Monthly Archives

September 2017

Employers Must Use New I-9 Form Beginning September 18, 2017

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Starting September 18, 2017, employers must use the revised Form I-9 with the revision date “7/17/17” to verify the identity and work eligibility of every new hire.

The new Form I-9 version is very similar to the prior edition. It has updated the name of the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices to its new name, Immigrant and Employee Rights Section, and it has removed “the end of” from the phrase “the first day of employment.” USCIS also revised the List C documents section, specifically related to the Consular Report of Birth Abroad and the Report of Birth issued by the Department of State. The process of completing the I-9 remains the same, as does the deadline to complete an I-9.

If you should have any questions, please contact your HR Representative at 925-556-4404.

Mandatory Flu Vaccine Policies: Dealing With Employees Who Refuse the Shot

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Flu season is coming, and healthcare (and other) organizations may be asking whether they should have mandatory flu vaccine policies. If an employer decides to implement a mandatory program, the next question is how to administer it.

In the healthcare industry, mandatory vaccination programs for employees are common. A number of states require healthcare employers to offer the vaccine or to ensure that employees receive it (with certain exceptions). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website tracks these various state laws and their requirements, and the CDC itself recommends that all health care workers get vaccinated (including all workers having direct and indirect patient care involvement and exposure).

However, “mandatory” doesn’t always mean mandatory. In some circumstances, healthcare providers may have to grant exceptions to their “mandatory” vaccination programs. Federal and state discrimination laws require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and sincerely-held religious beliefs. Some employees may be medically unable to receive the flu vaccine. Others may have religious objections. Absent undue hardship, healthcare providers will need to create exceptions to their “mandatory” policies for employees as a reasonable accommodation for the employees’ disabilities or religious practices.

Missteps in the accommodation process can open the door to litigation. Last year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued a hospital that declined to grant religious exemptions for six employees who refused the flu vaccine. The case settled for $300,000. Another similar case, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Baystate Medical Center, is still pending in federal court.

So how can healthcare employers implement mandatory flu vaccine policies? Every workplace and situation is different, but there are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Be prepared. Before rolling out a mandatory vaccination requirement, an employer may want to have a process in place for requesting accommodations. A carefully written vaccination policy can describe that process, so employees understand where to turn if they need to ask for accommodation. Employers may also want to have forms for employees to fill out to request a waiver as an accommodation.
  • Objections based on religion or disability. Employers have an obligation to accommodate only sincerely held religious beliefs or disabilities. But remember, “religion” and “disability” are broad terms. The EEOC and at least one federal court consider veganism, in some circumstances, to constitute a religious belief that could exempt an employee from a flu-vaccination requirement. The bottom line is that an employee’s objection to a vaccine might not appear to be “religious” at first blush, but it could be religious in the eyes of the law. Medical conditions or restrictions causing the need to forego a flu vaccine should be relatively rare.  Recently, non-egg options and versions of the shot that are safe for those with egg allergies have become available. However, valid medical objections may still exist.
  • Explore accommodations. Employers may want to have general reasonable accommodations policies, as well as procedures and request forms, to manage the interactive process. For an employee who declines the vaccine, the appropriate accommodation will depend on a variety of factors, including whether the employee’s position involves patient contact. Depending on the circumstances, appropriate accommodations may include modifying the employee’s work duties, finding an alternate version of the flu shot (or a nasal spray), having the employee wear a surgical mask, transferring the employee to a vacant position, or a leave of absence. Once the accommodation is in place, an employer can continue working with the employee to make sure it remains effective and feasible.
  • Document. In the context of vaccines and otherwise, employers will want to carefully document the accommodation process in writing. Specifically, businesses should keep clear records of precisely what accommodations have been requested, considered, negotiated, and either granted or rejected. Employers may also want to make sure documentation identifies who was involved in the process, when each step took place, whether disciplinary action was taken, and why each decision was made along the way.

Since mandatory flu vaccine programs have been a hotbed for litigation (and a source for the viral spread of misinformation), healthcare providers may want to proceed with caution and make sure their processes and procedures comply with applicable discrimination laws.

If you should have any questions, please contact your HR Representative at 925-556-4404.

California High Heat Advisory: Cal/OSHA Reminds Employers Shade Must Be Made Available for Outdoor Workers

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As temperatures are projected to hit triple digits across the state with
prolonged heat waves, Cal/OSHA reminds employers with outdoor workers that shade
must be made available at all times, and must be in place when temperatures reach 80
degrees or above.

The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings and high heat
advisories statewide, especially in inland areas. Periods of prolonged, widespread triple
digit heat is expected tomorrow through Thursday in downtown Los Angeles and much
of Southern California’s inland areas, as well as in the Bay Area, Monterey, Sacramento
and Central Valley regions.

