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'Day Without a Woman' Poses Issues for Employers

Posted by Tom Jones on Feb 28, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Political activists are calling for women to stay home from work on March 8 as part of “A Day Without A Woman” general strike.

Womens March.jpgThe “one-day demonstration of economic solidarity” comes three weeks after a similar “Day Without Immigrants” caused thousands of people to remain out of work or to close their small businesses to protest Trump Administration policies on immigration. Some employers supported the walkout but at least 100 employees around the country who took part in the job action were fired.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts has taken no position on A Day Without a Woman, but since these strikes are expected to continue, the association believes it should help employers prepare to respond.

There are more questions than answers at this point, so our suggestion to employers is to proceed cautiously in dealing with employees who participate in the strike.

Issues to consider include:

  • Do employees have a legally protected right to skip work to protest or to support a political cause? If not, may an employer discipline employees who participate?
  • Are these employees on strike as defined under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), making it concerted - and thus legally protected - activity?
  • Does disciplinary action against immigrant employees equate to national-origin discrimination under federal and state law?
  • What, if anything, can an employer do to prevent employees from walking out?
  • How far may an employer go in monitoring employee political activities on/off the job?
  • May an employer terminate an employee for social media posts or for joining political groups?
  • Are there different rules for management versus non-management employees?
  • May employee use Paid Time Off or earned sick time to participate in the protest?
  • What constitutes reasonable advance notice for employees seeking to use Paid Time Off, vacation time or sick time?

The ability of employers to respond to workers who miss work to join political protests revolves largely around interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The act extends legal protections to non-union employees joining together to achieve a common end. So employers covered by the NLRA (i.e. nearly all employers in the U.S.) who take disciplinary action against employees for participating in a demonstration may expose themselves to a legal challenge.

The impact of losing an unfair labor practice case can be far reaching and expensive. It can also, in the extreme, result in a union being awarded representation even in the absence of an election.

Although disciplining an employee who doesn’t work a scheduled shift may be appropriate, employers need to make certain that it is consistent with company policies and practices and not impacted by the politics of the issue.

“The answer is somewhat murky,” says Charlotte Garden, an associate professor at the Seattle University School of Law in The Atlantic Magazine.

“The National Labor Relations Act protects workers’ rights to engage in concerted activity for mutual aid or protection, and the scope of what falls under that umbrella is quite broad. So it is likely that some forms of worker protest about the likely effects of Trump Administration policies on immigrant workers would be protected. But that protection would not necessarily include every tactic that workers might use.”

 

Are your hands completely tied? No.

Employers still have the right to enforce their existing attendance and notification policies. If someone fails to appear for work and does not to comply with the attendance policy, employers may take appropriate disciplinary action. Just be sure to avoid any possible action that may be construed as disparate treatment against one or more employees based on their legally protected status.

Employers should carefully review their attendance policy and determine if it achieves its intended purposes. Also, does the management team currently enforce the attendance policy as written? If not, it may be time to update and correct the practice and make sure all employees are aware of the policy. 

Please contact the AIM Employer Hotline at 800-470-6277 if you have questions.

 

Topics: Employment Law, Massachusetts employers, Donald Trump

Marijuana Question Passes; Now What for Employers?

Posted by Tom Jones on Nov 9, 2016 7:24:50 AM

Massachusetts has a new law permitting the possession and recreational use of marijuana. Voters approved Question 4 on legalization yesterday by a margin of 53.6 percent to 46.4 percent.

Marijuana.jpgAnd unlike the earned sick time law a couple of years ago, this one comes with a short lead-in period - the law takes effect on December 15.

What does the 12-page statute mean for employers?

The law focuses almost exclusively on the regulation and taxation of the sale of recreational marijuana. The measure will actually have little to no direct impact on most employers. There is only a short reference to employment in section 2, which discusses limitations of the law:

(e) This chapter shall not require an employer to permit or accommodate conduct otherwise allowed by this chapter (i.e. the use of recreational marijuana) in the workplace and shall not affect the authority of employers to enact and enforce workplace policies restricting the consumption of marijuana by employees.    

