Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

Harassment for All

Share this post

Image: Bob RosnerIn a landmark decision, California’s Supreme Court held that two women who were not involved in a workplace affair had grounds to sue because the women who were having affairs with the boss received preferential treatment.

Prison and party don’t normally go together in my mind. But after reading about the workplace where the harassment took place, California’s Valley State Prison for Women, I’ll have to think again about what goes on behind those guard gates and razor wire.

Let me explain. Two Valley State women employees sued because they claimed that the warden promoted women who he was romantically involved with over women who were not sleeping with him. This is where the case gets interesting. The warden wasn’t having one affair. He wasn’t sleeping with two women at the same time. He managed to maintain THREE concurrent affairs. Actually the CNN description didn’t even stop there; its report said that he had “at least” three affairs.

This guy gives new meaning to the phrase “working around the clock.” I’m a guy and the thought of maintaining three affairs just wears me out. Then again, just being a warden, I thought, would manage to occupy your full attention too.

This case also is a great example of the law of “unintended consequences.” This is where we are so focused on what we are doing, that we fail to see its unintended results on the people around us. After reading much of the commentary surrounding this decision, there was a common thread that this case would obviously be overturned by the right coast Supreme Court (isn’t it interesting how the coast of both so completely aligns with their political affiliations?).

Whether the case is overturned or not, it clearly shows the danger of putting all your eggs in the workplace basket. Many of us spend a huge amount of time at work, we make all of our friends at work, we derive most of the meaning for our lives from work and yes, we often date the people at work.

This case points out that our actions, especially dating, can have an impact far beyond us. It’s like when you throw a rock into a calm lake and the wake generated flows in all directions. Relationships not only make work complicated for the people involved, it makes things complicated for everyone that they come into contact with.

What’s so ironic is that so many people seem to think that they are like Casper the Friendly Ghost at work—invisible. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is only one workplace dogma that I believe—no one can keep a secret indefinitely at work. And if you are a boss, well the odds go down even further. Because, whether you like it or not, every person who works for you is always watching everything that you do or say.

So according to the California Supreme Court, if you are a supervisor who dates at work, don’t be surprised if you are suddenly greeted by an orgy of lawsuits.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]


Share this post

Obama Announces White House Jobs Summit

Share this post

Image: Mike HallThis morning, President Obama announced he will invite labor leaders, business executives, small business owners, economists and other financial experts to a special White House summit on jobs next month.

Obama says the summit will explore ways to slow the loss of jobs and quicken the pace of job creation at a time when the nation’s jobless rate is at 10.2 percent, its highest point since 1983. As Obama said,

We have an obligation to consider every additional responsible step that we can to encourage and accelerate job creation in this country.

Just this week, the AFL-CIO Executive Council met in Washington, D.C., to outline a national jobs creation strategy that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will announce Tuesday at a special Economic Policy Institute (EPI) jobs and economy panel and seminar. (Plan now to view the live webcast from 9-11:30 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 17, at www.aflcio.org/createjobs.)

The summit announcement came as a new report showed there were 502,000 initial claims for unemployment benefits last week. Dire as that is, it’s lower than expected and is the smallest number of first-time claims since January. But, according to Obama:

Even though we’ve slowed the loss of jobs—and today’s report on the continued decline in unemployment claims is a hopeful sign—the economic growth that we’ve seen has not yet led to the job growth that we desperately need.

EPI President Lawrence Mishel calls the announcement of the White House jobs summit “necessary and welcome.”

President Obama is right to say that we should take “every responsible step” to help put Americans back to work. With a double-digit unemployment rate and nearly 16 million Americans looking for work, we should take decisive action as quickly as possible to create jobs. High rates of unemployment damage our economy in ways that can take years, if not generations, to fix, by casting millions of families and children into poverty and making it difficult for our nation to invest for the future. President Obama’s focus on job creation is necessary and welcome.

