The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development recently proposed new regulations aimed at making workers’ compensation hearings more ethical.
Workers’ compensation hearings are held when the employer or employee does not agree with the original finding. Often, this is because an employee is denied workers’ compensation and feels that he or she was entitled to it.
Under the proposed regulations, a new (more…)
Alaska employers need to be aware of changes to the federal FMLA law under the NDAA. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (NDAA), recently expanded the parameters of the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act).
The new act permits spouses, parents, sons and daughters to take FMLA leave to care for an injured soldier. The soldier’s “next of kin” is also covered by the new law, which means in some cases aunts, uncles and cousins may also be able to take FMLA leave.
The soldier may be active military, or a deployed member of the Reserve or National Guard.
In addition to extending leave to families of soldiers, NDAA expands the amount of leave as well. Traditional FMLA allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year, while the new NDAA permits up to 26 weeks.
In addition to caring for an injured soldier, the NDAA permits spouses, sons, daughters and parents to take unpaid FMLA when a family member is called to active duty. That family member then may stand in for that soldier while he or she is on deployment. This could include taking care of a sick child, or caring for healthy children.
The law went into effect immediately, allowing families to take leave as of January 28, 2008. The U. S. Department of Labor is working to finalize the regulations and hopes that until the information is published, employers will make their best effort to comply.
Prior to passage of this NDAA, FMLA leave could only be used to care for a child, parent or spouse when he or she was ill. Caring for healthy children was permitted only upon birth of a child, the adoption of a child, or newly fostering a child into the home. To illustrate, a stay-at-home mom is diagnosed with a long-term illness. Her husband can take FMLA to care for her, but not take care of their healthy children.
President Bush previously vetoed an NDAA bill with this extended FMLA law, but explained that veto wasn’t due to the leave portion of the bill. This statement opened the door for the expanded FMLA to be attached to another bill and gain its recent passage.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (NDAA) was recently enacted to expand the FMLA (Family Medical and Leave Act). The FMLA was enacted in 1993 and the recent passage of the NDAA is the first expansion since the act was passed.
The FMLA, a federal law, broke ground as the first law to require employers to provide unpaid, job-protected leave to workers with a serious health issue. Before FMLA, each company made its own decision regarding an employee with ill health, and often simply fired those employees if they missed more than 2 or 3 weeks of work.
FMLA doesn’t apply to all employers, but to those with 50 or more employees within a 75 radius. The employee must meet certain eligibility requirements as well, usually determined by the number of hours worked for that company over the previous 6-12 months.
Eligible companies can provide, under FMLA, up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees for reasons other than the employee’s own health. Caring for a newborn, or a newly adopted child, or a newly fostered child is covered by FMLA. Also, the worker can charge leave to FMLA to care for an ill family member, defined as spouse, parent or child.
Upon return from FMLA leave, the law guarantees that employee a job. If the same position isn’t available, then the employer must provide that worker with a position similar in wages, working conditions and benefits.
Over 10 states have enacted laws to expand FMLA coverage. Some provide FMLA to companies with fewer employees. Other states provide increased benefits. In some of these states, the definition of family member has been amended to include in-laws and grandparents.
How the recent passage of the NDAA 2008 will affect these parameters of the FMLA is still unclear. The U. S. Department of Labor is currently finalizing the regulations and will publish the results.
Three new training programs will help prepare Alaska workers for the future. The STEP grants will provide opportunities for a number of Alaska workers, while the Work Ready/College Ready program helps high school students and young workers prepare for their careers. A federal grant will help prepare Alaskan workers for higher-paying pipeline jobs.
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development recently accepted grant applications for more than $2 million in worker training and employment projects. The prestigious State Training and Employment Program, or STEP, ended on September 7, 2007.
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development urges both businesses and nonprofit organizations to apply for the grants, as well as educators, employers and agencies. The grant awards are limited to $300,000 per organization, although exceptions are made in special cases.
STEP grants are used to train Alaska workers for jobs in key industries that are in high demand in the state and across the nation, including healthcare, construction, information technology, education, transportation, hospitality. Grants are also accepted to train workers for two industries that are in high demand in Alaska, natural resource development, and the seafood harvesting and processing industry.
“STEP has been a real success story for Alaska by helping thousands of Alaskans upgrade their job skills and getting them into higher paying jobs,” said Labor Commissioner Click Bishop. “We’re looking to fund quality training programs for quality jobs.”
The STEP grants are just the latest training awards to benefit Alaska workers. In August, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin unveiled a new program that allows students and adults to assess their occupational training, and improve the basic skills that employers look for.
