Question: Is medical marijuana use protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? If so, what accommodations would be considered reasonable?

Answer:
You are not required to accommodate medical marijuana use under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Even though medical marijuana is legal in many states, under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana is still illegal. The ADA expressly excludes people who use illegal drugs from its definition of “qualified individual with a disability.”

However, as a best practice, you should still engage in the ADA interactive process if a request for a reasonable accommodation for medical marijuana use is made. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities unless doing so would cause an undue hardship on the employer. Any request for a reasonable accommodation triggers an interactive process with the employee to determine:

  1. Whether the employee or applicant is a qualified individual with a disability, meaning they can perform the essential functions of the job with a reasonable accommodation; and
  2. What the employee’s needs are, and which appropriate accommodations could be made.

If the employee’s physician has determined that medical marijuana is the most effective treatment, a possible reasonable accommodation would be a waiver of your anti-drug policy. However, if the employee is in a safety-sensitive position, it may pose an undue hardship to make that accommodation and you should consider any other possible accommodations before denying the request.

There are no reasonable accommodations that would work in every circumstance. You will need to review the essential functions and safety requirements of the job with the employee to determine what types of reasonable accommodations may be acceptable while not imposing an undue hardship.

The Courts May Not Concur

While medical marijuana use is not protected by the ADA, this is being challenged at the state level. For example, in July 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held in Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing that an employee who was fired after testing positive for marijuana could proceed with a “handicap discrimination” claim under the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act.

In allowing the employee’s discrimination claim to go forward, the Court expressly rejected the employer’s argument that, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, requiring an employer to accommodate medical marijuana use is per se unreasonable.

Instead, the Court held that, at a minimum, the employer was obligated to engage in an interactive dialogue concerning the employee’s ongoing medicinal marijuana use before terminating her employment. The Court did not rule out the possibility that accommodating medicinal marijuana use could pose an undue hardship, leaving that issue open for the employer to address at a later date.

Originally posted on thinkhr.com

We are halfway through our summer break and by now you have heard 1,000 times, “I’m bored!” from your kids! How do you survive the summer and keep your sanity? Follow these tips to make this summer break memorable and tackle the challenge of keeping your kids engaged.

  1. Keep A Routine

Kids thrive with schedules. The idea of just lazing around all summer sounds great at the beginning, but it feeds the “I’m bored” monster. Having no routine or daily schedule leaves kids with no expectations of what needs to be accomplished for the day. I cannot count the number of times I’ve texted my children from work at 1pm, “Have you gotten dressed and brushed your teeth?” Set up a daily routine and post it in a well-traveled location in your home. Set up expectations for the day—make your bed, get dressed, feed the dogs, brush your teeth, put away laundry. Simple tasks give familiarity to the day and help guide them to productivity.

  1. Water & Sun Safety

Teach your kids to always ask before heading out to the pool—whether it’s in your backyard, a friend’s house, or the neighborhood splash park. When they are in the water, make sure someone is watching. Among preventable injuries, drowning is the leading cause of death for children 1 – 4 years old. Drowning happens quickly and quietly—not like it’s portrayed in movies and on TV with lots of splashing and yelling. Keep kids in your sight at all times. Likewise, pay attention to applying sunscreen consistently. The sun’s UV rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Apply sunscreen every hour and if possible, have your children wear UV protected clothing and hats.

  1. Summer Bucket List

Make your “Top 5 Summer Activities” list as a family and schedule them! Maybe it’s to try the new snow cone shop around the corner or go to a special concert series in the park. Your community is bustling with things to do during the summer. Research what special speakers are coming to your local library, break out your list of favorite movies from when you were a kid and introduce them to your children (Space Camp, Neverending Story, Flight of the Navigator!), make slime! Making a list of these fun activities gives your children something to look forward to and work towards achieving.

  1. Learn a New Skill

This summer’s skill in my house is learning how to type! I found a website that has free lessons and skills tests and my kiddos are completing modules of learning online during the day. Our hope is by the end of the summer, our teenagers can type using all 10 fingers! Figure out a skill that your children could benefit from learning and find a way to teach them this skill. It doesn’t mean you are now instructing them on how to play a violin, but if they want to learn, can you find a local music store that has some summer lessons? Or what about your friend’s artistic teenager who could teach your child how to draw anime or how to sing?

