Bulletin boards are essential for the workplace—but when was the last time you really used yours? If you’re having trouble answering this question—or if the cobwebs hanging from the board tell the story all too well—you may be missing out on some of the many advantages of the company bulletin board.
Use the bulletin board to comply with your legal requirements to post state and federal information, including such items as the OSHA 300 log. It’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure this information is posted during the legally mandated time periods and the posters themselves are maintained and up to date.
If your company is unionized, you may have negotiated a provision for the union to have a bulletin board, or share a space on the company board. If you’re allowing the union to post information, rules governing the information that the union is permitted to post are critical. Rules can include a prohibition on items that are ridiculing, defamatory or disparaging towards individuals, for example. The rules should also specify whether the materials must be reviewed or signed off by a member of management before posting, and who has the right to remove items from the board.
In many cases the union board can be a useful tool to build the employee-employer relationship, disseminating information jointly released from the labor management committee, for example. But tread carefully—even seemingly insignificant actions can be viewed as serious depending on the timing of the incident. For example, an employer who removes certain union postings immediately before a representation election can face an unfair practice charge.
Virtual Bulletin Boards
In today’s workplace, some employers question whether a physical bulletin board is still relevant or needed. As we spend more and more time online, a virtual board can seem like the most logical option, and there are many advantages to the electronic approach. But there are several major advantages to the physical board that a virtual alternative will never replace:
- You can make sure employees look at the board regularly. If a board is in the break room, or placed strategically above the time clock, it’s difficult for employees to claim they never had an opportunity to look at it. However, if employees claim they never logged into the virtual site, didn’t know how to access it, or didn’t click through to see the various policies in detail, it can be harder to demonstrate they were on notice of a particular issue.
- You can meet state and federal posting obligations. Depending on the specific language, you may not be able to meet the posting requirements with a virtual board.
- You can include emergency information. In a crisis employees can’t—and shouldn’t—take time to log in to the internet to find out emergency contact information or evacuation instructions. But a bulletin board above the fire extinguisher, in an easily accessible place can host a variety of useful emergency information.
Top Tips to Make the Most of Your Board
- Update the board regularly. If employees see federal and state posters are regularly updated, and policies are frequently revised, they’ll come to rely on the board as a source of information and guidance. Review the material on a regular basis and remove any outdated information.
- Comply with the policies you post. If you don’t adhere to the policies on the board, the bulletin board itself can become exhibit number one in the case against the company. Similarly, prevent any unauthorized, unwanted or harassing postings that could create liability for the organization. Use a locked glass door to prevent employee tampering and ensure all material is sanctioned and appropriate.
- Keep it relevant. If employees are interested in the content of the board, they’ll be more likely to check it and, as a result, see any changes to legislation, policy or practice. Include information to keep staff coming back, such as employee kudos and current job listings.
- Minimize the clutter! Divide the board into sections for easy reading. Don’t post multiple printed documents one on top of the other. Instead, print the most relevant excerpts from the policies and maintain a set of policy manuals, union contracts and employee handbooks somewhere close to the board for employees to refer to. Use color and different fonts to break up the board and keep it interesting.
Cases filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act have been increasing over the past five years, according to recent research from law firm Seyfarth Shaw.
The law firm found that there has been a “steady increase” in the number of wage and hour type cases filed since 2008, with over 7,000 cases in the 12-month period between March 2011 and March 2012. In contrast, cases filed in the ‘90s through the early 2000s averaged about 2,000 a year, meaning the current level of lawsuits is approaching four times the number filed just a few years ago.
In an article originally published in the Blog of Legal Times, Seyfarth partner Richard Alfred speculated the recent rise in claims could be due to the difficult economic conditions and the rising unemployment rates, with those who lost their jobs exploring their legal options.
Alfred said that plaintiff’s lawyers sometimes target wage and hour law because it can be complex and difficult for employers to interpret—meaning unintentional errors may become extremely costly for the employer. Beginning in 2003, Alfred noted, a few large settlements were won in the age and hour arena, highlighting this area of law as one to target because of the relative ease of bringing class lawsuits against employers.
It doesn’t seem as if there will be a decrease in claims any time soon, so what should employers do to protect themselves?
- Stay updated with changes in legislation.
- Document, document, document. Accurate records are essential for your defense.
- Consult a specialized attorney if you have questions regarding FLSA compliance.
- Investigate and thoroughly assess employees’ complaints to ensure your practices are sound.