Currently 15.7 million workers are jobless and when the unemployment and underemployment rates are combined they soar to 17.5 percent—more than 27 million workers.

A date for the summit will be announced soon.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on November 12, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.


Share this post

ADA Changes Better Late Than Never

Share this post

New ADA Regulations Will Bring Necessary Change

I received a call from a reporter from MSNBC a few days ago. She indicated that she wanted to ask me some questions about the new Americans with Disabilities Act regulations recently put out by the EEOC.

The interview caused me to reflect on just how important the amendments to the ADA are –along with the new regulations — and the struggle we have gone through to get here.

When the ADA was written, I remember being at a meeting in Cleveland with a group of employment lawyers which was sponsored by a committee of the American Bar Association. The guest speaker was a lawyer from D.C. and he was there to talk to us about the new legislation and give us a preview.

I remember listening to and reading all of these complex, confusing terms and thinking “this is going to result in tons of litigation and be a big nightmare.” I walked out of the meeting and talked about my deep concern with some friends and colleagues from both sides of the bar.

We all seemed to reach the same conclusion – that this was going to be an ugly litigation mess — and though we saw the handwriting on the wall, there was nothing we could do about it. The ADA was written and this is what it was going to say.

And indeed what our group of experienced employment lawyers predicted that day in 1990 turned out to be true. While the intent of the ADA was certainly noble, the way in which it was written has caused nothing but problems.

What’s more important is that the problems with the ADA have had a terrible negative effect on those individuals who were supposed to be protected by the legislation.

The ADA was intended to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. Because of the way in which the Act was written, combined with the way in which it has been interpreted by an exceedingly conservative federal judiciary, most cases got thrown out on summary judgment because the courts determined that the individual plaintiff employee was not disabled.

If he/she was not disabled, then he/she was not protected by the ADA from disability discrimination, and so they lost. Here’s an example of what I mean.

A secretary gets fired for going to chemotherapy. We file a case of disability discrimination. The employer argues that cancer is not a disability as defined by the Act. The judge buys the argument and the case gets thrown out. (based on a true story)

That scenario occurred thousands and thousands of times. Employees with disabilities were getting fired, or not hired in the first place, or passed over for promotions – and the cases were thrown out of court because the employers argued that the person was not disabled so the ADA did not apply.

Those rejected included people with AIDS, people with cancer, people with MS, people with epilepsy, diabetes, with prosthetic devices and the list goes on and on.

As a consequence,  those of us who tried to represent these folks never even got to the stage of the case in which we had a chance to prove discrimination.

As I explained to the MSNBC reporter, in other discrimination lawsuits such as age, race, or gender discrimination cases, we don’t have a fight about whether the client is a woman, or over 40, or black.

We glide past step one, and move on to proof of the next step, that is:

  • Was he or she was discriminated against because of age, race or gender?
  • Was that person’s age, race, or gender a motivating reason for the discharge, failure to hire, lack of promotion, or any other adverse employment decision?

In disability cases, it was almost impossible to get to step two. Practically no one seemed to meet the criteria for coverage under the ADA. To be covered, the individual must:

  • have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • and be able  to perform the essential functions of the job.

The courts decided – at the employers’ urging — that the employee was either not substantially impaired, or that the impairment did not involve a “major life activity.”

Even if the plaintiff got over that hurdle – in other words was disabled enough to meet the criteria, it’s most likely that he or she was booted anyway.

That’s because the employer would then take the position that the individual was so restricted that he or she was not able to meet the essential functions of their job – and most courts went along with the companies’ argument.

In a nutshell, a person either wasn’t disabled enough to meet the definitional terms of the statute– – or was too disabled to perform the “essential functions of the job” even if accommodated. (reasonable accommodation for the disabled is required under the ADA)

The long and short of it is that millions of people with disabilities had no protection from discrimination as a result of this legal mess.