  1. READ!

You knew that one was coming. We’ve all heard of the “summer slide” where kids slide backwards in learning during their summer break. Reading not only prevents this slide but can propel your child into success for the coming school year. Get to your local library and talk with your librarians about the latest book series that are on fire for your school-aged children. Read along with your kid so you can discuss the twists and turns in the books. Have your student draw pictures of their favorite scenes in their book. Get your noses in some books! Readers are leaders!!

With these survival tips you will be blazing the trails to a successful summer. Parents—you got this!

Don’t lie–we ALL love gadgets. From the obscure (but hilariously reviewed on Amazon) Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer to the latest iteration of the Apple empire. Gadgets and technology can make our lives easier, make processes faster, and even help us get healthier. Businesses are now using the popularity of wearable technology to encourage employee wellness and increase productivity and morale.

According to a survey cited on Huffington Post, “82% of wearable technology users in American said it enhanced their lives in one way or another.” How so? Well, in the instance of health and wellness, tech wearers are much more aware of how much, or how little, they are moving throughout the day. We know that our sedentary lifestyles aren’t healthy and can lead to bigger health risks long term. Obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 Diabetes are all side effects of this non-active lifestyle. But, these are all side effects that can be reversed with physically getting moving. Being aware of the cause of these problems helps us get motivated to work towards a solution.

Fitbit, Apple Watch, Pebble, and Jawbone UP all have activity tracking devices.  Many companies are offering incentives for employees who work on staying fit and healthy by using this wearable technology. For example, BP Oil gave employees a free Fitbit in exchange for them tracking their annual steps. Those BP employees who logged 1 million steps in a year were given lower insurance premiums. These benefits for the employee are monetary but there are other pros to consider as well. The data collected with wearable technology is very accurate and can help the user when she goes to her physician for an ailment. The doctor can look at this data and it can help connect the dots with symptoms and then assist the provider with a diagnosis.

So, what are the advantages to the company who creates wellness programs utilizing wearable technology?

  • Job seekers have said that employee wellness programs like this are very attractive to them when looking for a job.
  • Millennials are already wearing these devices and say that employers who invest in their well-being increases employee morale.
  • Employee healthcare costs are reduced.
  • Improved productivity including fewer disruptions from sick days.

The overall health and fitness of the company can be the driving force behind introducing wearable technology in a business but the benefits are so much more than that. Morale and productivity are intangible benefits but very important ones to consider. All in all, wearable technology is a great incentive for adopting healthy lifestyles and that benefits everyone—employee AND employer.

More and more, we are learning that scientists, marketers, programmers, and other kinds of knowledge workers lead office lives very similar to famous innovators like Watson, Crick, and Franklin, who discovered the structure of DNA. How so? All of these people live work lives structured around progress in meaningful work. And when this progress occurs, it boosts emotions, perceptions, and productivity.

This could be an important key to supporting your employees at their desks, wherever those may be. While recognition, tangible incentives, and goals are important, leading managers must also consider nourishing progress through attention to inner work life, minor milestones, and appropriate modeling.

When progress is effectively monitored and encouraged, it can lead to a self-sustaining progress loop, which often results in increased success and productivity, especially toward larger, group-based goals. In other words, when managers support inner work life and recognize minor progress, it leads to major accomplishments.

Seeing employees as growing, positive individuals with a drive to experiment and learn, as opposed to mere means to an end goal, can make all the difference in an office, and over the yearsOne way to do this effectively is to incorporate humility into your leadership style. This doesn’t imply that you have low self-confidence or are yourself servile. Rather, it says you prioritize the autonomy of your office and support your employees to think responsibly for themselves. Ask them what their daily work lives are like, and how you can help them maximize effectiveness. Create low-risk opportunities for growth, and most importantly: follow through.

Read More:
“Leading through emotions”
“Leading with emotional intelligence”

by Bill Olson, VP, Marketing & Communications at United Benefit Advisors

Originally posted on blog.ubabenefits.com

Workplace rules are back, baby!

Peter Robb, General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (and my new hero), issued a memorandum on Wednesday that employers should love. Mr. Robb has declared that nine standard employer policies will now be presumed lawful under the National Labor Relations Act.

