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The Modern Workplace

The Modern Workplace

Posts in Workplace Safety.

One legal issue highlighted by the #metoo movement is the use of arbitration to resolve workplace sexual harassment claims. Some employers require employees to sign agreements at the time of hire, or at some other time before any claim arises, in which both sides agree that any later workplace disputes will be resolved by arbitration and not in court. Because arbitration is a private dispute resolution process, some #metoo advocates have argued that arbitration of sexual harassment claims allows the misdeeds of bad actors to be concealed and, perhaps, facilitates repeat offenses ...

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EEOC Updates Guidance on COVID-19 and the ADA

On October 13, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) updated its guidance regarding vaccination and other COVID-related workplace issues, providing businesses with important information as they continue to navigate evolving rules and regulations related to the pandemic. The key development from this round of updates is that the EEOC has now clarified that there is no cap or limit under federal employment discrimination laws enforced by the EEOC on the size of vaccine incentives offered by an employer to ...

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On August 28, 2021, Missouri joined the growing list of states with legislation aimed at protecting employees who experience domestic or sexual violence. Missouri’s Victims Economic Safety and Security Act (“VESSA”) applies to all employers with at least 20 employees. This new law provides unpaid leave and reasonable safety accommodations to employees who are victims of domestic or sexual violence or who have a family or household member who is a victim of domestic or sexual violence. It also requires employers to give notice of the new law to all current employees and ...

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Remember back in May 2021 (May 13 to be exact!) when the CDC dropped bombshell recommendations which outlined what individuals could / could not do based on vaccination status?! Vaccinated individuals rejoiced that they could remove their masks inside and largely dispense with social distancing. Unvaccinated individuals were, of course, less enthused. At that time, OSHA guidance had been to not treat employees differently based on vaccination status. The agency fairly quickly pivoted, affixing this banner to the top of its website on May 18, 2021:  

“The Centers for Disease ...

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Yesterday, on July 27, 2021, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued new COVID-19 guidance, including recommending face masks even for vaccinated people when they are in indoor public settings in geographic areas with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission rates, as mapped from time to time by the CDC. The CDC:

  • Updated guidance for fully vaccinated people given new evidence on the degree to which the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant is currently circulating in the United States and its high contagion factor.
  • Recommended that fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public ...
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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued an important update to its COVID-19 guidance. Most notably, the update provides long-awaited guidance on mandatory vaccination policies and vaccination incentives—both of which we discussed in earlier blog posts and client alerts

Mandatory Vaccinations

The EEOC’s updated guidance makes clear that, under employment discrimination laws, an employer can require its employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 before physically entering the workplace, subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions of the ...

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued new guidance regarding what activities fully vaccinated people may safely engage in. The CDC stated that fully vaccinated individuals can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations. In response to the CDC’s new guidance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) added a statement to its January 2021 guidance stating that OSHA is reviewing the recent CDC guidance and will ...

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Last week, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued new guidance to help employers and employees identify risks of being exposed to and/or contracting COVID-19 in the workplace and to assist in determining appropriate control measures. The guidance is advisory in nature and does not impose new legal requirements on employers, but provides additional information that may be helpful to employers in their efforts to provide a safe and healthful workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
The guidance recommends implementing a workplace COVID-19 ...
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With COVID-19 cases surging, employers should take the time to review the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administrations recent guidance document, which was generated based on a review of data from citations issued, many of which were the result of complaints, referrals and fatalities in industries such as hospitals and healthcare, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and meat/poultry processing plants. OSHA News Release (11/7/2020).

The guidance document identifies the standards that are most frequently cited in coronavirus-related OSHA inspections and ...
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With the holidays fast approaching and employers beginning to think about their employee holiday gatherings, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently issued updated holiday guidance amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While the guidance is not targeted specifically to the workplace, it provides employers insight into the various factors they should consider when planning and hosting in-person company-sponsored events, which include the following:
  • Check the COVID-19 infection rates in your area, which can be accomplished by consulting the applicable state and local health ...
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The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published additional frequently asked questions and answers (FAQs) regarding the need to report employees in-patient hospitalizations and fatalities resulting from work-related cases of the coronavirus. These FAQs reverse OSHAs previously issued guidance that, for cases of COVID-19, the work-related incident triggering reporting requirements was the employees positive diagnosis. Now, the triggering event is the employees exposure to the coronavirus at work.
Employers are required under ...
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Employers have been facing an incredible range of complex and varied issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not least among these have been how best to respond lawfully to workers for whom work is available but who are reluctant to work, refuse to be in the workplace, or who may be unavailable because they are sick or have been exposed to the virus. Now, as the nation begins to contemplate a reopening process that will significantly increase the number of open workplaces, these questions will arise with increasing frequency. Making sound decisions about how to respond to employees with ...
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Public health officials and business leaders are grappling with how to respond to the increasing number of presumptive and confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the United States. Seattle has closed public schools for two weeks in light of coronavirus and banned large gatherings, including sporting events. This week, many higher education institutions, including the University of Minnesota, Duke University, Georgetown, and the University of Notre Dame, canceled in-person classes and announced that they are temporarily switching to an online learning environment. Nationally ...