Companies that addressed their drug-testing and drug-use policies in response to the 2012 medical marijuana law can prepare for the 2016 law with little more than a quick review. For companies that did not establish policies four years ago, now is the time to do so.

Review your drug/alcohol-free workplace policies to ensure that they cover all forms of drug use, including marijuana. You should also review your drug- and alcohol-testing polices to ensure they cover the topics you want.

You may want to revise your policy to ensure that it covers all aspects of your workplace, including vehicles used for business purposes, off-site duties at customer sites, work-related events, seminars and company owned parking lots and garages.

Employers should keep an eye out for potential court cases related to the new law. Such cases could materially affect the manner in which employers implement the law in the future.

There has been only one legal case so far in Massachusetts involving an employee and medical marijuana. In that case, the employee was terminated, sued claiming discrimination, and the court ruled in the employer’s favor on all six counts, except privacy.

Call AIM with any questions about the new marijuana law or about reviewing and updating your drug-use related polices. Contact Beth Yohai and byohai@aimnet.org or call her at 617-262-1180 x335. 

Topics: Elections, Workplace Safety, Marijuana

Transgender Law Will Have Modest Effect on Business

Posted by Tom Jones on Jul 11, 2016 3:38:03 PM

The transgender-rights bill signed last Friday by Governor Charlie Baker may be a landmark piece of social legislation, but it is expected to have a modest effect on Massachusetts employers who have operated since 2012 under a law barring discrimination based upon gender identity.

statehousedome.jpgMassachusetts joins a growing list of states across the country in adopting some form of legal protections for transgender people. More than 100 advocates joined Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor J. Walsh, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo on the State House steps this morning to mark passage of the legislation.

The issue for many employers was addressed four years ago with the adoption of the gender identity amendment to the Massachusetts anti-discrimination law. The law states that if an employee faces discrimination due to gender identity, or is not accommodated in transition, the employee may have a legal claim against the employer.

The principal focus of new law is access for transgender people to places of public accommodation -meaning places that offer products or services to members of the public. Massachusetts courts have generally defined “public accommodation” broadly so businesses that invite the public in will be covered under the law.

Examples of public accommodation include stores, restaurants, malls and theaters. A company that invites the public for tours or free samples may also be covered. So if transgender sales representative were to visit a facility and was turned away due to gender identity or denied access to use the restroom, the action could violate the law.

Employers need to review current policies and practices to ensure compliance. That may involve informing and training supervisors and other managers about the existence of the law, its impact in the workplace and where they can go with questions.

Parts of the law take effect immediately, other sections take effect this autumn.

As of September 1, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the Attorney General’s office will adopt regulations in support of the implementation of the law, including when and how gender identity, may be shown.

Topics: Employment Law, Discrimination

New Overtime Rules Will Challenge Employers

Posted by Tom Jones on May 18, 2016 9:22:09 AM

The U.S. Department of Labor will issue a final rule today that will soon make more than four million workers eligible for overtime. The measure has profound implications for employers.

Fourpeople.jpgThe new rule doubles the salary threshold—from $23,660 to $47,476 per year—at which exempt or managerial workers become eligible for overtime. Non-exempt (hourly) workers are generally guaranteed overtime pay regardless of their earnings level. The rule will take effect on December 1.

The new salary baseline is slightly lower than the initially proposed white-collar exemption threshold of $50,440.

The threshold level will be automatically updated every three years. According to information released by the White House , the updates to the new minimum exemption will be set at the 40th percentile of full-time salaried workers in the lowest income region of the country.  Based on projections of wage growth, the threshold is expected to rise to more than $51,000 with the first update on January 1, 2020.

Employees earning more than the salary cap will still have to pass the “duties test” - showing that they primarily perform executive, administrative or professional tasks - to be classified as exempt from overtime.

The exemption for highly compensated workers will change from $100,000 annually to $134,004. A highly compensated employee must perform office or non-manual work and be paid total annual compensation of $134,004 or more (which must include at least $913 per week paid on a salary or fee basis) and customarily perform at least one of the duties of an exempt executive, administrative or professional employee identified in the standard tests for exemption.

