OSHA Issues Final Rule on Confined Spaces in Construction

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a final rule to increase protections for construction workers in confined spaces.

Manholes, crawl spaces, tanks and other confined spaces are not intended for continuous occupancy. They are also difficult to exit in an emergency. People working in confined spaces face life-threatening hazards including toxic substances, electrocutions, explosions and asphyxiation.

Last year, two workers were asphyxiated while repairing leaks in a manhole, the second when he went down to save the first — which is not uncommon in cases of asphyxiation in confined spaces, according to OSHA.

“In the construction industry, entering confined spaces is often necessary, but fatalities like these don’t have to happen,” said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “This new rule will significantly improve the safety of construction workers who enter confined spaces. In fact, we estimate that it will prevent about 780 serious injuries every year.”

The rule will provide construction workers with protections similar to those manufacturing and general industry workers have had for more than two decades, with some differences tailored to the construction industry. These include requirements to ensure that multiple employers share vital safety information and to continuously monitor hazards — a safety option made possible by technological advances after the manufacturing and general industry standards were created.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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National Fall Safety Stand-Down Starts Today

Starting today, a record number of companies and workers around the country are expected to join the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the next two weeks in the second annual National Fall Safety Stand-Down to focus on preventing catastrophic deaths and injuries from occurring because of falls and accidents while working at elevated heights.

“Last year’s Stand-Down was a big success. More than 5,000 employers talked about fall protection with more than a million workers. It was a tremendous commitment to safety on the part of businesses and workers alike. I am confident that we can do even better this year,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.

“The construction industry is so important to our economy. We all depend on it every day. It drives growth and prosperity. It generates good, middle-class jobs that can support a family. But we have to make sure those jobs are as safe as they can possibly be. That’s why fall prevention and this Stand-Down are so important.”

Fall protection is the most frequently cited OSHA violation, proving the size of this problem.

During the two-week Stand-Down, employers and workers will voluntarily stop work to focus on these hazards and preventing them. Industry and business leaders, including universities, labor organizations, and community and faith-based groups, have scheduled Stand-Downs in all 50 states. In addition, the U.S. Air Force will be hosting fall Stand-Downs at bases worldwide and a major event will be co-hosted at the United States Capitol Dome with Turner Construction.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Obamacare (Still Open) Enrollment Finally Ends

Barring some late action, the special enrollment period for Obamacare sign-ups — which actually extended the planned open enrollment period by 45 days — closed last night at midnight. Most state health insurance exchanges followed suit.

The yearly open enrollment period to sign up for health plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was set to run from Nov. 15, 2014, through March 15 of this year. But when officials figured there would be late converts once they filed their taxes and saw they had to pay a penalty for not having insurance, a special enrollment period (SEP) was tacked on to run from March 16 through the end of April.

Results of the SEP have yet to be released.


For the full story on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) affects your business, no matter how large or small, please obtain a copy of our comprehensive yet easy-to-follow Affordable Care Act Compliance Kit.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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EEOC Wins Conciliation Battle in Supreme Court

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that courts may only conduct a “relatively bare-bones review” of conciliation efforts by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The decision stems from the EEOC’s lawsuit against Mach Mining, LLC, headquartered in Marion, Ill. The commission sued Mach Mining in September 2011, alleging that the company violated Title VII by failing to hire any female miners since beginning operations in 2006, despite having received applications from many highly qualified women.

Mach Mining chose to defend against these allegations in part by criticizing the EEOC for inadequately conciliating the matter before suing. The EEOC moved for partial summary judgment with respect to Mach Mining’s so-called affirmative defense that the commission had failed to properly conciliate before filing its complaint.

The Supreme Court’s decision adopts a standard that requires only that the EEOC “afford the employer a chance to discuss and rectify a specified discriminatory practice.” The court emphasized that “such limited review respects the expansive discretion that Title VII gives the EEOC over the conciliation process” but ensures that the Commission fulfills its obligation to conciliate.

The court also highlighted that intrusive judicial review of conciliation would flout the confidentiality requirements in the statute and ultimately would undermine conciliation itself. The court concluded that courts reviewing conciliation efforts must not “impinge” on the commission’s latitude to conduct the type of conciliation it thinks reasonable in a particular case, or on its “responsibility to eliminate unlawful workplace discrimination.”


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Seeks Comments on Proposed Black Lung Benefits Act Rule

The Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs is publishing for public comment a proposed Black Lung Benefits Act rule that gives coal miners greater access to their health records and requires coal miner owners to pay all benefits due in a claim before the award can be challenged through modification. The NPRM was posted on the Federal Register’s website for public inspection today.