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Happy Thanksgiving! With the holiday season upon us, we wanted to give you a quick refresher on some tricky workplace issues that are common this time of year.

Holiday Parties

While holiday parties can increase morale and provide an opportunity for team building, without planning and forethought, holiday parties can cause human resources issues that will follow you well into the new year.

Wage and Hour Issues

If you require non-exempt employees to attend a holiday party, you must compensate them for the time they spend there. If the party occurs during normal work hours, non-exempt ...
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recenty rolled out programs and publications aimed at encouraging employers to focus on programs related to safety on the roadways.

In its Guidelines for Employers to ReduceMotor Vehicle Crashes publication (Guidelines), OSHA states that every 12 minutes someone dies in a motor vehicle crash, every 10 seconds an injury occurs, and every five seconds a crash occurs. The Guidelines point out that many of these incidents occur during the workday or commute to and from work.

Employers feel the impact of employee motor vehicle ...
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Although the recently completed 2019 regular session of the Minnesota Legislature included a significant number of bills on various employment-related topics, in the end, the Legislature passed very few such bills. The future fates of those bills are quite unclear at this time. As of the close of the regular legislative session, numerous employment-related bills were still active, in either one or both legislative bodies, touching on a variety of significant topics, including:

  • Paid leave (generally).
  • Medical leave.
  • Family leave.
  • Work shift scheduling requirements.
  • Wage theft ...
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Last week, a bipartisan group of Minnesota legislators introduced legislation that, if enacted, would significantly alter sexual harassment law for Minnesota employers. The proposed legislation would amend the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) to eliminate the decades-old requirement that sexual harassment be severe or pervasive to be legally actionable. This proposed change comes amidst the #MeToo movement, which has prompted talk around the country about potential changes to harassment law to foster more respectful and nondiscriminatory work environments. The ...
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Sadly, the concerning news that's recently surfaced about sexual harassment and assault allegations in Hollywood is all too familiar. This year, we've seen a number of high-profile sexual harassment stories go viral involving the ride-sharing, music, Hollywood, and news media industries. These high profile stories should serve as a reminder to employers of the importance of having sound policies and practices in harassment prevention and response. Below are some suggested best practices for employers to consider.
1.  Implement and Effectuate a Sound Policy
Employers should ...
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The NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments start this week. While these exciting college sports events bring exciting comebacks, underdog wins, and pride in employee alma maters, they also can usher in several weeks of reduced productivity, potentially contentious employee interactions, and believe it or not - legal risk.

In 2016, 70 million tournament brackets were completed, many of which involved office pools. The first round of March Madness reportedly costs employers an estimated $4 billion in lost productivity. As part of this decreased productivity, employers ...

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I recently read an interesting article noting the increase of employees reporting that they have been treated rudely or uncivilly by a boss or colleague in the workplace. The topic of workplace bullying or the bully boss has received significant attention over the last few years. Some researchers have noted that even highly performing employees may face this type of negative behavior. It is a situation that can create frustration for employers, but which typically does not give a bullied employee a legal claim unless the workplace bullying is tied to unlawful discrimination, sexual ...

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For those in the employment law and human resources fields, there are lots of moving targets to track this holiday season. Two of those moving targets include the temporary block placed on the U.S. Department of Labors (DOL) new federal overtime rules and a pending legal challenge to a new OSHA rule.

DOL Overtime Rule

As discussed in our post last week, a federal district court in Texas has issued a nationwide injunction blocking implementation of the new DOL overtime rules that were set to go into effect on December 1st. Yesterday, the DOL appealed the district courts ruling to the U.S ...