There are no changes to the outside sales provision or the computer professional exemption. To meet the computer professional threshold, the employer must show that the employee is compensated either on a salary or fee basis at a rate not less than $455 per week or, if compensated on an hourly basis, at a rate not less than $27.63 an hour and the employee must be employed as a computer systems analyst, computer programmer, software engineer or other similarly skilled worker in the computer field performing the duties outlined in the regulations.  

Analysts believe the new overtime rules may prompt companies with exempt employees earning less than the proposed threshold of $47,476 per year ($913 per week) to reclassify those people as hourly workers. That change not only presents potential morale issues for employees who may consider the reclassification as a demotion, but also raises a host of issues for employers:

  • Payroll practices education (punch a clock, overtime rules)
  • Individual time management and work stopping at a set  time
  • Educating management on their staff and legal aspects of exempt versus non-exempt status
  • Rewriting job descriptions / salary structures
  • Career path changes
  • Effective workload levels – hiring incremental temps, part-time, full-time
  • Curfew on after-hour emails by non-exempt staff
  • Any benefits/bonus eligibility impact
  • Calculating travel time between locations or when required to report to an alternative location by a certain time
  • Calculating time for required travel on non-work days

Employers can start the process of adjusting to the new rule by asking some of the following questions:

  • Do you have any highly compensated employees under proposed threshold of $134,004?
  • Do your exempt employees affected by this proposal currently work more than 40 hours per week?
  • Do your exempt employees affected by this proposal work remotely all or part of the time? If so, you’ll need to effectively track hours to ensure all hours are accounted for and paid.
  • Have you tracked exempt employee workload within the 40 hour work week? If a conversion to an hourly employee is required, do you have metrics to substantiate a 40 hour workweek?
  • Have you addressed any budget or impact on pricing as it relates to any increased labor costs?
  • Have you initiated planning for automatic increases to the exempt salary threshold beyond 2016?
  • Have you considered the increase in number of hourly versus exempt employees and any union organizing concerns?

Register for the AIM Overtime Seminar

Topics: Employment Law, Human Resources, Fair Labor Standards Act

AIM Asks Feds to Investigate Scam Calls to Employer

Posted by Tom Jones on Jan 25, 2016 11:56:15 AM

Associated Industries of Massachusetts has asked federal officials to investigate an apparent scam in which a caller claiming to be from the U.S. Department of Labor calls an employer and demands personal information about employees as part of a bogus 401(k) plan audit.

An employer reported to AIM last week that she received a call from someone claiming to be a subcontractor for the Labor Department authorized to perform 401(k) audits. The caller threatened the employer with significant fines (up to $800,000) for failing to cooperate. The caller was seeking a list of all employees covered under the company’s 401k plan, including names and Social Security numbers.

The employer suspected the call was fraudulent and hung up. The employer then searched the phone number and found it was a frequently used scam number based in Nevada. The number was 702-258-9476. A review on the Web found a number of blog discussions about the fraudulent use of the number to sell various unwanted products.

AIM has forwarded the information to the Department of Labor to confirm that the phone call did not come from a DOL employee or contractor. The DOL representative forwarded the information to the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) for further investigation.

If you receive a similar phone call, please notify AIM at 800-470-6277 or via email (Tom Jones tjones@aimnet.org or Terry Cook tcook@aimnet.org) so that we may forward it to the DOL for its investigation.   

Topics: Retirement, Human Resources

Smart Phones, Remote Work Raise Pay Issues

Posted by Tom Jones on Jun 3, 2015 10:47:21 AM

Smart phones, tablets and wi-fi are blurring the lines between work and non-work time, especially for non-exempt employees.  The question facing employers is whether or not to pay employees for time outside of the normal work day for periods spent on their smart phones, especially if it triggers overtime.

SmartPhoneTabletThere is currently no national standard.  While some federal courts have weighed in, the U.S. Supreme Court has not.

