Posted in Department of Agriculture, USDA
In a move that will simultaneously create jobs across the United States and provide cleaner energy on which businesses can operate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that it will be providing grant funds for 264 renewable energy projects.
The projects will be funded through the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), and $63 million has been allocated for them.
“This funding will have far-reaching economic and environmental impacts nationwide, particularly in rural communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Investing in renewable energy and energy-efficient projects supports home-grown energy sources, creates jobs … and helps usher in a more secure energy future for the nation.”
Once allocated, funds can be used to make energy-efficient improvements to farms and small, rural businesses. These improvements include projects related to solar power, wind power, and hydroelectric and geothermal systems, including the installation of solar panels, wind turbines and other similar projects.
The Department of Agriculture has provided more than $291 million in funding — and more than $327 million in loans — for more than 9,600 energy-related projects since the REAP program was founded in 2008. Funding primarily goes to rural business owners and agriculture producers.
Posted in Department of Labor, employment, Federal law
While several cities — and New York state — have managed to raise wages for employees to a $15-per-hour minimum, the Bureau of Labor Statistics warns that many businesses underpaid their workers even when the minimum wage was lower.
The Bureau stated that in 2014, employers failed to pay up to 1.7 million workers the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, though the Department of Labor estimates that the actual number of those who are illegally underpaid is much higher. The Department is not hopeful that increased minimum wages will inspire those businesses to raise their employees’ wages.
“It is very important to pass those minimum wage increases,” said David Weil, U.S. Labor Department Wage and Hour administrator. “Then, how do we make sure workers really receive them?”
The Department’s investigators have been cracking down on businesses that fail to pay fair wages, however. Last fiscal year, it managed to bring almost $270 million in back wages to more than 270,000 underpaid employees, though it is only able to police federal minimum wages, and can do little for employees who are supposed to receive more than $7.25 per hour under state or city laws.
“If there is not a credible threat of a compliance check, then what happens?” asked UCLA Labor Center researcher Tia Koonse.
Employees that are being underpaid can file complaints to their state or federal Labor Department, or can file a lawsuit against their employer. However, for those who are afraid of losing their jobs, or those who are undocumented, doing so may seem just too risky.
Posted in Department of Labor, DoL, employment
According to a release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate remained constant in July at 5.3 percent. About 8.3 million people remain unemployed, though 215,000 new jobs were created last month. Gains were primarily in the retail, health care and professional services industries.
Over the past year, the previous average monthly gains hovered around 246,000 jobs, so July was a slower month for new jobs than expected.
While 322,000 new jobs in retail have been created over the past 12 months, July only saw 36,000 new retail jobs. The bulk of those positions were in vehicle dealers and motor parts (13,000 jobs), though general merchandise stores saw small gains (6,000 jobs).
Four hundred thirty-six thousand new healthcare jobs have been added since last July, and 28,000 healthcare jobs were added last month, with hospital jobs accounting for just over half of them (16,000).
Food and drinking places saw 29,000 new positions, and professional services saw 27,000 new jobs last month with almost half falling in business management (14,000). About 376,000 jobs and 301,000 jobs have been added to those industries, respectively, over the past year.
Financial activities, manufacturing and transportation saw gains of 17,000, 15,000 and 14,000 respectively, while the mining industry continued to see jobs disappear (5,000 in July). Since December, more than 78,000 mining jobs have been lost.
The information, trade and construction sectors saw little change from June’s employment report.
Posted in employment, pre-employment screening, worker's compensation
Mississippi’s Court of Appeals recently ruled that job applicants that are required to take pre-employment tests may be qualified for worker’s compensation should they become injured while the test is being administered.
This case was brought to court after Kevin Collins injured his knee climbing into and out of a truck cab during a pre-employment driving and agility test in 2012. His employment with the company was contingent on passing these tests, though he had received an official letter welcoming him as a truck driver for the company before he completed the test. He did not pass the test, and he filed for worker’s compensation for his injury. When he arrived for orientation the day after his test, his job offer was revoked.