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The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final regulation in May that establishes new electronic recordkeeping and reporting requirements. The overall purpose of the new regulation is to reinforce anti-retaliation protections for employees who report workplace injuries and illnesses. Electronic reporting requirements under the new rule go into effect on January 1, 2017, but employers must comply with the rules anti-retaliation provisions by August 10, 2016.

Anti-Retaliation Requirements:
The anti-relation provisions include three ...
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Nearly every employer has dealt with a difficult employee, a tense termination, or a particularly serious workplace conflict. In the wake of a tragic event like the recent Roanoke news station shooting, many employers are looking for better ways to handle employee conflicts and protect employees. According to OSHA statistics, each year nearly two million Americans report being victims of workplace violence (which includes physical violence, threats, harassment, and abuse). While no policy, procedure, or safety measure can guarantee security, employer policies and ...
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When I present harassment training, I tell my audience that harassment is usually unlawful only when based on a protected-class status, such as race, gender, age, disability, etc. During the training, I often tell the story of the "equal opportunity harasser" the individual in the workplace who is a jerk to everyone and does not discriminate in picking the targets of his/her jerkiness (that's my technical term). This is the person who is a jerk to everyone. Because this person's behavior is status-blind, it doesn't violate discrimination or harassment laws.

Some Minnesota ...

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For the first time in weeks, online news reports have been relatively Ebola free. This week, the last Ebola patient in the U.S. was declared Ebola free and released from the New York hospital where he had been quarantined. There are currently no known Ebola cases in the U.S. 

Nevertheless, I am continuing to field questions about how employers can keep their workplaces free of the potentially deadly Ebola virus. In addition to being concerned about their employees well-being, these employers are mindful that federal and state OSHA laws require employers to take reasonable ...

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Another Sunday has come and gone and with it, somewhat predictably, another Vikings loss. What's remarkable about this week, however, is that the team was without its star player, Adrian Peterson. Mr. Peterson has been barred from team activities pending the resolution of his criminal indictment for child abuse. Mr. Peterson has admitted to disciplining his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch and injuring the child in the process. The Vikings organization has been widely criticized for its initial response to Adrian Petersons indictment. The Vikings initially planned ...

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If you work in HR or Student Services for a college or university, you're likely well aware of the Campus SaVE Act and the fact that it has added a long list of items to your to do list. When the law was first passed a year ago, its March 2014 effective date seemed so far away. Time sure flies! Not only is the Act going into effect, the U.S. Department of Education recently issued draft regulations on the law. The regulations wont be final for some time, but they will provide additional guidance to institutions on complying with the Act.
The Campus SaVE Act amends existing law to promote ...
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The flowers and chocolates that will be delivered to employee desks this week for Valentine's Day are a great reminder for employers to think about the best practices for approaching workplace romances. For more information on that front, read on below.  Also, if this post is a reminder that you are behind on your Valentine's plans, check out the apps below for some ideas.

Meanwhile, love between lawmakers and technology is not in the air in Washington. A proposed bill to ban in-flight phone calls passed a committee vote this week and will now head to the House floor. In other news, a U.S ...

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While many Toronto residents spend their time wincing at the infamous antics of their elected (and possibly soon-to-be reelected) mayor, Rob Ford, I've been imagining what a Minnesota employer would do if he was its employee or, worse yet, a supervisory employee - not elected by the people. Are you cringing yet?

Fire Him! would likely be a common refrain. But for what exactly? His admitted use of crack cocaine? The death threats? The sexual comments? Knocking down a councilwoman and the viral video aftermath? There seems to be so much to choose from. Even when a termination ...

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Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes have been in the news and are apparently growing in popularity. The New York Times recently published an online debate on the potential health benefits of e-cigarettes and their potential regulation. Other news outlets have published similar articles.  (see, e.g., here, here, and here). Many employers are wondering how to react to employees who want to use e-cigarettes  at work.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that allow users to inhale nicotine vapors from a heated liquid. Proponents of e-cigarettes argue that they are a safer ...

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The workplace tragedy that occurred in Minneapolis two weeks ago, and the media coverage that followed, concerned all Minnesotans, me included. In addition to my reaction as a citizen, I viewed the events and their aftermath as an employment lawyer.
As is often the case in the face of horrific and inexplicable acts of violence, the workplace mass shootings by Andrew Engeldinger led to questions from many quarters about whether and how such a senseless act of violence could have been avoided. Such well-intentioned questioning, while certainly understandable, raises important ...
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Is it just me, or has Wisconsin been in the news a lot lately? From politics to sports, the Dairy State has caught the interest of the nation. This week was no different. When a Wisconsin news anchor used air time to address an email that criticized her weight and accused her of being a bad role model, the clip went viral. National news outlets picked up on the story, the anchor appeared on major-network morning shows, and people around the country weighed in on the appropriateness of the email and the problem of cyberbullying in general. Despite the controversy, the email author is standing by ...

