Illinois stores be asked not to wear cologne and after-shave while working in the pharmacy with her, but her request was denied. Due to her COPD, this employee required the use of supplemental oxygen from a portable tank and once passed out in the workplace and was taken to a hospital by ambulance because of a severe allergic reaction to a co-worker’s fragrance.

    The presence of cosmetic fragrance in the limited workspace of the pharmacy was a serious health issue for the employee, with serious medical consequences, says the EEOC. The store could have raised the matter with the few employees who worked in the pharmacy and together everyone could have explored how the disability might have been accommodated. Any employer who declines to make a genuine good faith effort to reasonably accommodate a disabled employee runs afoul of federal law, says the agency, and this case will turn on that issue.

    States Ranked on Healthy Behavior

    Americans living in Vermont and Hawaii in the first half of 2009 scored the highest in the nation for practicing healthful behaviors—including eating healthily, exercising, and not smoking. Residents of the southern states of Kentucky and Arkansas are the least likely to report practicing these healthy habits. Connecticut residents scored 17th.

    The midyear results from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index find the nation as a whole dropping on the Healthy Behavior Sub-Index, from 63.7 in 2008 to 62.6 in the first half of 2009. The Healthy Behavior Sub-Index is one of six sub-indexes that make up the Well-Being Index. It asks Americans four questions: Do you smoke? Did you eat healthy all day yesterday? In the last seven days, on how many days did you exercise for 30 minutes or more; and in the last seven days, on how many days did you have five or more servings of fruit and vegetables? The Healthy Behavior Sub-Index scores for the nation and for each state are calculated based on a scale from 0 to 100, where 100 would be a perfect score.

    Residents of Vermont, in addition to obtaining the highest score overall, are also the most likely to report frequent exercise and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Ohio residents are the least likely to report frequent exercise. Arkansas does the worst on the healthful diet dimension and North Dakota ranks last for weekly consumption of fruits and vegetables.

    Americans living in Utah are the least likely to say they smoke, while residents of Kentucky and West Virginia are the most likely.

    NY Mandates Flu Vaccines for Health Care Personnel

    The New York State Department of Health has issued an emergency regulation requiring personnel in certain health care facilities to receive influenza vaccinations each year.

    The new regulation applies to hospitals, diagnostic and treatment centers, licensed home care services agencies, and hospice programs. Individuals who must be vaccinated are members of the medical staff, including physicians, contract staff, students, and volunteers who have direct contact with patients or who because of their activities pose a risk of transmission of influenza to patients or to those who provide direct care to patients. There is an exception for individuals who have a medical contraindication to the vaccination.

    A facility is responsible for determining which of its personnel require vaccination and for providing the vaccination at no cost. Personnel are free to receive their vaccinations elsewhere as long as they provide the facility with documentation. The facility is also responsible for identifying measures that are needed to protect patients from influenza transmission from personnel who are exempt because of a medical contraindication.

    If, as expected, the novel H1N1 vaccine is released as a fully licensed vaccine, the new regulation requires immunization against H1N1 as well as seasonal influenza.

    More information: http://www.health.state.ny.us/prevention/immunization/
    health_care_personnel/index.htm

    No-Match Rule: DHS to Drop

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a proposed rule that would rescind the controversial No-Match Rule, which was never implemented and had been blocked by a federal court.

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) sends employers a ‘no-match’ letter when an employee’s name and Social Security number provided on the W-2 form does not match SSA’s records. In 2007, DHS proposed the No-Match Rule, outlining steps employers should take when they receive such a letter. The newly proposed rule would formally drop the No-Match Rule.

    DHS says its will focus its enforcement efforts on increased compliance through improved verification, including E-Verify, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Mutual Agreement Between Government and Employers, and other programs.

    The public has until September 18, 2009 to submit comments on the proposed rule. For details: http://frwebgate5.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/PDFgate.cgi?WAISdocID=898548281485+1+2+0&WAISaction=retrieve

    Young People: Go into Medicine

    With today’s challenging job market, Americans cite the medical field more than any other profession as the line of work they would recommend to both young men and young women.

    In a survey by Gallup of more than 1,000 adults nationwide, 37% would recommend medicine to young women, including 10% citing nursing specifically. Thirty-seven percent would recommend medicine for young men, with less than one-half of one percent naming nursing.

    The majority of Americans who advocate the medical field as a career path for either gender mention medicine or healthcare generally. In addition to nursing, some specifically advise young people to become doctors, pharmacists, or veterinarians. Medicine is the only career to have increased on these measures since Gallup last updated them in 2005.

    Computers and business/sales are among the top professions for both genders, named by 7% and 5%, respectively. Teaching appears in the top five for young women, mentioned by 7% of Americans, but a not-insignificant 4% recommend it for young men.

    Technology/electronics emerges in the top five recommended careers for young men, named by 5%; and, at 4%, it comes close among young women. The trades and engineering both rank high for young men, mentioned by 6% and 5%, respectively, but fall low on the list for women.

    Although the recent federal stimulus plans have helped make government a growth industry, only 3% of Americans mention government as a career for young men and only 2% for young women. The military is recommended by 4% for men and by 2% for women.

    No other career is mentioned by more than 2% of Americans. For complete findings: http://www.gallup.com/poll/122087/Medical-Careers-Seen-Best-Choice-Young-Men-Women.aspx

    COBRA Enrollments Spike

    Enrollments in COBRA have doubled since the U.S. government enacted its new subsidy program, according to a study by the consultants Hewitt Associates.

    Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), eligible workers receive a nine-month subsidy that leaves them responsible for paying only 35% of the COBRA premium. Hewitt examined the COBRA enrollment activity—both before and after the enactment of the subsidy—for 200 U.S. companies representing 8 million employees. From March 2009 to June 2009, monthly COBRA enrollment rates averaged 38%, up from 19% for the period of September 2008 through February 2009.

    Hewitt estimates that with the subsidy, the average worker spends about $3,000 per year in COBRA health care costs. Without the subsidy, the average worker would spend about $8,800.

    According to Hewitt’s research, COBRA enrollment rates rose from 7% to 59% in the industrial manufacturing industry, an increase of 800%. In the construction, leisure and retail industries, enrollment rates tripled.

    I-9 Approval Extended

    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that the Office of Management and Budget has extended its approval of Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification) to August 31, 2012. As a result, the form has been amended to reflect a new revision date of August 9, 2009.

    Employers may now use the Form I-9 with the revision date of either February, 2009, or August 9, 2009. The revision dates are located on the bottom right-hand portion of the form.

    Click here for more information or to obtain Form I-9.

    WC Act Now Available in Print

    The new Bulletin No.48—The Workers’ Compensation Act as amended to January 1, 2009—is now available to the public in print free of charge. The publication contains the entire Workers’ Compensation Act, additional related statutes, and the Commission’s Administrative Regulations. Also included are illustrations of Connecticut’s workers’ compensation forms.

    For a free print copy, employers should contact their nearest Workers’ Compensation Commission District Office or call the Commission’s Education Services at 860-493-1500. The bulletin is also available online, suitable for printing individual pages.

    Feds Urge Employers to Plan for H1N1

    The Secretaries of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security have announced new guidance for businesses to plan for and respond to the upcoming flu season.

    According to the guidance, employers’ plans should address such points as encouraging employees with flu-like symptoms to stay home, operating with reduced staffing, and possibly having employees who are at higher risk of serious medical complications from infection work at home.

    One of the most important things that employers can do is review sick leave policies and make sure employees understand them. Employers should try to make sick leave policies flexible for workers who may have to stay home with ill family members or a child whose school is closed.

    Employers might cancel non-essential face-to-face meetings and travel, and space employees farther apart. They also should consider offering vaccines against seasonal flu, and encourage employees to be vaccinated against the seasonal flu as well as the H1N1 flu.

    To access the guidance: http://www.flu.gov/plan/workplaceplanning/guidance.html

    EEOC Issues Ttechnical Assistance on “Waivers”

    The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released a technical assistance document that explains the rights and obligations of terminated employees when offered severance pay in exchange for a waiver of discrimination claims. The agency says it issued the document following a significant spike in age discrimination charges and amid increased layoffs involving waivers of rights.