- Conduct regular audits.
You still may not be able to avoid claims, but by doing everything possible to safeguard against them, you can at the very least reduce liability from 3 years—for a willful violation—to 2 years.
The ERISA advisory council will hold a meeting on August 28-30, 2012 to discuss several key issues related to the Act, including managing disability risks in an environment of individual responsibility; current challenges and best practices concerning beneficiary designations in retirement and life insurance plans; and examining income replacement during retirement years in a defined contribution plan system.
Organizations and individual members of the general public are welcome to attend the meeting to add input to any of the areas of discussion. But you don’t have to attend to have your views heard—simply submit a written position statement on one or more of the items. If you’re interested in addressing the council or submitting a statement, you have until August 14, 2012 to email your request to the council’s executive secretary Larry Good at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 202-693-8668.
The council meeting is open to the public. If you’re interested in attending, it will be held in Room C5521-4 at the following address:
Labor Department Headquarters,
200 Constitution Ave. NW,
Washington DC 20210
For more information about the ERISA council, see the following link from the Department of Labor website: http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/aboutebsa/erisa_advisory_council.html.
There are more than 75 million baby boomers in the U.S., and another boomer turns 60 every eight seconds. It’s estimated that by 2030, 70 million Americans will be 65+ (double the amount in 2000) and will comprise 20-25% of the US population.
If your organization is like most in the U.S., the baby boomers probably comprise the majority of the workforce. But with nearly a quarter of boomers saying finances are their biggest challenge, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that the boomers will leave the organization once they reach retirement age.
But the phenomenon of baby boomers remaining in the workforce is a definite trend. In fact, 14 percent of boomers say they will never retire, with an additional 28 percent saying they will work as long as their health permits. With the average baby boomer expecting 30+ years of retirement eligibility, some workers simply cannot afford to quit. And even when finances are not a concern, a large percentage of boomers intend to keep working after retirement to stay active.
While many employers are concerned about the impact of the potential “brain drain” as the boomers depart the workforce, other companies—struggling in the current economy—were counting on savings from vacancies left by the baby boomers. When those employees decide not to leave, it creates a bigger problem for the organization.
Even though it’s technically permissible to ask about retirement plans, employers should be extremely cautious about being perceived as encouraging employees to retire. The EEOC takes a dim view of what they see as pushing older workers toward retirement, and has set a precedent of prosecuting such types of case.
This, of course, makes it difficult to plan for the future—a necessity for operations. So if you really need to know, stick to some simple best practices:
- Only ask if you have a good reason—and explain that reason to the employee.
- Once you’ve asked, don’t keep asking—it could seem as if you’re pressurizing the employee.
- Don’t coerce the employee into retiring, question his or her decision or criticize his/her choice. Ultimately, retirement is the worker’s decision to make.
- Don’t try to “persuade” the employee to retire by taking some form of adverse action, like a less desirable assignment or refusing to train them.
Other options for workforce planning include using metrics to assess the average retirement age, average length of service with the company and average amount of retirees per year. While every case is different, assessing the trends can help you monitor the workforce and plan for the future.
For more information, please visit our website www.laborlawcenter.com or call (800) 745-9970
In Symczyk v. Genesis Healthcare Corp. (2011) the Supreme Court will decide whether plaintiffs can invite others to join a suit, even once the employer has made an offer of judgment.
In the case, Symczyk, a nurse, claimed her employer made staff members work through lunch without compensation, violating the FLSA. Symczyk sued, and asked the trial court to invite other, similarly situated employees to join the case.
The employer tried to put a stop to the “invitation” aspect of the case by making a formal offer of judgment to end the lawsuit. The employer offered to pay all the alleged unpaid wages—approximately $7,500—and attorney fees and costs as determined by the court. While Symczyk didn’t dispute the offer was adequate, she did not accept it.
The employer argued that Symczyk should not be allowed to continue to prosecute the action on behalf of other employees, since the offer of judgment meant she no longer had a stake in the litigation.
Symczyk objected to the arguments and what she viewed as the employer’s strategic maneuver to “pick her off” before the court could notice other potential plaintiffs in the case.
The trial court, however, agreed with the employer and dismissed the lawsuit. Symczyk appealed, and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with her, stating that the employer had used the offer of judgment as “a tool for the strategic curtailment of representative actions.”
Whether the Supreme Court will agree that such tactics are impermissible will be decided later this year. Stay tuned for updates to the case.