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7

Summary Of Rights And Responsibilities Under The FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act)

Employee turnover can be very costly to your business.  In addition to hiring a replacement, there are other expenses, such as training, background checks, and time invested in getting your new hire started.  In times past, employees were at risk of losing their jobs in the event of a pregnancy, medical emergency, or other extenuating circumstances that were unavoidable, thus causing the employee to find new work and the employer to hire a replacement.  Today, we have the Family and Medical Leave Act (FLMA), which serves as a solution to this dilemma.

What is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law which protects employees who encounter temporary emergencies from losing their jobs while protecting employers from unneeded turnover in these situations.  The law specifies circumstances which qualify employees for leave, and protects them from retaliation by employers for exercising the rights listed therein.

Does The FMLA require paid or unpaid leave?
The FLMA does not require that employers pay employees when they are on leave.

What circumstances qualify for leave under the FMLA?
Qualifying circumstances include:

  • Caring for a newborn child, the adoption of a child, or placing a child in foster care.
  • Care of a seriously ill family member (spouse, child, or parent).  The definition of a child under the FMLA is one under the age of 18, or one over 18 who has a mental or physical disability as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Pregnancy and post-partum recovery of a child over 18 who is not disabled does not qualify the parent for leave under the FMLA.
  • Recovery from one’s own illness.
  • Care of a family member who sustained injuries while serving under the Armed Forces.
  • To handle exigencies arising from the military deployment of a family member.

How long does an employee’s leave last under the FMLA?
The FMLA allows for up to 12 weeks per year of leave for qualifying circumstances.

What are employers obligations under the FMLA?
Under the FMLA, employers are required to provide employees who qualify with the following:

  • The same group health insurance benefits, including employer contributions, and full reinstatement of all benefits once the employee returns to work.
  • The same position the employee had when he/she went on leave, or, if that position is not available, one that is substantially equal in pay, benefits, and responsibility.
  • Employers are forbidden to retaliate against employees for exercising their rights under the FMLA, or to deny benefits to a qualifying employee.
  • Intermittent leave for employees who either have serious medical conditions, or are caring for a family member with such conditions.  Examples include doctor’s appointments for things like physical therapy, psychological counseling, and chemotherapy.  Other examples include severe morning sickness and asthma attacks.

Will my employee receive benefits while on leave?
Yes.  Employees are entitled to the same group health insurance benefits, including employer contributions, while the employee is on leave, and reinstatement of all benefits once the employee returns to work.

Are there exemptions to the FMLA?
Yes.  Some companies are exempt.  These include:

  • Businesses with fewer than 50 employees.  This threshold does not apply to public agencies and local educational agencies.
  • Part time workers who have worked fewer than 1,250 hours within 12 months prior to the leave and a paid vacation.
  • Workers who need time off to care for seriously ill pets or elderly relatives who are not their parents.
  • Short term illnesses such as common colds, or routine medical care such as check-ups.
  • Elected officials.

What is the definition of family under the FMLA?
According to the FMLA, family is defined as the immediate family (parent, spouse, and children until age 18 unless disabled under the Americans With Disabilities Act).  However, amendments to the FMLA have expanded the coverage for military families to include next of kin, and adult children.  Futhermore, the US Dept of Labor (DoL) clarified that an employee who assumes the role of caring for a child has the same rights under the FMLA as a parent, regardless of their legal and/or biological relationship to the child (a nanny is an excellent example).  Finally, the DoL also clarified that employees who intend to share in the parenting of a child with a same sex partner will be covered under the FLMA as well.

Do any states have different requirements under the FMLA?
Yes.  Some states have added provisions to be covered, or changed thresholds for coverage under the FMLA.  Check your state below to see the modifications.  If your state is not listed, no additional provisions exist.

