Wednesday, September 24, 2008

CA Increases Effort to Address Illegal Operations in Small Business

As part of an ongoing effort to address illegal operations in the underground economy, officials with the State Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (Labor Commissioner's Office) carried out a three-day August enforcement sweep by visiting 97 carwashes in Northern California.

Fifty-four of the carwash businesses were issued citations resulting in fines totaling more than $521,000, and thirty of them received work-stop notices until they can provide workers' compensation insurance for their employees and comply with labor laws, including:
l Providing work permits for minors
l Providing employees with an itemize wage deduction statement
l Paying overtime wages
l Paying the annual registration with the commissioner’s office
l Providing workers’ compensation coverage

“Our efforts are directed at illegally operating carwash businesses as part of the underground economy,” said California Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet. “These illegal operations have a negative impact on our state’s economy, do not provide the protection workers are legally afforded, and have an unfair advantage over competitors who do follow the law.”

A similar action in July investigated 72 businesses, netted 47 violations, and fined 28 of them, totaling $356,200 in fines to car washes in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

This action suggests that the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement may target other small businesses in the near future, in an effort to uncover unlicensed, illegal businesses in other industries.

“We will continue to strengthen our efforts in addressing these types of violations that are typically associated with the underground economy,” added Bradstreet.

Monday, September 22, 2008

OSHA sets public hearing on personal protective equipment and employee training requirements

In order to receive comments on its proposal aiming to clarify the remedies avaiable for violations of its personal protective equipment (PPE) and employee training requirements, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will hold a public hearing on October 6 and 7 at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Frances Perkins Building of Washington, D.C.

PPE and training standards impose a separate compliance duty to each employee covered by the PPE or training requirements

An employer who violates one of these provisions commits a separate violation. In this proposal, OSHA seeks to amend its PPE and training standards to clarify the nature of the employer’s obligation to each employee. The proposal also aim at conforming with the language that the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has approved as the basis for per-employee citations.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mandatory Commuter Benefits in San Francisco

Late last month, San Francisco supervisors passed a new ordinance that requires employers to make mass transit part of an employee's benefits package. Commuters who take the bus, train, ferry, or vanpool to work could be saving up to 40 percent on their commuting expenses.

The new law is called the "commuter benefits ordinance," which requires all employers with 20 or more employees to provide commuter benefits to encourage their employees to use public transit or vanpools.

A covered employee is an employee who performed an average of at least 10 hours of work per week for the same employer within the previous calendar month, and qualifies as an employee entitled to payment of a minimum wage from the employer under the California minimum wage law, or is a participant in a Welfare-to-Work program.

Covered employers must do one of the following three things:
1. Allow employees to pay for mass transit on a pre-tax basis, up to the maximum level allowed by federal law (currently $115);
2. Pay for employees' transportation to and from work;
3. Provide transportation at no cost to employees in a vanpool or bus, or similar multi-passenger vehicle.

Commuter benefits encourage people to use transit and vanpools to get to work. This helps to relieve traffic congestion and reduce air pollution.

The law will become effective in December 2008. Thousands of employers in San Francisco and across the country are already offering commuter benefits, covering approximately 30,000 employees.

Drug-Free Work Week for This Year

Recently the U.S. Department of Labor announced that this year's national Drug-Free Work Week would take place Oct. 20 through 26.

Drug-Free Work Week, a time to reinforce the importance of working drug free in positive and proactive ways, is a dedicated time each year to highlight the benefits that drug-free workplace programs bring to employers, workers and communities. It is also a time to work toward making every week a drug-free workweek.

Now in its third year, the annual campaign is a collaborative effort organized by the Department of Labor, members of its Drug-Free Workplace Alliance and other public and private sector groups dedicated to safe and healthy workplaces. All employers and employees are encouraged to participate in recognizing Drug-Free Work Week.
Drug-Free Work Week can help prevent accidents and make workplaces safer, improve productivity and reduce costs, and encourage people with alcohol and drug problems to seek help.