Cal/OSHA urges workers experiencing possible overheating to take a preventative cooldown
rest in the shade until symptoms are gone. Workers who have existing health
problems or medical conditions that reduce tolerance to heat, such as diabetes, need to
be extra vigilant. Some high blood pressure and anti-inflammatory medications can also
increase a worker’s risk for heat illness.

Staying properly hydrated throughout the workday is one of the most effective heat
illness prevention techniques. Cal/OSHA encourages all workers to drink at least one
quart of water every hour, preferably sipping an 8-ounce cup of water every 15 minutes.
Drinks such as soda, sports drinks, coffee, energy drinks or iced tea are not
recommended for hydration. Also, the lingering effects of alcoholic beverages can
contribute to quickly dehydrating the body in hot weather.

In addition to the basic steps outlined by California’s heat regulation for employers with
outdoor workers, heat at or above 95 degrees Fahrenheit requires additional
precautions. Among other measures, it is crucial that workers are actively monitored for
early signs of heat illness. This helps ensure sick employees receive treatment
immediately and that the symptoms do not develop into serious illness or death.

In case a worker does get sick, supervisors and coworkers must be trained on the
emergency procedures required to ensure that the sick worker receives treatment
immediately and serious illness does not develop.
Cal/OSHA inspects outdoor worksites in agriculture, construction, landscaping, and
other operations throughout the heat season.

If you should have any questions, please contact your HR Representative at 925-556-4404.

7 ways to keep germs out of your workplace

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In a very busy work environment, it’s easy to become distracted and put health on the back burner.. Unfortunately, skipping healthy habits can make us more susceptible to illnesses like viral and bacterial infections. It’s not good for business when employees or their family members are sick, so here are some tips for preventing illness in the workplace.

1. Offer immunizations: Vaccines are effective at preventing illnesses like the flu and other infectious diseases. Encourage employees to keep their vaccines up to date for themselves and their families. It’s best to make immunizations as convenient and cost-effective as possible. Employers can offer on-site clinics and choose a health plan that provides vaccines at little or no cost to participants.

2. Promote healthy foods and drinks: Maintaining a healthy diet and consuming a wide variety of essential nutrients can ward off disease. Next time you are thinking about offering doughnuts for a breakfast meeting, consider a healthier option like fruit and a low-sugar, high-protein yogurt. You could also implement a healthy vending and catering policy at your organization, which requires foods offered in the workplace to meet certain nutrition standards. Additionally, our bodies are not well-equipped to fight infections when we are dehydrated. Filtered drinking water should be easily accessible at your worksite. Installing water bottle refill stations makes drinking water a convenient choice. Always offer water as a beverage option at meetings and work events, and make sure that vending machines and cafeterias stock plenty of water as well.

3. Keep food safe: How long have those leftover turkey sandwiches been sitting out in the break room? Did employees wash their hands and follow good food safety practices when preparing their prized dish for the annual pot luck? Generally speaking, after about two hours at room temperature hot and cold foods will no longer be safe to eat. Make that only one hour if your employee picnic is outside in the summer heat. To keep hot and cold foods fresh longer, they must be properly insulated with hot and cold packs to maintain a safe temperature. Wash hands and prep surfaces between tasks like handling raw proteins and preparing ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables.

4. Minimize stress: Acute and chronic stress can weaken the immune system and make you more prone to infections. Stress in the workplace can have a number of causes such as working in an environment where employees have little control and high demands. Reducing stress in the workplace not only prevents the spread of infectious diseases, but also prevents many chronic conditions such as obesity and heart disease.

5. Encourage ZZZZs: Getting the right amount of quality sleep is important for many reasons and helps with fighting off diseases. Unfortunately, about a quarter of adults report having insufficient sleep at least 15 out of every 30 days.

6. Clean work spaces: Maintain good hygiene when it comes to your workplace. Bathrooms, common areas, break rooms, phones, keyboards, desks, door handles and elevator buttons can be germ magnets. Keep the common areas clean and encourage employees to clean personal office spaces regularly. Make sure bathrooms and break rooms are always stocked with plenty of hand soap to promote good hand hygiene.

7. Have a sick policy: An employer’s sick policy can dictate whether an employee is likely to come to work or stay at home when they are contagious or not feeling well. It’s important for employees to stay at home when they are sick. Sick employees are not productive at work, and staying home prevents the spread of disease to co-workers. An employee should not feel discriminated against or scrutinized for using sick days. Supervisors should be flexible and encourage their employees to refrain from working until they are no longer contagious and are feeling better.

Implement these simple tips at your worksite for a healthier, happier workforce. If you should have any questions, please contact your HR Representative at 925-556-4404.