  • California: Domestic partner and domestic partner’s child are also covered.  Coverage expanded to allow parents to attend their children’s educational and school activities.
  • Colorado:  Coverage expanded to include recovery from domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault.
  •  Connecticut:  Civil union partners and parent-in-laws covered. Coverage expanded in include organ and bone marrow donors.
  •  District of Columbia: Persons related by blood, legal custody, and marriage are covered, along with persons living with the employee who are in a committed relationship with them, children living with the employee who is permanently responsible for assuming and exercising parental duties.   Coverage expanded to include time off for attending child’s educational and school activities.  Employers with 20 or more employees are covered.
  • Florida:  Coverage expanded to include recovery from domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.
  • Hawaii:  Grandparents, parents-in-law, grandparents-in-law, and employee’s reciprocal beneficiary are covered.  Coverage expanded to include recovery from domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.
  • Illinois: Coverage expanded to include recovery from domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.
  • Maine:  Domestic partners and domestic partner’s children are covered, along with siblings.  Coverage expanded to include organ donors, time off for family members in the Armed Forces who are killed while on active duty.  Employers with 15 or more employees (private employers) and 25 or more (city and town employers) are covered.
  • Massachusetts:  Coverage expanded to include routine medical visits.
  • Minnesota: Coverage expanded to include time off for attending child’s school or educational activities.  Employers with 21 or more employees are covered for parental leave only.
  • New Jersey: Civil union partners and their children, along with parents-in-law and step parents are covered.
  • Oregon: Domestic partners, grandparents, grandchildren, and parent-in-laws covered.  Coverage expanded to include care for the non-serious injury of a child who requires home care.  Employers with 25 or more employees are covered.
  • Rhode island: Domestic partners of state employees and parents-in-law are covered.  Coverage expanded to cover attendance of a child’s educational or school activities.  Employers with 50 or more employees (private employers) and employers with 30 or more employees (public employers) are covered.
  • Vermont: Civil union partners and parents-in-law are covered.  Coverage expanded to include time off for attending child’s school or educational activities, along with time off for taking family members to routine medical visits.  Employers with 10 or more employees (for parental leave only), and employers with 15 or more employees (for family and medical leave only) are covered.
  • Washington:  Employers with 50 or more employees (for all FMLA reasons besides parental leave) are covered.  All employers are required to provide insured parental leave.
  • Wisconsin: Parents-in-law are covered.

Are employees covered when their child dies?
No, although there are efforts underway to amend the FMLA to provide this coverage.  The Farley-Kluger Initiative (www.farleykluger.com) was started in 2011 to achive this goal, with support from many organizations and a bill in Congress (S.226 – The Parental Bereavement Act of 2013), which has 3 sponsors at the time of this writing (Feb 2013).  The bill is currently on Committee in the Senate and a House version of the bill does not exist at this time.

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8

Funny But True: 15 Things That Are Taxed

Sliced Bagels
In New York City, bagels that are sliced or prepared are subject to sales tax, whereas whole bagels are not, according to the Wall Street Journal. Did the person or group who came up with this idea initiate a schmear campaign to get it on the books?

Pets
If you live in Durham, North Carolina, you could be paying a tax on Rover. The state charges a $10 tax for neutered and spayed pets and $75 for pets that are not neutered or spayed, according to Turbo Tax. I wonder if animal shelters qualify for the $60 discount if they neuter and spay their pets.

Candy
In Illinois, all candies are subject to an extra tax, unless they contain flour, like the Whopper (not the burger). Are sugar-free candies exempt?

Elderly Tax Exemption
By the time you’re 100, you’ve paid enough in taxes, at least according to the state of New Mexico, where people over 100 years old are tax-exempt. The question remains as to what percentage of New Mexico residents live long enough to qualify for the exemption.

Flushing The Toilet
If it’s yellow, let it mellow could be the motto of some Maryland and Virginia residents looking to save money. In these two states there’s a tax on flushing the toilet, according to Bing. Those with IBS and UTI’s might want to stay away from areas subject to this tax.

Illegal Drugs
Tennessee anonymously collects a tax on illegal drugs, according to NPR. In 2006, the state collected $1.5 million from the tax. Depending on your point of view, the state is either profiting indirectly from illegal drugs, or taxing everyone because “they might be doing drugs”. I hope this money goes to rehab programs…

Children’s Diapers
Adult diapers are exempt from sales tax in Connecticut, but if you’re buying diapers for your kids you’ll have to pay taxes on those, according to Thomson Reuters. I wonder how many parents buy adult diapers for their kids to save money.

Napkins
Colorado levies a tax on “non essential” food packaging items, according to Business Insider. That means you’ll pay a tax on paper cup lids and napkins, but not on paper cups themselves. No word on if paper towels are used in their place.
Workplace Nudity
Businesses in Utah that employ nude or partly nude workers are required to pay a 10 percent sales tax, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Decks Of Cards
If you buy cards in Alabama you’ll pay a 10 cent tax on the deck, according to Turbo Tax. Meanwhile, Nevada gives free decks in exchange for completed returns. In Vegas, the house always wins, and in Alabama, the cards are stacked against you. No word on if tarot or UNO cards are subject to the tax.

Holiday Decorations
In Texas, holiday-themed pictures that are meant to be placed on walls are taxed, according to efile.com.

Tattoo
In Arkansas, there’s a 6 percent sales tax on tattoos, according to Turbo Tax.

Litigation
New York has a tax on litigation, according to ABC News.

