Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Novel Way to Mandate Sick Leave, From Microsoft

Today’s post was shared by The New York Times and comes from www.nytimes.com

Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said the company was in part responding to complaints from contract employees who did not have the same benefits as full-time employees. Credit Jordan Stead for The New York Times

It is difficult to imagine, at least in the current political climate, that the federal government would require paid sick leave for workers, let alone vacation time.

But the White House announced Wednesday that senior officials, including the labor secretary, would begin a monthlong roadshow around the country to promote paid leave. And in his State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to pass a bill giving workers seven days of paid sick leave.

But any federal requirement would need the support of Congress, a tough obstacle.

Yet there is another, emerging model: companies forcing other companies to adopt these policies. On Thursday morning, Microsoft announced that it would require many of its 2,000 contractors and vendors to provide their employees who perform work for Microsoft with 15 paid days off for sick days and vacation time.

In some ways, it’s a uniquely American solution. In the absence of a federal policy, the biggest and wealthiest companies are performing the role of setting workplace policy for other businesses.

As the economy has become more dependent on contract workers, workers’ rights advocates have voiced concern about their working conditions, especially for low-skilled jobs.

The situation…

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Walmart, Lowe’s, Safeway, and Nordstrom Are Bankrolling a Nationwide Campaign to Gut Workers’ Comp

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from www.motherjones.com

In recent years, companies have used that freedom to severely curtail long-standing benefits.

Two states, Texas and Oklahoma, already allow employers to opt out of state-mandated workers’ comp. In Texas, the only state that has never required employers to provide workers’ comp, Walmart has written a plan that allows the company to select the physician an employee sees and the arbitration company that hears disputes. The plan provides no coverage for asbestos exposure. And a vague section of the contract excludes any employee who was injured due to his "participation" in an assault from collecting benefits unless the assault was committed in defense of Walmart’s "business or property." It is up to Walmart to interpret what "participation" means. But the Texas AFL-CIO has argued that an employee who defended himself from an attack would not qualify for benefits.

"It creates a race to the bottom."

A 2012 survey of Texas companies with private plans found that fewer than half offered benefits to seriously injured employees or the families of workers who died in workplace accidents. (The state plan, which Texas companies can follow on a voluntary basis, covers both.) Half of employer plans capped benefits, while the state plan pays benefits throughout a worker’s recovery.

Businesses can save millions of dollars by opting out and writing plans with narrow benefits, putting pressure on their competitors to do the same. "It creates a race…

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Appeals court weighs future of workers-compensation laws in Florida.

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.orlandoweekly.com

WorkersCompUmbrellaUpLarge.jpg-550x0.jpg

A South Florida appeals court Monday heard arguments in a challenge to the constitutionality of the state’s workers-compensation insurance system —- as two other closely watched challenges also await rulings at the Florida Supreme Court.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal took up a case in which a Miami-Dade County circuit judge ruled last year that a key underpinning of workers-compensation laws was unconstitutional. That underpinning involves cases being handled through the workers-compensation insurance system instead of through civil lawsuits.

The workers-compensation system is designed as a sort of tradeoff: Workers are supposed to receive benefits for on-the-job injuries while not going through potentially costly and time-consuming lawsuits. But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge Cueto ruled in August that the workers-compensation law preventing cases from going to civil trial —- known legally as "exclusivity" —- was unconstitutional, at least in part because of legislative changes in 2003 that reduced benefits.

"I find that the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act, as amended effective October 1, 2003, does not provide a reasonable alternative to the tort (civil) remedy it supplanted,” Cueto wrote. "It therefore cannot be the exclusive remedy."

During Monday’s hearing, state Chief Deputy Solicitor General Adam Tanenbaum argued primarily that Cueto’s ruling should be overturned for procedural reasons. The case initially involved Julio…

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Workplace Suicides Are on the Rise

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.theatlantic.com

And rates are particularly high among people working in law enforcement, farming, and auto repair, a new study found.

www.GlynLowe.com/Flickr/The Atlantic

In the first three months of last year, 10 people at Orange, a French telecoms company, killed themselves. It was not the first time such tragedy had struck the mobile giant. The company—formerly known as France Telecom—also reported a rash of self-inflicted deaths between 2008 and 2009. A similar cluster of suicides once gripped Foxconn, where 18 people working at the factory in Shenzhen, China, attempted suicide in 2010, and where another 150 threatened an en masse death jump in 2012 in protest of low wages and poor working conditions.

Though there haven’t been such notable concentrations of workplace suicides at one company like that in the United States, in 2013, the last year for which data are available, 270 people in the U.S. committed suicide at work—a 12 percent increase over the prior year.

“The reasons for any suicide are complex, no matter where they take place. Usually many factors are at play,” says Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Among them are economic and work-related stressors.

One recent study found that the global recession that began in 2007 could be linked with more than 10,000 suicides across North America and Europe.

“Historically, suicide rates do rise during economic downturns. The entire…

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How much is your arm worth? Depends on where you work

Today’s post was shared by Workers Compensation and comes from www.propertycasualty360.com

Nearly every state has what’s known as a
Nearly every state has what’s known as a "schedule of benefits" that divides up the body like an Angus beef chart.

At the time of their accidents, Jeremy Lewis was 27, Josh Potter 25.

The men lived within 75 miles of each other. Both were married with two children about the same age. Both even had tattoos of their children’s names.

Their injuries, suffered on the job at Southern industrial plants, were remarkably similar, too. Each man lost a portion of his left arm in a machinery accident.

After that, though, their paths couldn’t have diverged more sharply: Lewis received just $45,000 in workers’ compensation for the loss of his arm. Potter was awarded benefits that could surpass $740,000 over his lifetime.

The reason: Lewis lived and worked in Alabama, which has the nation’s lowest workers’ comp benefits for amputations. Potter had the comparative good fortune of losing his arm across the border in Georgia, which is far more generous when it comes to such catastrophic injuries.

This disparity grimly illustrates the geographic lottery that governs compensation for workplace injuries in America. Congress allows each state to determine its own benefits, with no federal minimums, so workers who live across state lines from each other can experience entirely different outcomes for identical injuries.

Nearly every state has what’s known as a “schedule of benefits” that divides up the body like an Angus beef…

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Court: Juries to decide if state Uber, Lyft drivers are employees

Artist Peter Ashlock drives for Uber and Lyft in San Francisco, California on Wednesday, February 18, 2015. He talks about 1099’s received from both companies. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.sfgate.com

Juries must decide whether California drivers for the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft are employees entitled to minimum wages, expenses and other workplace benefits, two San Francisco federal judges ruled Wednesday, rejecting the companies’ argument that the drivers must be considered independent contractors.

U.S. District Judges Edward Chen, in the Uber case, and Vince Chhabria, in the Lyft case, said the drivers resemble contractors in some respects, such as their ability to choose their work hours and the riders they accept, and employees in other respects, such as the companies’ control over drivers’ interactions with customers and its power to fire them at any time. “A reasonable jury could go either way,” Chhabria said.

The rulings were nonetheless at least a partial victory for the drivers, who filed the suits as proposed class actions on behalf of all drivers in California.

It’s actually “a major victory for the drivers,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, a lawyer representing thousands of drivers for both Uber and Lyft. She said the judges “agreed with many arguments we made about why the facts point to an employment relationship.”

The stakes are considerable. State law entitles employees to minimum and overtime wages, reimbursement for work expenses, workers’ compensation benefits for job-related injuries, and unemployment insurance. Independent contractors receive none of those. A driver’s status…

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This Chair-Free Office Bans Sitting

Today’s post was shared by The Green Workplace and comes from www.fastcodesign.com

Even though it’s now old news that sitting is killing us all, people still sit a whole lot, especially at office jobs. Standing desks are one solution, but office workers often have to take the initiative to request one from their employers. What if, instead, an office’s very design simply ruled out the option of sitting all day?

RAAAF (Rietveld Architecture-Art Affordances), a Netherlands-based experimental studio that works at the intersection of visual art, architecture, and science, collaborated with artist Barbara Visser to design "The End of Sitting," a conceptual office with no chairs and no traditional desks. Instead, the office is filled with faceted three-dimensional geometric shapes on which workers can stand, lean, perch, or even lie down. Viewed from above, the white objects resemble an artist’s abstract rendering of cracked glacial ice more than furniture. They range from waist-height to shoulder-height, allowing workers to change positions throughout the day.

