According to a recent New York Times article, many businesses are struggling to understand their unemployment obligations during a time of increased joblessness. The New York Times tells the story of small business owners who found their unemployment premiums rising as a result of claims from employees who were laid off more than a year before. In order to manage and combat these problems, the Times advises taking steps to understand what your obligations are and making smart hiring decisions that minimize your unemployment obligations.
Your Unemployment Obligations
According to The New York Times, both federal and state rules impact the amount you will pay in unemployment. The general rule is that employers pay a base rate of .6 percent of the first $7,000 paid to employees in wages annually. However, when states do not pay the loans made by the federal government to cover unemployment costs, rates rise for employees. This, for example, explains why Michigan employers now pay .9 percent in unemployment costs.
In addition to federal costs, states also charge employers for unemployment insurance. These charges are based on your company’s unemployment history. The more unemployment claims made by former employees, the higher your premiums will be.
Because of the way that most states determine unemployment costs, it is important to minimize the number of claims made. The best way to do that is, of course, to be careful in your hiring. Don’t hire people if you aren’t certain you’ll be able to keep them and make sure to screen new hires carefully to determine if they are a good fit. If someone is hired and it appears that the person won’t work out, acting quickly is key. Since an employee typically won’t be eligible for unemployment benefits unless he or she has worked for at least 30 days, if you have any suspicion that the employee won’t make it for the long haul, you should act within this 30 day period.
The Times also advises making sure you have a clear company policy regarding terminations for cause, and stresses the importance of keeping records of warnings or disciplinary action so when an employee is fired for cause, you have a strong case showing that they should not be eligible for unemployment benefits.
By making smart decisions on hiring and keeping careful tabs on your unemployment numbers, you can help keep costs affordable for your company.
The recent Occupy Wall Street protests have once again made headlines, but this time because two journalists lost their jobs as a result of their participation in the protests. According to the Washington Post blog, Caitlin Curran was the most recent to be fired, losing her job on a New York morning public radio program, while an NPR opera host named Lisa Simeone was the first. While these terminations have become noteworthy because the people involved were public figures, the press surrounding the issue raises an interesting question: is it OK to fire an employee because of political activity outside of work?
Firing an Employee for Political Protests
Because the rule of employment throughout the United States is employment-at-will, as long as no anti-discrimination laws or civil rights laws are violated, it is permissible to fire employees for any reason. That reason can, at times, be politically motivated, unless there is some other law or policy in place that prevents employees for being terminated for political views. It is important to note, of course, that certain political activities such as anything related to unionizing or forming a union, are protected in every state. For other types of political activities, however, things become more murky.
While there are laws in certain states including California and New York that protect people from being fired for legal, off-duty political activity, in most states, no such laws exist. However, in many cases, even without express laws, public policy exceptions may be found in the common law that provide employees with broader protections.
The bottom line is to tread carefully. Because laws vary from state-to-state and because there may be common law precedent that carves out an exception to employment at will, you should seek legal advice before you take action against an employee based on political protests. You should also consider whether the potential bad press would be worth it.
The result of a new Family Medical Leave ACT (FMLA) shows that a second opinion may not be enough to reject employee leave.
When the accused employer did so, the Minnesota court ruled in favor of the employee, stating that the company had violated the employee’s FMLA rights and unlawfully terminated the employee over the dispute.
According to attorney Francine Breckenridge from the firm Strasburger & Price, “employers cannot use a second opinion alone to reject a workers’ FMLA leave request.”
In addition, Breckenridge explains that employers are required to pay for the second and third medical opinions — and the medical providers rendering the opinions cannot be connected to the employers.
Read the HR Morning news article
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In Arkansas this week, a fired employee has filed a lawsuit for harassment against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. The employee, who currently resides in Oklahoma, alleges that Wal-Mart is forcing him to an Arkansas court as part of a 4-year-old trade secret violation case.
One of their computer security specialists, Mr. Gabbard had been suspected of copying documents from work. Wal-Mart asserts that he has retained confidential information after he left the company, which directly violates the employee agreement on sharing trade secrets.
From the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Gabbard is believed to still have company documents based on postings he made on his website as recently as a month ago and on a forensics investigation of his computers, which show that he copied corporate files before leaving.
He had been previously fired from Wal-Mart for monitoring phone conversations between other employees and a New York Times reporter. Also, he shared confidential information about a board discussion he heard through the surveillance system about a corporate sex-discrimination suit and secret plan to boost their stock price by spinning off of Sam’s Club.
Read the Wall Street Journal article
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In human resources, the ideal type of job termination is initiated by the employee – either he or she has found another opportunity, or at least the issues are clear as to the resignation. On the opposite end, there are of course the very uncomfortable firings.
How do you make an unpleasant situation a little less unpleasant? The firing manager is often the one who decides how the termination will occur, and when and how an employee must leave.
Be Fair and Honest
The manager and HR who have to oversee the transition should try to keep the process as humane as possible. To help avoid an outburst or angry exchange of insults, it is better that the employee knows how the decision was made and the reason(s) for termination. Leaving these answers up for the employee to fill in the blanks with his/her own imagination is never good.
In a research study conducted at Duke University, it was found, for instance, that employees who perceived the termination process as fair were far less likely to make claims against the employer. This was true even in cases when the employee disagreed with the reasons.
Read the News Observer article
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According to BusinessWeek, in 2010, there were 25,165 disability discrimination charges filed with the EEOC, up from 21,451 charges in fiscal year 2009. Now starting in May, numerous small businesses will be impacted by a few major amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The new regulations specify a whole list of impairments that the EEOC recognizes, including: deafness, blindness, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, and major depression. In September 2008, the ADA was officially amended, and now these changes will be enforceable.
However, instead of placing the burden of providing proof solely on the employee, the revised Act seeks to hold employers responsible. The message is clear that instead of an employer or HR focusing on whether an employee is disabled, they should focus on the potential discrimination and accommodation they can make available.
For small businesses, this compliance may cost them more money and resources to respond to claims.
The EEOC estimated that up to 38 million disabled people may be impacted as a result of these changes, plus businesses may end up spending between $60 million to $180 million to provide reasonable accommodation and any legal costs.
Read the BusinessWeek article
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