Hot Air Balloons
In Kansas, you have to pay taxes on that hot air balloon ride — or risk flying away. In that state tethered balloons are taxed, but those that roam free are not because they are considered a legitimate form of transportation, according to ABC. Apparently, Oscar Diggs won’t be guilty of tax evasion if he ever returns from Oz…

Fresh Fruit Vending Machines
Another reason not to buy your fruit from a vending machine. Fresh fruit is exempt from sales tax in California, unless it’s sold from a vending machine, according to U.S. News and World Report. And who exactly buys fresh fruit from a vending machine? When was the last time you saw a banana dispensing kiosk?

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11

Benefits of Employee Self-Service

HR departments have many things to manage, including payroll, taxes, benefits, workman’s comp, and much more.  One way to help minimize the burden of managing employee taxes and benefits is is employee self-service.

What is Employee Self-Service?
Do you remember when gas stations used to have extra attendants who would pump gas for you, wash your windshield, and you give them a tip?  In many parts of the United States, we now do these things ourselves, allowing gas stations to reduce overhead and operating expenses by not having those extra attendants on staff.  Employee Self-Service is quite similar.  Imagine yourself as an employee who just got married and moved to a new address.  Instead of going to HR and asking for a W4 form, adding your spouse to your medical/dental insurance, and updating your mailing address, all of these changes can now be performed online – even from home!  It’s an easy way to manage these things on your own, and get the changes you need done instantly, rather than having to wait for HR to process them when their workload is high.

Is Employee Self-Service Secure?
Yes!  When you login to your email, for example, your username and password are protected by security features such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).  SSL and other techniques ensure the privacy of your information by ensuring that third parties cannot easily break in and make changes to your account.

Will Employee Self-Service Be Easy For Me To Use?
Absolutely.  Employee Self-Service isn’t something you will need to use everyday, but when you do need it, it is there, and using the website is typically straightforward.

What Happens If I Forget My Password?
Like most websites that require you to login, should you forget your username or password, there are options available which enable you to retrieve or reset your login information.  You will need to login to the email address your have on file, and/or answer a few security questions to verify your identity before continuing, but this is no different than retrieving or resetting your email password.

Are There Any Other Benefits Of Employee Self-Service?
It depends on the company, but usually employees can view their pay stubs, see their deductions, tax information, and make changes to their benefits (when applicable).

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6

Employee Privacy. Can Employers Read Emails?

Over the past 15 years, electronic and computer technology has transformed the workplace. Few businesses can operate today without the use of Internet technology for communications, research, business growth, economic strategizing and more. However, along with the benefits of instant global connectivity come some risks. Today, most employers find themselves trying to balance the privacy rights of their staff against their own right to know if valuable office hours are being spent posting political rants on Huff Po.

In fact, many employees admit to an irresistible urge to surf the Internet during work hours, and most do not realize the extent of the time they spend conducting personal business online during work hours. The cumulative downtime is costing employers big time, and lost productivity is only a part of the problem. Employers have wasted no time acquiring new technology to monitor and block employee Internet use – a practice that seems to create more questions than solutions; many employers and employees are unaware of their rights.

Can an employer read employees’ emails and monitor employees’ Internet usage?

Employers are generally free to monitor employee’s email content and Internet use. That includes reading employees’ emails. In fact, since this type of monitoring is still unregulated, employers can read employee emails, listen to employee voice mails, and observe the websites employees visit throughout the course of the day.

Despite the fact that employers have this level of monitoring power, they should approach monitoring openly, notifying employees that their email accounts and Internet usage is under surveillance at all times. If employers are up front with employees regarding their monitoring policies, there will be no misunderstanding or expectation of privacy when it comes to the use of company computers, phones, Internet service or workspace. Instead of breeding an atmosphere of secrecy, and in the spirit of giving everyone fair warning, full disclosure of the company’s monitoring policies empowers employees to refocus attention on their jobs.

Are Surveillance Cameras and Video Equipment in Workspaces Legal?

In addition to online surveillance of staff activities, many employers are also using cameras and video surveillance to keep track of the goings-on within their brick-and-mortars. Although the primary reason for installing surveillance equipment is theft prevention, employers are also monitoring employee activities while they’re “on the clock.” Those employees who take extended smoke breaks, or spend chunks of their day away from their desks are now faced with making changes to their time management skills.

If employees are aware that they’re being monitored, they’re probably more likely to get back to the business of being productive. From a practical standpoint, it serves the employer well to avoid micro-managing and overly regulating Internet usage and video surveillance, as employees will quickly come to resent the intrusion and morale will decline – not a recipe for maximizing productivity.

Can employers search employees?