Pre-employment tests are a good way for employers to determine if a job applicant can perform job functions prior to beginning employment, but employers should be careful to ensure that safeguards are in place to prevent injury, if they require these tests. This is not only just to avoid insurance claims, but also to prevent applicants from over-extending themselves if they are not truly capable of completing job functions.
Two different judges — one with the Mississippi Worker’s Compensation Commission and then the Court of Appeals — determined that Collins should receive worker’s compensation benefits because his contract with the company was implied. He did receive approximately $300 in benefits from the company.
To learn more about how your business could be affected by this ruling, contact Mind Your Business.
Posted in babysitting, background checks, nanny background checks, potential babysitter
Two daycare centers in Louisiana recently had their child care licenses revoked when Louisiana Department of Education inspections revealed that each had violated dozens of state laws.
Violations included not conducting criminal background checks on all employees, not having properly licensed and qualified directors, not documenting all workers, not meeting required employee-to-child ratios, not having parental permission for off-campus field trips, and not contacting the Department of Education or the parents after a child was allegedly left at a restaurant during a field trip.
At least one of the facilities had also failed to correct some of these problems that were noted during a previous inspection.
“We’re not going to allow unsafe child care centers to operate in this state,” said Louisiana State Superintendent John White. “If an early learning center has disregard for the state’s laws and regulations, we’re going to revoke its license.”
The two facilities were Our Blessings Christian Daycare Learning Center in Baton Rouge, and Storybook Daycare & Discovery Zone in Bossier City. The facilities received notice that their licenses were being revoked at the end of July, and each center had 15 days to appeal the decision or cease operating. Each facility must have its license reinstated and be approved by the Department of Education in order to resume operations after the 15 days have passed.
In the meantime, the facilities may not receive public funding, so families receiving assistance from the Child Care Assistance Program will be referred to facilities that meet all the legal requirements.
photo credit: Toy Box Macros September 04, 20106 via photopin (license)
Posted in Department of Education, DoE, employment
More than two decades after Congress determined that incarcerated individuals were not eligible to receive educational Pell Grants, the U.S. Department of Education has launched a new pilot program where, on a limited basis, federal and state inmates can become qualified for educational funding — and classes — while behind bars.
This program is part of the Obama administration’s efforts to provide a fairer chance at rehabilitation and employment for those in the penal system. A 2013 study showed that inmates who participate in educational programs while in prison are 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years. Approximately seven hundred thousand inmates are released every year.
“America is a nation of second chances,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Giving people who have made mistakes in their lives a chance to get back on track and become contributing members of society is fundamental to who we are.”
“It can also be a cost-saver to taxpayers,” he added. Pell Grants are less than $6,000 per year, while the average cost to institutionalize inmates can be upwards of $35,000 per year, per person.
In order for this program to succeed, the Department of Education is seeking colleges and universities who may want to participate and provide classes inside institutions. The beneficiaries of the Pell Grants will be those who are qualified under Title IV and are slated to be released within a five-year timeframe. (The pilot program is expected to run for just five years — for research — while Congress revisits the idea of expanding the program once again.)
The Department’s plan is for those soon-to-be-released individuals to have access to secondary education programs in order to have more opportunities and be more competitive in the job market once they are released from prison.
Pell Grant funding can only be used for educational purposes, including tuition, books and supplies required by a specific program.
Posted in drug screening, drug testing, drug testing policy, prescription drugs
In a National Safety Council press release, the organization called for employers to create workplace drug policies in order to address the increased use of prescription painkillers. The Council studied court cases and research that shows that, by addressing the painkiller problem in advance, employers can reduce worker’s compensation claims and costs, as well as costs associated with addiction and treatment.
Many workers who find themselves addicted to opioid painkillers were originally injured while at work, and can find themselves more likely to overdose or become injured again while taking the drugs. Because of problems such as these, worker’s compensation insurance is often required to cover treatment for painkiller addiction, detoxification programs and death benefits should the employee overdose or become involved in a fatal accident while at work.
The study showed that worker’s comp claims for addicted employees can be up to 900 percent higher than for workers that do not utilize pain pills.
