Employer Liability for Employee Injuries In the Company’s Gym

Health-and-wellness benefits are all the rage. Some employers offer their employees a discount on gym memberships. Some offer a monthly stipend to be used towards the fees at a health-club. And some have an on-site fitness center.

Employers who are considering building an on-site fitness center for employees commonly want to know how they can protect themselves against a personal-injury lawsuit. For example, an employee drops a dumbbell on his foot and breaks a toe. (Don’t laugh, people, broken toes are brutal!) Continue reading

A Water Main Break, a Creek, and Other Work-From-Home Distractions

I’m working from home today but not by choice. Our office is quasi-closed today as a result a water main break just a few blocks away from our building in Wilmington, as shown in the video below by 6abc.

Of course, just because I can’t go to the office to work doesn’t mean I get to take the day off–the work still must be done. In the era of mobile computing and the paperless office, this does not present much of a technological challenge. I have ready access to everything I would have access to if I were sitting at my desk. Well, everything but my multiple-monitor computer set-up, I suppose.

But I digress. Which brings me back to my original point.

Working at home is hard. For me, anyway. I am too easily distracted. By the cat, who is as cute as can be and who just loves it when he’s got a lap to sit in, pesky laptop be damned. By the bonsai tree that could use a meticulous pruning. By my car, which is calling to me at this very moment, asking that I give her a nice wash, followed by a leisurely drive with the top down.

Blue Heron

By the view from my deck of the Brandywine Creek, which is as beautiful and serene as one might imagine a lazy creek to be on a clear day in June. Or the Great Blue Heron who, and I am not making this up, is perched on a rock, looking for lunch, at this very moment.

Or the rose garden at the end of my street, which is in full bloom and beautiful beyond belief.

I live in a park, people! It’s not my fault that I’m surrounded by all of these incredible distractions! Blame Mother Nature!

Josephine Rose Garden

But, again, I digress. The point that I am trying to get around to making is that, as a general rule, working from home really doesn’t work for me. At my desk, I’m a disciplined, focused, work-generating fool of a task-master. But at home, I find that I mostly just walk in circles.

Maybe I’ll read some news articles to help me find the working-from-home sweet spot. For example, the Top 10 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Working From Home on Forbes.com. Or How to Work From Home Without Losing Your Mind (or Your Job) by Ask a Manager’s Alison Green at US News’ On Careers blog. According to Attorney Marketing blog, 2% of lawyers work from home all of the time. And good for them–there are plenty of benefits of telecommuting for those who have the self-control to stay on task.

Or maybe I’ll just get back to work. Wish me luck and have a great Friday, wherever you may be today!

Working Families Flexibility Act Proposed in Senate

A law first proposed by the late Senator Ted Kennedy has been resurrected and introduced in the Senate by Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The law mirrors legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in March 2009 which, to date, has gone  nowhere. Premised on the purported need of employees to have more flexible work options, it authorizes an employee to request from an employer a change in the terms or conditions of the employee’s employment if the request relates to: (1) the number of hours the employee is required to work; (2) the times when the employee is required to work; or   (3) where the employee is required to work.Juggle work and home with red hands

The proposal does not require the employer to grant any requests, but does set forth employer duties with respect to such requests, and makes it unlawful for an employer to interfere with any rights provided to an employee under the Act. Under regulations to be promulgated by the Secretary of Labor, an employer would have to hold a meeting with the requesting employee and give the employee a written decision on the request, discussing the reason for any rejection and addressing a prescribed list of possible explanations. An employee would be entitled to request reconsideration and the employer would be required to provide a written response to that request as well. In short, it would create an unnecessary paperwork nightmare.

The proposed law also authorizes an employee to file a complaint with the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Employment Standards Administration of the Department of Labor for any alleged violations of rights, and provides for the investigation and assessment of civil penalties or the award of relief for alleged violations.

The timing of its introduction suggests that S. 3840  is a political ploy. In view of the current mood of the populace, passage of the legislation is, to put it mildly, a longshot.