An employer’s right to physically search an employee depends on the circumstances. If the workplace is a high-risk security area, or if a theft has been discovered, the employer is probably within the law to search the employee as long as the search is not too invasive. If the company has an employee handbook, it may contain specific language regarding searches. If the employer makes a habit of conducting personal searches without reasonable cause, or singles out one employee in particular for repeated searches, the legality of their actions may be called into question.

Can employers search employee work stations or desks?

Employers usually do have the right to search an employee’s desk, workspace, office or locker. Unless the employee is a member of a union that protects workers’ spaces from searches, all work spaces technically belong to the employer. Employees should have no expectation of privacy in their workspace or any areas within the employer’s domain. Some states have variations on employee rights regarding workspace searches. Both employees and employers should be aware of the laws governing workplace searches in their state. Additionally, employees should check the terms of their employment contract to see if workplace searches are mentioned.

Can employers search employee cars?

If the car belongs to the company, then the employer is probably within their rights to search it. If it is the employee’s personal car, then the employer is not allowed to search it. Even if the employer suspects there are dangerous or illegal substances in the car, he or she does not have the right to initiate a search. In that case, all the employer could do is call the police and let them determine the next step to take.

Employers who decide to monitor their employees’ email, Internet use, office activities and workspace content can avoid any questions of impropriety or worse by drafting a comprehensive written electronics communications and office monitoring policy. The policy itself should contain language that is reasonable, establishes clear limits on employee use of the company’s computer and Internet systems, and reinforces the employee’s role in furthering the company’s business goals. Each employee should be required to read and sign off on the policy, and be given a copy of the policy for their own files.

In a few more years, most employees will probably expect routine Internet, email and voice mail monitoring to be a given in most business environments. It is in these early years of revolutionary technological change that issues like these are still being ironed out. The best thing for the employer to do is to maintain full disclosure with employees regarding all monitoring policies, and put the rules in writing for all to read and sign off on.

 

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10

Q. Drug Testing Employees

Q. Under what conditions can employees be drug tested? If the employee tests positive, can they be discharged? How do we go about setting up a drug test?
Answer By Liz Ernst

 

Drug testing employees has been a hotly debated constitutional issue since Ronald Reagan penned the first Executive Order prohibiting illegal drug use by federal employees in 1986. Two years later, Congress enacted the Drug-Free Workplace Act, which applies to federal employees, military personnel, and federal contractors.

Guidelines established in 1989 state that any employer requiring an employee to produce a urine sample for drug testing must meet “reasonableness” requirements as they pertain to the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable search and seizures.

Some states have laws placing limits on what situations warrant testing a current employee. When an employer suspects an employee is using illegal drugs, or when workplace safety is an issue, an employer is generally within their legal rights to request drug testing.

However, all employers should have a clearly defined, written drug testing policy in place that abides by applicable laws, which can vary dramatically from state to state.

In Maryland, for example, employers may demand drug and alcohol testing on employees for any “legitimate business purpose.” Maryland has clearly defined procedural requirements and employee rights guidelines by which employers must abide for cases in which a positive test result may be used for disciplinary action.

Some states, including Florida, Arkansas, Delaware, Massachusetts and Virginia have no specific laws on workplace drug and alcohol testing, but that doesn’t mean employees are safe from disciplinary action if they do test positive. State Supreme Courts often favor the employer in cases where the dismissal of an employee who tested positive stemmed from the violation of the employer’s written substance abuse policy.

Fifth Amendment rights issues are also raised when it comes to employee drug testing. We know that the Fifth Amendment prohibits infringement on life, liberty, or property without due process of law, and many employees will argue that drug testing violates their Fifth Amendment rights. However, with the exception of union workers, most private-sector workers are considered to be “at-will employees,” meaning employment can be terminated by either the employer or the employee at any time without notice.

For that reason, employers are not required to provide any reason for job termination, so they are not bound to argue Fifth Amendment rights violations or even implicate drug testing as a basis for firing someone. Still, under certain circumstances legal specialists say that denying a current worker continued employment for refusing a drug test or due to drug test results may trigger a “due process” consideration over the employee’s legal right to respond, the validity of the test results, or any concerns the employee may have about required notice.

Even though drug testing has been declared legal, it is not exempt from constitutional challenges in cases where procedures for collecting urine or other specimens (hair, for example) disrespect the employee’s privacy rights. Additionally, in cases where testing is unnecessarily or excessively executed, or test results are indiscriminately leaked or exposed, the law may very well side with the employee if it appears the employer got sloppy with laws pertaining to testing.

Positive drug test results cannot be used in subsequent criminal prosecutions without express consent of the employee.