The amendments to the ADA passed last year (Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008) fixed this problem and the regulations issued at the end of September provided most of the necessary clarifications to put real teeth into the fix.

For the first time, the EEOC regulations lists examples of impairments that will consistently meet the definition of a disability. Such impairments include (but are not limited to):

  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Partially or completely missing limbs
  • Mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair
  • Autism
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Major depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Schizophrenia

There are new definitions for substantial impairment, major life activity, regarded as disabled, and more  — all of which are intended to overrule the previous restrictive federal court interpretations of the legislation(including the US Supreme Court).

The new ADA amendments along with the regulations plainly state that the ADA is intended to offer broad protection to people with disabilities as well as people who are regarded to be disabled by their employers and who are discriminated because of it.

Instead of litigating the issue of whether someone is disabled,  the central issue of these cases will now be what they should have been all along – whether the employee was discriminated against because of a disability.  That’s what was intended when the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed.

Too bad it took us nineteen years to get here – but as the old adage goes, better late than never.

www.michaellouisyoung.com

www.broward.org

This article originally appeared in Employee Rights Post on November 9, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Ellen Simon is recognized as one of the first and foremost employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States. With more than $50* million in verdicts and settlements and over 30 years of experience, Ellen has been listed in Best Lawyers in America and in the National Law Journal as one of the nation’s leading litigators. She has been lauded for her work on landmark cases that established employment law in both state and federal court. Ellen also possesses a wealth of knowledge as a legal analyst discussing high-profile civil cases, employment discrimination and women’s issues. Ms. Simon has been quoted often in local and national news media and is a regular guest on television and radio, including appearances on Court TV. She is the author of the Employee Rights Post, a legal blog devoted to employee and civil rights.

*prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome


Share this post

Military Veterans Deserve Jobs When They Return

Share this post

While we take the time this Veterans Day to honor the courage and sacrifice shown by our veterans, we should also rededicate ourselves to making sure vets have a secure and stable life after they finish their service.

The U.S. Labor Department reports the unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 11.3 percent, significantly above the overall rate of 10.2 percent for the nation as a whole. Some 185,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are out of work. Many of these unemployed veterans are National Guard or Reserve troops who were called to duty but found when they came home that their old jobs were no longer there for them.

The AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council is calling on Congress to strengthen and enforce the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which ensures veterans can claim their former jobs when they return from active duty.

In his Veterans Day message, Union Veterans Council Chairman Mark Ayers quotes President Franklin Roosevelt who signed the first GI Bill into law in 1944:

What our servicemen and women want, more than anything else, is the assurance of satisfactory employment upon their return to civil life.

“For today’s veterans, that same desire holds true,” Ayers says.

Click here to read Ayers’ message.

There is good news for vets on this holiday. President Obama signed on Nov. 9 a new executive order that underscores to federal agencies the importance of recruiting and training veterans, to increase the employment of veterans within the executive branch and to help recently hired veterans adjust to civilian life.

The executive order establishes a Veterans Employment Program office within most federal agencies, the White House said. These offices will be responsible for helping veterans identify employment opportunities within federal agencies, providing feedback to veterans about their employment application status, and helping veterans recently employed by agencies adjust to civilian life and a workplace culture often different than military service.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Veterans Affairs Secretary  will chair a high-level committee to oversee the program. Click here to read the executive order.

The Union Veterans Council also is calling for other federal programs, as well:

  • Expanding state and local programs for providing job training and employment counseling services.
  • Increasing coverage of the new post-9/11 GI Bill to include payments for apprenticeships and on-the-job training.
  • Continuing funding for the nationally recognized AFL-CIO “Helmets to Hardhats” program, which has placed tens of thousands of transitioning veterans into careers in the construction industry.

Ayers sums it up this way:

On this Veterans Day, we have the privilege of honoring these very special American men and women whose sacrifices and service are beyond most people’s comprehension. We owe them a great deal. First and foremost, we owe them our freedom. Secondly, we owe them our gratitude. And finally, we owe them the prospect of a secure and stable life upon the conclusion of their service.

