Tag Archive for 'employees'

Nurses Need Better Protections from Workplace Injuries

According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nursing assistants are subject to more than 35,000 back-related injuries every year.

nursing injurySome injuries are so severe nurses are forced to stay home from work. In fact, the BLS collected data that proved nursing assistants are injured more often than any other occupation’s employees. This includes truckers, warehouse workers, and registered nurses. Why are so many nursing assistants receiving back-related injuries, and what is being done to protect them?

The number one cause for back injuries for nursing assistants is lifting and handling patients. Many nurses must help patients off a bed, out of a chair, etc. Without the help of a machine or colleagues, sometimes lifting a patient is an impossible task. Many patients can be 250 to 300 pounds, and with the increasing obesity problem in America, nurses continue to injure their backs when lifting such patients. Some nurses are forced to end their career early due to injuries.

If so many nurses are getting injured, shouldn’t something be done?

Suzanne Gordon, author of Nursing Against the Odds, explains that “Too many hospital administrators see nursing staff as second-class citizens,” and therefore don’t afford them the same priority as other employees. Many hospitals do not house the machinery necessary for a nurse to safely move a patient. Even four nurses cannot safely handle a 300 pound patient without strain on their backs. The Baptist Health System in Florida and various medical centers in the Department of Veteran Affairs have implemented machines in order to decrease work place injuries. Since the machines have been installed, back related injuries in nurses have decreased by 80%.

Some hospitals have established the use of machines for patient handling and lifting, but most still require nurses to lift patients themselves. Most of the time, other colleagues are not available to help fellow nurses, deeming it impossible to avoid injury when handling a larger patient. On January 1, 2012, California passed the Hospital Patient and Health Care Worker Injury Protection Act. Not too long after, nursing employees from the Walnut Creek Kaiser location started filing complaints.

This Kaiser hospital is currently under fire for failing to have “specific procedures in place to ensure that sufficient staff was available to perform patient handles tasks safely.” Administrative Law Judge, Mary Dryovage, issued this order after a state investigator from California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health was alerted by nursing employees at the Kaiser hospital. The nurses filed a complaint with the state, alleging that Kaiser violated the law by not taking the proper safety precautions to protect the hospitals employees.

Kaiser has made a plan to spend at least $40 million to install lifting machines into its older hospitals, including Walnut Creek. Hopefully with the new installments, less nurses will become injured every year.

Nursing assistants who are injured on the job are not allowed to sue their employer for negligence. All employees give up their right to sue an employer for these issues in exchange for payment through workers compensation if injured on the job. Employees can file a personal injury lawsuit, but only against someone who is responsible for your injury and is not your employer.

Hopefully overtime, more patient-lifting machines will be installed for nurses to use. The number of nursing assistants becoming injured each year is unacceptable, and it’s time for them to become a priority.

McDonald’s Lawsuit Could Change Fast Food Corporate Responsibility

Ten former employees of a McDonald’s franchise filed a lawsuit against the corporation. The suit alleges racial discrimination that lead to wrongful termination. They filed the suit Thursday, January 22nd in Virginia.

McDonalds CommercialThe employees worked at three McDonald’s restaurants, all owned by the restaurant franchiser, Soweva. Michael Simon owns the franchise company. The employee’s allege that once Soweva took control of the franchise, it “implemented a plan to reduce the number of African-American employees and hire more white employees”. The group held a job fair last March where they hired all new white employees. They fired Latino and African-American workers, stating they “didn’t fit the profile” for the restaurants.

Female employees were also subjected to sexual harassment from the supervisors of the franchise. They allege that supervisors touched them inappropriately, sent explicit photos, and talked in a highly sexual manner.

The racially motivated termination caused loss of wages and benefits, emotional distress, humiliation, loss of reputation, and other damages. The employees are suing for lost wages in addition to several other damages.

Why is the group of employees also suing McDonald’s and not just the individual franchise? Aren’t they separate entities? In this case, McDonald’s is considered a “corporate parent” of the franchise. It is responsible for any abuse or unfair treatment that occurs in a restaurant. The corporation has “detailed instructions for franchisees in areas including operations procedures, bookkeeping and accounting procedures, business practices and policies, personnel management, and any other area McDonald’s Corporate wishes to control” for each franchise.

90% of McDonald’s 14,000 restaurants in the U.S. are owned and operated by independent franchises. But, McDonald’s has 100% control over the procedures and policies that take place in each restaurant.

