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Employer alert: EEOC now enforcing GINA

November 20th, 2009  |  Pamela Wolf

>On November 20, 2009, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reminded stakeholders that, in the first legislative expansion of its jurisdiction since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, the federal agency will assume responsibility on November 21 for enforcing Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

GINA, signed into law in May 2008, prohibits discrimination by health insurers and employers based on individuals’ genetic information. Genetic information includes the results of genetic tests to determine whether someone is at increased risk of acquiring a condition (such as some forms of breast cancer) in the future, as well as an individual’s family medical history, the EEOC advises.

Specifically, GINA:

  • prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions;
  • restricts the acquisition of genetic information by employers and others;
  • imposes strict confidentiality requirements; and
  • prohibits retaliation against individuals who oppose actions made unlawful by the statute, or who participate in proceedings to vindicate rights under the law, or aid others in doing so.

The federal agency also notes that the same remedies, including compensatory and punitive damages, are available under Title II of GINA as are available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The EEOC is charged with issuing regulations implementing Title II of GINA. On March 2, 2009, it published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement Title II with proposed regulations and received over 40 public comments in response. The final regulations implementing Title II are currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget and will be issued as soon as the review process is concluded.

A brief sampling of some of the comments submitted on the EEOC’s proposed GINA regulations reveals the following concerns and suggestions:

  • The definition of “genetic information” may make GINA compliance complicated because it may be difficult to distinguish between genetic and other medical information in practice.

  • Physicians’ notes to confirm an illness or need for a reasonable accommodation should fall under the exception for inadvertent acquisition of genetic information because leave is requested informally in many small businesses.

  • The EEOC’s position that any genetic information obtained through a post-offer, pre-employment medical examination falls outside the exception for inadvertent acquisition of genetic information fails to distinguish between employers that receive genetic information that is unresponsive to a legitimate and narrowly tailored request, and employers that deliberately obtain such information.

  • The exception for commercially and publicly available information should include personal web pages and social networking sites because they, too, are publicly available.

  • Rather than using a public/private distinction, media sources should be divided based on access required or likelihood of containing genetic information, because that is more consistent with GINA’s prohibition against searching public data bases likely to contain genetic information.

  • The “water cooler” exception, for information volunteered or inadvertently overheard, should make clear that an employer’s probing questions or intentional information gathering do not fall under this exception.

In the meanwhile, employers should make sure they have posted the EEOC’s updated “EEO is the Law” poster.

And remember, the EEOC is watching!

Hiring veterans presents unique challenges

November 18th, 2009  |  Cynthia L. Hackerott

>Last week’s observation of Veterans Day brings to mind the special challenges involved in bringing veterans back into the civilian workforce. Currently, the federal and most state governments provide for a veterans’ preference for government jobs. Federal legislation requiring private employers to grant reemployment rights to employees who have served in the military dates back to World War II. Military leaves of absence and reemployment rights of veterans and reservists are now governed by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which also prohibits discrimination and retaliation based on military service.

In addition, covered federal contractors have the obligation, under the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA), to take affirmative action to employ and advance certain categories of veterans. In recent years, VEVRAA has been expanded to include coverage of veterans beyond those who fought in the Vietnam conflict. Last year, the OFCCP, which enforces VEVRAA (there is no private right of action under the statute), announced its Good Faith Initiative For Veterans Employment (G-FIVE). This initiative gives special recognition to federal contractor establishments for their efforts in employing and advancing veterans and strengthens partnerships between the OFCCP and other agencies and veterans groups.

Leading by example, President Obama signed Executive Order (EO)
, regarding the employment of veterans in the federal government, on November 9, 2009. EO 13518 establishes the Veterans Employment Initiative for the Executive Branch, which is designed to transform the federal government into the model employer of America’s veterans. The EO creates an interagency Council on Veterans Employment that will advise the President and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on the veterans’ employment initiative. In addition, EO 13518 establishes a Veterans Employment Program office within most federal agencies. These offices will be responsible for helping veterans identify employment opportunities within those federal agencies, providing feedback to veterans about their employment application status, and helping veterans recently employed by these agencies adjust to civilian life and a workplace culture often different than military service. The OPM has also been instructed to issue a government-wide strategic plan that will focus on creating leadership commitment and an infrastructure in each agency to promote continued skills development and employment success for veterans. The strategic plan will also include marketing strategies aimed at agency hiring managers as well as veterans and transitioning service members. (For more information on the initiative, go to: http://www.fedshirevets.gov/.)

So, what special considerations should employers note when seeking to hire, reemploy, and advance veterans in the workforce? Earlier this month, an insightful article was posted on Diversity-Executive.com discussing “How to Integrate Veterans Into the Workforce.” Key points made by this article include:
* those who have served in the military three years or more have considerable supervisory, budgetary and diversity experience;
* job functions should be reviewed to consider whether certain military experience may equate to certain educational degrees;
* hiring managers need to learn how to translate military positions to the language traditionally used by human resources managers; and
* including veterans in a company’s recruiting team allows veterans to learn about the company from someone who understands military culture and language.