The most common situations in which employee drug testing is generally legal include:
•    Situations in which the job poses safety risks can require workers to submit to random drug testing. For instance, certain professions are more apt to require drug testing due to safety concerns, such a commercial truck drivers, airline pilots, or high risk construction jobs. Other jobs with inherent safety risks, such as machinists or warehouse forklift operators, may also be subject to periodic or random testing according to the employer’s written policy on drug testing.

•    Instances in which an employer has a “reasonable suspicion” that an employee is using illegal drugs. Obvious physical evidence such as an employee being discovered with illegal drugs in his possession or in his workplace locker, slurred speech, repeated work errors or bungling of everyday tasks can all constitute reasonable suspicion. When the employer has a written policy in place, drug testing under these circumstances is generally supported.

•    Following an employee’s involvement in a workplace or work-related accident, if the employer has a legitimate reason to believe that drug use contributed to the accident.

•    During or following an employee’s participation in a drug rehabilitation program.
Guide for Employers.

Employers with a written drug testing policy in place that employees are required to read, acknowledge, and sign off on upon hire are going to fare best when it comes to legally implementing and enforcing workplace drug testing.
Under a drug-free work place program, employers can:

1. Test both employees and applicants.

2. Conduct drug tests upon reasonable suspicion or for cause. Testing may also be performed randomly, routinely, and/or subsequent to an employee’s participation in a drug rehabilitation program.

Random, unannounced, and/or non-routine drug testing performed when there is no reason for suspicion or cause can result in legal problems for an offending employer. That includes situations in which testing is applied to some employees but not all employees, or in states that prohibit or limit no cause testing for employees whose jobs do not have inherent safety risks.

Before carrying out an employee drug test, make sure a clear, written description of the process being implemented is provided to the employee(s) being tested, either in the company’s written drug testing policy or in a separate document provided to the employee.

For employers who hire contract workers, drug testing procedures may vary with contracts, in which case the procedure needs to be documented separately for contract workers. Be sure to include the following information:

•    Name of the facility employees are required to go to provide their samples. Include the name, address and phone number of the collection site.

•    Name of the lab or other facility testing the samples. Include the name and phone number of the testing facility.

•    Procedure for reporting results. For instance, will the lab inform the employee of the test results or will that be handled by someone within the company?

Employers considering inclusion of random “no cause” drug-testing for their employees should test all employees if they are going to test one. This will deflect any claims of discrimination from employees who feel singled out.

Finally, although it should go without saying, never under any circumstances should an employer attempt to retrieve a specimen sample from an employee without their knowledge and consent. Doing so could result in criminal charges being levied against the employer. For example, collecting a stray hair from an employee’s workspace to be sent out for drug testing is absolutely illegal.

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1

A Guide To Mandatory Deductions for Employees

As an employer in the United States, you are required to make certain deductions from employees’ income. Deductions can be mandatory or voluntary. Mandatory deductions are those that a legal entity requires you to make; voluntary deductions are those that you offer and the employee consents to. Since mandatory deductions are legally required, you must perform the deductions according to the respective agency’s requirements.

Federal Requirements

The Internal Revenue Service requires you to withhold federal income tax from employees’ pay. Further, the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) mandates the collection of Social Security and Medicare taxes. You must withhold these three taxes from employees’ income, unless the employee is exempt, which doesn’t happen often.

Federal Income Tax Calculation

To determine the amount of federal income tax to withhold from an employee’s paycheck, consult the employee’s W-4 form and IRS Circular E for the appropriate tax year. Specifically, obtain the employee’s filing status and number of allowances from lines 3 and 5 of the W-4 then find the tax table in the Circular E that matches that information plus the employee’s wages and pay period; the tax table gives you the exact amount to withhold based on this information. This method of withholding is called the wage bracket method.

Check line 6 of the W-4 to see if the employee opted for additional income tax withholding. If so, add the elected amount to the amount you obtained from the Circular E to arrive at the total withholding. If the employee claims more than 10 allowances or if her wages exceed the wage bracket limit, figure out the withholding by using the percentage method as explained in the Circular E. In most cases, the wage bracket method applies; therefore, it is unlikely that you’ll be required to use the percentage method. If an employee qualifies for – and claims – exempt on line 7 of the W-4, do not withhold any federal income tax from her paychecks.

FICA Calculation

Consult IRS Circular E or the Social Security Administration’s website for Medicare and Social Security withholding rates for the respective year. For example, in 2012, calculate Social Security tax at 4.2 percent on wages paid before March 1, and at 6.2 percent on wages paid after February 29. The annual wage limit for Social Security in 2012 is $110,100; therefore, once an employee earns that amount for the year, stop the withholding. In 2012, the Medicare withholding rate is 1.45 percent on all wages paid.

