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SBAM partner ASE has the answers about hiring, firing, FMLA, ADA and more! Get access to a FREE HR hotline, affordable and cost-effective research consultation services, discounted employee handbooks and workplace posters, and more.

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With the cost of health insurance continuing to rise, most employers require their employees to contribute to the cost of health insurance premiums. SBAM partner Kushner & Co. can help you put a tax-favored, consumer-directed plan in place that benefits you and your employees.


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Personalized, affordable administration for your business. 

If you have 20 or more employees, your company is required by federal law to offer continued health insurance coverage via COBRA and will face huge fines if it's not administered correctly.  Let SBAM help you stay compliant for only $30 per month. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is covered under the ADA

Article Courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

By Anthony Kaylin

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a recurrent type of depression that happens at a certain time of the year for the affected person. Many people remain skeptical about the medical validity of this disorder, even though the medical community now recognizes it as valid. SAD more often occurs in northern regions during winter, when the days are short and sunshine is minimal. It is often treated by the use of special lamps or sunlight. Medical researchers believe the depression is caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight, and special lamps can recreate the benefits of sunlight and relieve the symptoms of SAD.

SAD is also covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Renae Ekstrand taught kindergarten from 2000 to 2005 at a public school in northwest Wisconsin, not far from Minneapolis/St. Paul. In the spring of 2005, she asked to be reassigned to teach a first-grade class, and the school agreed. It relocated her to a first-grade classroom with no exterior windows in a busy, noisy area of the building.  Ms. Ekstrand requested a different classroom with windows, but the school principal denied her request.

In fall 2005, Ms. Ekstrand was diagnosed with SAD. Both her psychologist and her primary care physician recommended that she take a leave of absence due to illness.  The leave of absence lasted two school years.  

Two issues arose for the school: whether Ekstrand was emotionally able to come back to work and whether the school was aware she could come back to work. A letter in November 2005 detailed her psychologist’s opinion that natural light was crucial to her recovery and that her classroom without windows had been a major cause of her condition. This letter backed up Ekstrand's prior conversations with both the district superintendent and the school principal, in which she had communicated the importance of natural light to her recovery. Ekstrand sued under the ADA.

This case was appealed twice, once by each side. The first time, the School District filed for summary judgment and won at the trial court level. Ekstrand appealed, and the 7th Circuit ruled that there were enough disputed material facts for a jury to decide. The case went back to trial, and Ekstrand won.

Now it was the school district’s turn to appeal. There were two issues in dispute: (1) whether there was sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Ekstrand was a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA, and (2) whether there was sufficient evidence for a jury to find that the school district knew of that disability within the relevant time period.

In the first situation, Ekstrand had to convince the jury that she was a qualified individual with a disability; that the school district was aware of her disability; and that the school district failed to reasonably accommodate that disability. The 7th Circuit ruled that the jury had found that the facts supported her case; therefore the court could not overturn the jury’s verdict.

As for the school district knowingly failing to accommodate her disability, the 7th Circuit found that the principal and superintendent were on notice of her disability in a timely way, and again refused to overturn the jury’s judgment.

The takeaway from this case for HR professionals is that Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is considered a disability for ADA purposes.  If an employee who is working in an area without natural light complains about this problem, make sure that medical practitioners supply all the necessary documentation.  Do not deny any reasonable accommodation out of hand as the defendants in this case did.  If there are no spaces that are near windows for the emplo

Work-sharing now the law in Michigan

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

By Joe DeSantis

Beginning January 1, 2013 it will be legal for Michigan employers to set up Work-Sharing programs that will help them avoid laying off employees during downturns. The programs will need to be rigidly crafted under the terms of the law. But they hold out the potential not only for employers to retain key employees in anticipation of better times ahead, but also to lower their future unemployment tax rates.

On June 28 Gov. Snyder signed into law P.A. 216, U.I. Shared Work Plans. Under the law, employers facing the need to cut their labor costs would be able to set up, subject to state approval, Work Sharing programs. For example, if the employer needed to cut labor costs by 25%, the employer could set up a work-share plan under which all eligible employees would have their hours cut by 25%, and each employee would be eligible to receive a weekly unemployment benefit equal to 25% of what that employee would have received if he or she had been completely laid off. The employer would set up the plan in lieu of laying off 25% of its employees as it likely would have to do without this option.

Employers can realize potential savings in two ways. One is that if (in the language of the bill’s summary) “federal funding for the full reimbursement of costs related to benefits paid under a shared-work (program)” are available, then “half of benefits paid would be charged to the employer’s chargeable benefits account,” and “(b)enefits paid or deposits made under this provision would not be used to calculate the employer’s contribution rate.” The other is that, to the extent that full layoffs are avoided in the future as a result of the program, the state’s Unemployment Comp fund saves money and employer’s unemployment tax rate will be lower over time.

For the affected employees themselves, their 20-week yearly eligibility for unemployment benefits in the future would remain intact, because the benefits they receive would not be charged against that eligibility. However the total benefit received would count against their maximum amount of benefit available.

There are strict requirements that employers must meet in order for their work-sharing programs to be approved for benefits by the state.  They include (but are not limited to) the following:
  • The employer must be up to date on its account with MESA—all reports on file, all contributions and other required payments made.
  • The employer must have a positive reserve balance in its experience account.
  • The employer must have paid wages for three years prior to applying for the plan.
  • The potential layoffs would affect at least 15% of employees in the unit.
  • The employer cannot hire into the unit, or transfer into it, additional employees after the plan starts.
  • The employer cannot lay off affected employees once the plan starts, or reduce their hours more than agreed to at the start of the plan.
  • If unionized, the employer must get the approval of the bargaining unit for the plan.
  • The employer cannot reduce or eliminate employees’ fringe benefits during the plan.
  • The hour-reduction percentage must be at least 15% but no more than 45%.
In enacting its law, Michigan becomes the 24th state nationally to adopt work-sharing as an employee retention tool. In signing the bill, Gov. Snyder touted the win-win promise of the plan, saying, “This new alternative plan will enable Michigan to keep its skilled and talented workforce employed . . . By providing partial compensation to workers with reduced hours, we can support both families and businesses as we continue rebuilding our economy.”

