hartford business journal

In college, I wanted to write for some of the major newspapers and be on their front page.

Little did I know that my big break would now come years later, as a result of being on the cover of the Hartford Business Journal.  


But enough about me.  This blog is about employment law so let’s talk about the article inside the HBJ because it’s definitely worth a read.  

You see, the photo, has little to do with the content.  And the content is what employers should really be paying attention to.

The article is all about the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace, which continues to make headlines each day.

As I noted in the article, we just haven’t seen an increase in lawsuits….yet.

[F]or non-celebrity victims and their employers, the implications are just as dangerous and costly, so prevention is becoming a greater focus for many companies, lawyers say.

“It’s been the topic of conversation,” said Dan Schwartz, an employment lawyer at Hartford law firm Shipman & Goodwin, who has his own blog where he’s been tackling the issue. “It is at a level we haven’t seen in at least 10 to 15 years. There’s always been a steady stream [of inquiries] but we’re getting more calls from clients. It doesn’t mean we’re seeing more legal cases being filed. Lawsuits are a trailing indicator here.”

The article also summarizes things that employers can be doing now, even if there isn’t a sexual harassment complaint made. Update policies. Train managers and supervisors. Continually create an environment where harassment isn’t tolerated.

Each week seemingly brings new issues to the table; employers that can keep their focus on the issue while also maintaining perspective will do well in the long-term to reduce the likelihood of a claim at the workplace.

Today, I had the opportunity to speak at a seminar on Goofs and Gaffes in Social Media at the Social Media Summit sponsored by the Hartford Business Journal.   In my section, I focused on the importance of developing a social media policy.

I’ve talked about it before on the blog, but there are a few resources that I promised attendees I would post. If you didn’t get to attend today, you can benefit from them as well.

First, if you’re looking for a company that has a good social media policy, you could do a lot worse than looking at IBM’s. But as I noted at the seminar today, understand that IBM calls them “guidelines”; that makes a difference in approach at a company.

But if you’re looking for something a little more legally-minded, I’ve got another tip: Molly DiBianca–over at the Delaware Employment Law Blog– has posted a pretty good sample social media policy as well.

In our presentation today, we also referenced the recent kerfuffle with a Google engineer who posted about Google Plus.  You can learn more about THAT story here.

We took video of the presentations and we’ll have it up on YouTube soon.  My thanks to Andrea Obston and Gillian Kenny of Site-Seeker for joining me in the presentation.  Learned a lot from them.

As a reminder, I’ve got two additional presentations next one: One at the Business Women’s Forum, and one at the CHRO.  Look forward to seeing you there.

My sincere thanks to the folks at the Hartford Business Journal for including me on this year’s 40 under Forty list for the central Connecticut area. It is truly an honor. (And be sure to check out the cover shot, which was taken by J. Fiereck Photography.)

Hopefully, you can also look at the list of all the winners. Many of them are involved in small business or community organizations that represent the best of the Hartford area.  I met several at the photo shoot a few weeks ago and remain impressed by the amount of good work being done by so many in the area.  I look forward to seeing them (and perhaps you) at the award dinner on September 30th. It promises to be a great event.

Over the weekend, the Hartford Business Journal published a revealing look at Connecticut’s efforts to crackdown on companies that avoid paying employee taxes and workers’ compensation insurance. Indeed, according to the published report, the state’s efforts resulted in 220 stop-work orders at construction sites across Connecticut.

But the report goes on to contend that "a October 2007 law that gave the state labor department authority to shut down work sites serves as little deterrent to companies intent on illegally keeping costs down."

The underlying issue is that some employers classify various workers as "independent contractors", meaning that taxes are not withheld. Once the employees are properly classified, the employer has to pay those taxes.  (Some also need to carry workers compensation insurance as well.)  Over 200 companies have not, and have been the subject of various investigations by the Connecticut Department of Labor.

The law that the article focuses on, namely, is Public Act 07-89, arising from then Senate Bill 931. 
You can examine the legislative history of the bill here.  That Act amended some of the state laws to allow the Department of Labor to issue certain types of stop-work orders and allow the Department to increase the fines for violations after conducting investigations.