Most employees are not exempt from FICA taxes; however, on occasion, an employee is excluded. For example, a student employed by a college or university where she’s pursuing a course of study is exempt from Medicare and Social Security taxes.

State/Local Requirements

Nine states do not require state income tax withholding: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Wyoming, Washington, Texas, Tennessee, South Dakota and New Hampshire. If state taxes apply, the requirements vary by state. For instance, in California, employers are required to withhold personal income tax and state disability insurance. In Ohio, employers must withhold state income tax, plus school district tax from employees who live in a school district that has imposed an income tax. In Pennsylvania, employers must withhold personal income tax and state unemployment tax. Since state laws differ, consult your state revenue agency for the type of taxes you’re required to withhold.

Calculations for state taxes also vary by state; therefore, use the withholding method that the respective agency requires. For example, in Pennsylvania, employers withhold personal income tax at a flat rate. In California, employers use the state withholding tax tables and the employee’s state tax form (comparable to Form W-4) to figure state income tax.

Considerations

A wage garnishment is a mandatory deduction. Contact the issuing agency if you have questions concerning a wage garnishment and do not withhold more than the legal amount allowed. Federal law restricts garnishment withholding in a single pay period to the lesser of the amount by which the employee’s disposable pay exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wage or 25 percent of disposable income, which is the employee’s pay after other legally required deductions. The state may require a lesser amount; if so, apply the smaller amount.

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9

Sexual Harassment: A Guide to Coping with Unwanted Advances from a Coworker

By: Shauna Zamarripa

Unforeseen and uninvited advances from colleagues or superiors can make just about anybody feel instantaneously overpowered. This type of conduct creates uneasy, difficult situations that can appear nerve-racking to escape from. Such blatant, unexpected overtures can threaten friendships and working kinships alike. Thusly, it is important for all professionals to understand how to differentiate appropriate and inappropriate workplace behavior and what actions to take in the event of potential sexual harassment.

 

No. 1: Dress the Part

In an unblemished society, everybody would be able to wear what makes him or her feel content. The fact remains, however, that we don’t live in a faultless society. When you are at work, remember to dress professionally at all times. Leave miniskirts and form fitting garb at home. If you dress provocatively or in a fashion that courts attention, it sends the wrong message to coworkers and superiors, and while it should not open anyone up to unwanted sexual advances, it often does.

No. 2: Don’t Ignore It

If you have ever been cat called, whistled at or treated as if you are a flank steak, you probably already know that the best thing you can do is to dismiss these inappropriate overtures. While this type of behavior might be okay for construction workers, however, it should not take place in a professional environment for any reason. If you find yourself targeted by less than mature work fellows, document their behavior and take it directly to management. If management does not address the issue, and if the behavior continues, it’s time to go to your human resources manager. If you choose to ignore it, the behavior will very likely get worse.

 

No. 3: Don’t Flirt

Unless you are willing to back up your flirtatious behavior with something more, avoid flirting in the workplace. Even seemingly harmless banter with coworkers or superiors can be misinterpreted, leaving you open to unwanted advances. At which point, should you swat these advances away, you run the risk of earning a reputation you do not deserve. The bottom line? Flirting at work is never okay, regardless of circumstance.

 

No. 4: Be Clear About your Feelings

If the unwanted advances you experience are coming from a coworker who is also a friend, the most salient thing you can do it be straightforward about your feelings. If necessary, mention company policy prohibiting interoffice relationships (most offices have these) to make your case clear. Rarely is a flirtation worth losing your job over.

 

No. 5: Know Your Resources

Professional organizations take a hard line on sexual harassment, and most have a zero tolerance policy regarding inappropriate relationships in the workplace. Make sure you understand the policy and procedures for reporting inappropriate behavior in your workplace and follow the protocols set forth in your employee manual. If you are unsure or unclear about the policies, consult your human resources department or call in to an employee hotline anonymously (if one is available).

 

No. 6: Be Prepared for the Worst

There are instances, even in a professional setting, where predators become physical. Because of this, carrying some degree of personal protection — like pepper spray or a whistle – is important for your personal safety. Being prepared for the worst can save you in the event that unwanted and unexpected advances turn into something physical.

When reporting someone to human resources or management, it is also important to remember that your actions can damage working relationships and careers – both yours and theirs. Before blowing the whistle on a coworker, check in with yourself and make sure you are certain the behavior warrants reporting. Never file a complaint when you are angry. Focus on the behavior, not the person and focus on facts, not opinion.

No one deserves to go to work and be made miserable because of sexual harassment. Take the right precautions to protect yourself, behave above reproach, never forget your professionalism and know your resources. Doing this will help your confidence as well as your career.

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5

Q: Can Facebook Harm Your Chance of Recruitment?