Utah’s Four-Day Workweek Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Utah was the first (and only) state in the U.S. to move to a mandatory four-day workweek.  Under the system, which was implemented by former Gov. Jon Huntsman in 2008, almost all state employees were converted to a schedule of four, 10-hour days per week.  As readers of this blog may recall, I have not been the biggest proponent of the four-day workweek.  See The Cons of a 4-Day Workweek.  

But not everyone agreed.  In fact, for a while, the compressed-week schedule was very, very popular and local governments around the country began to initiate pilot groups to test it.  These efforts were supported by announcements that the Utah program was generating lots of savings for the State and lauded as an official “success.” 

Well, as it turns out, Utah may have been wearing rose-colored glasses when it made the “success” determination, according to a recent audit. The State admitted that it had not seen the reduced energy costs that it had hoped for (realizing only about $500,000 in savings in the first year, as compared to the expected $3 million).  But the audit says it goes a bit deeper, finding that the State overestimated how much money it saved in saved overtime and other costs.  In fairness to the Utah program, though, employee surveys do indicate that employees prefer the four-day workweek, so there must be some supporters. 

Katie Keuhner-Herbert’s article on Human Resource Executive about the audit and the four-day workweek program in Utah. See Reassessing Four-Day WorkweeksThe article points out some of the flaws in the four-day workweek and pinpoints some sticking points for employers and employees alike.  (For purposes of full disclosure, I’m quoted in the article–but don’t let that deter you.)

See also

  • Positive Benefits of a Four-Day Work Week
  • 5 Steps Toward a More Flexible Workplace
  • Should a Four-Day Work Week Be Mandatory*
  • It’s Saturday Today in Utah: 4 Day Work Week
  • Alternatives to the Four Day Work Week
  • Popularity of the 4-day Week Continues to Grow
  • Will Four-Day School Week Push the Four-Day Work Week Trend?
  • Utah’s Mandatory 4-Day Work Week Will Save the World. Sort of.
  • First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then Comes Flex-Time and a Baby Carriage

    The trial in a class-action lawsuit alleging that Novartis Pharmaceuticals practiced sex discrimination against female employees has begun in a federal court in New York. The class of plaintiffs includes more than 5,600 saleswomen, who are seeking $200 million in damages. According to the New York Times, the suit alleges discriminatory pay and promotions targeting women, particularly pregnant ones. Continue reading

    Leading Occupations of Women

    The Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau released its list of the 20 Leading Occupations of Employed Women.  The data supports stereotypes such as “nursing is a woman’s job” and “all secretaries are female.”  There were some jobs, though, that I was surprised to learn are largely held by women, including customer-service representatives and accountants and auditors.  Here are the other 18 jobs and the percentage of each held by women, according to the DOL:

     

    Secretaries and administrative assistants 

    96.8       

    Registered nurses

    92.0      

    Elementary and middle school teachers

    81.9      

    Cashiers

    74.4

    Nursing, psychiatric, and home-health aides

    88.5

    Retail salespersons

    51.9

    First-line supervisors/managers  of retail sales workers

    44.1

    Waiters and waitresses

    71.6

    Maids and housekeeping cleaners

    89.8      

    Customer service representatives

    67.9

    Childcare workers

    95.1

    Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks

    92.3

    Receptionists and information clerks

    91.5

    First-line supervisors/managers of office and admin support

    71.3

    Managers, all others

    34.1

    Accountants and auditors

    61.8

    Teacher assistants

    91.6

    Cooks

    41.5

    Office clerks, general

    82.0

    Personal and home care aides

    85.2

    See the original:

    20 Leading Occupations of Employed Women Fact Sheet  at the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau website.

    White House Focuses on Workplace Flexibility

    Workplace flexibility has been a hot topic, a highlight of which was President Obama’s White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility, televised earlier this week. The forum was designed as an opportunity for labor leaders, CEOs, small business owners, and policy experts to share their ideas and strategies for making the workplace more flexible for workers and their families. During the conference, the President compared flexible work schedules to the early stages of email: some companies have it, some don’t, but eventually, all companies will. Get ready employers – if you haven’t gotten aboard yet, the train may run you over!