“Employers have a moral and legal responsibility to protect their employees. Addressing the use and abuse of prescription painkillers is as important as identifying drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace,” said NSC President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman.
The NSC’s recommendations to employers include policies for training supervisors in identifying employees who may be impaired due to prescription painkillers, informing employees about the risks associated with taking these medications, and expanding drug testing to include the opioids commonly found in pain pills.
Posted in ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, ban the box, criminal background checks, criminal record, employment background screening, pre-employment background checks, White House
The American Civil Liberties Union has begun petitioning the government to stop including questions about applicants’ criminal records on federal job applications.
Recently, President Obama spoke at the NAACP’s annual conference, where he asked Congress to pass federal “ban the box” laws and prevent criminal background checks from being conducted until later in the employment process.
According to the ACLU petition, Obama told employers they should “ban the box on job applications so that former prisoners who have done their time and are now trying to get straight with society have a decent shot in a job interview.”
But the ACLU doesn’t think that it’s enough for the president to ask this of Congress. The organization wants him to take the initiative.
“To President Obama,” the petition reads, “Make the federal government a model employer. Issue an Executive Order to remove the criminal record checkbox from federal agency and federal contractor job applications, and postpone criminal background checks until the conditional offer stage.”
Other groups are also on board with this request. The National Employment Law Project has been calling for executive action for more than six months, along with 27 state senators and various progressive employment groups.
An estimated one in four U.S. citizens has some kind of criminal past.
More than 30,000 people have signed ACLU’s petition so far. Eighteen states currently have ban-the-box laws on the books.
Posted in employment, minimum wage
New York is set to become the first state to offer a $15 minimum wage for fast-food employees, after almost three years of protests requesting higher wages in the food-service industry. Gov. Andrew Cuomo called an executive order to pass the initiative after the state Senate continued to drag its feet on raising pay.
The change will affect all fast-food workers that are employed by restaurant chains with 30 or more locations or franchises in the nation. All that is left is to have the increase approved by the New York Labor Commissioner.
Five cities in other states — including Los Angeles and Seattle — have also approved $15-per-hour wages across all industries, though none of these initiatives have expanded to the state level.
While fast-food employees are doubtless thrilled with their big win, others have expressed some concern, both about the segmentation of the wage policy only for fast-food workers, as well as the economic effects the wage hike will have on the employers and the state. Others think the minimum wage increase should have affected all employees regardless of industry.
However, those concerned about the effect on employers can have a little peace of mind by looking at wage hikes in other cities around the country. Pay increases and Seattle and San Francisco in recent years have caused some franchise owners to raise their food prices, though some say they have seen no effect on their businesses because of it.
The wage increase is set to be rolled out in phases, with New York City employees receiving $15 per hour by the end of 2018, and throughout the rest of the state by 2021. The state Labor Commissioner is expected to approve the plan.
Posted in EEOC, employment, Federal law
In a landmark case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has now determined that, by federal law, discriminating against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation for employment purposes is illegal.
In its ruling in Complainant v. Foxx, the EEOC stated, “Indeed, we conclude that sexual orientation is inherently a ‘sex-based consideration,’ and an allegation of discrimination based on sexual orientation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination under Title VII.”
The ruling was decided by a 3-2 vote.
While employers could appeal the decision and attempt to get the Supreme Court’s take on the ruling, other federal courts are generally take the lead from the EEOC’s “highly persuasive” rulings.
“When an employee raises a claim of sexual orientation discrimination as sex discrimination under Title VII, the question is not whether sexual orientation is explicitly listed in Title VII as a prohibited basis for employment actions,” the decision continued. “It is not. Rather, the question for purposes of Title VII coverage of a sexual orientation claim is the same as any other Title VII case involving allegations of sex discrimination — whether the agency has ‘relied on sex-based considerations’ or ‘taken gender into account’ when taking the challenged employment action.”
This decision from the EEOC comes quickly on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision to make same-sex marriage legal by federal law, as well as the Department of Defense’s decision to update its own anti-discrimination policies to protect gay, lesbian and bisexual service members.
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