Articles from February 2011



Court: Employers Must Honor Employees’ Self-Described Disabilities

AutoZone Inc. just had a case remanded back to district court in favor of an employee who claimed the company failed to accommodate his severe back pain and related physical limitations. The real stickler of the case – involving a former salesman in the chain’s Macomb, Ill., store – is the appeal court’s ruling that Memphis, Tenn.-based AutoZone should have accepted his personal testimony that he was “substantially limited in the major life activity of caring for himself,” even without any medical documentation to back that particular claim up.

As this account on the hr.blr.com site lays it out, the salesman was so debilitated by his back pain that certain kinds of activities — including just mopping the floor — could lead to swelling, spasms and sometimes even vomiting. The story’s a bit complicated, with two different medical leaves and requested medical restrictions involved, the worker’s threatened firing and then ultimate firing, and appellate judges’ rejections of many facets of the salesman’s claims – including the fact that the ADA Amendments Act that became effective in 2009 did not apply to his claims of 2003 through 2005. In fact, to understand the case fully, it’s probably best to read the appellate judges’ entire ruling.

Bottom line, though, the case is heading back to court because appeals court judges ruled AutoZone should have accepted the salesman’s testimony that he was “substantially limited” and should have accommodated him, even though no medical documentation was submitted about his specific limitations. (Both the employee and his wife testified that she had to help him dress and bathe four or five days a week.)

As the hr.blr site points out, “employees need not submit medical documentation of substantial limitations; employers must accept what the employees themselves say about their limits.”

Dot-Jobs Canned?

ICANN, the authority on Internet domain issuance, has reprimanded the Society for Human Resource Management and its dot-jobs partner, Employ Media (which partnered with DirectEmployers Association) for improperly operating and managing the dot-jobs domain.

The statement by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is here (PDF). John Zappe writes about it on the ERE website here.

Employ Media was directed to “take immediate actions to implement policies that would effectively terminate the operation of the Dot Jobs Universe,” according to  a statement issued by Peter Weddle, executive director of the International Association of Employment Web Sites, and the .Jobs Charter Compliance Coalition, which was formed to address possible violations by Employ Media of the dot-jobs charter.

Weddle applauded ICANN’s “strong stance,” saying there were “many false expectations” about dot-jobs and that it was an “unprecedented attempt … to misappropriate an entire [domain] … in blatant disregard of ICANN’s rules.”

HRE wrote about the dot-jobs domain many years ago. Weddle wasn’t crazy about the idea even back then.

Omani Protesters Demand Ouster of Expats

Headquarters of Omantel (Oman's Public Telecommunication Provider)

The latest Middle Eastern country to see uprising is Oman, where protesters have demanded the ouster of expats in the nation, as well as an equal share of oil revenue, according to Reuters.

 ”We want to see a scale-down of expatriates in Oman so more jobs can be created for Omanis,” one protester yelled, according to the story.

Police said six people died after the demonstrations turned violent with people blocking roads leading to a port and refinery, and burned a supermarket, two government buildings and a police station.

The increasing unrest should certainly have HR executives and relocation providers taking notice — either making sure their expats are safe, or figuring out ways to get their people back home. 

Here’s a story we wrote on the subject right after the massive protests and unrest in Tunisia and Egypt.

DOL Delays Complicated ERISA Disclosure Requirements

You’re probably all aware of this, but just in case, here’s a legal alert I received Monday from the K&L Gates law firm reminding employers about the U.S. Department of Labor’s deadline extension — from July 16, 2011, to Jan. 1, 2012 — for achieving complete compliance with the new disclosure requirements under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

It’s not hard to discern, reading between the lines of this alert — specifically the quotes of DOL Assistant Secretary Phyllis C. Borzi — that the disclosure rule was far more complicated (dare I say confusing, overwhelming and of grave concern) for fiduciaries and HR and benefits professionals than the DOL probably imagined.

As Borzi puts it in the K&L release, the DOL “intended to have final rules in place sufficiently in advance of the July 16 applicability date to avoid compliance problems for both plans and their service providers.” But given the numerous comments the DOL received about the newly required disclosures, the DOL “now believe[s] plans and plan-service providers would benefit,” she says, “from an extension of the rule’s applicability date.”

At least it sounds like both sides are working together on this. Or at least it sounds like that’s the goal!

Just to refresh, here’s the earlier alert – from July 28 – from K&L Gates about the new disclosure requirements on service providers. The new rules make dramatic changes to an existing regulation that allows for a commonly used exemption from ERISA’s prohibited transaction rules for a broad variety of retirement-plan service arrangements. 

