moquitobYour industry’s major conference is set for Miami Beach – the land of sun, beaches, and, now it seems, mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus.

Your key sales employee — the one who was setting up your booth for the conference — has come to you expressing concern about the Zika virus.  Perhaps she’s pregnant. Or

My colleague, Marc Herman, returns today with a holiday-themed post filled with — workplace safety issues? Read on.

Holiday season shopping . . . the home to nostalgic tunes, perpetual lines, frenzied bargain hunters, overflowing parking lots, and OSHA.

For those who can’t remember your government acronyms, it’s the United States Department of

Some cases are easy to explain in a short blog post.

This is not one of them.

But a new Connecticut Appellate Court case released today, Grasso v. Connecticut Hospice, Inc. (download here)  has too many nuggets of information to pass up.  It is an example to employers about how cases never truly seem to be over in this litigious climate and that details are important — even in settlement agreements. 

Background Facts

Here are the background facts:

  • Plaintiff employee worked as an employee for the hospice from 1998-2010. 
  • In 2009, she filed two complaints with OSHA regarding some defective chairs.  The administration ordered the hospice to repair the chairs.
  • Later that year, the Plaintiff then filed a whistleblower complaint with OSHA claiming that she had been retaliated against and harassed since the filing of the OSHA complaints. The administration found “reasonable cause” to believe a violation had occurred.
  • Thus in January 2010, the Hospice and Plaintiff entered into a settlement agreement on the whistleblower complaint where she worked as a part time employee in two offices.  The agreement contained a release of future claims for events that occurred prior to the execution of the agreement.
  • End of story, right? Wrong. One week later, the Plaintiff-Employee wrote to the company and alleged that they were breaching the settlement agreement.  Later that year, she quits.
  • You know what happens next, right? She filed a six-count complaint in Superior Court alleging a whistleblower violation, breach of the settlement agreement, breach of the employee handbook and claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress.   The defendant filed a counterclaim asking for declaratory judgment on the release she signed.  The Superior Court granted summary judgment to the employer.

The legal rulings

The Dog Days of Summer are officially here.

Which means slow news items in the employment law area. Oh sure, there’s the labor unions rewriting their bylaws to get the concession package passed (the equivalent of a mulligan in the Masters).  But with Connecticut’s legislature done for the year and the courts

Today brings an another chapter in the occasional chapter of interviews with interesting people in the HR and employment law areas. William J. Smith, President and CEO of Jennings Smith Investigations, Inc.  takes a few minutes to answer some pressing questions in the security field.

Jennings Smith Investigations, Inc., is a fully licensed Connecticut investigative and

With the swine (H1N1) flu vaccine production running slower than anticipated, the hope that workplaces would avoid the full effects of a pandemic is slowly diminishing.   Interesting, Connecticut is one of just 9 states that are not reporting a widespread swine flu outbreak (perhaps because the first wave hit the state fairly hard).

Since my first post on H1N1 Influenza (a.k.a. Swine Flu, 2009 Flu, Mexican Flu — or whatever else the CDC or WHO is now calling it — [see UPDATE below on the preferred usage of the term H1N1]) on Sunday, nearly every media outlet has eitherhyped or overhyped the crisis. I’ve waited until week’s end to try to see if we could get some proper perspective on things. 

As of this afternoon,there are still no confirmed cases of H1N1 flu in ConnFrom the Public Health Image Library - CDC - 1976 Swine Flu outbreakecticut., but I’m not sure if we have yet gotten the perspective in focus yet, if the school closings this week are any guide.  

Some fellow bloggers have tried to provide some context in an admirable fashion. The Ohio Employer’s Law Blog summarized each of those blogs here, as follows:

[The big] story of the week is the swine flu. I’ve already covered this issue, as have some of my fellow bloggers: Michael Moore at the Pennsylvania Labor & Employment Blog, Catherine Barbieri at the FMLA Blog, Michael Haberman’s HR Observations, HR World, The Word on Employment Law with John Phillips, and Dan Schwartz at the Connecticut Employment Law Blog (who I believe was first in bringing this issue to employers’ attention). CCH also has an excellent resource page covering this issue.

But where does that leave most employers. If the traffic to this blog is any indication — still scratching their heads. So, let me try to put some of the issues in a slightly different framework for employers to think about. 

1.   Preparation & Communication

While large corporations have likely had time over the last years to develop a crisis-management guideline to deal with natural disasters or pandemics, smaller companies haven’t had that luxury. The CDC checklists should be required reading for most employers by now with notices available on their website as well.  Employers should use their bully pulpit to convey accurate information to their workforce along with preventative measures that employees can implement on their own.  For employee questions, this FAQ is a great place to start. 

But beyond that, employers should think about (though not implement as of yet) what it’s plans may be if this outbreak becomes more widespread and more serious.  Will you allow for telecommuting? Is your infrastructure set up so that you have the capability TO telecommute? Will you implement special pandemic flu leave policies to prevent employees from infecting others in the workplace?

You don’t need answers to all these questions yet but you should start to anticipate what those questions may be. 

2.   Addressing Day-To-Day Issues — The sick employee or the closed school

If and when the H1N1 Flu becomes more prevalent in the community, specific employers may be impacted directly.  For school systems, for example, the CDC has released guidance this morning on how schools should address an outbreak.  The CDC has already released guidance as to how a community should react to such an outbreak.

Employers may have more practical considerations though that they will need to deal with. For example, if an employee’s child becomes ill, can that employee take FMLA leave? (Probably, though review your policies.) If the employee is sick, can you ask that employee to stay home or work from home during the length of the illness (Maybe but again, check your policies.)

But a tougher question comes up when a school is closed. In that situation, parents may need to stay home or make arrangements to care for a healthy child. What then? John Phillips has some excellent suggestions here, which can be summed up in one phrase: Be sensible and flexible:

I’d be reluctant to fire an employee who stays home with a child whose school has closed because of swine flu. If you’re concerned about setting a bad precedent, I wouldn’t be too concerned. After all, a national health emergency has been declared. I’d be more concerned about bad publicity or a creative legal theory under which the employee might sue you.

The Job Accommodation Network has also just released this guidance on considering the needs of employees during a flu outbreak

Continue Reading Update: H1N1 Influenza (Swine Flu) – What Employers Need to Know Now to Keep Their Workplace Sane and Safe

Two new sets of statistics released this month by the Connecticut Department of Labor shed some light into the workplaces in Connecticut.

First and foremost, the number of deaths in the workplace last year remained the same as in 2006 — 38.  While any death is tragic, the rate is far below the national average.