By: Shauna Zamarripa

In a technologically centric world, your personal information is both visible and accessible. In addition to this, it is now also able to hurt or help you professionally. Like it or not, social media outlets have made everyone in the world more visible and accessible to just about anyone, anywhere, for any reason. This exposure has virtually (no pun intended) blurred the lines between private matters and public domain, and Facebook accounts are no exception.

 

How Facebook Impacts Your Online Reputation

 

Today, your public reputation is made up of much more than just your thoughts, deeds and actions. It is more than just your comments, status updates and photos. Your public reputation is now directly connected to the people you are friends with online, in addition to their social media activities. Unfortunately, this can be bad news for most Facebook users who don’t lock down their list of online pals.

For example, if you were to post a status update and walk away, only to have commentators get into an argument or do nothing but take snarky digs at your update for the next half hour, that becomes a direct reflection of who you are hanging around with to potential recruiters, and that reflection isn’t good.=

Microsoft commissioned a study on Online Reputation, surveying numerous U.S. recruiters and HR professionals all around the United States. In this study, over 85 percent of the professionals surveyed admitted that they check out, and form opinions on, potential hires on the web before they even schedule an interview, and they confessed to using social media as a proving ground. If your phone isn’t ringing, it might be time to clean up your friend list.

 

Facebook Groups Paint a Picture

 

Another area of your public domain is also reflected in the online groups you belong to. Employers and recruiters will look at these groups, and will form an opinion on you based on your membership.

For example, if you are a member of groups that promote drug use or socially unacceptable behavior, that will hurt your chances of getting a job almost always. On the flip side, if you are a member of groups heavy with professionals that enrich your career goals, that bodes well in your online persona.

Make sure to review the groups you belong to regularly, and remove yourself from any unsavory associations.

 

Improving Your Professional Persona

 

If you want the lines of separation between your personal and professional lives to remain intact, you need to do your homework when it comes to Facebook’s privacy settings. Facebook has a variety of privacy settings, allowing you to customize who gets to see what, whenever you post. This can be an effective way of allowing you to be yourself without compromising your professional integrity. If you post something controversial, make sure that only your inner circle has access to it.

 

Being Mindful of Your Social Media Persona

 

Research shows that only about 18% of people who find a job are hired though online job postings. That could be a direct reflection of the impact of social media in the job market, or it might just be the new trend. Either way, you can never be too careful. Always be mindful of what your online persona says about you. Think about what a recruiter or employer would see if he or she went to your Facebook page for a visit. Adjust and modify your online life to create good preconceptions in place of bad ones, and your job search might just be that much easier.

 

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Q: What is the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), how does it work and who is covered?

By: Liz Ernst

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law enacted in 1993 to protect employees’ jobs in the event that the must take unpaid leave due to childbirth, serious illness, or to care for an immediate family member who is seriously ill.

Benefits available to U.S. workers through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can be a godsend for those who need to take time off from work for medical reasons, or to care for family members suffering from a serious illness or recovering from illness or injury.

At its base, FMLA benefits provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period. Although employers are not required to pay employees during FMLA leave periods, they are required to hold the employee’s job until their return, or provide a different job with equivalent pay and benefits.

It is always a good idea to ask your employer what FMLA benefits they offer upon being hired, if the human resources department does not automatically provide these details. Some employers offer enhanced benefits such as paid maternity leave, paid sick leave, and other perks that are not required under FMLA guidelines.

FMLA Benefits

The Family and Medical Leave Act was designed to make sure U.S. workers have some leeway when it comes to balancing the needs of their families with their jobs. Although employers are not required to pay employees during a FMLA absence, they are required to maintain any employee health insurance plan already in place at the time the leave begins.

Who is Covered?

  • Employeeswho have worked for the same employer for a minimum of 12 months and have put in at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months immediately prior to the FMLA leave.

 

Under FMLA, employers must provide an eligible employee up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave within any 12-month time frame, for any covered circumstance including:

 

  • Childbirth and care of the newborn child.
  • Adoption of a child.
  • Placement of a foster child with the employee.
  • Inability to work due to a serious illness or injury.
  • The need to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) who is seriously ill or injured.

 

  • Employees with spouses, children, or parents currently serving in military active duty, or who have been called up for active duty can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under FMLA in the event of a qualified emergency developing from the family member’s active military duty.  FMLA coverage may extend for up to 26 weeks annually when loved ones in the military are seriously injured or become ill during active duty.

What are the Employers’ Responsibilities?

