Monthly Archive: February 2016

WORK – LIFE BALENCE

Comment by Phyllis Towzey on Huffingtonpost article, 29 Feb 2016

 

Interesting article on maintaining that work-life balance. It also raises a few things to think about, for companies and employees. First, companies should make sure that if employees ARE answering emails and business texts after hours, that no violations of the FLSA overtime provisions are occurring. Also, with respect to who owns the contacts the employee has developed, this can be a gray area for both parties. Companies should consider having employees sign a a noncompete, nonsolicitation and confidentiality agreement so that the contacts made on the job using the company’s resources are protected. And employees who are asked to sign an agreement with restrictive covenants should negotiate to have a list of pre-existing contacts and business relationships specifically excluded from the agreement.

From the Huffington Post

The typical workday is long enough as it is, and technology is making it even longer. When you do finally get home from a full day at the office, your mobile phone rings off the hook, and emails drop into your inbox from people who expect immediate responses.

While most people claim to disconnect as soon as they get home, recent research says otherwise. A study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that more than 50% of us check work email before and after work hours, throughout the weekend, and even when we’re sick. Even worse, 44% of us check work email while on vacation.

A Northern Illinois University study that came out this summer shows just how bad this level of connection really is. The study found that the expectation that people need to respond to emails during off-work hours produces a prolonged stress response, which the researchers named telepressure. Telepressure ensures that you are never able to relax and truly disengage from work. This prolonged state of stress is terrible for your health. Besides increasing your risk of heart disease, depression, and obesity, stress decreases your cognitive performance.

We need to establish boundaries between our personal and professional lives. When we don’t, our work, our health, and our personal lives suffer.

2016-01-28-1454024589-7132377-FiveThingsYouDontOweYourBossHP2.jpg

Responding to emails during off-work hours isn’t the only area in which you need to set boundaries. You need to make the critical distinction between what belongs to your employer and what belongs to you and you only. The items that follow are yours. If you don’t set boundaries around them and learn to say no to your boss, you’re giving away something with immeasurable value.

Your health. It’s difficult to know when to set boundaries around your health at work because the decline is so gradual. Allowing stress to build up, losing sleep, and sitting all day without exercising all add up. Before you know it, you’re rubbing your aching back with one hand and your zombie-like eyes with the other, and you’re looking down at your newly-acquired belly. The key here is to not let things sneak up on you, and the way you do that is by keeping a consistent routine. Think about what you need to do to keep yourself healthy (taking walks during lunch, not working weekends, taking your vacations as scheduled, etc.), make a plan, and stick to it no matter what. If you don’t, you’re allowing your work to overstep its bounds.

Your family. It’s easy to let your family suffer for your work. Many of us do this because we see our jobs as a means of maintaining our families. We have thoughts such as “I need to make more money so that my kids can go to college debt-free.” Though these thoughts are well-intentioned, they can burden your family with the biggest debt of all–a lack of quality time with you. When you’re on your deathbed, you won’t remember how much money you made for your spouse and kids. You’ll remember the memories you created with them.

Your sanity. While we all have our own levels of this to begin with, you don’t owe a shred of it to your employer. A job that takes even a small portion of your sanity is taking more than it’s entitled to. Your sanity is something that’s difficult for your boss to keep track of. You have to monitor it on your own and set good limits to keep yourself healthy. Often, it’s your life outside of work that keeps you sane. When you’ve already put in a good day’s (or week’s) work and your boss wants more, the most productive thing you can do is say no, then go and enjoy your friends and hobbies. This way, you return to work refreshed and de-stressed. You certainly can work extra hours if you want to, but it’s important to be able to say no to your boss when you need time away from work.

Your identity. While your work is an important part of your identity, it’s dangerous to allow your work to become your whole identity. You know you’ve allowed this to go too far when you reflect on what’s important to you and work is all that (or most of what) comes to mind. Having an identity outside of work is about more than just having fun. It also helps you relieve stress, grow as a person, and avoid burnout.