    While the technical assistance is written for employees, it includes some useful reminders for employers on the sometimes complicated issues related to enforceable waivers. The document, in straightforward question-and-answer format, is posted on the EEOC’s website: http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/qanda_severance-agreements.html.

    Shoreline Rail Commuting to Expand

    Governor M. Jodi Rell has announced that plans are underway to implement long-awaited expanded service to New London on the Shore Line East rail line in Southeastern Connecticut by the end of this year.

    Expanding Shore Line East’s service to New London will be a great step forward, said the Governor, not only for commuters, but for tourists, businesses, and the overall economy of the region.

    Shore Line East (SLE) has stations in Branford, Guilford, Madison, Clinton, Westbrook, Old Saybrook, and New London. Currently there is one evening New London round-trip SLE train. The plan envisions two or three additional New London trains each weekday morning and three additional trains each weekday evening by the end of 2009. Additional weekend service is anticipated as well.

    Amtrak also provides service in and out of New London each day.

    Reminder: OT Includes Nondiscretionary Bonuses

    A convenience store chain has agreed to pay $747,729 in overtime back wages to 3,819 current and former employees across nine states following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

    The DOL found that the Tulsa-based chain had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to include performance-related bonuses in overtime calculations. An employer is not required by law to provide a bonus, but if a nondiscretionary bonus is paid, the bonus must be included as part of the employee’s regular rate of pay for purposes of computing overtime. Performance related bonuses—promised by an employer to encourage employees to work more quickly or accurately—are considered nondiscretionary.

    The employees worked in Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

    Don’t miss CBIA’s Wage and Hour Workshop, Sept. 22, in Cromwell. This year we’ve added discussions on some of the most challenging contemporary human resource issues. For details or to register: http://www.cbia.com/training/genbus/WageHour09.htm

    Women’s Earnings in 2008

    Women who were full-time wage and salary workers in 2008 had median weekly earnings of $638, or about 80% of the $798 median for their male counterparts, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The 2008 wage gap is about the same as it was in 2007, but slightly greater than in 2005 and 2006, when women earned 81% as much as men.

    Other BLS findings:

    • Women aged 35 and older earned about 75% as much as their male counterparts. Among younger workers, the earnings differences between women and men were not as great. Women earned about 89% as much as men among workers 25 to 34 years old, and 91% as much among 16-to-24 year-olds
    • Asian women and white women earned just under 80% as much as their male counterparts in 2008; black women and Hispanic women earned about 90% as much as their male counterparts
    • Women’s inflation-adjusted earnings have grown over the year while those for men were flat or down. Between 1979 and 2008, real earnings rose 29% for white women, 19% for black women, and 15% for Hispanic women. Real earnings for white men and for black men in 2008 were about the same as they were in 1979, while Hispanic mean’s earnings fell by about 8%.
    • The wage gap has narrowed, in part, because women have made greater gains than men in educational levels and have moved into higher paying occupations over time. In 1979 35% of women and 41% of men aged 25 to 64 had attended college; by 2008 those figures had rise to 66% and 59% respectively.

    For the full report: http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpswom2008.pdf

    Sales Tax Holiday Coming Up

    Connecticut shoppers have one week every August to buy clothing and footwear costing under $300 without paying Connecticut sales tax. This year the tax-free week runs from Sunday, August 16, through Saturday, August 22 .

    The one week exclusion applies to each item sold, regardless of how many items are sold to a customer on the same invoice. Articles that are normally sold as a unit, such as shoes or a suit, must continue to be sold in that manner; they cannot be separated and sold as individual items to qualify for the exclusion.

    For details: http://www.ct.gov/drs/cwp/view.asp?a=1514&q=318566

    Survey: Most Prestigious Jobs

    Firefighters, scientists, and doctors are seen by the American public as the most prestigious occupations, according to a survey by Harris Interactive.