  • Private employerswith 50 or more employee working within 75 miles of the employer’s worksite are required to provide FMLA benefits. Those employers with fewer than 50 employees have the option of providing comparable benefits to their staff, although it is not a requirement.
  • Public agencies including public elementary and secondary schools, as well as private elementary and secondary schools are required to provide FMLA benefits regardless of the number of employees.

Employees who are eligible for FMLA leave can take up to 12 weeks of leave to access treatment for an illness or to recover from an illness or injury. The FMLA has wide-ranging guidelines to define those health conditions deemed serious enough for inclusion. Pregnancy (including absences due to morning sickness and prenatal doctor visits), physical or mental impairments that may require multiple absences for treatment, asthma, diabetes and post-surgery examinations are just a few of the conditions covered through FMLA guidelines.

Cosmetic surgery, routine dental or medical care, colds, headaches and the like are not included in FMLA guidelines, and employers may require employees to apply any paid sick or vacation time they have accrued during absences for non-FMLA approved conditions.

FMLA does not affect applicable Worker’s Compensation benefits for employees who become injured or ill on the job.

FMLA benefits can be applied intermittently, so an employee may be able to work on a part time basis under certain circumstances.

For workers living in California, a recently established Paid Family Leave (PFL) insurance program administered by the State Disability Insurance Program works with FMLA guidelines and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) employee leave program to provide paid leave for up to six weeks. Some states also offer their own employee leave programs and benefits. Check with your employer and do a bit of online research to understand your full FMLA rights.

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How to Figure Employer Tax Liabilities

How to Figure Employer Tax Liabilities

As an employer in the United States, you have employment tax obligations, which are separate from the taxes you are supposed to withhold from employees’ paychecks. Specifically, most employers are supposed to pay federal and state unemployment taxes, and Medicare and Social Security taxes. You pay federal unemployment tax (FUTA) and Medicare and Social Security taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, and state unemployment tax (SUTA) to the state unemployment agency. Follow the respective agency’s guidelines when calculating your tax liabilities.

 

  1. Consult IRS Circular E to see if you are liable for FUTA tax. For example, you must pay FUTA tax in 2012 if you paid wages of $1,500 or more in any quarter of 2011 or 2012 to employees who are not household or farm workers, or if you had one or more workers for at least a partial day in any 20 or more different weeks in 2011 or 2012.

 

  1. Calculate federal unemployment tax at 6 percent of the first $7,000 paid to each worker, as of 2012. Once the employee earns at least $7,000 for the year, you do not owe any more FUTA tax on that employee for the year. If an employee does not earn at least the annual wage base, pay FUTA tax on whatever amount she earned.

 

  1. Pay Social Security tax at 6.2 percent of taxable wages paid to each employee, up to $110,100 for the year; and Medicare tax at 1.45 percent of all taxable wages paid. Medicare tax has no annual wage limit; you pay it on all wages.

 

  1. Consult the state unemployment agency for your state unemployment tax rate and wage base. The agency generally sends employers their rate for the upcoming year before the New Year begins. The agency also sets the rules concerning which employers are liable for SUTA tax.

 

State unemployment tax rates vary by employer and usually depends on the longevity of the business, whether it’s a construction or non-construction business and the number of former employees who has drawn benefits on your account. Typically, the more benefits drawn on your account, the higher your rate.

 

For example, in Ohio and in 2012, the new employer unemployment tax rate is 2.7 percent and the rate for new construction employers is 7 percent. The state annual wage base varies by state. For instance, as of 2012, Alabama employers pay unemployment tax on the first $8,000 paid to each employee, and Connecticut employers pay unemployment tax on the first $15,000 paid to each employee.

 

  1. Take a credit against your federal unemployment tax for state unemployment tax payments you made. You may take a credit of 5.4 percent if you paid your SUTA tax in full, on time and if your state is not a credit reduction state; this lowers your federal unemployment tax liability to .6 percent instead of 6 percent. A credit reduction state is one that owes the federal government for borrowed unemployment funds.

 

 

Tips

 

Employer tax rates are subject to change, typically, yearly. Ensure you obtain the appropriate rates from the respective agency before calculating your liabilities.

 

Consult IRS Circular E for your FUTA tax payment schedule, which is generally due quarterly. File annual unemployment tax reports with the IRS via Form 940.

 

Pay state unemployment tax liabilities to the state unemployment agency according to its policies. Many state agencies require quarterly payments and reporting.

 

In some states, the same wages that are subject to federal unemployment tax are also subject to state unemployment tax. However, in some states, certain wages that are subject to FUTA tax are not subject to SUTA tax, such as certain fringe benefits and wages paid to corporate officers. In these instances, your FUTA tax rate may exceed .6 percent; consult the instructions for Form 940 or contact the IRS directly for additional guidance.

 

 

 

 

 

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