The HBJ report contends that the law has not been as effective as it could be because "Connecticut’s enforcement efforts are hindered by a lack of staffing and no provisions in the law for barring repeat offenders from getting private work."

For employers, particularly those in the construction industry, the article is a stark reminder of the importance of following the guidelines regarding classification of workers and paying employee taxes. 

(Photo courtesy of: Morguefile.com)

There’s been lots of talk of late of how employers are finding various ways to help employees reduce the costs of commuting. In other states, there has even been talk of shifting to four-day workweeks or telecommuting.

Connecticut has long since adopted a telecommuting plan and policy. But an article in this week’s Hartford Business Journal reveals that it has been used very sparingly.  The HBJ reports that "Ten years after the state adopted a telecommuting policy, only 140 of approximately 50,000 state employees had telecommuting agreements in 2007."

Now, some unions and other state leaders are now looking to expand that, but may face some opposition from Governor Rell’s office:

Richard Harris, a spokesman for the governor, said it would be difficult to increase the number of state employees who work from home.

When you look at the things that state workers do — in many, many instances — it is difficult for them to telecommute because they interact directly with the public,” Harris said.

Linda Yelmini, director of labor relations for the state, doesn’t favor an expanded telecommuting policy. “Many private employers have reduced or completely eliminated these types of programs because experience has shown that lower productivity and lack of management control is often the result,” said Yelmini in an e-mail.

What’s odd about this approach is that it seems like it is running counter to the trend in the private workplace.  But even more confusing is that the state’s approach runs counter to press releases that are put out by the Connecticut Department of Transportation under its "Telecommute Connecticut!" program for private employers. These press releases state that its findings reveal that telecommuting does, in fact, "work". 

Indeed, on the department’s telecommuting pages for private employers, there are specific responses to the complaints that telecommuting doesn’t work.

Myth: Telecommuting changes managers’ expectations of employees when they’re not in the office.
Fact: You don’t need to see employees working; you need to know the results of their activity. By establishing concrete goals for telecommuters, employees working from home will know what work is expected of them and you will know that the work is getting done.

Who’s right? Obviously, there is an element of truth to both sides. Telecommuting isn’t for every employer and every job is not right for telecommuting.  But with gas prices high and more employers trying to attract quality candidates, telecommuting does make sense for employers in several instances.

It’ll be interesting to see where this debate goes in the upcoming months.  Even among federal workers, the trend seems to be more encouragement of telecommuting and alternative work arrangements.  Will Connecticut finally follow suit? We’ll just have to see.

In the meantime, employers who want more information about telecommuting can go to the state’s website which has a number of helpful resources on the subject.

A few weeks ago, I posted on a decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court that ruled that an order denying class certification is not an appealable final judgment. I said back then that the case, Palmer v. Friendly Ice Cream Corporation, gives employers and other defendants in class actions, "an important arrow in their quiver of defending against class action cases."

This week,the Hartford Business Journal discussed the case in some detail with some good information about the underlying claims raised by the wait staff. 

The dispute between the food servers and restaurants hinges on the differences in the hourly wages paid to waiters and other non-wait staff. Restaurants are allowed to pay waiters below minimum wage levels, reducing wait staff pay by a 29.4 percent “tip credit,” which is based on the assumption that waiters are expected to earn much of their income from tips.

Food servers claim that their wallets take a hit when employers assign them tasks that don’t include waiting tables, such as brewing coffee, rolling napkins or cleaning restrooms.
For that reason, servers employed by T. G. I. Friday’s and Friendly’s want to be paid for the extra tasks they perform while on the job, so they have been working together to form class-action groups to fight restaurants.

The reporter from the story happened to call me for my views on the case, which I was happy to share with her. You can check out my quotes from the story here.  

Without sounding like I’m trying to fawn over them, the HBJ really is an under-appreciated publication that fills a good niche on business news in the state.  If you aren’t looking at their site, you are really missing out on some great little nuggets about Connecticut business.

The case also highlights the importance of following wage rules carefully. The application of a "tip credit" isn’t exactly the easiest formula for employers to apply in practice. Employers who may pay under minimum wage for one reason or another should consider themselves targets for potential claims and should ensure that they are in full compliance with the wage and hour laws.