    Every year Harris conducts a nationwide telephone survey asking whether various occupations can be considered to have very great prestige or hardly any prestige. The occupations at the top of this year’s list:

    • Firefighter (62% say “very great prestige”)
    • Scientist (57%)
    • Doctor (56%)
    • Nurse (54%)
    • Teacher (51%), and
    • Military officer (51%)

    Looking at the bottom end of the list, only 15% or fewer adults regard the following occupations as having very great prestige:

    • Real estate agent/broker (5%)
    • Accountant (11%)
    • Stock broker (13%)
    • Actor (15%)

    Harris first asked its question, but with a shorter list of occupations, in 1977. The biggest change since then has been a 22-point increase from 29% to 51% in those who believe teachers have very great prestige.

    Two occupations have lost substantial ground since 1977—scientists, down nine points to 57%, and lawyers, down 10 points to 26%. Two have remained unchanged—priests/ministers/clergy at 41% and journalists at 17%. Two have remained very stable—entertainers, down 1 point to 17%, and bankers, down 1 point to 16%.

    While some numbers may fluctuate from year to year, one thing remains constant, especially in the past two decades, says Harris. Many of the professions that are at the top of the list and considered to have very great prestige are ones that are not considered to be high paying jobs—firefighters, nurses, teachers. The ones at the bottom are ones that may have the potential to earn large salaries or have a lot of fame attached to them—actors, athletes, stockbrokers. The public does not equate prestige with fame and money.

    For full survey results: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/pubs/Harris_Poll_2009_08_04.pdf

    City Accused of Violating USERRA

    The Justice Department has filed suit against the City of Milwaukee claiming it violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by refusing to let a police officer make up a promotional exam for detective that he missed while away on active military duty.

    Although the officer was eventually promoted to detective based upon a subsequent promotional exam, the Department contends that the officer is entitled to have his date of promotion to detective made retroactive, for all purposes, to the date he would have been promoted had the city allowed the makeup exam.

    USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees or applicants for employment because of their past, current or future military obligations. USERRA also requires employers to promptly reinstate returning service members to the position they would have held had their employment not been interrupted by military service, or to a position of like status, seniority, and pay. This protection includes opportunities for advancement.

    The Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service investigated and attempted to resolve the officer’s complaint before referring it to the Justice Department for litigation.

    The Department’s Civil Rights Division says it has given high priority to enforcement of service members’ rights, with this lawsuit being the eighteenth filed under USERRA in 2009.

    COL Survey Ranks Cities Worldwide

    Tokyo has pushed Moscow out of the top spot to become the world’s most expensive city for expatriates, according to the latest

    Cost of Living Survey from Mercer.

    Osaka is in second position, up nine places since last year, whereas Moscow is now in third place. Geneva climbs four places to fourth position and Hong Kong moves up one to reach fifth. Johannesburg has replaced Asuncion in Paraguay as the least expensive city in the ranking.

    In Mercer’s survey, New York is used as the base city for the index and scores 100 points. All cities are compared against New York, and currency movements are measured against the U.S. dollar. Tokyo scores 143.7 points and is nearly three times as costly as Johannesburg with an index score of 49.6.

    The survey covers 143 cities across six continents and measures the comparative cost of over 200 items in each location, including housing, transport, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment. It is one of the most comprehensive cost of living surveys and is used by multinational companies and governments to determine compensation allowances for their expatriate employees.

    A significant reshuffle of cities can be observed in this year’s ranking, mainly due to considerable currency fluctuations worldwide. The majority of European cities moved down in the ranking, with Warsaw experiencing the most dramatic change, plummeting 78 places from 35th to 113th. London and Oslo, both previously in the top 10, have dropped 13 and 10 places respectively. The same trend can be seen in Australia, New Zealand, and India. Sydney has dropped 51 places from 15th to 66th, and Mumbai has slipped down to 66th from 48th place.

    Cities in the United States, China, Japan, and the Middle East have surged in the ranking. New York is a new entry in the top 10, jumping from 22nd to 8th place, and so is Bejing, now in 9th place, up from 20th in 2008. Japan now has two cities in the top 10, and Dubai has climbed 32 places to reach 20th.