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A recent survey conducted for is a good reminder that our words matter. Employers and employees were asked about swearing in the workplace. 51% of workers surveyed said they swear at work, although they reported being much less likely to swear in front of superiors than in front of their co-workers.  81% of employers said that swearing brings an employees professionalism into question, 71% said that it indicates lack of control, and 68% said it indicates a lack of maturity. Overall, 64% of employers reported that they would think less of an employee who repeatedly ...
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This Father's Day, dads might have more to worry about than how to enthusiastically thank their children for yet another tie. News stories this week highlight the increasing vulnerability of today's youth in a technology-filled world. From cyberbullying to predator apps to camera phones in the locker room, parents around the country are wondering how to keep their children safe. Luckily, they're not alone. The law--and tech companies--are stepping in. The New York Legislature is working on a bill to fight cyberbullying, a Minnesota prosecutor is making an example of  teens who ...

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Employers these days have a lot of obligations. They have bills to pay, workers to manage, customers to satisfy, and laws to follow. But what happens when two obligations conflict? What is an employer to do?   When in doubt, follow the law right?  But one Minnesota employer recently discovered things aren't that simple, especially when the law may be telling the employer to do two different things.

A company in southeast Minnesota had approximately 30 Somali workers walk off the job on Monday morning to protest the companys new dress code policy. The policy, which prohibits women from ...

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What would a Week in Review be without some Facebook controversy? No need to ponder that possibility too long, for this week brings us a whole variety of ways in which Facebook is getting people into trouble. In the working world, a Marine lost his job and benefits because he used Facebook as a forum to criticize his Commander in Chief. In Indiana, three eighth-grade girls got expelled for posting on Facebook which classmates they would like to kill.  In Georgia, two more middle schoolers are being sued for defamation as a result of their Facebook bullying. So remember, whether you are a ...

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For more than 60,000 workers in America, March 5-9 will be the week that the "modern workplace" is at home. This week is the second annual effort of Telework Exchange to encourage workers and employers to save time and resources through telework. Telework Exchange describes itself as "a public-private partnership focused on demonstrating the tangible value of telework..." and describes Telework Week as a "win-win opportunity for agencies, organizations, employees, and the environment."

By the end of last week, 62,322 employees had pledged on Telework's website that they ...

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The recent, shocking news floating around Penn State University has understandably caused some employers to reflect on their obligation to report and take meaningful action in response to suspected criminal sexual activity.  Most states have statutes that establish when reporting of the abuse of a minor is required, but employers who do not serve or supervise minors may have little knowledge of mandatory reporting laws. Common law, which also varies from state to state, may create a duty of care for employers that requires reasonable attention to the safety and security of employees ...
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The latest American Community Survey data shows that just over 2% of the U.S. workforce, not including the self employed or unpaid volunteers, considers home their primary place of work. That's about 2.8 million employees. Some estimates conclude that 20 to 30 million employees work at home at least part time.  Many people believe that the number of telecommuters will increase over the next few years as technology improves and employers learn how to adapt to employees who are not present in the workplace.
Issues such as oversight, trust, and the ability to interact are all important to an ...
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As Megan Anderson wrote in her post "Does Your Company Have a "Workyard" Bully?," proposed anti-workplace bullying legislation is on the rise across the country.  Earlier this month, the trend made its way to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, as Minnesota became the 21st state to introduce workplace bullying legislation
The legislation, introduced as S.F. No. 1352, has been referred to the Minnesota Senate's Jobs and Economic Growth Committee.  A companion version, H.F. 1701, was introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives and referred to the House Commerce and Regulatory ...
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We all knew schoolyard bullies, and, if we were lucky, they left us alone.  The less fortunate, however, sometimes suffered devastating and long-term effects from bullying.  Society has increased its focus on school bullying over the years.  New challenges have also arisen, however, as bullying has moved into cyberspace with widespread impact.  We continue to strive, however, to provide children with safe, healthy environments in which they can flourish and meet their full potential.

But what about our workplaces?  Does your company's environment allow employees to thrive and ...
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