Internet resources for hiring veterans include the US Veterans’ Employment and Training Services’ “Hire Vets First” website and MilitaryHire.com.

The up-and-down economic cycle has many employees still pedaling to work…sick

November 16th, 2009  |  Lucas Otto

>There are a few inescapable truths these days: 1. Unemployment continues to rise. 2. The flu (particularly H1N1) is on many peoples’ minds. 3. No one, neither employers nor employees, knows what to make of the economic situation. So it makes perfect sense that confusion would be present in the workplace when the question of whether to report to work when sick, or when possibly sick, gets brought up.

Conventional wisdom would suggest the answer to that question is not to come to work sick, but it is just not that simple. The problem is, reports show that unemployment has increased to its highest levels since 1983 (10.2%, according to the BLS), prompting widespread fear of job-loss among employees. While employers—needing staff to come to work—are also saddled with their own fears, as several reports show that the H1N1 virus, and seasonal flu, seems to be sweeping through businesses, schools, families, etc., at a rapid pace, and this could have a very damaging effect on the workplace.

So, when combining all this information, as an employer and employee, you are left in the middle of one big quagmire: With the economy down and people still losing their jobs at break-neck speeds, should employees come to work even when sick?

Certainly, the “stay home versus go to work sick” problem has plagued many offices nationwide as fears associated with the spread of H1N1 continue. In the Baby Boomer generation, and those preceding it, it wasn’t a question of whether you would come to work sick, but rather: Why would you stay home and not come to work sick? In an article in the Chicago Tribune, Tom Gimbel, chief executive of The LaSalle Network, a recruiting and staffing firm, felt that times have changed, saying:

“Since the recession started … it’s been a more heated issue of workers really having to protect their jobs and needing to make sure they’re in the office.” H1N1 means that “more than ever, employers are saying now, ‘If you’re sick, don’t come in, because it’s so contagious.’”

Yet, in times of rising unemployment, can employees really be expected to stay home as the onslaught of sickness begins to creep up on them? According to the 2007 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, “34 percent [of employers] foster a culture that discourages employees from coming to work sick.”

Today, that 34 percent is likely higher with fears of H1N1. That fear, coupled with the fact that the cost of presenteeism (when employees come to work in spite of illness) costs employers more annually than the cost of employee absenteeism (2007 SHRM study), seems to make it clear that staying home when sick is the obvious choice. However, in spite of this information, only 34 percent in 2007 said they discourage employees coming to work sick, making it somewhat clear that many employers do not make known their preference that sick employees, or potentially sick employees, stay home.

So, are employers really broadcasting to employees to stay home from work if sick? The simple truth is, with many businesses hurting in today’s economy, the words “stay at home if sick” have probably been uttered less by employers than: our economic problems continue in this bad economy; the company has experienced a continued string of bad financial quarters; layoffs are possible; no bonuses or merit increases this year; and all holiday parties are cancelled.

When things are bad enough that a holiday party has to be cancelled, what employee wants to take that sick day? So, the solution may be communication by both parties, but it starts with the employer, who must recognize the potential threats to workplace productivity and its bottom line from having employees show up to work with flu-like symptoms, and must communicate its policy that sick employees to stay home. In addition, the employer, if need be, should also take a look at its policy of offering paid sick days to employees (see proposed Healthy Families Act bill). Conversely, it then becomes the employee’s responsibility to make use of this policy when sick and stay home, rather then bringing their illness to the workplace.

The problem remains, however, that even with all the knowledge we have about H1N1 and seasonal flu—and the information showing that the cost of coming to work sick is high—the sneezing, coughing, runny-nosed employee is still coming to work, and his or her workmates are still wondering why. The answer seems fairly clear: If you subtract the employees from the equation that do not even get paid sick days off, then you are left with the fear of job-loss for those that have sick days to use, and in today’s economy and its ever-rising unemployment rate, there is simply no pill that can alleviate that fear.

Report notes difference between perception and reality for women leaders in workplace

November 13th, 2009  |  Deborah Hammonds

>If so many people believe women are great leaders, why is the number of women leaders so low? Despite being “solidly entrenched” in the workforce, women “have made strikingly little progress in advancing to the boardrooms and the executive suites; in some sectors of the economy, their progress has been stalled for several years,” according to a new report issued today by The White House Project, a New York-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization.

The report, The White House Project: Benchmarking Women’s Leadership, attempts to “address that contradiction and offer concrete, practical recommendations.” The 132-page report reviews a survey of the “current state of women’s leadership” in ten different fields—academia, business, film and television entertainment, journalism, law, military, nonprofit, politics, religion, and sports. The organization hopes its report will help establish an “understanding of where we are, so that we may know where we need to go.”

