Monday, February 1, 2010

Speaking of giving . . .

The U.S. Department of Labor requested $117 billion for its fiscal year 2010 budget. Most of the money is to be used for unemployment insurance funds and job restructuring initiatives, but it shouldn't be overlooked what the DOL is requesting for its own staff: more than 350 new hires, including 177 investigators and enforcement staff. The DOL will emphasize hiring bilingual staff members "to better communicate with employees in the changing workplace."

The allocation request breaks down to half a billion for OSHA, and $244 million for Wage & Hour (with funding earmarked for 90 new investigators in that division), with $25 million of that for a Misclassification Initiative aimed at looking more closely into whether an individual is an employee incorrectly classified (hence, the name) as an independent contractor.

One carrot for States: a $50 million State Paid Leave Fund to "encourage" states to apply for competitive grants to launch paid-leave programs and offset start-up costs.

A time for giving

Recent natural disasters have caused several clients to revisit their non-solicitation policies--particularly when the policies are an absolute ban on soliciting for causes. With the continued, albeit greatly diminished, life of the Employee Free Choice Act, by no means are we encouraging anyone to eliminate the policy altogether.

Yet in times when the devastation in Haiti is front and center on the news and websites; when the snow storms in the Midwest have left so many without power; the rock and mud slides and various disasters on the West coast have left many homeless; it is a natural instinct for those of us with so much to ask, "What can I do?"

We caution our clients about making exceptions to their policies. When an exception is real and easily defined, though, then bending the policy a bit becomes more easily explained should the exception be challenged in the future. Likewise, some clients are considering implementing new policies on a temporary basis, such as a temporary leave of absence policy for those employees who want to travel for relief efforts on their own time and money. If you are one of those businesses that is either recovering from the economic downturn or found yourself fortunate to not be hit in the gut, you may be considering even sponsoring a relief team for any number of charitable causes.

Whatever your situation, document. If you make an exception, delineate the who, what, when, where and why. If you allow for the leave of absence, be clear on your expectations. For example, if there are times of the year/production cycle when you just can't allow the absenteeism, let the employees know that upfront.

And if you simply want to open the break rooms, e-mail and intranet for solicitation of worthy causes, well, lather, rinse, repeat: document, delineate the exception, and be clear on your expectations.