This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on November 10, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.


Share this post

California Defamation Law: Libel and Slander that Injures Professional Reputation at Workplace

Share this post

Imaeg: Arkady-ItkinThis article originally appeared in My Employment Lawyer on November 8, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

One of the powerful but also somewhat underused claims that employees who are falsely accused of any kind of misconduct at workplace have is a claim for defamation (libel and slander). Proving a defamation claim in court has it’s own unique challenges, but the law imposes significant liability for making false statements that injure one’s professional reputation as it has been recognizing the harm that defamatory language can make to one’s professional career.

One of the great California Supreme Court cases on the issue of defamation in a professional setting is Slaughter v. Friedman 32 Cal.3d 149 (1982). In that case, an oral surgeon brought a libel lawsuit against a private medical insurance company. The surgeon submitted a claim for certain dental services he provided to one of his patients, which was denied and which was accompanied with the letter that was cc’ed to his patients, and stating that the dental work done was “unnecessary” and that the surgeon was “overcharging.”

The Court began its analysis with reiterating the well established principle of the broad reach of the defamation claim: libel includes almost any language which, upon its face, has a natural tendency to injure a person’s reputation.

The defendant insurance company persuasively argued that the term “unnecessary” cannot be consider libel because it’s a statement of opinion and not fact (to be actionable, a defamatory statement must be a statement of “fact.”) The Court disagreed and drew an interesting distinction, holding that although accusations of “unnecessary” work when made by laymen might indeed be mere opinions, similar accusations by professional dental plan administrators carry a ring of authenticity and reasonably might be understood as being based on fact.

This decision is a significant note of caution to professional entities who render and publish their opinions about someone’s qualifications or quality work, as those opinions might be considered by courts as statements of facts because of the professional authority of the source of that publication.

About the Author: Arkady Itkin is a California Employment and Injury Attorney representing employee, small businesses, and injured persons in San Francisco, Sacramento, and surrounding counties in Northern California. He is a member of San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association, California Employment Lawyers Association and the Association of Consumer Attorneys of California. Arkady’s website is www.arkadylaw.com.


Share this post

Big Unions Hail Healthcare Bill Passage, as Senate Challenge Begins

Share this post

Image: Art LevineUnion leaders joined President Obama in hailing the historic, if narrow, passage of major health reform legislation in the House this weekend.

The bill “is a fiscally responsible bill that will cover 96 percent of Americans, end insurance company discrimination and denials of care and equip health care providers with the tools they need to lower costs for families and the country as a whole,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said. “The bill…does not attempt to finance reform on the backs of the working middle class… But we still have a long way to go.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House Democrats gather for a press conference after the House of Representatives passed the healthcare reform bill 220 to 215 late Saturday night.   (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House Democrats gather for a press conference after the House of Representatives passed the healthcare reform bill 220 to 215 late Saturday night. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Indeed, as this blog and other observers point out, the real sticking point in the Senate probably won’t be the public option or even the extreme anti-abortion language passed in the House, but the critical issue of how to pay for the legislation. Will it be by taxing the rich, as the House does, or burdening the middle-class with new taxes and costs? That’s what union advocates and the Congerssional Joint Committee on Taxation say will happen as a result of the Senate’s tax on insurers that offer high-cost plans.

 

The conventional wisdom in Washington is, as the AP put it Sunday, that the “millionaire’s tax is a non-starter” in the Senate, but grassroots activism by unions, public opinion and the strong backing of the AARP and AMA for the House version all add political clout to the drive to keep the House payment approach alive.