Questions abou

Halt confusion with a jury duty policy

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner AdvanceHR

There's always a chance that an employee will get called for jury duty. When that happens, what is the policy about paying the employee while away from work for this purpose? For guidance on a jury duty policy, continue reading.

Here's a story that can send chills up the backs of employers:

A woman was selected to serve as a juror during a long trial. She told the judge that jury service would not cause her hardship. Why? Her employer had a policy of paying the salaries of employees who served on juries.

Several weeks into the trial, the employee learned that her employer would pay for no more than 10 days of jury service. The employer had changed its policy and hadn't bothered to tell employees. She asked the court to be excused. Instead, the judge ordered the employer to pay the juror's salary for the duration of the trial, a trial that lasted more than six months.

"Why not just fire the employee?" you ask. Wrong. It's illegal for an employer to "discharge, threaten to discharge, intimidate, or coerce any employee[s]" because of their jury duty obligations.

The employer is required to treat employees on jury duty as they would if the employee were on leave for any other reason. In short, the employer is obligated to continue paying insurance and other benefits. When jurors are back on the job, the employer must return them to their former position without loss of seniority.

So, make jury duty clear to employees. Adopt a "Jury and Witness Duty Leave" policy. Your policy should include these elements:
  • Guarantee the right to jury service. Clearly state that employees won't be penalized for service on a jury.
  • Define jury leave. Is it leave with or without pay? If leave-with-pay, is it for a specified number of days per year? Make sure employees know that monies received from the court will be subtracted from their checks. Also, define your witness leave policy. (Generally, employees called as witnesses are only allowed leave-without-pay.)
  • Identify jury duty exceptions. State your right to ask the court for a deferment of jury duty in the case of a "business necessity."
  • Require proof of jury service. This usually involves a court summons.
  • List work conditions. For example: "Jurors released early from duty on workdays will call and ask their supervisors if they should report to work for the rest of the day."

Gender diversity programs: better in concept than execution?

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

By Mary Corrado  

According to a study done by McKinsey and Company earlier this year, nearly 140,000 women have made it to mid-level management, but only 7,000 have become vice presidents, senior vice presidents or residents of the C-suite. Yet more than 80% of the companies responded that gender diversity is a business imperative. So why then, are there so few women at the top?

The concept behind the survey was simple: If companies believe that gender diversity generates stronger business results, then you would expect them to have formal gender diversity policies specifically purposed to help women in their organizations climb up the ladder. And those programs should work.

Some CEOs don’t care whether the person in the job is male or female; they just want the best brains on the job to solve the problem. Other CEOs believe that it is important to match their populations with customer demographics. Gender diversity helps with that since many consumers making the buying decisions are female.

Sixty companies participated in the study, entitled “Unlocking the Full Potential of Woman at Work.” They included 10 Michigan companies, among them Ford, GM, Chrysler Group, Whirlpool, Kelly Services, and Yazaki. Nationally, companies such as Coca-Cola, Humana, Ernst &Young and Alcoa participated.

The McKinsey study found there are four barriers to women’s advancement: structural obstacles, lifestyle choices, individual mindsets and institutional mindsets.

As for individual mindsets, the survey says this: "Although CEOs made gender diversity a priority in more than 80% of the 60 participating companies, only about half of employees from those companies agreed that the CEO is committed to the issue. Seeing is believing, and there are few women at the top.”  

Institutional mindsets also continue to play a big part in the limitations of woman in senior level roles. The study does suggest there are too few mentors for women, and women are not invited into networks dominated by men. In one of the interviews McKinsey had with a large corporation, senior management chose not to offer a highly qualified woman a higher level job because she was pregnant. Most senior level executives feel it is too difficult for women to juggle both a career and a family. Some ignorant men and women still feel a male would be better than a female in certain roles.

Thus these individual and institutional mindsets still stifle women’s ability to reach the top.

Women don’t do themselves any favors either. Lifestyle choices also come into play: “About half of the woman surveyed said they are both the primary breadwinners and primary caregivers. Most of the men that are primary breadwinners are not primary caregivers. Accordingly, women may choose to slow their careers or shift roles to increase predictability and lessen travel. Women are having kids as men are moving up the career ladder. “

Some women surveyed …”felt they held themselves back from accelerated growth. Women did not raise their hands or even consider stretch roles.  We are our own worst enemy. Saying no too often because we are afraid we will fail.”

Some women simply don’t want to make it to the top. They feel they can’t afford the extra time required, don’t have the skill sets needed, or that being at the top is too “political.”

According to McKinsey, the characteristics of the women who have made it to the top are these:

  • Robust work ethic: Going above and beyond what is asked to get the job done.
  • Results orientation: Focus on performance and improving the bottom line.
  • Resilience: Perseverance in times of adversity and staying the course.
  • Pe

Upcoming free webinars from SBAM partner ASE

Join SBAM approved partner ASE for three webinars on a variety of human resources topics.  Each webinar airs at 2:00pm Eastern time.

July 11th: Creating a Training Program and Learning Culture in Your Organization

July 18th: Preparing Your New Managers and Supervisors for Success

July 25th: Improving Employee Learning Across Generations   
To learn more and to register, click here