Your contacts. While you do owe your employer your best effort, you certainly don’t owe him or her the contacts you’ve developed over the course of your career. Your contacts are a product of your hard work and effort, and while you might share them with your company, they belong to you.

Your integrity. Sacrificing your integrity causes you to experience massive amounts of stress. Once you realize that your actions and beliefs are no longer in alignment, it’s time to make it clear to your employer that you’re not willing to do things his or her way. If that’s a problem for your boss, it might be time to part ways.

Bringing It All Together

Success and fulfillment often depend upon your ability to set good boundaries. Once you can do this, everything else just falls into place.

What do you do to set boundaries around your work? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS REDUCED BY STATES

FROM AP, 28 FEB 2016

When Demetrius White recently lost his job as a $10-an-hour forklift driver loading pallets of shampoo, he applied for unemployment benefits to help support his family.

That aid will not last as long as it once did, because White is among the first group of people affected by a new Missouri law reducing the duration of jobless benefits. His $200-a-week checks will last no more than three months — just half as long as what has typically been available.

“That’s a dramatic change, really,” White said. “Thirteen weeks, I don’t know if I’ll be able to find a job.”

States traditionally have offered up to half a year of aid for the unemployed as they search for new jobs. But since the end of the Great Recession, eight states have reduced the number of weeks that people can draw benefits, while others have cut the amount of money the unemployed can collect.

The cutbacks generally are intended to help shore up unemployment insurance trust funds, which went insolvent in 35 states following the recession that began in 2008. The changes could save hundreds of millions of dollars for businesses that pay unemployment taxes.

President Barack Obama is pushing in the opposite direction. The White House warns that states are engaging in a “damaging erosion” of unemployment benefits. Obama’s budget plan would require all states to provide at least 26 weeks of benefits while expanding coverage to more part-time and intermittent workers.

The Republican-led Congress appears unlikely to approve the president’s plan during an election year. GOP governors and state lawmakers initiated many of the recent cutbacks to unemployment benefits. And they point to declining unemployment rates as evidence that jobs are getting easier to find.

“When there’s more jobs available, it’s kind of common sense — you shouldn’t need as long as a duration of unemployment benefits,” said Missouri Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, a Republican who handled the legislation reducing benefits.

The 1935 Social Security Act prompted states to enact unemployment programs, which typically pay people about half the amount of their previous paychecks. In 1938, more than four-fifths of the states offered benefits for 16 weeks or less. But all states gradually increased their benefits to at least 26 weeks. South Carolina was the last to do so in 1968.

In 2011, Missouri became one of the first states to reverse course by cutting that to 20 weeks. Last year, the GOP-led Legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to further shorten the benefits, linking their duration to the state’s unemployment rate. Because unemployment is below 6 percent, people can get no more than 13 weeks of benefits.

The new limit went into effect in January, even though a legal challenge brought by attorneys for the AFL-CIO is now before the Missouri Supreme Court. The lawsuit seeks to block the new law because of an alleged procedural violation by senators.

For some unemployed workers, the new state laws have added another layer of anxiety to an already unsettling situation.

White is one of about 36,000 Missouri workers who filed initial unemployment claims in January. A married father of two, he already has taken out a high-interest loan to help pay for his daughter’s college tuition. His wife remains employed as a teacher, but White said the family is starting to fall behind on bills, including electricity. He is afraid he will not be able to make mortgage payments.

“It’s been a struggle,” White, 43, said while picking up materials about temporary jobs from a state work center in Jefferson City. “I don’t have confidence of a job or hirings.”

The Missouri law is projected to reduce annual unemployment payouts by $83 million — a reduction of nearly one-fourth.

Neighboring Arkansas reduced its unemployment benefits to 20 weeks under a law that took effect last October. Those shortened benefits run out this month for some people, though the state won’t say how many.

South Carolina and Michigan also limit benefits to 20 weeks. Sliding scales linked to unemployment rates have resulted in limits of 16 weeks in Kansas, 14 in Georgia, 13 in North Carolina and 12 in Florida.