The issue has caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which has announced plans to collect information on how the use of smartphones impacts hours worked under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The DOL announced that it will seek input by publishing a request for information in August.

DOL states that there is no formal rulemaking proposed at this stage, but the gathering of information such as this is often the first step toward drafting a rule.

Technology has changed how, where and when work is done.

The FLSA generally mandates that employers pay non-exempt workers for all hours worked, and overtime for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a work week. Time spent working outside the office on mobile devices and computers by non-exempt employees complicates working-time determinations made by employers and could ultimately affect overtime determinations.

While some employers already have policies in place regarding off-hours use of electronic devices by overtime-eligible employees, DOL’s decision to open up this door suggests that any one particular policy may be subject to additional scrutiny in the future.

Now is the time to think about your current policy (if you have one) and your current practices regarding electronic devices:

  • Adopt controls to prevent non-exempt employees from accessing your IT network remotely when they are not working; or monitor the activity of those employees who do access the network.
  • Adopt a clear policy about unauthorized work and overtime. Be prepared to enforce it through your disciplinary policy
  • Remind employees of the relevant policies by updating and reissuing them. Require employees acknowledge receipt of the policies. You might also consider providing employees with training on the topic.
  • Educate managers about the issue of non-exempt employees working remotely. Be sure the managers know your company policy with regard to including information on timesheets. They should also be alert to things such as employees responding to work sourced email(s) over the weekend or turning in assignments first thing Monday morning.

If this issue is already a problem, now is the time to address them:

  • Limit or deny the email or remote access privileges of non-exempt employees who violate policies.
  • Suspend telecommuting privileges for those not in compliance with your policy.
  • Revoke any employer-owned devices if they are being used to perform unauthorized work.

If you are concerned enough about this to comment to the DOL during its fact-finding phase, remember that the opportunity is likely to happen this August.

If you have any questions about this or any other HR related matter, please contact the AIM Hotline at 1-800-470-6277.

Topics: Employment Law, Technology, Human Resources

Tips for Managing in the Bitter Cold

Posted by Tom Jones on Feb 11, 2015 1:15:34 PM

As Massachusetts digs out from yet another snowstorm, the region is now bracing for the coldest temperatures of the year – below zero in many locations.

ColdThe federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers advice to help employers protect employees who work outdoors in cold environments, since prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures may cause serious health problems such as frostbite and hypothermia.

Some tips include:

  • Train workers about cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
  • Encourage workers to wear proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions, including layers that can be adjusted to changing conditions.
  • Be sure workers in extreme conditions take a frequent short break in warm dry shelters to allow their bodies to warm up.
  • Try to schedule work for the warmest part of the day.
  • Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
  • Use the buddy system - work in pairs so that one worker can recognize danger signs.
  • Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks) and avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, sodas or hot chocolate) or alcohol.
  • Eat warm, high-calorie foods such as hot pasta dishes.
  • Remember, workers face increased risks when they take certain medications, are in poor physical condition or suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease.

For free copies of OSHA's Cold Stress Card in English or Spanish, go to OSHA's website, www.osha.gov, or call 1(800) 321-OSHA.

Good luck and stay as warm and dry as you can.

Topics: OSHA, Human Resources, Weather

FAQs on Managing Weather Emergencies

Posted by Tom Jones on Jan 26, 2015 5:31:00 PM

Major weather events like the one now taking place raise a diverse set of questions for employers from employee pay to partial or full day closures. Here are frequently asked questions along with answers.

Snow.FactoryQ. The business will be closed for the entire week because of bad weather. Must exempt employees be paid?

A. No. The US Department of Labor DOL regulations state that: "Exempt employees need not be paid for any workweek in which they perform no work." However, this is unlikely to apply since most exempt employees will have worked at least Monday and perhaps other days this week.

Q. An exempt employee performs work at home when the office was closed because of bad weather. Must the employee be paid?