Over at the Daily Beast, Matt Yglesias points out the hurdles to reconciling two starkly different versions of paying for the legislation:

The merits of the two approaches aside, the work of a political compromise will be extremely difficult. The House’s approach seems to have almost no support in the Senate, and wasn’t even seriously considered by members of the Senate Finance Committee. Conversely, the Senate’s approach is opposed by labor unions, and over 150 House Democrats have signed a letter saying they also oppose it. The party leadership, simply put, has very little margin for error when it comes to trying to sort this issue out. A handful of defections from the 219 Democrats who voted in favor of reform last night could probably be made up, but not much more than a handful. And in the Senate, it essentially required Democratic unanimity to pass bills in the face of routine filibustering and solid GOP opposition.

There hasn’t been much rancor around this issue, simply because it hasn’t been in the public view. But it will be soon. How can health-care reform pass if it’s financed by a mechanism that key moderate senators have dubbed a “non-starter?” Alternatively, how can you imagine a universal health-care bill passing with no Republican support over the opposition of the AFL-CIO? Comprehensive health-care reform is closer than ever to happening, but it’s still far from obvious that it will happen.

On top of that important issue, the five-vote majority was pulled together in part by securing the votes of some of the 64 ConservaDems in support of an amendment barring any tax dollars even indirectly subsidizing abortion. It’s the biggest rollback of a woman’s right to choose in decades, and one that could hit low-income women the hardest.

It’s a poison pill that Democrats in individual, GOP-leaning districts had to swallow, but not one that most Democratic Senators can easily accept if they want to avoid primary challenges or low turnout from disaffected Democratic voters in state-wide races. The assumption in Washington is that somehow the hard-line stance in the House bill will be finessed in the Senate, and either defanged or removed in conference.

But some journalists and bloggers say, the hard-line abortion amendment could have been significantly weakened, at least, if pro-choice groups had lobbied harder and more effectively—and if House leadership had taken more seriously  the concerns of pro-life Democrats and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a roadblock to reform. 

Now millions of low-income women who might seek to buy insurance with a taxpayer subsidy could find themselves denied the right to access medical care and legally terminate a pregnancy. Pro-life forces were justifiably cheering at this news. But it’s clearly at odds with the spirit and intent of health reform, let alone the Democratic Party platform.

Equally troubling to reform advocates is the slow-down in the Senate and the ominous signals that Sen. Reid sent last week hinting that a final vote in the Senate might not take place until early next year. The Senate bill has been in a form of limbo over the last two weeks; activists believe this impasse needs to be challenged with more grass-roots pressure.

Nor surprisingly, the inside-the-Beltway mentality that declared the public option dead a month ago is still contending that you need 60 votes to pass a bill with a public option. In fact, progressive strategists say, you just need 60 votes to stop a filibuster, and 51 votes using budget reconciliation to pass a bill if cloture can’t be reached. Here’s how the center-right AP’s news analysis frames the issue:

If a government plan is part of the deal, “as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent whose vote Democrats need to overcome GOP filibusters.

“The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said dismissively.

No floor debate scheduled

Democrats did not line up to challenge him. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has yet to schedule floor debate and hinted last week that senators may not be able to finish health care this year.

Nonetheless, the House vote provided an important lesson in how to succeed with less-than-perfect party unity, and one that Senate Democrats may be able to adapt. House Democrats overcame their own divisions and broke an impasse that threatened the bill after liberals grudgingly accepted tougher restrictions on abortion funding, as abortion opponents demanded.

The lesson drawn from the House action by the AP’s analyst is: do what’s needed to compromise with your party’s right wing. On the Senate side, that would mean abandoning the public option in practice, and perhaps keeping it in name only with a “trigger” provision that could take years to put in place as 45,000 people die annually because of a lack of health insurance.

SEIU President Andy Stern drew a different lesson from the House victory, as a statement from the union said:

“Real leadership does not govern out of fear but looks at the obstacles facing our country and pushes for bold solutions that live up to our country’s promise. Like the creation of Medicare and Social Security, today’s historic passage of the Affordable Health Choices Act by the House of Representatives will be remembered as a pinnacle moment when Congress showed the courage necessary to live up to our American ideals,” Stern said.