The memorandum was based on the Board’s decision in The Boeing Company, issued in December 2017. Before Boeingthe NLRB under the Obama Administration had taken the position that these policies were unlawful because they could have a “chilling effect” on employees’ exercise of their rights to engage in “protected concerted activity” under Section 7 of the NLRA.

So, without further ado, here are nine standard employment policies that the Board says are legal again, absent evidence that they’re being applied to protected concerted activity. (Welcome back!) I’ll also go over workplace rules that continue to violate the NLRA, and workplace rules that will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Workplace rules that are presumed lawful

No. 1: Civility rules. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must be happy about this one because their proposed guidance on workplace harassment recommended civility training for employees as a harassment-prevention measure. The EEOC had to include a footnote that its recommendation could be problematic from an NLRA standpoint. (I’d been recommending to clients that they restrict civility training to management until this conflict between the EEOC and the NLRB was resolved.)

Conflict hereby resolved! According to the General Counsel, an expectation of civility does not interfere with employees’ right to engage in protected concerted activity because they can almost always criticize the employer, or individual supervisors, in a civil manner.

No. 2: No photography, no recording. Although there are occasions when employees may want to photograph or record working conditions or labor protests, the General Counsel says, for the most part rules prohibiting unauthorized recordings have no impact on Section 7 rights and therefore are lawful. However, “a ban on mere possession of cell phones at work may be unlawful where the employees’ main method of communication during the work day is by cell phone.” In other words, the ban should be on unauthorized recording, not on possession of a device that can record.

No. 3: Bans on insubordination, non-cooperation, adversely affecting operations. “An employer has a legitimate and substantial interest in preventing insubordination or non-cooperation at work. Furthermore, during working time an employer has every right to expect employees to perform their work and follow directives.”

Duh. It’s sad that this even had to be said, but thank you, General Counsel Robb, for saying it.

(Of course, if the “insubordination” is engaging in protected concerted activity, then the application of the rule would violate the NLRA.)

No. 4: Bans on disruptive behavior. Employers again have the right to prohibit “fighting, roughhousing, horseplay, tomfoolery, and other shenanigans.” Also, “yelling, profanity, hostile or angry tones, throwing things, slamming doors, waving arms or fists, verbal abuse, destruction of property, threats, or outright violence.”

There may, however, be instances when some of this activity is associated with a strike or walkout and may be protected. And you can’t ban strikes or walkouts.

No. 5: Protecting confidential and proprietary information, and customer information. Yes, employers, it is again legal for you to prohibit employees from disclosing your confidential and proprietary information. “In addition, employees do not have a right under the Act to disclose employee information obtained from unauthorized access/use of confidential records, or to remove records from the employer’s premises.” (Emphasis added.) To be lawful under the new standard, the employer should ban the unauthorized access or disclosure of confidential employee information rather than flatly banning disclosure of any employee information.

No. 6: Bans on defamation or misrepresentation. According to the General Counsel, because “defamatory” statements or “misrepresentations” imply some level of deliberate falsehood or misleading, “Employees will generally understand that these types of rules do not apply to subjectively honest protected concerted speech.”

No. 7: Bans on unauthorized use of company logo or intellectual property. “Most activity covered by this [type of] rule is unprotected, including use of employer intellectual property for unprotected personal gain or using it to give the impression one’s activities are condoned by the employer,” the memorandum says. And I love this:

“Employers have a significant interest in protecting their intellectual property, including logos, trademarks, and service marks. Such property can be worth millions of dollars and be central to a company’s business model. Failure to police the use of such property can result in its loss, which can be a crippling blow to a company. Employers also have an interest in ensuring that employee social media posts and other publications do not appear to be official via the presence of the employer’s logo.”

No. 8: Requiring authorization to speak for the employer. Yet another “duh” moment: “Employers have a significant interest in ensuring that only authorized employees speak for the company.”

No. 9: Bans on disloyalty, nepotism, or self-enrichment. Even the Obama Board didn’t have much of a problem with employer rules that banned (or required disclosure of) conflicts of interest, or employees who had financial interests in competitors of the employer. The Trump Board agrees.