A. Simple answer, yes. The FLSA regulations make it clear that “An exempt employee must receive his or her full salary for any week in which he or she performs work, without regard to the number of days or hours worked. There are exceptions but none of them apply in this case.

Q. A nonexempt employee performed work at home when the office was closed because of bad weather. Pay or no pay?

Pay, but only for the hours actually worked. The challenge an employer may face is determining a satisfactory method to track the time. It makes sense to establish a method to track the time in advance so that there is no dispute about how much time was actually worked. The DOL permits employers to track time in any method as long as it is “complete and accurate”. Given it is likely too late to develop a system this week, using emails reporting time worked is an option.   

Q. The office opened but one of my exempt employee’s couldn’t get to work because of bad weather. Pay or no pay?

A. No pay, if the employee indeed does no work at home. An employee who is absent due to inclement weather is absent for personal reasons (one of the recognized exceptions to the FLSA pay requirement referred to in question 2) and need not be paid if the employee is absent for a full day(s). Again it is crucial to remember this only applies if the workplace is open.

Q. The office opened today but an exempt employee couldn't make it in because of bad weather. Instead the employee worked at home for a few hours and spent the rest of the day shoveling snow. Pay or no pay?

A. Pay. Work at home is also work. Furthermore, anytime an exempt employee misses less than a full day of work because of snow or other adverse weather conditions, his/her salary may not be docked.

Q. May an employer require an exempt employee to use vacation or accrued leave for part of the day in this situation?

A. Yes according to a DOL Opinion Letter from 2005. This is different from a deduction in that the employee still gets a full day’s pay, just from two separate accounts. It may help eliminate some misunderstandings later about an employee’s remaining time off if you make it clear to your employees that you are charging their vacation or PTO account. How you handle this issue is more likely to be an employee morale issue than a legal issue given the lateness of your decision.

Q. We opened today but an exempt employee couldn't make it in due to bad weather. After spending 90 minutes waiting for a bus, the employee gave up and went home. Pay or no pay?

A. Qualified no pay. Commuting is never working time but if the employee did actual work (i.e. more than a de minimis amount of work) while waiting for the bus (e.g. checking emails, making phone calls), the employee is working and must be paid for the day.

Q. Work is open today but a nonexempt employee is unable to arrive due to the bad weather. Pay or no pay?

A. No pay. If a nonexempt employee performs no work, they are not required to be paid.

Q. Work is open today but a non-exempt employee couldn't make it in because of bad weather. After spending two hours trying to commute the employee gave up and went home. Pay or no pay?

A. A qualified no pay. Commuting is not working time. However, see question 7 above. If the employee does more than a de minimis amount of work while trying to commute, the employer must pay for the time worked.

Q. We are closing early due to bad weather. Should our nonexempt employees be paid?

A. Only for the hours actually worked but see question 11 below.

Q. What do we do if a nonexempt employee reports for work and we send him/her home?

A. Massachusetts has regulations governing reporting or show up pay. The regulation states that “a nonexempt employee who is scheduled to work for three or more hours, reports for duty at the time set by the employer, and that employee is not provided with the expected hours of work, must be paid for at least 3 hours on such day at no less than the minimum wage”. As per the AIM wage survey, many employers pay their employees 3 or 4 hours at their regular rate   

Q. We closed early but some essential nonexempt personnel were asked to stay later. I know I owe them for extra time worked but must I pay them for the difference between their normal commute time and the extra time it takes them to get home in the bad weather?

A. No.

Q. The office closed hours ago because of bad weather, and some non-exempt essential personnel who were asked to stay later are now stuck here for the night. Pay or no pay?

A. It depends.

  • If the employees are completely relieved from duty and are able to use the time for their own pursuits (there is food available, relatively comfortable places to sleep, a television or other entertainment, etc.) then you do not need to pay them for that time.
  • If they are relieved from duty but there is absolutely nothing they can do with their time, not even somewhere to sleep (besides the hard floor), then an argument can be made that you have to pay. Even then, you would only have to pay the minimum wage, not the employee's regular wage rate but again see question 11 above.