SEIU’s members have been on the front lines for more than a decade in the fight to reach this historic moment. Its two point one million members – nurses, doctors, janitors, nursing home workers, child care providers – spent these years knocking on doors, making tens of thousands of phone calls, and donating their time and money to make sure Congress delivered meaningful reform.

Stern continued, “The Affordable Health Choices Act guarantees quality health insurance is affordable and that the insurance industry can no longer stand in the way of people getting the care they need at a price they can afford…

“We heard enough of ‘No We Can’t’ from the insurance industry, special interests and Republicans today and we will not let them stand in the way of a healthcare system that Americans have fought for nearly a century to realize.”

Stern emphasized that it is “now up to the Senate to lead with the same audacity to guarantee that meaningful health insurance reform does in fact happen this year.”

This article originally appeared in Working In These Times on November 9, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate.com, Salon.com and numerous other publications. He wrote the October 2007 In These Times cover story, “Unionbusting Confidential.” Levine is also the co-host of the “D’Antoni and Levine” show on BlogTalk Radio, every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. EST.


Share this post

One Strike and You’re Out

Share this post

Image: Bob RosnerNEWS FLASH: A recent Working Wounded column on the “battle of the sexes” generated the most negative mail that I’ve received in almost ten years.

I’ve gotten a lot of angry mail through the years—people who challenged my credentials, those who attacked my point of view and even some who really hated my photo. I thought I’d heard it all. That is until the “battle of the sexes” column ran a few weeks back.

The emails were angry. Really angry. You could tell it just by the subject lines: “My God, how could you get it so wrong” and “More female apologist crap.” And those were two of the printable ones.

I could argue in my own defense that the content for the column was based on a book written by a best-selling business guru—Tom Peters, the pioneering author of “Search For Excellence.” I could point out that although the tips in the article were provocative, they have been made in other publications. Finally I could say that men and women really do manage differently and that there is a value in exploring these differences.

But that isn’t the point of this blog. No, I would like to focus on one email that I received and what it says about where disagreements seem headed. So without further ado, here is the email in question:

“As a mental health therapist in private practice for over thirty years, I frequently deal with gender issues. Your column was one of the most biased collection of generalizations I have seen in some time. No doubt many males do not have it together but it appears from your writing that all women are positive in the work environment and men are just a negative. I asked my wife of 35 years for her reaction and she gave several examples opposite to each of the points you listed. I have written a letter to the editor…which carries your column in the Chicago area, asking that they consider dropping your column and considering one that gives a more balanced view of workplace issues.”

Criticism is a part of the life of a workplace columnist. A very big part. And I accept it. But I did find it fascinating that someone would read one column and decide that I should be fired. One strike and you’re out. Why should my column be dropped? According to this reader, because publications should provide a “more balanced” view. Is it balance he’s looking for or someone who is unbalanced and actually tips in his direction? (Ouch, and I was doing such a good job of not coming across as defensive up until that sentence.)

It’s fine for people to not like my stuff. Heck, sometimes I’m not even fond of it. But to take it to the point that you believe that the best way to handle a differing opinion is to fire the messenger, well that seems just a bit extreme to me. Especially when it comes from a seasoned mental health professional.

Diversity of ideas. A range of opinions. Seeing things from a different point of view. These are things that seem to be under attack today. Do I read things in the paper and on the web that make my blood boil? Yes. But as Voltaire famously said, “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]


Share this post

House Democrats Introduce H1N1 Economic Vaccine

Share this post

Image: Brett BrownellDuring this year’s flu season, concerns about getting sick and missing work will be compounded. Not only will we have to take precautions against the common flu, but now we’ll have to add H1N1 to our list of concerns as well. Thankfully, vaccines are now available for both types of flu. However, many Americans will still be stricken with a contagious illness that will force them to miss work this flu season. Therefore, House Democrats have introduced a sort of economic vaccine which will guarantee up to five paid sick days to a worker sent home or directed to stay home by their employer because of a contagious illness.