As K&L puts it, the amended rule makes it so the exemption “is not available unless the service provider makes detailed disclosures that describe, among other things, the services to be provided, the compensation — direct and indirect — that the service provider will receive and the service provider’s possible status as an ERISA fiduciary.”

Hopefully, the DOL will be providing much-needed additional guidance on this between now and the first day of 2012. Hopefully, service providers, fiduciaries, and HR and benefits professionals will be taking advantage of it.

Wisconsin Republicans Strike a Blow

In the ongoing fight between Wisconsin’s public unions and the government, it seems that the administration has struck a significant blow.

In the morning hours, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a measure to strip collective bargaining rights for most workers, according to the Associated Press.

The vote is not likely to end protests and debate, since the bill now moves on to the state Senate, but those lawmakers have fled to prevent a vote.

Unions are protesting the plan by Gov. Scott Walker requiring workers to contribute more on pensions and health insurance and strip them of collective bargaining rights.

NAHR and Charan Create Essay Contest

As any regular reader of HRE knows, we’ve touched more than a few times on the formidable challenge of attracting top talent to the HR profession. Well, while it’s not going to single-handedly solve that problem, it’s nice to see the National Academy of Human Resources and business adviser and author Ram Charan (who is also a Distinguished Fellow of the Academy and is sponsoring the effort) join forces to introduce an essay contest—appropriately named the Ram Charan HR Essay Contest—aimed at further advancing that important cause.

University undergrads and graduate students majoring in HR, industrial/labor relations or related fields are being invited to craft an essay on how HR strategies, policies and practices are contributing to global business competitiveness. Cash prizes of $20,000, $10,000 and $5,000 will be awarded to the three best essays. The deadline for submissions is June 15.

Click here to go to a PDF with additional details.

Recession Appears to Have Bred Punctuality

Finally! A good-news recession story — for employers anyway. So suggests CareerBuilder in this release it put out today.

According to its latest survey, more workers are starting their work on time since the recession began. Mind you, the numbers aren’t hugely divergent: In 2010, 15 percent of workers said they arrive late to work once a week or more, down from 16 percent in 2009 and 20 percent in 2008.

But they’re trending down nevertheless. So are the numbers of workers calling out sick, according to a report I heard on the radio this morning that mentioned CareerBuilder’s study and few others.

“Whether it is a result of fear associated with the economy or just a shift in attitude, workers over the last few years are doing a better job of managing their schedules and getting into the office at the designated time,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder.

Not sure if this puts a struggling economy at odds with the telework/workplace flexibility movement — some would like to call it a revolution. Some reports suggest that’s true too. 

At the same time, we’re also hearing flexible scheduling and support for work/life balance will help keep your top talent from fleeing for greener pastures when the recovered economy finally and really kicks in.

Hard to know what to do. I guess just support a results-oriented environment of looser structure/work from anywhere/anything goes … and simultaneously enjoy the fact that everyone’s showing up for work when they’re expected, afraid to rock an already rocking boat.

Thoughts?

Facebook or LinkedIn Could Act as Resumes

Better remove that photo of you chugging a beer or clad in a bikini because your Facebook page could eventually wind up replacing your resume, according to a  Canadian survey reported in the Winnipeg Free Press.

The staffing agency, Office Team, has found that 43 percent of HR managers thought it was somewhat likely or highly likely that Facebook or LinkedIn pages could eventually replace printed resumes.

But 55 percent think that’s unlikely.

If, in fact, online resumes through social media are the wave of the future, how would people customize their resumes for certain jobs? Would they also be forced to have a personal Facebook page as well as one for business?

Only the future will tell.

Busted: Largest Medicare Fraud

Authorities believe this morning’s a bust of healthcare facilities in nine states could be the largest crackdown of Medicare fraud suspects ever, according to ABC. 

Federal agents arrested more than 100 doctors, nurses, therapists and healthcare executives accused of defrauding Medicare of tens of millions of dollars.

Many are accussed of billing the government for medical procedures never performed. A Brooklyn, N.Y. facility even paid patients $40 per visit — three times per week – to pretend they had illnesses that could be charged to Medicare.

The raids were conducted in Miami, Tampa, Chicago, Baton Rouge., La., Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Brooklyn.

“As today’s arrests prove, we are waging an aggressive fight against healthcare fraud,” says Attorney General Eric Holder, according to ABC.

Dead in Cubicle, Not Noticed Until Next Day

A woman who died in her cubicle was not found until the following day, according to a story on KTLA.com.

Rebecca Wells, 51, worked as a compliance auditor for Los Angeles County. She died Friday but was nobody knew until a security guard found her on Saturday. 

Co-worker Hattie Robertson told KTLA: “I came in Saturday to do a little work, and I saw them when they were taking her out.”

No cause of death has been determined and authorities have ruled out foul play.