This lawsuit comes only one month after a lawsuit was filed against McDonald’s by the NLRB. The suit states McDonald’s is a “joint employer” with its franchises, and is responsible for any misconduct. The misconduct in the suit is the retaliation of employees who participated in union organizing. McDonald’s insists they are separate from the franchises, and are not responsible for the violations that take place under the control of them.

But, the McDonald’s corporation has enough control over its franchises to implement policies to stop the racial or sexual harassment. All 10 employees called and complained to the McDonald’s Corporation, but received no help.

This lawsuit may be the catalyst for the fast-food corporation and franchise relationship. In the past, franchises have been considered as independent from the umbrella corporation. Recently, union supported demonstrations have demanded for an increase in pay for fast food employees to $15 an hour. Since McDonald’s is “independent” from franchises, they are not forced to increase pay or bargain with workers. But with the recent lawsuit, fast-food corporations are starting to wonder just how independent they are.

Osama Saleh Awarded $4.7 Million by Federal Jury

Osama Saleh was employed as a clerk at “Pretty Girl,” a New York women’s clothing store. In September 2007, he got into arguments while on the retail floor with a co-worker, Robinson. Robinson later confronted Saleh in the basement, where Robinson called Saleh a “terrorist” and “Bin Laden.” The verbal insults culminated into a physical assault on Saleh himself, an attack which left Saleh with a fractured cheekbone and seven days in the hospital. Pretty Girl management initially denied any wrongdoing by Robinson – they called the incident “teasing.” The jury awarded Saleh $4.7 million for emotional distress, assault, negligence in hiring Robinson, and punitive damages.

Osama Saleh$4.7 Million Is Not an Excessive Award

$4.7 million sounds like a lot of money for some name calling. Of course, the millions that Osama Saleh is entitled to are not merely for racial slurs. The award also covers negligence and punitive damages. In English, the jury wasn’t just compensating Saleh for the fractured cheekbone, the hospital stay, and the “teasing.” The jury also wanted to punish Pretty Girls for allowing Robinson to harass and injure Saleh.

Let’s start with a simple idea: businesses care about money. Businesses often pursue the almighty dollar at the expense of other concerns. The downside to this profit drive mentality is that the love of money makes businesses very manipulatable.  If society wants a business to change its behavior, just show the business how expensive their behavior could become.

Punitive damages serve this purpose. By hitting the defendant with a heavy fine, the company will be forced to change its policy. The vice president, Victor Lavy, testified it was not against company policy to call someone “Bin Laden.” After this million dollar suit though, that policy might change. Pretty Girls might also try to stop racial conflicts from escalating between employees rather than write them off as “teasing” or “playing.” A fractured cheekbone is not playful behavior by any definition of “playing.”

The question becomes whether society should care how an employer treats an employee who calls a co-worker “Bin Laden,” “terrorist,” or make reference to some other racial stereotype. In most cases, I don’t think society should care. Employers have their own policies about how to deal with racial stereotyping, policies which were probably developed based on certain experiences. More importantly, employers shouldn’t be controlling what their employees say to each other unless it’s related to the job.

There must be exceptions though. If an employer willfully ignores problems between its employees to the point where the employees start punching one another, the employer has failed. $4.7 million might sound like a lot of money just to get a message across, but I’m expecting the amount to be reduced either by the trial judge or by an appeal court. Even if $4.7 million is the final amount, it’s a small price to pay to ensure the safety of all Americans at work.

Obamacare Could Make Corporations More Powerful than Before

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments about Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. The case involves a corporation, Hobby Lobby, demanding an exemption from Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. The mandate requires that corporations with over 50 employees cover birth control expenses for its employees. Hobby Lobby believes it has a right to an exemption from the healthcare law because its sole shareholders have a religious belief that birth control is sinful.

health-care-contraception-mandateI cannot understate the importance of this case. Depending on how the Court rules, this case could give corporations a right to free exercise of religion. This would completely change corporate law as we know it. Hobby Lobby could also represent the biggest religious exemption that the government has ever given. If Obamacare don’t apply to people because of their religious beliefs, what other laws could corporations ignore in the name of religion?

Balancing Employees against Shareholders

Chief Justice Roberts suggested that the case could be limited to corporations with closely held shareholders. This could be a reasonable solution because giving every corporation a right to religion would be chaos. In publicly traded corporations, there will be shareholders with different religious beliefs. Figuring out whose religion is more important is not a game that judges should be playing.

Chief Justice Robert’s proposal has a serious flaw though. Dominant shareholders cannot impose their views on minority shareholders. Given that, how can shareholders force their views on employees? Shareholders own the corporation, but they do not own the employees. Shareholders might have constitutional protection because Obamacare is a federal law. Employees do not have the same protection because their employer’s religious views are not law.