    To learn more about the survey: http://www.mercer.com/costofliving#Key_features_and_benefits

    Employer Settles “May Day” Suit

    A California-based property service company has agreed to pay $115,000 to settle a national origin discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The agency had charged that Latino employees were discriminated against when the company disciplined them for being absent from work on May 1, 2006, the day of a “May Day” immigration rally.

    The EEOC filed suit after investigating a complaint by a Latino employee who was suspended from the company after his supervisor assumed he had missed work to attend the immigration rally. The company had previously established a policy prohibiting its majority Latino workforce from attending the rally.

    The suit also identified two other Latino employees who were disciplined, one even being terminated, for their absence on the day of the rally. The EEOC claimed that all three employees had been subjected to false assumptions based on stereotypes shaped by their national origin. Each of the three had either received pre-approval for their absence or notified a supervisor in advance of their absences, none of which were related to the rally.

    In addition to the $115,000 in monetary relief, the company has agreed to provide its employees with annual training regarding national origin discrimination and to submit periodic reports about its employment practices to the EEOC.

    Pension Plan Freezes Continue

    The number of Fortune 1000 firms that have a frozen pension plan increased again this year as companies continue to look for ways to control their retirement benefit expenses, an analysis by Watson Wyatt finds.

    Watson Wyatt found that 190 firms on the 2009 Fortune 1000 list have a frozen defined benefit (DB) pension plan, compared with 169 companies last year and only 45 six years ago. Overall, the rate of DB plan sponsorship in the Fortune 1000 decreased slightly from 63% in 2004 to 61% in 2009.

    The analysis also found that industries with higher DB plan sponsorship rates, such as utilities and manufacturing, are less likely to freeze a plan than those with lower sponsorship rates. However, almost half of the DB sponsors in the financial services industry and one-third of the DB plan sponsors in the automobile industry have frozen plans.

    A separate study by Watson Wyatt found that freezing a pension plan does not lead to a boost in a company’s stock price.

    New WC Fee Schedule

    The Workers’ Compensation Commission has announced the 2009 workers’ compensation fee schedule effective July 15, 2009.

    Published by Igenix, the 2009 Official Connecticut Practitioner Fee Schedule reflects all changes to the 2008 schedule. The new publication includes the new 2009 CPT codes and revisions and clarifications of some rules. The new schedule is effective for medical services rendered on or after July 15, 2009, regardless of the date of injury, that are payable to health care providers authorized or permitted to render care under the state Workers’ Compensation Act.

    To order, contact Igenix at 1-800-464-3649, option 1; or visit http://www.shopingenix.com/Product/32708/

    Starting Salaries for Recent Grads

    Despite the poor job market, the college Class of 2009 held its ground with its overall average starting salary offer, says the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

    NACE’s Summer 2009 Salary Survey report shows that the average starting salary offer for new college graduates now stands at $49,307. That’s off less than 1% from the average $49,693 that 2008 graduates posted last year at this time.

    As a group, graduates with bachelor’s degrees in the business disciplines saw their average offer nudge up less than 1% to $47,239. Accounting majors did better than the average, and posted a 1.9% increase for an average offer of $48,993.

    Conversely, the average offer to business administration majors fell 2.1% to $44,944. Economics graduates also saw a decrease to their average salary offer, which fell by 1.3% to $49,829.

    Finance graduates and marketing graduates, on the other hand, fared well. The average offer to finance graduates rose 2.9% to $49,940, while marketing graduates posted a 3% increase for an average of $43,325.

    In spring 2009, the broad category of computer science-related fields experienced a 5% drop off in the group’s overall average offer compared to spring 2008. Currently, however, the average offer to this group is up 1.9% over last summer to $59,418.

    As a group, engineering graduates enjoyed the highest salary increase. Overall, the average offer to engineering graduates rose 3.7% to $59,254.

    Liberal arts graduates did not see much change to their average salary offers. Their overall average offer fell less than 1% from $36,419 last year to $36,175.

    Salary Survey is a quarterly report of starting salary offers to new college graduates in 70 disciplines at the bachelor’s degree level. NACE will take a final look at starting salaries for 2008-09 graduates with the Fall issue in September.

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