Workplace rules that are presumed unlawful

The memorandum lists two types of employer rules that will continue to be found unlawful, and I believe most employers are already aware of these:

  • Prohibiting employees from discussing or disclosing information about wages, benefits, or other conditions of employment.
  • Prohibiting employees from joining outside organizations or “voting on matters concerning” the employer. 

These rules are directly related to activity protected by Section 7 of the NLRA. Therefore, they are presumed unlawful, and NLRB Regional Offices are instructed to issue complaints “absent settlement.” (The Regional Offices do have the option of asking for advice from the Office of the General Counsel if they think special circumstances apply.)

Workplace rules that require case-by-case assessment

The memorandum also discusses some “gray area” rules, which may or may not violate the NLRA depending on the circumstances. The following types of rules will be submitted to the Office of the General Counsel and evaluated on a case-by-case basis:

  • “Broad conflict-of-interest rules that do not specifically target fraud and self-enrichment . . . and do not restrict membership in, or voting for, a union.”
  • Broad or vague “employer confidentiality” rules that don’t focus on confidential and proprietary, or customer, information and that don’t specifically restrict Section 7 activity (discussion of wages, benefits, or other terms and conditions of employment).
  • Rules prohibiting disparagement of the employer, as opposed to disparagement of employees.
  • Rules restricting use of the employer’s name, rather than just its logo or trademarks.
  • Rules that prohibit employees from speaking to the media or third parties at all (as opposed to communications to third parties where the employee purports to represent the employer).
  • “Rules banning off-duty conduct that might harm the employer.” A little vague.
  • “Rules against making false or inaccurate statements (as opposed to rules against making defamatory statements) . . ..”

For the past several years, employers have been struggling to comply with the Board’s interpretations while retaining the right to maintain some semblance of order in their workplaces. The General Counsel’s memorandum is a giant step in the right direction.

Article written by: Robin Shea, partner with leading national labor and employment law firm (and ThinkHR strategic employment law partner) Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP

Originally posted on thinkhr.com

Friday, April 27, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that the 2018 annual contribution limit to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) for persons with family coverage under a qualifying High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) is restored to $6,900. The single-coverage limit of $3,450 is not affected.

This is the final word on what has been an unusual back-and-forth saga. The 2018 family limit of $6,900 had been announced in May 2017. Following passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017, however, the IRS was required to modify the methodology used in determining annual inflation-adjusted benefit limits. On March 5, 2018, the IRS announced the 2018 family limit was reduced by $50, retroactively, from $6,900 to $6,850. Since the 2018 tax year was already in progress, this small change was going to require HSA trustees and recordkeepers to implement not-so-small fixes to their systems. The IRS has listened to appeals from the industry, and now is providing relief by reinstating the original 2018 family limit of $6,900.

Employers that offer HSAs to their workers will receive information from their HSA administrator or trustee regarding any updates needed in their payroll files, systems, and employee communications. Note that some administrators had held off making changes after the IRS announcement in March, with the hopes that the IRS would change its position and restore the original limit. So employers will need to consider their specific case with their administrator to determine what steps are needed now.

HSA Summary

An HSA is a tax-exempt savings account employees can use to pay for qualified health expenses. To be eligible to contribute to an HSA, an employee:

  • Must be covered by a qualified high deductible health plan (HDHP);
  • Must not have any disqualifying health coverage (called “impermissible non-HDHP coverage”);
  • Must not be enrolled in Medicare; and
  • May not be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

HSA 2018 Limits

Limits apply to HSAs based on whether an individual has self-only or family coverage under the qualifying HDHP.

2018 HSA contribution limit:

  • Single: $3,450
  • Family: $6,900
  • Catch-up contributions for those age 55 and older remains at $1,000

2018 HDHP minimum deductible (not applicable to preventive services):

  • Single: $1,350
  • Family: $2,700

2018 HDHP maximum out-of-pocket limit:

  • Single: $6,650
  • Family: $13,300*

*If the HDHP is a nongrandfathered plan, a per-person limit of $7,350 also will apply due to the ACA’s cost-sharing provision for essential health benefits.

 

Originally posted on thinkHR.com

In previous posts, I have talked about several aspects of strategic benefits communication. Now it’s time to put those strategies into action. As we approach enrollment season, let’s look at five key steps to ensuring this year’s open enrollment is successful for you and your employees.