The Work Ready/College Ready Program gives Alaskans an opportunity to assess and improve their skills in applied math, reading for information, and locating graphic information. The state has identified these skills as critical to success in moving from high school to the workplace, occupational training or college.
“This is the type of partnership I envisioned when I took office and pledged that Alaskans would be prepared for jobs,” Governor Palin said. “It shows what can be accomplished when school, work, business and industry speak the same language and share the same goals.”
After the assessment, participants can enroll in online, self-paced courses to improve skills. The information is delivered in a work-related, applied context to prevent boredom. Workers can access the programs from public schools, home or from any state job center.
Participants will receive a Career Readiness Certificate that documents their basic skills. More than 40 states issue such certificates which are widely recognized in business and industry.
“The skills needed to enter many vocations are similar to the skills needed to get into college. By 2010, three-quarters of jobs will require some type of training after high school,” said Roger Sampson, the most recent Education Commissioner.
In July, Governor Sarah Palin saluted the U.S. Department of Labor for awarding a federal grant of $7.5 million to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The funds will be spent over 5 years to train workers in pipeline construction and maintenance at low temperatures.
“This award will help state Labor Commissioner Click Bishop jump-start the workforce training plan the AGIA mandates to ensure Alaskans are given the first change to work on construction of a gas line,” Said Governor Palin.
In the past, many Alaskans have complained as high-paying oil pipeline jobs went to welders, fitters and supervisors imported from the lower 48 states.
“Alaska is critical to the nation’s policy on energy development, and this investment by the federal government through congressional authorization reflects a strong commitment to developing the state’s natural resources,” Governor Palin added.
The $7.5 million federal grant will train more than 2,500 Alaska workers, with an emphasis on preparing the workforce to create a new gas pipeline. The grant is seed money that will help the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development get this program off the ground, when combined with $7.6 million that has already been appropriated by the Alaska Legislature from the state general fund.
Many employers and service members have questions about what happens to their health insurance under the latest updated federal and Alaska USERRA regulations. When a member of the Reserve or National Guard is called to active service, they qualify for military health care after 30 days.
However, USERRA guarantees soldiers the right to retain health care coverage through their civilian employers for up to 24 months, if they so wish. All soldiers should be covered by their civilian health care plan for the first 30 days of active service. If soldiers decide to continue the health care insurance through their civilian employers, they have to pay both the employee’s and the employer’s share of the premium, plus any processing fees.
Changes to the law cover a number of important issues. The Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, also known as VETS, has released the final rules pertaining to USERRA, so employers may want to verify that their Alaska USERRA posters are current.
Alaska workers are impacted by a few of the changes to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, also known as USERRA. Changes made recently to this act impact federal government employees. These employees can now file claims with VETS, which is a US Department of Labor division.
The updated regulations for USERRA stress again that, for up to five years, the civilian jobs of veterans and members of the military are protected. This includes members of the Navy, Army, and Air Force Reserve. The time period of five years is cumulative though, so if an employee first serves two years, then later serves three years, the time limit of five years is reached.
USERRA pays special attention to disabled veterans. Reasonable accommodations should be made by employers to account for the disabilities of veterans. In addition, if a service member is injured, an additional two years are added to the amount of time this individual has to return to work. The additional two years for injuries includes injuries received on active duty and during training.
According to a recent new release from the US Dept. of Labor, Alaska employers should remember that members of the National Guard and reservists returning to civilian occupations after serving must have their active duty time counted towards their eligibility to take time off work under the federal and state Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
While many people refer to the family leave act as the Alaska FMLA, in reality, it is a federal program. The US Department of Labor recently issued a memorandum that clarifies its position on the rights of returning uniformed service members to family and medical leave under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA.
The federal FMLA provides employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to attend to a variety of critical family situations. These include the birth or adoption of a child, or the placement of a foster child in the home. In addition, employees may take time off to care for a close family member who is ill. This covers only members of the immediate family, including the employee’s parent, child, or spouse. FMLA leave may also be used by the employee to recover from his or her own serious illness or other medical condition.
The FMLA applies to all public agencies, including state, local and federal employers, and local schools, regardless of the number of employees. It also applies to employers with 50 or more employees. Employers with 50 or more employees at least 20 weeks of the year, who are engaged in industry or commerce, are subject to the federal FMLA law.
Under ordinary circumstances, a worker becomes eligible for leave under the FMLA after working for a covered employer for at least 12 months, during which he or she completed at least 1,250 hours of work. This recent report reminds employers they should count the months and hours that reservists or National Guards would have worked if they had not been called up for military service towards FMLA eligibility.