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2014 Legislative Session: Running Updates

Each year, the Hawaii Employers Council provides its members with updates on labor and employment law bills that are being addressed by the legislature. One of those documents, the Legislative Digest, is actually currently available to the general public, and can be accessed here:  HEC Legislative Updates.

Bills that are still alive as of the Second Lateral deadline address (1) the minimum wage, (2) payment of wages via direct deposit and pay cards, and (3) workers’ compensation drugs, fee schedule and settlements.

For the 2014 Legislative Session, the Legislative Digest is available for the following key deadlines:

  • Bills Introduced (available)
  • First Lateral (available)
  • First Crossover (available)
  • Second Lateral (available)
  • Second Crossover (available)
  • Sine Die  (available)
  • Veto Deadline (available)

As more deadlines pass, I will update this blog entry to indicate when the most recent Legislative Digest is available.

Other updates, such as articles providing a detailed explanation of several of the significant measures and talking points on certain bills, however, are available only to HEC members.

 
Flex Schedules and Telecommuting

A couple weeks ago, I was interviewed by Jenna Blakely from the Pacific Business News (“PBN”) on some of the legal issues employers should consider when allowing employees to work “flex time” or work from home.  The article was printed on PBN’s website this afternoon as part of their cover story on how employers and employees are dealing with work/life balance issues.  You can view the article on PBN’s website here:  The Legal Ramifications of Being a Flexible Employer.

Special thanks for Jenna for the interview and article.

 
Throwing a Holiday Party? Some Things to Consider

‘Tis the season for company-sponsored holiday parties.

Holiday parties are an excellent way for employers to boost employee morale, build camaraderie, and celebrate a successful year of business.  At the same time, however, employers should be cautious about the pitfalls that throwing a holiday party can bring.

Alcohol Issues

Employers should take caution when serving alcohol at a company-sponsored holiday party.  First and foremost, employers should make sure that somebody is checking the ID’s of anybody who consumes alcohol.  The purpose of checking ID’s is to avoid serving alcohol to a minor.

Second, employers should also make sure that any individual who is visibly intoxicated is not served any more alcohol.  The purpose of this is to avoid “dramshop” type liability for anybody who drinks at a company-sponsored party and then attempts to drive afterward.  It is also a good idea to provide several non-alcoholic drink options, so guests don’t feel like alcoholic drinks are their only option.

Third, employers should also provide guests with alternative forms of transportation if they are unable to drive, such as cab rides or designated drivers.

Fourth, in order to avoid some of the problems mentioned above, employers should remind employees (and their guests) to drink responsibly.

Finally, employers should also review their insurance policies to determine if they can serve alcohol at a company-sponsored party in the first place.

Sexual Harassment Issues

Oftentimes, when employees attend company-sponsored parties, they forget they are still in a work-related setting.  Once you add some alcohol into the mix, there is a potential that employees may engage in conduct that would violate a company’s anti-sexual harassment policy.  Therefore, employers should make sure to remind employees that the party is work-related, and that all workplace rules still apply at the party.

For example, while it may be festive to have somebody dressed in a Santa Claus suit during the event, employees should not be “sitting on Santa’s lap” because such behavior could be deemed inappropriate under Hawaii and Federal sexual harassment laws.  As another example, employees should be reminded to dress appropriately, so that they don’t dress in a manner that could be deemed inappropriate for a work-related event.

Other Issues

Employees should be reminded that the holiday parties are completely voluntary, and therefore, they are not required to attend the event.

Finally, employers should weigh the pros and cons of having a holiday party on a weekday versus the weekend.  If the party is on a weekday, the employees might not drink as much alcohol or get too rowdy, which alleviates some of the concerns above.  On the other hand, if employees do drink too much alcohol or stay up late, they might be unproductive at work the next day.  If the party is on a weekend, employers do not have to worry about employees’ loss of productivity on the day after the party, but there is a high likelihood the employees will consume more alcohol than they would on a weekday.

 
Impact Of Unemployment Benefits Extensions For Hawaii

Recently, a lot of people have been asking me about the current status of the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (“EUC”) program.  The EUC originally started in 2008, and provided up to 13 weeks of federally funded EUC benefits to unemployed individuals who had exhausted their state unemployment benefits.  Since its inception, the EUC has been extended several times, and additional weeks of EUC have been provided.

In Hawaii, unemployed individuals could have received up to 47 weeks of EUC benefits, in addition to their state unemployment benefits (for a grand total of 99 weeks).  There are limitations, however, on who can receive such EUC benefits.  Most importantly, anybody who files a current claim for unemployment will not qualify for EUC benefits, unless the program is extended again.

As a bit of background, the EUC benefits were released in “tiers.”  Tier I provided for 20 weeks of EUC benefits, Tier II provided for 14 weeks of EUC benefits, and Tier III provided for 13 weeks of EUC benefits.  To have qualified for Tier I benefits, the unemployed individual must have received and exhausted state unemployment benefits back in 2008.  To qualify for Tier II benefits, the individual must have received and exhausted Tier I benefits on or before April 5, 2010.  To qualify for Tier III benefits, the individual must have exhausted Tier II benefits on or before April 5, 2010.

For those individuals who are currently receiving EUC benefits, they may continue to do so – within their current Tier level – until September 4, 2010.  They will not, however, be able to move up to the next Tier level.  After September 4, 2010, all EUC benefits will be cut off, unless the benefits are extended again.

 
Social Media and Social Networking in the Workplace

“What happens on Facebook doesn’t stay on Facebook…”

Currently, a very hot topic among Human Resources professionals is how to deal with social media (or social networking) in the workplace.  Social media includes the use of online services such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, and various internet chatrooms and messageboards.  Social media has been dubbed by some as the “next generation of water cooler chat.”

Social media has posed a modern day catch-22:  it provides benefits and it provides problems.  Whereas social media – and modern technology in general – has fostered productivity and increased marketing opportunities for companies, it has also created more potential for employee abuse and increased exposure for employer liability.

I have presented numerous seminars on this topic, and the two questions I get asked the most are (1) whether employers should regulate their employees’ use of social media in the workplace and (2) whether employers should use social networking sites to either conduct background checks for prospective employees or to check-up on their current employees.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to either of these questions.   Rather, just as various employers have needed to tailor-fit their email and internet policies to their workforce, employers will also have to tailor-fit their policies on social media to their work environment.  At the same time, it appears that social media is here to stay, and in fact, will become an integral part of the workforce – just as emails and the internet have become a part of our everyday worklives.  Therefore, companies need to learn to adapt to the use of social media in their workplaces and I recommend that employers seek some legal consultation on determining whether a social media policy is right, or even necessary, for your workplace.