"Drug-Free Work Week is a good time to remind employers and employees that reducing workplace substance abuse is a crucial part of keeping workers safe," said Elena Carr, drug policy coordinator at the Department of Labor. "Of course, in a safe and healthful workplace, every week should be drug free."

National Job Losses Hit 5-Year High

The national unemployment rate hit a 5-year high of 6.1 percent in August, up from 5.7 percent in July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported on Sep. 5. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers classified as unemployed rose by 592,000 to 9.4 million in August, over two million more than a year ago.

Although some hiring was reported in government, education and healthcare, those gains were eclipsed by losses in: manufacturing and employment services, which cut 53,000 jobs; retail, which cut 20,000 jobs; construction, which cut 8000 jobs; and leisure and hospitality, which cut 4000 jobs.

The number of long-term unemployed – those jobless for 27 weeks or more -- rose by 163,000 to 1.8 million, an increase of 589,000 over the past 12 months. The newly unemployed -- those who were jobless fewer than 5 weeks -- rose by 400,000 in August.

"Over the past 12 months, the number of unemployed persons has increased by 2.2 million and the unemployment rate has risen by 1.4 percentage points, with most of the increase occurring over the past four months," the BLS report said.

"This thing is just lingering. It's almost like a storm that comes ashore and just kind of sits there," said Ken Goldstein, an economist with the Conference Board, a New York-based group that publishes indices of consumer sentiment. "We've seen declines every month, all year long, right through August. But the declines have started to intensify, and that will continue through the end of the year, very likely into the first months of 2009."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Alaska Worker Safety—Cranes in the Workplace

A number of serious crane accidents in New York and across the country have prompted a review of crane safety in many states. As a result, the Alaska state Labor Commission has been focusing recently on safety regulations regarding the use of cranes in the workplace.

“These crane accidents illustrate the importance of crane and jobsite safety. In Alaska, we have not had a crane-related fatality for several years and I intend to keep it that way with a proactive safety effort,” the Alaska Labor Commissioner Click Bishop says. “We ask all employers who use cranes to review crane lifting and safety policies, check cranes for mechanical integrity, and ensure crane operators are qualified and use the appropriate safety procedures.”

This means that more safety inspections, including stronger enforcement of existing regulations and penalties for any violations, will be added to the regulations.

Alaska Occupational Safety and Health regulations require that employers must give employees who operate cranes appropriate training, and make sure the crane operators are physically capable of the task.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Employers Comment On Proposed 401k Regulations

The US Department of Labor recently announced stricter rules for employers to follow in informing workers of various options. These regulations will become final on January 1, 2009. The proposed regulations were published in the Federal Register on July 23, 2008.

The new regulations are mainly about reporting of fees, expenses and investment options for 401k and other savings-based retirement plans. The plans currently cover more than 65 million employees.

Employers can comment on the new regulations regarding 401k and other retirement savings plans. They can send their comments by email to the US Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration, Room N-5655, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington D.C. 20210, Attention: Participant Fee Disclosure Project.

“Our proposal is consistent with public consensus that workers need clear and concise information, not dozens of pages of ‘legalese,’ about the investment options available under their plans, and that they would benefit greatly from having that information in a comparative format,” said US Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. “One of the department’s top priorities is improved disclosure to workers that will give them the information they need to make informed investment decisions.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Florida Gets DOL Emergency Grant

On Aug 25, 2008, The U.S. Department of Labor announced a $20 million grant to the state of Florida to create temporary jobs in the wake of Tropical Storm Fay.

On August 21, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared all 67 Florida counties as eligible for FEMA’s Public Assistance program.

“This $20 million grant will provide Floridians with temporary jobs assisting in disaster relief and clean-up efforts to help communities recover from the record amounts of rain that fell as a result of Tropical Storm Fay,” said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.

It will provide approximately 6,500 temporary jobs for cleanup and recovery efforts on public property and humanitarian aid. The Department of Labor made $8 million available immediately to the state's Agency for Workforce Innovation, and additional funds up to the amount approved will be made available as the state demonstrates a continued need for disaster assistance.