Even if we could create a system where corporations could have a right to religion, the consequences would be significant. Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate is controversial, but there are other laws, too. These other laws aren’t as debated, but religious groups still have objections. Imagine if a Jehovah’s Witness could deny their employees a life-saving blood transfusion because of a religious conviction. The employer might be saved from hell, but the employee would have an enormous medical bill.

The Moral Hypocrisy

Justice Alito asked whether a corporate exercise of religious rights would cause the corporation to depart from their core purposes. The corporation is considered a separate entity from the shareholders, thereby protecting the shareholders from any liability. If an employee hits a pedestrian while making a delivery, the shareholders are protected from any lawsuits.

The fundamental problem with allowing corporations to exercise their shareholder’s religious rights is that the shareholders would be abusing the corporate shield. If shareholders want to be protected from Obamacare, shareholders claim the corporation speaks for them. When an employee assaults a customer though, the shareholders claim that the corporation is a different legal person. Corporate responsibility would be a thing of the past. Corporate religious rights would give shareholders all the benefits of incorporation without any of the drawbacks.

Some judges seem comfortable with this outcome. Protecting profits is somehow distinct from ones religious beliefs. One judge even asked “What does limiting financial risk have to do with choosing to live a religious life?” My answer is this:

Your Honor, it’s moral hypocrisy to preach God’s law while hiding behind Man’s law.

Talking Politics in the Workplace

Free elections are one of the greatest innovations of the American political system. This sounds a little puzzling given the climate of the present election, but the United States has succeeded in electing almost every one of its Presidents without violence (the Civil War being the exception). In comparison, many other nations can’t hold a single election without their military coming in and declaring the victor.

Still, American political elections can produce enormous tension. Everyone has the right to voice their opinions about the election yet most people will agree that we cannot force individual beliefs onto others. These two rules often come into conflict in employment settings where one side may hold power over another. Of course, these disputes aren’t limited to one party or another. Both Romney and Obama supporters have called the fundamental values of free speech and freedom from oppression into question in each of these illuminating cases.

In Pennsylvania, a geometry teacher named Lynette Gaymon mocked and harassed sixteen year old Samatha Pawlucy for wearing a T-Shirt promoting Romney-Ryan. Gaymon claimed that Charles Carroll High (the school they attended) was a “Democratic school” and that wearing the T-shirt was like wearing a KKK robe. The Port Richmond District has issued an apology and Gaymon has apologized for her statements, although the damage has already been done.

Meanwhile, Bob Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy had his workers attend a Romney rally. If Mitt Romney wondered why so many coal miners attended his August rally in Ohio, Romney didn’t show it as the Republican candidate told the miners what a great boss they had. His statement probably didn’t take into account that Murray had forced his employees to attend Romney’s rally –without pay–.

Last and probably least, Richard Lacks, CEO of Lacks Enterprise, sent a letter to the workers of his automobile plants in Michigan explaining that they should expect a bonus soon. Oh, and the company would be passing the costs of health care to its employees if Obama won his reelection this November.

It is obvious that this election is bringing out the worst of employer-employee relations. If there is a political division in the workplace, you should pay attention to each of these stories to avoid any excessive potential conflicts.

First, if you interact with any citizens in any government capacity, you should avoid pushing politics to those citizens. Gaymon, the teacher from Pennsylvania, violated the student’s free speech. Second, avoid breaking laws while promoting politics. Bob Murray might soon find himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit for withholding pay for non-work activities from his miners.

Finally, and most importantly, everyone has a right to free speech, even the evil boss who passes taxes down to his employees. Richard Lacks might not have a lot of tact, but he does have the right to express his views to his own employees (he’s also surprisingly honest and open). The bonus could be seen as a bribe and his statement that he would pass the increased cost of Obamacare to his employees could be seen as a threat. However, it is unclear if the bonus is connected to the political message in any way other than being in the same letter.

The statement about passing the costs is also a reasonable business decision; many businesses are expected to pass the costs of mandatory healthcare to either their consumers or their employees. Furthermore, Lacks can’t be threatening retaliatory action against his employees if they vote for the President because Lacks has no way of finding out exactly which employees followed his words.

Some people might look at all these rules and just throw their arms in the air in frustration and decide that they should just avoid talking about politics, at least in the office. This is, however, the wrong conclusion to draw from all these stories. Our predecessors did not fight for these rights so that we could hide ourselves behind walls of self-censorship. Laws are minimal standards of conduct which all citizens are held to. Reasonable people should be able to discuss politics with coworkers and even employers without fear of pay cuts or harassing behavior.