2009 has been a great year for women to make news, according to Marie Wilson, president and founder of The White House Project. She points to the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter bill, the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the US Supreme Court, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ announcement that women are on the cusp of overtaking men on payrolls across America as examples. “It seems that in the midst of our economic downturn, and the accompanying state of flux in politics and culture, America has been turning to its women for vision, talent and leadership.” While its good news that Americans are overwhelmingly willing to bring women into leadership roles, Wilson notes that this “comfort level” is “accompanied by the misperception that women are already leading equally alongside their male peers.”

This report, like last month’s The Shriver Report: A Women’s Nation Changes Everything, picks up on the idea of a schism between perception and reality for women in the workplace. Unlike The Shriver Report, which looked at working women in general, The White House Project focused on women and leadership.

The report is divided into sections examining the status of each field and each section features a quote from a prominent woman in that field, including Soledad O’Brien, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sprinkled throughout each section are statistics that are sure to take some readers aback. For instance, under “Business,” the report notes that women have reached the CEO level in only four of the 14 industries covered by the Fortune 500 companies—and even in these four industries, over 95 percent of the CEOs are male. Among Fortune 500 companies in 2009, 3 percent of the CEOs were women. The single exception is the construction industry, where women constitute 9.7 percent of the work force, but 17.6 percent of the corporate officers.

In “Law,” women make up 48 percent of law school graduates and 45 percent of law firm associates but only comprise 18 percent of the general partners and 16 percent of the equity partners in private law firms. “In fact, in the legal sector, the line tracking women’s share of leadership roles follows a straighter downward path as the potential to assume a leadership role rises, than in any other professional sector in this report.”

In the “Nonprofit” sector, women dominate the staffing, comprising nearly 75 percent of the 8.4 million employees in 2005. Despite this, women hold only 45 percent of all CEO positions. That figure falls to 21 percent in organizations with budgets over $25 million.

In addition to the industry examination and analysis, the report suggests implementing six recommendations that have shown to be effective in increasing the progress of women into leadership positions.

The White House Project’s mission is to advance women’s leadership in all communities and sectors—up to the U.S. presidency—by filling the leadership pipeline with a richly diverse, critical mass of women. More information about the organization can be found on its website, http://www.thewhitehouseproject.org/.

Survey says: Gender difference can be parlayed into effective company performance

November 11th, 2009  |  Connie Eyer

>Is ability more important than personality in the workplace? How is conflict dealt with by co-workers? Do employees prefer to work in teams of mostly men or mostly women? These questions were part of a new “Style of the Sexes” survey, commissioned by an independent research agency on behalf of Cisco and Gender IQ, in an attempt to discover how men and women differ in various aspects of their work. While the results indicate that real differences do exist, they posited, organizations that seek to better understand and respect differences in the workplace get the best out of their employees and teams.

Some of their findings:

With regard to the gender makeup of teams, the majority of both men and women (88 per cent) prefer to work in roughly equally mixed teams. However, both men and women preferred working in mostly male teams (21.6 per cent) rather than mainly female teams (8.1 per cent).

Ranking the important aspects of a job, 79 per cent of women indicated that getting training is important, compared with 73 per cent of men, and 75 per cent seeking flexible hours, compared with 69 per cent of the men. The only areas that more men than women find important are chances of promotion and benefits beyond pay. Interestingly, having a role model was least important for both men and women.

How do men and women deal with workplace conflict? According to the survey, women are far more likely to have experienced conflict in the workplace: 55 per cent stated they’ve faced conflict compared with 46 per cent of men. In a conflict situation, men and women also respond differently: 73 per cent of the men said they would confront the situation face to face, compared with 63 per cent of the women. Women are also more likely to ask for intervention, with 59 per cent likely to talk to their manager and 39 per cent likely to report the situation to HR, compared with 52 per cent and 35 per cent of the men, respectively.

A common perception is that “women have to be better than men to succeed in the workplace.” Forty-five percent of women agreed with this statement while, in contrast, only 26 per cent of the men questioned believe this to be true. The survey also found that more than half of the men (53 per cent) view ability as more important than personality in the workplace, while only 39 per cent of women rate ability in the workplace higher than personality.

So, what are the conclusions of this survey? According to Tracy Carr, CEO, Gender IQ, “the importance of understanding differences is not to say one way is more right than another; it is about widening the acceptable range of leadership styles to create an environment where all men and all women enjoy working together and get better results.”

“While the perception still may be that women have to work harder to succeed,” Carr added, “ the good news is that the study also showed that both men and women prefer to work in mixed teams of equal proportions, so we also instinctively understand the power that both parties bring for team success.”