While these Q & A’s address many of the questions about work and blizzards, it may not address your particular case. In that case, should you have any questions about this or any other HR related question please contact the AIM Hotline at 1-800-470-6277.

Hiring Teens for the Summer? Be Sure to Know the Rules

Posted by Tom Jones on Mar 25, 2014 10:25:00 AM

Spring is when employers think about hiring teen-agers for the summer. In fact, public officials are busy encouraging employers to hire teens as a way of provding valuable job experience to the work force of the future.

TeenJobsCropAny employer thinking about hiring children between the ages of 14 and 17 should be aware that both state and federal laws set explicit provisions regarding the hours children may work and the positions and duties they may hold. The law categorizes children by ages, 14-15 and 16-17, and recognizes that children in the older group are eligible to perform more complex/responsible workplace duties than their younger counterparts.  

With few exceptions, minors must be at least 14 years of age to work. The exceptions include babysitting, news carriers, farm workers, and entertainment (with a special state issued permit).

The list below highlights the time and occupation restrictions for children by age grouping.

Hours

Fourteen and 15-year-old minors may not be employed:

  • during school hours except as provided in approved work experience and career exploration programs;
  • between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. except from July 1 through Labor Day, when they may work until 9 p.m;
  • more than three hours per day during school weeks, not more than eight hours per day during weeks when school is not in session;
  • more than 18 hours per school week except in approved work experience and career exploration programs, in which case, they may work 23 hours;
  • more than 40 hours per week when school is not in session;
  • more than six days per week.

Sixteen and17-year-old minors may not be employed:

  • between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. with exceptions: when an establishment stops serving customers at 10 p.m., the minor may work until 10:15 p.m.; on nights not preceding a regularly scheduled school day they may work until 11:30 p.m.; and in restaurants and race tracks, they may work until 12 a.m. on nights not preceding a regularly scheduled school day.

  • more than nine hours per day;
  • more than 48 hours in a week; or
  • more than six days per week.

After 8 p.m., minors must be directly supervised by an adult who is located in the workplace and who is reasonably accessible, unless the minor works at a kiosk, cart, or stand in the common area of an enclosed shopping mall that has security from 8 p.m. until the mall is closed to the public.

Massachusetts maintains a useful list of the restrictions for minors between 14 and 17 years of age.

Applying for an Employment Permit

All minors under the age of 18 seeking work:

  • must complete an employment permit application and
  • obtain the permit before starting a new job.  Applications for permits are available here.

For minors who are residents of Massachusetts:

  • Permits are issued by the superintendent of schools for the municipality in which the minor lives or attends school – either is acceptable.  

For minors who reside outside the commonwealth, the permit is issued by the superintendent for the municipality where the minor’s job will be located.

No permit may be granted unless there is a specific employer, work address, and job description.

 Employer’s Responsibility

The employer must keep the original permit on file at the place of employment as long as the minor is employed at that location or until the minor reaches 18. 

If the minor's employment is terminated, voluntarily or otherwise, the employer must return the permit to the superintendent's office within two days of the termination. 

Permits are valid as long as the minor holds the job or until he/she reaches the age of 18. After that, the minor no longer needs documentation and the permit and copies may be destroyed.

Although you may choose to only hire high-school graduates, remember that some of them may be still under 18 and still be subject to the child labor laws. The law states clearly that minors who are no longer students are covered by the child labor laws in the same way that students of the same age are covered until the age of 18.

Transferring Permits

Minors may not transfer a permit given for one job to another job.  The process must begin again, even if the employer is the same but the work location has changed. An employer who wishes to employ a minor at more than one location must keep a permit on file at each business location. However, a minor does not have to apply for a new employment permit at the beginning of the school year if she or he has the same job.

Employers should leave enough time to obtain the proper documentation. The child labor laws are enforced by the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division and there are significant fines for violations.

If you have more specific questions, please contact the AIM Hotline at 1-800-470-6277.