The grant also will support disaster recovery centers that provide food, clothing, shelter and other types of humanitarian assistance. Two centers have been opened in Brevard County, and others will be added as needed throughout the state.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

U.S. Department of Labor Announces $3.5 Million Grants to Illinois

The U.S. Department of Labor announced that a $3,500,000 grant will be sent to the state of Illinois to create about 200 temporary jobs to assist in cleanup and recovery efforts because of recent storms and flooding.

"This $3.5 million grant will boost cleanup and recovery efforts in Illinois and provide funds for humanitarian assistance for residents who have suffered storm and flooding damage," said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.

On June 24, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared the some counties in Illinois eligible for FEMA's Public Assistance Program, which are as follows: Adams, Calhoun, Clark, Coles, Crawford, Hancock, Henderson, Jasper, Lawrence, Mercer, Pike and Rock Island.

The grant which is awarded to the Illinois Department of Workforce Development, will be used to provide temporary employment on projects for the cleanup, repair, renovation and reconstruction of damaged public structures, facilities. Funds also will be used for projects that provide food, clothing, shelter and other types of humanitarian assistance for disaster victims.

Friday, September 05, 2008

U.S. Department of Labor Working to Aid Recovery From Flooding And Tornadoes in The Midwest

The Department of Labor has announced various programs to help workers in the Midwest who suffered from the recent flooding and tornadoes.

"We want to make information easily accessible and help quickly available to Americans affected by the devastating flooding in the Midwest," said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "In addition to our toll-free telephone number, we've set up a Midwest Flood Recovery Assistance Web page to guide affected residents on unemployment insurance, personal safety during cleanup operations, and many other helpful resources for workers and employers."

Many counties across the Midwest have been certified as disaster areas and are eligible for the FEMA’s Public Assistance Program.

The Department has awarded a $23,027,000 grant to create approximately 10,000 temporary jobs for eligible dislocated workers in Iowa, Indiana and Illinois. These jobs are funded by the NEG program.

Other impacted states can apply for NEG funds to be used for projects such as cleanup, demolition, renovation and reconstruction of public facilities and land. These funds can also be used for projects that employ workers to provide food, clothing, shelter and other humanitarian assistance for disaster victims.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

New California Law about Wage and Hour

In early August, California Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 2075, which modifies Labor Code section 206.5, and makes it a misdemeanor for an employer to require an employee, as a condition of payment of wages, to sign a statement of hours worked that the employer knows is false.

The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2009 and potentially exposes some employers to new liability.

Currently, Labor Code section 206.5 prohibits employers from requiring an employee to execute a release of wage claims, unless payment of the wages has been made. A violation of this provision invalidates the release agreement and is deemed a misdemeanor.

AB 2075 amends Labor Code Section 206.5 to include a subsection (b) by defining “execution of a release” as “requiring an employee, as a condition of being paid, to execute a statement of the hours he or she worked during a pay period which the employer knows to be false.”

Employers should review their employee release agreements and time keeping records for compliance with new Section 206.5(b), prior to its implementation on January 1, 2009.

U.S. Department of Labor Sends Iowa $17 million Grant

The U.S. Department of Labor announced to provided Iowa with the remaining $11,127,000 of a $17 million National Emergency Grant to assist in the ongoing flood and tornado recovery efforts underway.

"Iowans will be working hard in the months ahead to repair the damage caused by these natural disasters and the department will continue to do everything we can to help," said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.

The grant which was awarded to the Iowa Workforce Development agency will provide funding to create temporary jobs to assist in cleanup, repair, renovation and reconstruction of damaged and destroyed public structures, facilities and lands within the affected communities. The grants also will be used for projects that provide food, clothing, shelter and other types of humanitarian assistance for disaster victims.

National Emergency Grants are part of the secretary of labor's discretionary fund and are awarded in accordance with a state's ability to meet specific guidelines.