Some states also have reduced the maximum weekly payments, narrowed who can qualify and increased work-search requirements that can result in delayed or denied benefits if not met.

“We’ve experienced a wave of very drastic benefit reductions,” said Claire McKenna, a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, a New York-based group that serves as an advocate for low-wage workers and the unemployed.

Ohio could be the next state to shorten benefits. A bill by Rep. Barbara Sears would cut benefits to as few as 12 weeks by linking their duration to the unemployment rate. It also would make other benefit changes while trying to replenish an unemployment insurance trust fund that owes $773 million to the federal government.

The legislation is projected to reduce unemployment payments by an average of $475 million annually from 2018 to 2025.

Sears said some people who remain jobless for several months are “kind of settling in on unemployment and riding it until almost the last week before they’re re-engaging in the workforce.” A shorter benefit period could prompt them to find work, she said.

“When you know you’re going to go off of unemployment, there is an overwhelming urge to be less particular maybe about finding the exact job that you lost,” said Sears, a Republican from the Toledo area.

Advocates for the poor dispute that assertion. After the reductions in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, the percentage of adults ages 25 to 54 with jobs in those states grew more slowly than the national average, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based liberal think tank.

A coalition of Ohio health and human services groups has warned that shorter unemployment benefits could increase poverty. Some people will turn to food stamps or charities, sell their possessions or their blood plasma and run up credit card debt just to get by, said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks and co-chair of Advocates for Ohio’s Future.

“Once you fall into poverty, the chances that you’re going to be able to get back out are going to be pretty difficult,” she said.

Business groups contend the benefit cutbacks are an appropriate way for workers to shoulder part of the costs of rebuilding depleted trust funds.

At one point following the recession, states owed a total of $51 billion to the federal government to repay loans for unemployment benefits. To recoup that, the U.S. government temporarily raised the unemployment tax paid by businesses in many of those states.

Besides Ohio, the only states still in federal debt are California, with $6.4 billion, and Connecticut, which owes about $100 million. But the Obama administration says just 20 states have enough reserves in their trust funds to weather a recession for a year. Obama has proposed to gradually increase employer taxes to help solidify the trust funds.

 

St. Pete Wage Dispute Office

From TBO Feb 1. 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — The city’s wage dispute office has been up and running for four months and is working as its supporters predicted it would.

The office has processed a handful of worker paycheck complaints — one of which was settled after an administrative hearing, and the others handled more quickly when employers agreed to make good on the wages they owed during the initial mediation.

Eve Epstein, the city’s new wage and hour compliance officer, said the process is playing out similarly to the model created in Miami-Dade to handle wage theft, particularly for those in low-paying jobs.

“Generally, employers are paying when they are ordered to pay,” she said last week, while noting the city is a small sample size.

St. Petersburg is the first Florida city to adopt a wage theft ordinance and set up an office to advocate on behalf of workers who have been denied fair compensation. In other places, county governments have assumed that role, including Pinellas and Hillsborough, each of which began programs Jan. 1.

Overall, at least six counties have passed some form of a wage theft ordinance since Miami-Dade’s in 2010. That ordinance followed a study by Florida International University that showed Miami-Dade had the state’s highest number of wage theft cases, followed by Hillsborough, Broward and Pinellas, based on federal Department of Labor statistics.

St. Petersburg’s ordinance, pushed by City Council member Darden Rice, passed in April and took effect in October.

Epstein, hired in June, said she is continuing to get the word out to workers and employers. Employers, for instance, could be liable for three times the wages owed to workers if a case were to proceed to court and they were to lose.

“We’re not trying to take them by surprise,” she said. “We’re just trying to fix wage theft, which is rampant in Pinellas.”

❖ ❖ ❖

Wage theft typically involves people who are forced to work “off the clock,” are not paid for overtime hours, or are not paid at all. Often they are day laborers or work in hotels, restaurants, health care facilities, or construction and lawn service businesses.

In St. Petersburg, complaints filed thus far have ranged from workers not being paid to how tips are divided for servers at restaurants. Once notified, Epstein said, employers have agreed to pay workers. One case went to mediation and was resolved. Another involved a restaurant that unfairly was dipping into the tips of a server. That case went the next step, to an administrative hearing, where the employer agreed to pay.