Topics: Employment Law, Human Resources, Child Labor Law

A Checklist for Employee Safety in the Winter

Posted by Tom Jones on Jan 21, 2014 10:40:00 AM

The cold bite of winter can put employees at risk and limit their ability to perform their jobs. Although many employees spend their work days indoors in an office, manufacturing or retail setting, many companies have all or a portion of their workers outside, sometimes in bitter cold.

Snow.FactoryAs we await yet another winter blizzard today and given the potential risks to your employees, like hypothermia and frostbite, AIM has developed a checklist to help you and your employees get through the winter safely.

While there are no specific regulations, the General Duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health law requires employers to furnish employees with a place of employment free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.   Cold conditions may pose a safety hazard in some situations.

This checklist may be used as a training tool for employees who encounter these duties/environments during the winter months.

Shoveling snow

Shoveling snow can be a strenuous activity and has the potential to cause exhaustion, dehydration, back injuries, and heart attacks. Reduce the risk by:

  • taking frequent breaks in warm dry places;
  • drinking plenty of fluids (while avoiding ones with caffeine or alcohol);
  • warming up before starting;
  • scooping small amounts of snow at a time;
  • pushing the snow instead of lifting where possible; and
  • using proper form if lifting is necessary - keep the back straight and lift with the legs.

Walking safely on snow and ice

Walking on snow and ice puts workers at risk of slips and falls. Reduce the risk by:

  • clearing walking surfaces of snow and ice and using salt or its equivalent;
  • wearing proper footwear – insulated boots with good rubber treads are a must for walking during or after a winter storm;
  • taking short steps and walking at a slow pace on an ice or snow-covered walkway so you can react quickly to a change in traction;
  • walking against the traffic and as close to the curb as you can if the sidewalk is not cleared and you have to walk in the street;
  • looking out for vehicles that may have lost traction and are slipping towards you; vehicles might have trouble stopping at crosswalks or traffic signals;
  • wearing bright clothing or reflective gear at night – dark clothing will make it hard for drivers to see you; and
  • wearing sunglasses during the day to help you see better and avoid hazards.

Snow on the roof

  • Use standard protections when working at heights and look out for unexpected hazards due to the weather.
  • Ensure the proper use of fall protection and ladders.
  • Use caution around surfaces that have been weighed down by snow, as they may collapse.
  • Evaluate the total weight of snow, workers and equipment used, compared to the load limit of the roof.
  • Whenever possible, use methods to clear ice and snow without workers going on the roof. For example, use ladders to apply de-icing materials and use snow rakes or drag lines from the ground.
  • Additional information with regard to removing snow on roofs can be found at the OSHA Web site.

Cold but no snow

Snow or no snow, working in the cold weather increases the risk of frostbite and hypothermia.

  • Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that causes freezing in the deep layers of skin and tissue. Frostbite can cause permanent damage. It is recognizable by a loss of feeling and a waxy-white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, nose, or ear lobes.
  • Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops to less than 95°F. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness, and exhaustion.

General tips for employers whose employees work outdoors in the winter include:

  • Attempt to schedule work during the warmest part of the day.
  • Ensure that employees in cold conditions work in pairs or groups.
  • Do not permit an employee to overwork him/herself or to work to exhaustion, because a person may expend all of the energy needed to keep his/her muscles warm.
  • Ensure proper clothing for the conditions. Employers must provide personal protective equipment (PPE) such as fall protection gear when required by OSHA standards to protect worker safety, and health. And though there is no OSHA requirement for employers to provide workers with ordinary clothing, skin creams, or other items, used solely for protection from weather, such as winter coats, jackets, gloves, parkas, rubber boots, hats, raincoats, ordinary sunglasses, and sunscreen (29 CFR 1910.132(h)(4)), AIM urges companies to do so as a sound business practice.
  • Train employees on the symptoms of cold stress (see above) and what to do/who to contact when there are concerns.

Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with injuries resulting from extreme cold-weather conditions.  Putting a plan in place to address the concerns unique to your business is an essential strategy.

If employers have questions about this or other HR related matters please contact the AIM Hotline at 800-470-6277.

Topics: Employment Law, Safety, Human Resources

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