Ricky Rijkenberg

The designers spent 10 days building the labyrinthine "experimental work landscape" from plywood frames and a secret render (described as being "as hard as concrete") at Looiersgracht 60, an Amsterdam-based exhibition space. "The End of Sitting" is part art installation, part psychological study: it’s the visual component of architect Erik Rietveld’s research project, called "The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied…

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After her husband’s death, widow warns burn pits used in Iraq may cause deadly cancer

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from www.kshb.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The widow of a Raytown veteran killed by a rare and aggressive cancer says she’s convinced her husband’s illness was brought on by his exposure to toxic fumes from “burn pits” during his service in Iraq.

Now she’s warning other veterans to speak to their doctors about risks associated with the pits.

Sgt. Matthew Gonzales received a diagnosis of Esthesioneuroblastoma four years after returning from Tikrit, where he worked regularly near a burn pit used to dispose of medical waste by burning it with jet fuel in a large open pit.

“One thing that caught me off guard is that they didn’t have any protective gear covering themselves,” his widow, Elizabeth, said of a video her husband showed her of the pit. “I asked about that, and he felt confident saying, ‘The government wouldn’t put us in any harm’s way. They’re going to protect us.’”

After an oral surgeon discovered the mass that turned out to be the start of her husband’s cancer, Elizabeth Gonzales now says that’s exactly what the government did.  

“The surgeon said that exposure to different toxicities like sands and paints and things like that would cause a person to get this type of cancer,” Gonzales told 41 Action News. “I started researching burn pits and found out that there’s thousands of soldiers and contractors who are reporting different medical issues since their exposure to burn pits.”

And…

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Underpaid, overworked and far to go: the Obama administration’s conscience for women at work

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from www.theguardian.com

Woman worker

Within the US Department of Labor, there is a little-known bureau: the Women’s bureau.

Since 1920, the bureau has focused on tracking and supporting the growth of women in the workforce.

Many things have changed over the past 90-plus years. In 1920, women accounted for just 21% of working Americans. By 2012, that number had more than doubled, with women making up 47% of American workers. More than 75% of single mothers are the sole breadwinners in their families.

Even as things have changed, many things have stayed the same. The wage gap still persists – with women earning about 78 cents for every dollar that men earn. About 6% of female workers earn minimum wage, compared to just 3% of men.

Until that changes, the bureau won’t rest. There is still a lot of work to do, says Latifa Lyles, the director of the bureau.

“While we are the only federal agency that focuses on women in the workforce and women’s economic security issues, we are part of a larger coalition in the Obama administration who are making sure that we are addressing women’s issues in a coordinated way and improving programs and outcomes with other federal agencies,” says Lyles.

One of the partners working closely with the bureau is the White House Council on Women and Girls. This past year, President Obama and the bureau convened a summit on working families that brought together low-wage workers, business owners and policymakers to discuss the issues that affect working…

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Pain Really Is All In Your Head And Emotion Controls Intensity

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.npr.org

Image of brain within a skullImage of brain within a skull
Image of brain within a skull

When you whack yourself with a hammer, it feels like the pain is in your thumb. But really it’s in your brain.

That’s because our perception of pain is shaped by brain circuits that are constantly filtering the information coming from our sensory nerves, says David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and author of the new book Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind.

"There is a completely separate system for the emotional aspect of pain — the part that makes us go, ‘Ow! This is terrible.’ "

- David Linden, neuroscientist, Johns Hopkins University

"The brain can say, ‘Hey that’s interesting. Turn up the volume on this pain information that’s coming in,’ " Linden says. "Or it can say, ‘Oh no — let’s turn down the volume on that and pay less attention to it.’ "

This ability to modulate pain explains the experiences of people like Dwayne Turner, an Army combat medic in Iraq who received the Silver Star for valor.

In 2003, Turner was unloading supplies when his unit came under attack. He was wounded by a grenade. "He took shrapnel in his leg, in his side — and he didn’t even notice that he had been hit," Linden says.

Despite his injuries, Turner began giving first aid and pulled other soldiers to safety. As he worked, he was shot twice — one bullet breaking a bone in his arm. Yet Turner would say later that he felt almost no pain.

"Soldiers in the heat of…

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