    Juggle work and home workplace flexibility

    With healthcare out of the way, the administration is freed up to focus on other priorities. During the campaign, then-candidate Obama included work-life issues as an important part of his agenda, committing to expand FMLA, to prevent caregiver discrimination, and to offer incentives to employers to expand flexible work arrangements.  The forum indicates  that work-life issues remain a focus of this administration. Although the Obamas now have a personal chef, chauffeurs, and other assistance to make their “balance” a little easier, I am sure that Michelle’s experience managing a demanding career and raising her two girls has helped to ensure this issue remains on the President’s radar screen.

    The discussion has taken different varied focuses over the years, but the bottom line is this: for many reasons, in order to retain employees in the modern workforce, employers have to reinvent the old model of an ideal worker. Flexible work schedules are over and over again focused on as the reasonable way to accommodate the needs of both employer and employee. The impetus for employers to engage in this discussion has  evolved a bit over the years.

    First, employers were interested in the topic primarily due to the economics of investment in skilled workforce (particularly professional women), who often left the job because unable to balance their work and family responsibilities. Then Gen Y came along, with both males and females placing a greater value on “down” time, whether with family or pursuing other activities. Gen Y consistently ranks workplace flexibility among the most desirable employment benefits. With the economic downturn, the discussion turned to how flexible schedules could immediately help the bottom line (4-day workweeks, voluntary reduction in hours for reduction in pay, etc.).

    Law and politics have not shied away from the discussion: both Republican and Democratic administrations have made important advancements to the cause of work-life balance. In 2007, the EEOC under the Bush administration issued it Enforcement Guidance: Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiver Responsibilities. In 2009, Obama’s administration issued  Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiver Responsibilities, which focused primarily on flexible work arrangements. The White House Forum has work-life balance advocates everywhere eager to see what will come next!

     

    See these related posts for more about work-life balance:

    Resources for Work-Life Balance and Flexible Work Arrangements

    Maybe It’s Not All Gloom and Doom for Work-Life Balance

    Looking a Flexible-Schedule Gift Horse in the Mouth

    Caregiver Discrimination: The “Sandwiched Generation”

    5 Steps Toward a More Flexible Workplace

    Work-Life Balance Update

    Work-life balance is a hot topic in the world of workplace initiatives. It’s so hot, in fact, that it can be difficult to keep up with the latest developments.  Here are a few items to get you started:

    baby-computer

     

    Work-Life Balance Award Act of 2010

    This bill was introduced on March 16 by two Democrats on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee. The Act would establish an annual Work-Life Balance Award to be presented by the U.S. Secretary of Labor based on recommendations from an appointed advisory board. Any private and public employers of any size, except federal agencies, would be eligible for the reward. The list of winners would be published on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.

     

    Work-Life Balance on NPR

    National Public Radio has an interesting series on work-life balance and the need for more flexible work arrangements, done in the context of its impact on children and the education system. You can listen to the program (for free, of course), via the NPR website

    Why We Should Dump “Balance” from “Work-Life Balance” Altogether

    Cali Williams Yost is the go-to expert in the area of work-life balance and flexible working arrangements. Except that, according to Yost, there’s really no such thing. In an interview with BNet, Yost encourages businesses to drop the word “balance” in favor of “fit.” She says that “balance” suggests that there’s a right way to manage your life and work. But there’s no one right answer for anyone and what’s “right” is likely to change over time, depending on where you are at the moment.

    Sloan Work and Family Top 10

    Sloan Work and Family Network published a list of the Top 10 Posts from its blog for 2009 and I am so honored that my post, The Four-Day Workweek and the Death of the Flexible-Workplace Initiative, ranked #1! The four-day workweek got a lot of publicity in the latter half of 2008 and early 2009 but lost its fizzle as the economy continued to worsen. Although the concept was touted by advocates as a way to promote a flexible work schedule, I argued that it served the exact opposite purpose and served to create an inflexible workplace.

    Have a look at the Four-Day Workweek post, along with the other excellent articles that combine to form the 10 most popular blog posts of the year at the Sloan Work and Family Network Blog.