“They thought what they were doing was legal,” Epstein said.

The cases, on average, have taken about a month to resolve, “which is good considering the (employers) have 20 days to reply,” she said. Employers are taking the ordinance seriously, she said, and generally are more aware of it than most workers are.

The results are not surprising. In Miami-Dade the vast majority of cases are settled with a call to the employer or through the mediation process.

Officials in Pinellas and Hillsborough said they have yet to process claims since launching their initiatives Jan. 1.

About 15,000 wage theft reports were filed in Pinellas from 2012-14, amounting to about $7.5 million in lost wages, according to the FIU study. In Hillsborough, about 12,500 wage theft violations were cited during the same time, with 9,539 workers reimbursed a total of $5.71 million.

Pinellas County’s program is similar to the city’s and to the Miami-Dade model. Rice said the city and county are discussing ways to align their ordinances and to work together.

In St. Petersburg, Epstein is the initial contact person. She gathers the necessary proof of employment from the worker and contacts the employer if money is owed. If payment is not made, the process moves to mediation and then to an administrative hearing, if needed. If that fails, the city will help the worker file a claim in circuit court.

Paul Valenti, director of the Pinellas Office of Human Rights, said his office has received a few complaints, but most occurred before the county’s ordinance took effect on Jan. 1. The office is reviewing two recent claims.

❖ ❖ ❖

In Hillsborough, the Consumer Protection Services division will take complaints and refer them to the circuit court mediation and diversion program, division Director Eric Olsen said. The office also coordinates with Bay Area Legal Services to represent workers in cases that end up in court.

His office has heard “a handful” of complaints so far, and Olsen said the staff is preparing to do more publicity to let workers know the program is available, as Pinellas and St. Petersburg also are doing. Olsen is optimistic about its success.

“Once you got to a neutral process, oftentimes a solution can be found,” Olsen said. “We’re really excited about it.”

Valenti said Pinellas staff members will meet this week to discuss outreach programs. Epstein has begun working at the Childs Park YMCA in St. Petersburg on Wednesdays to reach more people. The city is advertising the program at recreation centers and libraries, holding community forums and even sent people to a recent job fair.

“We’re trying to get the word out to everyone,” Epstein said.

With tourism underway, she expects more complaints may be coming from the seasonal service industry workers. “There are lots of issues with tips,” she said.

Some agencies — including the federal wage and hour office and even the unemployment office — have referred workers to the city, she said. While the Department of Labor will handle claims that involve large businesses — those with at least $500,000 in annual revenue or at least 10 employees — it doesn’t preclude the city from pursuing cases, Epstein said.

The federal agency only can enforce the statutory minimum wage, but the city will pursue the actual wages an employee was promised, she said. The ordinance says the work must have been performed in the city or in Pinellas within the previous 12 months, the amount owed must exceed $60, and the worker must have been an employee of the business.

Epstein, a graduate of St. Petersburg High School, returned to the city from Washington, D.C., where she was an attorney for the Department of Labor and then a negotiator for a federal employees union. She said she is working as a mediator for the city and not as an attorney.

Among the issues she addressed in Washington were workers misclassified as independent contractors, and thus ineligible for the wage protection such as the city’s program provides, she said.

That issue recently has gained attention in the compensation dispute between rider services such as Uber and Lyft and their drivers.

Four Hillsborough Uber drivers are seeking to join others across the country in a class-action suit against the ride-hailing company, maintaining it unfairly classifies them as independent contractors rather than employees. Their lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa contends the classification of drivers violates the Fair Labor Standards Act by denying the employees at least minimum hourly wage and for overtime after 40 hours a week.

It also denies the drivers workers’ compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, disability insurance and other benefits, according to the lawsuit.

Epstein said it is not up to the city to decide the independent contractor question, but that she would encourage anyone who thinks they have not been classified or compensated properly to file a claim — Uber drivers included