The rule requires parties — including employers, claimants, attorneys and other authorized representatives — to disclose all medical information developed in connection with a claim for benefits, even when the party does not intend to submit the information into evidence.

Requiring all parties to exchange medical data in claims for black lung benefits would protect the nation’s coal miners by giving them full access to information about their health. Currently, the claimant and the coal company liable for benefit payments can develop as much medical information about the miner as their finances allow, and then choose which data to submit as evidence for the claim adjudicator’s consideration.

A coal miner without full access to health information may delay seeking treatment or make an uninformed decision about whether to continue to work. Making medical information freely available to all parties will also enhance the accuracy of entitlement determinations.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Workers’ Memorial Day Honors Those Who Lost Their Lives at Work

Today is national Workers’ Memorial Day, honoring those who lost their lives at work.

Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez issued the following statement on Workers’ Memorial Day:

“Each year, Workers’ Memorial Day gives us an opportunity to remember those who have lost their lives in the course of a day’s work, and to recommit to keeping workers safe on the job. In 2015, as we mark the five-year anniversaries of three tragedies — the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in which 11 workers lost their lives, the Upper Big Branch mine disaster which took the lives of 29 miners, and the Tesoro refinery explosion which killed seven workers — we are reminded that while we have made great strides in worker safety, we must do more.

In 2013, 4,585 workers were killed on the job. That number has fallen dramatically since the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed in 1970, but it’s still 4,585 too many. It’s 4,585 too many men and women who lost their lives trying to earn a paycheck. It’s 4,585 too many workers — mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers — who went to work but never came home.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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SCOTUS to Weigh Same-Sex Marriage Issues Regarding States’ Rights

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear both sides on issues involving the rights states may have in defining marriage. The court in 2013 already struck down federal prohibitions on same-sex marriages when it invalidated Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Now it turns its attention to whether states can define marriage to exclude same-sex couples.

Specifically, the court will consider these two questions, according to legal scholars:

1) Does the 14th Amendment to the Constitution require a state to license marriage between same-sex couples?

2) Does the same amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their union was legally sanctioned and performed in another state?

Ironically, many SCOTUS watchers predict the justices will split, saying no on the first question and yes on the second.

If that’s the case, then another lawsuit challenging the new definition of spouse for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave purposes will be rendered moot, as that case contents that Section 2 of DOMA gives states a safe harbor to reject legal same-sex marriages performed in other states. The Department of Labor (DOL) definition being challenged requires all states to recognize legally performed same-sex marriages, wherever they originated, for FMLA purposes.

The high court usually withholds controversial opinions until the end of its yearly session in June, as it did with DOMA.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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EEOC Settles First of Two Transgender Discrimination Lawsuits

Lakeland Eye Clinic, P.A., of Florida has agreed to a consent decree resolving a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2014, alleging the company fired an employee because of transgender issues, basing its case on its interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

As a result of the consent decree, the company will pay $150,000 to the aggrieved employee and offer a neutral letter of reference, revise its harassment and discrimination policies to protect such individuals, train managers and staff accordingly, make monthly reports to the EEOC on its compliance with the decree, and subject itself to two years of monitoring by the EEOC.

A second case filed by the EEOC the same day against R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. of Michigan is pending.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Ringling Bros. Circus Agrees to Safety Enhancements

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, will implement ongoing safety enhancements in aerial acts to protect employees against injuries like those sustained by its aerialists during a May 4, 2014, performance in Providence, R.I., according to a Department of Labor (DOL) press release.

Feld Entertainment Inc., headquartered in Palmetto, Fla., owns the circus.

The proactive measures are part of a settlement agreement with the DOL concerning a citation issued to the circus by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in connection with a 2014 incident in which eight employees were badly hurt. They were performing an act called a “Hair Hang” when the carabiner used to support them failed and they fell more than 15 feet to the ground. The aerialists, along with a ninth employee who was struck by the falling workers, sustained serious injuries.

OSHA’s inspection determined that the carabiner used to lift performers was not loaded according to manufacturer’s instructions. The agency cited the circus for one serious violation of occupational safety standards and proposed the maximum fine of $7,000. The circus initially contested its citation and penalties to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Obama’s Immigration Plan Argued Before Circuit Court

In a hearing Friday before a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, both pro and con sides were allowed one hour to argue their positions on President Obama’s November executive order on immigration.

The issue at hand was the injunction issued in February by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen that put the executive order — affecting the legal status of some 5 million undocumented immigrants — on hold while a lawsuit by 26 states goes forward.

The three-judge panel in New Orleans gave no indication when it would issue a decision on the administration’s appeal to lift the sanction.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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