Thursday, December 27, 2012 0 comments

General Assembly to resume work on Work Zone Safety reform

Those who know me, personally or professionally, know that my latest legislative project in South Carolina has been to seek to rewrite and toughen laws on work zone enforcement. While the challenge of making work zones safer has been a professional problem for years, it became much more personal back in March of last year when a drunk driver entered a lane closure, ramming and destroying my personal vehicle while I was doing a site inspection.

I can tell numerous stories and show numerous examples of where my co-workers had close calls, the reality is that work zones are at least as dangerous for motorists. In over a decade in the industry, not a single company employee was killed or seriously injured in a work zone incident, while eight motorists and three pedestrians have died in our work zones.

Work zone safety reform is about protecting workers AND motorists.

Senate Bill 139 is the legislation which was filed by Senators Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley County), Chair of Senate Transportation Committee and Larry Martin (R-Pickens County), Chair of Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislation will add a dedicated penalty to cover law enforcement costs, allowing the state to hire additional law enforcement officers, along with an additional two-point penalty against one's license. Similar legislation was filed in the 2011-2012 legislative session, but died when that session ended back in the summer.

In addition to safety concerns, there are other considerations that are driving this legislation:
Monday, December 24, 2012 0 comments

2013 is coming - watch those employee handbooks!

While the employee handbook was once an afterthought of companies, seldom reviewed and updated even less often, it's one of the biggest liabilities for employers with regard to lawsuits and actions by federal regulatory agencies.

The truth that catches some employers off-guard, especially smaller ones who don't have dedicated HR staff or who don't have well-supported human resources operations, is that the employee handbook is one of the most widely-circulated company documents. Thus employers should take it seriously and make sure whatever goes into it should be reviewed with a fine-tooth comb.

A recent email update from the Society of Human Resource Management's website cautions employers to take a close look at their employee handbooks, warning that "Legal and regulatory changes—more than new laws—are driving the need for company policy adjustments, revised plan documents and updated employee handbooks for 2013 by U.S. employers."

Among those items the article warns employers to pay close attention to are social media policies, employment at-will statements, handbook receipts, termination policies and state-specific issues.

Warning of continued close regulatory watches by agencies under the current Presidential administration, the article suggests that handbooks should be checked at least every six months and employers may want to include a disclaimer which cautions that state and local laws may also apply to terms of employment.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012 0 comments

Online, after-time and overtime hours create potential problems

The other day, this story - Don't Get Sued by Your Number One Employee - from the Fox Business website gave additional food for thought about potential exposure for violations related to unpaid overtime hours:

Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Legal Center, said at the root of the overtime regulation debate is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The law establishes minimum wage, overtime pay and recordkeeping and youth employment standards, but is also extremely outdated, having been written in 1938.

“The Department of Labor estimates 70% of businesses are out of compliance with the FLSA,” Harned said. “This just points out how confusing [the law] is.”

And oftentimes, small business owners don’t even realize they are essentially breaking the law. For example, just because an employee is "non-exempt" from working overtime, doesn't mean they are entitled to continue working past their 40 hours per week, if the employer imposes such a regulation.

With technology allowing the lines to blur between work and off-duty time, employers need to be aware of when their employees are really working and to ensure they are properly classified so they don't get hit with a lawsuit for back pay or get tripped up in a Wage and Hour audit. It's an issue that I've had to deal with more than once and it's one where lawyers can easily get involved, costing employers large sums of money, win or lose.

Of course, always, always document everything - and expect employees to do the same from their end.

You can visit the U.S. Department of Labor and their Wage and Hour Division online for more guidance.
Monday, December 17, 2012 0 comments

Senator Tim Scott: Major NLRB critic moves to the Senate

If there's anything one can be sure of about the appointment of South Carolina Congressman Tim Scott to replace Jim DeMint, who is resigning from the Senate to lead the Heritage Foundation, is that he's not going to be any friendlier to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) or organized labor than DeMint was.

If anything, Scott's record in the House suggests he'll be even more vocal on these issues than DeMint. WScott sponsored three bills in the last session of the House related to the NLRB and union activity in workplaces:

  • H.R. 1976 and 2587, both sponsored by Scott, would bar the NLRB from directing companies to close or move plants or jobs.
  • H.R. 2810 - The “Employee Rights Act”, would require the use of secret balloting to unionize a workplace and require a renewal vote every three years. It would also set guidelines on how these elections are to be conducted.

While in the House, Scott received very low scores on scorecards issued by three labor unions:

  • AFL-CIO: Voted with them on just one out of 20 votes in 2012 and received a zero score in 2011.
  • AFSCME: Zero score
  • SEIUVoted against their position on 8 out of 9 bills, no score assigned

With the direct impact of the NLRB being felt in South Carolina, where it moved to try to block Boeing's expansion in Charleston, as well as threatened to block the state from enacting legislation to codify the 2010 referendum allowing workers to decide workplace issues via secret ballot, it's not likely that Scott will back off his stance when he crosses over to the Senate next month.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012 0 comments

Another reason for tougher Work Zone enforcement in South Carolina

Yesterday was another sad lesson in the need to crack down on work zone violators in South Carolina, when a motorist was charged with DUI with an incident which an SCDOT worker was hit and killed on Interstate 20:

The driver of the car that killed a state Department of Transportation worker on Interstate 20 in Lexington County Monday afternoon has been charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident, according to the state Highway Patrol.
Thomas Lee Stafford, 39, is accused of driving drunk when his 2003 Nissan SUV hit Nicholas Johnson and fatally wounded Nicholas Johnson, who was walking along the road’s emergency lane near mile marker 62, according to Highway Patrol spokesman Brent Kelly.

Make no mistake about it, the dangers of work zones are real. If you doubt it, I invite you to spend some time in work zones, which is part of what I've done for a living for over a decade as an HR and Safety Manager.

While you might think it's just workers who are in harm's way, think again: