Come Morn and Minimum Wage Rates Will Rise

Some eleven states and two municipalities are raising their minimum wage hourly rates on New Year’s Day 2009, topped by the City of Santa Fe with its $9.92 rate (closely followed by San Francisco at $9.79).

Heading the states is Washington at $8.55 an hour. For a full list, check out this site.

The federal rate goes to $7.25 on July 24, 2009, but most of the January 1 state increases already match or top that except for Florida ($7.21) and Arizona ($6.90).

Employers, if you want to keep compliant with federal and state labor law posting requirements, check your requirements on this site.


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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Meanwhile, Back in the U.S. of A.: Severance Pay Woes

Turns out that a survey of severance pay around the world reveals that the U.S. pays the least of all monitored countries.

READ THE SURVEY RESULTS


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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Employees in China Get Unheard-of Job Protections

With tens of thousands of us Americans losing our jobs every week, I found it interesting to discover that China just in the past year implemented what’s called the Labor Contract Law, which basically gives every employee a nearly unbreakable contract with their employer. Plus, many of these contracts are open-ended, meaning they go on forever.

What this dictates is that a company has to go through almost-impossible-to-conquer hoops to lay off or fire workers before their contracts are up. Even if the company plans to reorganize and/or eliminate a factory or division, it still has to agree to rehire the affected employees, or if that proves impossible, to give them 30 days’ notice and ample severance pay.

Of course, if the company just shuts down and the owners disappear, these policies can’t be enforced very easily, and that appears to be the route that many toy manufacturers have taken this year as demand for their products dried up in the West.

So, these days employees in China have the upper hand when it comes to job security, which is a sharp break from just a year ago before the LCL (Labor Contract Law) was passed. (However, if you read the story linked below about “shedding workers,” you’ll find an interesting quote from a Chinese official who tells an employer that, so long as he doesn’t lay anyone off, the official will overlook other labor law violations.)

On the organized labor front, things might favor the employers a bit more. While most employees are organized into unions, it is illegal for them to strike, but work slowdowns and stoppages have proven to be ready substitutes.

Overall, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if the LCL hasn’t actually contributed to some–or many–of the factory closings, as owners found it easier just to cease operations than navigate the shoals of the LCL and reduce their workforces to stay in business.

For more information, read “The Impact of China’s Labor Contract Law” and “Employers in China Have Issues Shedding Workers.”

So, if you’ve been eying China for a low-cost start-up, be forewarned that the country is not the cheap source of labor that it’s been perceived to be.

(China is also moving, Obama-like, toward a national health care and “social insurance” system, which is recounted here.)


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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Nice Gig if You Can Get It

Here’s something I just learned. I generally don’t pay much attention to unemployment insurance law since I don’t qualify for it, but some people have been pretty smart at gaming the system.

To wit:

Under federal unemployment rules that are being changed Jan. 6, 2009, a worker who drew wages from jobs in two or more states could choose ANY STATE from which to claim the benefits. The smart ones all opted, evidently, for Massachusetts, which pays the highest unemployment sum in the nation at $628 a week plus $25 for each dependent.

Come the New Year plus a few days, however, and new rules will force the unemployed to seek unemployment checks only from states in which they’ve actually worked.

Massachusetts officials must be breathing easier.


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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What Is the Cost of Government Regulations?

Two George Mason University researchers looking into the cost of government regulations on American business conclude that the total burden amounts to a 1.6 percent excise tax on the “typical manufacturer.” Another way of framing the cost is in terms of dollars, which they say amounts to $1,700 per employee.

The researchers, W. Mark Crain and Joseph M. Johnson, concentrated their study solely on American manufaturing and used data from the year 2000, so we’re almost ten years removed from their benchmark. Still, it’s interesting to see that government regulations do carry a price tag, though many would argue that most regulations are virtually cost neutral and, if not, result in an overall gain for the company, the employees and the American workplace in general.

I’m not here to argue for or against government regulations in general, but I’m not of the mindset of “the more, the merrier.” I think there comes a point for each business when it says, “Enough is enough,” and decides to do things differently. You know, outsource, ship manufacturing overseas, lay people off to save costs, and all those nasty little things that somehow get blamed on NAFTA by certain sectors of the body politic.

Keep this in mind as the new administration and heavily Democratic Congress contemplate a wide expansion of labor law rights and protections.


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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A New Protected Class: The Beauty Challenged

Over at the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, Jon Hyman has an interesting discussion on the proposal to add ugly to the protected classes under labor law and employment laws.

To wit, Hyman writes:

“Under the current state of the law, it is illegal to discharge, to refuse to hire, or otherwise to discriminate with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, or any matter directly or indirectly related to employment because of: race, color, sex, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, genetic information, military status, and veteran status. I am fairly confident that 2009 will add sexual orientation, and possibly gender identity, to this list.”

Now, the argument for adding ugly to the protected classes is to prevent discrimination based on looks, of course. Some, maybe most, employers prefer hiring good-looking people as they are perceived to be sharper, sexier and better, more trustworthy workers.

However, since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, how could the courts or regulatory agencies ever agree on how to define ugly so as to have a workable law?


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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Paid Sick Leave: The Next Mandate?

President-elect Obama campaigned on a pledge to mandate paid sick leave at all places of work.

Here’s how the president-elect’s Web site (Change.Gov) explained this:

Half of all private sector workers have no paid sick days and the problem is worse for employees in low-paying jobs, where less than a quarter receive any paid sick days. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will require that employers provide seven paid sick days per year.