1. Determine your key objectives

What do employees need to know this enrollment season? As you review your benefit plan designs, think once again about your key objectives, and for each, how you will make employees aware and keep them engaged. What are the challenges employees face when making their benefits decisions?

  • Are you rolling out new medical plan options? Does this include HDHP options? An HSA? Are there changes in premiums and contribution levels?
  • Are there any changes to other lines of coverage such as dental, life insurance, disability insurance?
  • Are you adding new voluntary plans this year? How do they integrate with your medical plans? Do they plug gaps in high deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses? Are there existing voluntary plans with low participation?
  • Are there other important topics to share with employees, like new wellness programs, or health-driven employee events?

Once you’ve gathered this information, you can develop a communication strategy that will better engage employees in the benefits decision-making process.

2. Perfect your script

What do you know about your employee demographics? Diversity doesn’t refer only to age or gender. It could mean family size, differences in physical demands of the job, income levels, or simply lifestyle. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all world anymore. As you educate employees on benefits, you will want to give examples that fit their lives.

You will also want to keep the explanations as simple as possible. Use as much plain language as you can, as opposed to “insurance speak” and acronyms. Benefit plans are already an overwhelming decision, and as we have seen in our research, employees still don’t fully understand their options.

3. Use a multi-faceted communications strategy

Sun Life research and experience has shown that the most appreciated and effective strategies incorporate multiple methodologies. One helpful tactic is to get a jump-start on enrollment communication. As enrollment season approaches, try dynamic pre-enrollment emails to all employees, using videos or brochures. Once on-site enrollment begins, set up group meetings based on employee demographics. This will arm employees with better knowledge and prepared questions for their one-to-one meeting with a benefits counselor.

Consider hard-to-reach employees as well, and keep your websites updated with helpful links and provide contacts who are available by phone for additional support.

Also, look to open enrollment as a good time to fill any employee data gaps you may have, like beneficiaries, dependents, or emergency contacts.

4. Check your tech!

We have talked in previous posts about leveraging benefits administration technology for effective communications. For open enrollment, especially when you may be introducing new voluntary insurance plans, it is important to check your technology. I recommend this evaluation take place at least 6 to 8 weeks before open enrollment if possible.

Working with your UBA advisor, platform vendor and insurance carriers, some key considerations:

  • Provide voluntary product specifications from your carrier to your platform vendor. It is important to check up front that the platform can handle product rules such as issue age and age band pricing, age reduction, benefit/tier changes and guarantee issue rules. Also, confirm how the system will handle evidence of insurability processing, if needed.
  • Electronic Data Interface (EDI). Confirm with your platform partner as well as insurance carriers that there is an EDI set-up process that includes testing of file feeds. This is a vital step to ensure seamless integration between your benefits administration platform, payroll and the insurance carriers.
  • User Experience. Often benefits administration platforms are very effective at moving data and helping you manage your company’s benefits. As we have discussed, when it comes to your employee’s open enrollment user experience, there can be some challenges. Especially when you are offering voluntary benefits. Confirm with your vendor what, if any, decision support tools are available. Also, check with your voluntary carriers. These could range from benefit calculators, product videos, and even logic-driven presentations.

5. Keep it going

Even when enrollment season is over, ongoing benefits communications are a central tool to keeping employees informed, educated, and engaged. The small window of enrollment season may not be long enough for people to get a full grasp of their benefits needs, and often their decisions are driven by what is easily understood or what they think they need based on other people’s choices. Ongoing communications can be about specific benefits, wellness programs, or other health and benefit related items. This practice will also help new hires who need to make benefits decisions rather quickly.

In summary, work with your UBA consultant to customize benefits and enrollment communications. Leverage resources from your provider, who may, as Sun Life does, offer turnkey services that support communication, engagement, and enrollment. Explore third-party vendors that offer platforms to support the process. The whole thing can seem daunting, but following these steps and considerations will not only make the process easier for you, it will make a world of difference to your employees.

By Kevin D. Seeker
Originally Published By United Benefit Advisors

I want to let you know how very much I appreciate all the advice and excellent direction you've given us over the years. I know our account wasn't particularly profitable but you always treated us as though we were supremely important. It would have been much easier for you let us drift away but you always hung in there and went the extra mile, two, three or four.

- President, Event Production Company

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