The legislation, called the Emergency Influenza Containment Act was introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee.

Rep. George Miller
Rep. Lynn Woolsey

Rep. Woolsey said, “This bill will ensure that workers who are directed to stay home by their employers can do so without paying a financial penalty.”

The Emergency Influenza Containment Act would take effect 15 days after being signed into law, sunset after two years, and cover full-time and part-time workers in businesses with 15 or more workers.

This should be a relief to the 72% of part-time workers, 37% of non-union workers, 18% of union workers who receive zero paid sick leave.

An employer can end the sick leave if they believe the employee is well enough to return to work and the employer informs the employee of the decision. Meanwhile, the bill would allow employees to continue on unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act or other existing sick leave policies.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that a sick worker will infect one in ten co-workers. As a result, the CDC and other public health officials have advised employers to be flexible when dealing with sick employees and to develop leave policies that will not punish workers for being ill. Plus, according to the EICA, employees who follow their employer’s direction to stay home because of contagious illness cannot be fired, disciplined or made subject to retaliation for following directions.

H1N1 is still thriving in this tough economic climate. But for the rest of us, an economic vaccine may be on the way.

The House Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on the legislation the week of November 16.

About the Author: Brett Brownell is a new media fellow at the New Organizing Institute where he manages the Today’s Workplace blog and new media for Workplace Fairness. Brett served as deputy director of new media & videographer for the Obama campaign in Pennsylvania. He is also the founder of Worldwide Moment (an international photography project for peace) and the son of a 40-year veteran of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union.


Share this post

House Set to Act Fast Now that Senate Finally Passed Jobless Aid Extension

Share this post

Image: Mike HallBREAKING: The U.S. House of Representatives passed the unemployment insurance extension bill, by a 403-12 vote. The bill is on its way to President Barack Obama who could sign it as early as tomorrow.

After weeks of Republican stalling and obstruction that cost hundreds of thousands of jobless workers their unemployment insurance (UI)—the Senate last night approved extending UI to workers who have lost or will lose their benefits by the end of the year.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) promised to move quickly—as early as today—to ensure a House vote on the bill so President Obama can sign the legislation and get the checks moving again. Said Hoyer last night:

For too long, Senate Republicans blocked progress on extending unemployment insurance, which would provide immediate and tangible help to those who need it most, while also boosting our economy. Democrats remain focused on doing everything we can to assist Americans struggling to make ends meet and extending unemployment benefits is part of that effort. Now that this legislation has passed the Senate, I will bring it to the House Floor for a vote.

The bill also extends the first-time home buyers’ credit and some business tax credits.

Apparently Republican lawmakers saw little hypocrisy in blocking help for the jobless for more than a month, then voting unanimously (98-0) for the bill. It likely wasn’t a sudden epiphany that moved them, but simple political expediency—judging by the comments on our blog from angry workers, the Party of No Senators likely heard an earful about their obstructionism.

In September, the House passed a benefits extension, but several times last month Senate Republicans blocked votes on the bill. The bill that passed last night would provide an additional 14 weeks of benefits to employed workers in all states and an additional six weeks for jobless workers in states with a 8.5 percent or higher unemployment rate. Because the Senate made changes to the House bill, a second House vote is requited.

Nationwide, official unemployment stands at 9.8 percent and is expected to get even worse when October’s jobless numbers are released tomorrow. Some 26 million U.S. workers are unemployed or underemployed, and the long-term jobless rate is the highest since 1981. More than one in three people who are unemployed have been out of work for at least six months, according to National Employment Law Project (NELP).

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on November 5, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.