I believe sick leave is an essential component of the workplace, but I can also see how a small business might suffer if it had to add additional expenses, such as hiring a temp when someone calls in sick.

Either way, there’s an interesting pro-and-con (and neutral) debate over at Business Week.


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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What Exactly Is Free Choice?

One big labor law change anticipated in the Barack administration is enactment of the so-called Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), but like the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither holy, Roman nor an empire, does the EFCA really embody freedom and choice? For those on the business side of things–company owners and managers, et al.–the answer is no: The unions will just coerce employees into signing off on a "card check" system, and then the union–or a pro-union arbitrator–will jam a contract down the company’s throat, one that may force it to cut workers, relocate or close.

On the union side, the picture is much different: Finally, we’ll be able to organize workers without the intimidation, threats, harassments and outright firing of union reps that companies typically employ prior to a secret-ballot unionization vote, as union organizers might phrase it. I’ve read horror stories from both sides of the issue–tales of union thugs’ coercing workers into signing off on the unionization cards, and anecdotes of employers’ threatening to close if there’s a union and firing the union’s employee-organizers on trumped-up charges. So, where does this leave us?

If EFCA passes, it will obviously be much easier to get 50-percent-plus-one-employee card signings and subsequent unionization, but will it also prompt an adverse reaction from employers, such as layoffs, outsourcing, relocating and/or closing down? The National Chamber of Commerce has called the EFCA "Armageddon." EPCA probably won’t be that deleterious in its effects, but it could.

The interesting thing here is that the Wagner Act of 1935, which gave the labor unions broader rights to organize workplaces, contained provisions for both secret ballots and card checks. Unionization could be accomplished through either means, but the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act removed the card check provision.

Now card check is back to rear its ugly head–or beautiful face–once again. Can the nation’s businesses and GOP stop this dead in its tracks? Should they? Therein lies the $64,000 question. (I probably should update that to the "$64-billion question" in light of all the current bailouts, stimulus packages and whatevers.)


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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ADA Amendments Act Will Greet the New Year

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), originally passed in 1990, sought to open up employment in the private sector to persons with physical or mental disabilities who were otherwise perfectly capable of performing the required duties. The ADA brought to private enterprise what the 1973 Rehabilitation Act did for federal agencies and firms carrying out federal contracts.

Through the years, though, the Supreme Court kept nibbling away at the definition of disability to the point that the ADA lost almost all its teeth.

Voila–the Americans With Disabilities Amendment Act (ADAAA), signed into law this year by President Bush. The ADAAA clarifies exactly the intended definition of disability and throws in another category, “regarded as disabled.” Taken together, the two categories–disability and “regarded as disabled”–pretty much cover every human being alive.

In fact, the ADAAA basically states that employers should accept at face value an employee’s announcement of an impairment or disability that requires a reasonable accommodation. (There’s one out clause–if the accommodation involves “undue hardship” for the company and its operations, then it might not be considered “reasonable.”)

If you don’t believe me, read this definition of “regarded as disabled”: “[A]ctual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.”

(Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.)

My question is this: If an employee, for instance, has sleep apnea and thus is tired in the daytime, would a “reasonable accommodation” include a sleep break or two or three? A specially cushioned chair so as to be able to drift off into slumber when necessary?

I’m only half joking, but I think you get the idea that the ADAAA has significantly broadened the scope of what constitutes a disability.

Meanwhile, I’m relying on my old friends at Personnel Concepts to keep me updated on all this. In fact, the company has already issued its ADAAA 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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Old Approach to Health Care Reform

Recently, I wrote about a fresh, holistic approach to health care that could well serve as the basis for a real reform effort. However, more likely what will happen is the Feds will copy the Massachusetts model for health care reform–and get it all wrong.

The problem with all announced reform plans is that the reformers want to make health both more affordable and more accessible, but if you roll in another 50 million people into the ranks of the insured, the first problem is that there simply aren’t enough facilities or practitioners to handle them. So something has to give–either on the accessible side or the affordable side, or both.

Which is exactly what happened in Massachusetts–both goals got trampled under weight of the unrealistic expectations and bad modeling.

You don’t have to believe me. Fortunately, there are well-respected health care professionals who can dissect the Massachusetts mess for us. Enter Maggie Mahar, author of the 2006 book Money-Driven Medicine, and blogger at Health Beat.

I’ll provide a link to her article on Massachusetts at the end of this, but let me repeat a few points she makes.

Under the Massachusetts universal health care initiative, the percentage of uninsured in 2006 (when it was passed) fell from 6.4 to 5.7 the next year, roughly equal to the rate in the year 2000 (5.9 percent). Fewer than 500,000 Massachusetts residents are now covered who weren’t before.

Problem is, most of them can’t find a doctor and, if they’re using a state health plan, can’t afford the co-pays (20 percent) or the deductibles ($2,000 per person). That’s why use of emergency rooms is up 40 percent in Massachusetts. If you already have a doctor, the wait to see him or her has gone from an average of one month to two months since 2006–and is rising.

Plus, the plans the state offers are so expensive–about $9,000 a year for a couple in their 50s (plus the onerous co-pays and deductibles)–that tens of thousands can’t afford the policies, so the state has “exempted” 62,000 residents from the mandate to buy health insurance. Plus, the program is so costly that the state can’t afford to subsidize people who can’t pay even when they qualify under income qualification standards.

Like I said, it’s a real mess, which will soon be transplanted onto the national stage. Get ready for less (health care) for more (money).

Read Ms. Mahar’s article, “On Health Care Reform Stimulating the Economy: The Massachusetts Example.”


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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