Share this post

Stimulus and Jobs: We Can Do Better

Share this post

Image: Dean BakerThe Obama administration came out with its first set of numbers on the jobs impact of its stimulus package. It’s pretty much along the lines of what was predicted. To date, the package has created close to one million jobs. That is good news, but in an economy with more than 15 million unemployed workers, it is not nearly good enough. We need to do more, much more.

Fortunately, there is an easy and quick way to begin to get these unemployed workers back to work. It involves paying workers to work shorter hours. The mechanism can take the form of a tax credit to employers. The government can give them a tax credit of up to $3,000 in order to shorten their workers’ hours while leaving their pay unchanged. The reduction in hours can take the form of paid sick days, paid family leave, shorter workweeks or longer vacations. The employer can choose the method that is best for her workers and the workplace.

A map showing Michigan, the west coast, the southwest and the southeast as hardest hit by unemployment. (Photo: austrini / flickr)
A map showing Michigan, the west coast, the southwest and the southeast as hardest hit by unemployment. (Photo: austrini / flickr)

If take-home pay is left unchanged as a result of the credit, then demand should be left unchanged. If workers are on average putting in fewer hours and demand is unchanged, then employers will need to hire more workers.

This logic is about as simple as it gets. The process is also quick and cheap. In principle, the government can go this route to save jobs at a cost of a bit more than $20,000 per job, far less than the estimates of the cost per job under the administration’s stimulus package.

We don’t even have to speculate about whether this sort of short-hours arrangement can work. Germany put a short-hours program in place at the start of its recession. Its unemployment rate today is 7.6 percent, about the same as the unemployment rate it had going into the recession. Imagine that workers in the United States, like workers in Germany, were dealing with the recession by putting in four-day weeks (while getting paid for five) or getting an extra two weeks a year of paid vacation. This sure beats being unemployed or being threatened with unemployment.

Seventeen states already have a “work-share” program in place that allows employers to use unemployment insurance money to cover a reduction in work hours, without a corresponding reduction in pay. More than 100,000 layoffs have been prevented as result of this program.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island has a bill that would increase funding for work-share programs and remove some of the bureaucracy that makes it difficult for employers to take full advantage of the programs that currently exist. The bill would also provide start-up money for the states that do not have work-share programs.

The Reed bill would be a big step towards following the Germany model, taking advantage of a program that is already in place. It could very quickly make a big dent in the unemployment rate, by preserving many of the jobs that are now being lost.

In this respect, it is important to clear up a common confusion about the economy. Every month, we get a figure from the Labor Department for the new jobs created or lost. However, this is a net figure. Approximately four million people leave their jobs every month, about half of these workers, or two million, lose their jobs involuntarily. If the economy creates more than four million new jobs, then we will have a positive jobs figure for the month. If the economy creates less than four million new jobs, then the Labor Department will report that the economy lost jobs in the month.

Suppose that this work-share program reduced the number of people who lose their jobs involuntarily by 20 percent, or 400,000 workers per month. This would have the same effect to our job count as adding 400,000 additional new jobs. If this rate could actually be maintained over a full year, then it would imply that the economy would generate nearly five million new jobs.

All the projections show that the unemployment rate is likely to continue to rising for the immediate future and remain high for years to come. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the unemployment rate will average 10.2 percent next year and even in 2011 it will average 9.1 percent. If this projection proves accurate, it would be a disastrous scenario for tens of millions of people.

There are quick and effective ways to increase employment, with shorter hours at the top of the list. Making tens of millions of people suffer for economic mismanagement and the greed of the bankers is not acceptable. We must do something.

This article originally appeared in Center for Economic Policy and Research on November  2, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.  He is frequently cited in economics reporting in major media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, CNBC, and National Public Radio.  He writes a weekly column for the Guardian Unlimited (UK), and his blog, Beat the Press, features commentary on economic reporting.  His analyses have appeared in many major publications, including the Atlantic Monthly, the Washington Post, the London Financial Times, and the New York Daily News. He received his Ph.D in economics from the University of Michigan.


Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.