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When Is a Volunteer Not an Employee

Sometimes volunteers are just volunteers–but sometimes they are really employees. Do you know if your volunteers are truly volunteers?

In general, a volunteer is an individual who performs hours of service for a public or private agency for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons without promise, expectation, or receipt of compensation for services rendered. “Public” agencies are defined as any town, city, county, state, or federal agency. “Private” agencies are all those organizations and companies who are not government agencies.

Volunteers perform work for public, charitable, or religious facilities but they do not displace a paid employee and their activities do not lead to paid employment at the organization. So it is all right for people in the community to volunteer at their local public library or run a booth for their local church or Rotary Club without getting paid. Many professionals who get laid off or who lose employment due to relocation will volunteer at local organizations until a paying gig comes along. Other professionals volunteer their time (for example, to coach or teach at the non-profit Hannah Grimes Center) because they believe in the mission of the organization.

Any individual can volunteer at any public agency. But federal law is designed to prevent manipulation or abuse of minimum wage or overtime requirements through coercion or undue pressure upon individuals to “volunteer” their services at the same place where they work, performing the same sort of activities. Private agencies should consider this standard also. For example, Gertrude could work for the ABC Help Me nonprofit as a paid office worker and volunteer to sit in the dunking booth at the ABC Help Me fund-raising fair. However, even if Gertrude signs a volunteer form that says her time in the dunking both is not the same type of service the ABC Help Me pays her for and she wants to volunteer for the dunking booth, I would advise ABC Help Me not to accept volunteer services from their own paid employee. I say this because ABC Help Me’s good relationship with Gertrude might turn sour six months later and Gertrude could tell the Department of Labor that she was coerced and pressured into assisting at the fund-raising fair and she should be paid for that time. May not happen, but why take the chance? A better idea would be for Gertrude to volunteer for the non-profit organization Do Good Things and have someone from Do Good Things volunteer at ABC Help Me.

Reducing Expensive Turnover in Three Ways

Turnover is expensive and can have long-lasting effects on a business’s bottom line, morale, and continuity. A recent article on LinkedIn listed ways that employees could determine if their jobs might be eliminated during a layoff. I quickly realized that those same criteria would enlighten employers concerned about high turnover.

The article stated employees are most likely to be laid off if they perform a job that isn’t essential to company’s main mission. In my own experience, employees who do not feel part of the company’s mission are those most likely to leave voluntarily. Those employees not only have less motivation to stay but they are more likely to make mistakes that cost time and money to fix because they don’t understand your goals. Keep your employees abreast of your company’s mission; they will have greater loyalty and perform their jobs more effectively because they know your priorities.

According to the article, lack of support for the employee (staff, budget, and other resources) also indicates a nonessential job. By the same token, employees cannot support your company if they lack the right resources, including information, training, and skills. If you are experiencing unacceptable turnover, it might be time to look at the resources you are providing to employees, including clear job descriptions (so employees know the expectations) and training (so that they have the skills to meet expectations). You might need to assess the manpower and skills within your company to see if you are hiring the right people and enough of them to do a quality job in a timely manner.

Finally, the article indicated that employees should fear a layoff when they lack access to their manager. If an employee isn’t important enough for a manager to acknowledge, then that employee is vulnerable. But managers who refuse to listen to employees are also likely to experience high turnover. Employers should make sure that everyone follows procedures in the employee handbook for treating employees fairly, for scheduling regular annual reviews (and keeping to the schedule), and for handling conflicts and discipline.

When you keep connected to employees through your mission, support, and access, they are more likely to stay with you for a long time. If you are experiencing a high level of turnover, HR Compliance 101 can put the processes in place to help, including more effective hiring procedures, a better mission statement, an employee handbook, clearer job descriptions, regular reviews, and facilitation at meetings. Please contact me today.

The Rights of Pregnant Women in the Workplace

Recent news articles have centered on pregnant women who were fired because their employers said they could no longer handle the job. In filing suit against their former employers, these women cited federal laws covering the rights of pregnant women.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that the employer must treat a pregnant woman the same way as any employee with similar limitations. For example, let’s suppose a male employee has suffered a knee injury, and his doctor has placed limitations on the weight he can lift or the length of time he can stand. If you allow that employee to take on alternative duties that don’t require as much lifting or to pause during the workday to rest the knee, then the same accommodations must be offered to pregnant employees who cannot lift the weights they lifted before pregnancy or stand for a long time.

Title VII also gives women protection against discrimination during pregnancy, childbirth, or recovery from a pregnancy-related medical condition. Women who take leave because of a pregnancy or the aftermath accrue vacation time, pay increases, and seniority just like any other temporarily disabled employee. Moreover, you cannot set the length of leave that a woman must take after giving birth. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act gives a new parent (including foster and adoptive parents) the right to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a child if they meet eligibility requirements and if the company is required to comply with FMLA (50 employees or more).

Another right you may not be aware of is the right of nursing mothers to express milk in the workplace under a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Employers are expected to provide a sheltered area (not a bathroom) and a “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”

Pregnancy-related benefits must be offered equally to married and unmarried employees. You also cannot discriminate against a job applicant because she is or might become pregnant.

Although some of these rights apply only to employers who have more than 50 employees or who wouldn’t experience an undue hardship by complying, the laws set an important standard of fairness and nondiscrimination. If you are not certain whether the federal laws apply to your business, please contact HR Compliance 101.

Changes to New Hampshire Laws: Legal Employees and Boiler Inspection

You need an I-9 form for every employee you hired after 1986. This form confirms that the employee has provided a legal name, address, and Social Security number (where applicable) or other acceptable documentation that allows the employee to work in the United States (such as an Alien Registration Number).

Recently, New Hampshire’s requirements for employers to obtain documents were changed but if you already are completing your I-9 documents properly, the change probably won’t affect you. The change puts the definition of “acceptable documentation” squarely on the shoulders of federal law. That way if federal requirements change, state requirements still match.

The title of RSA 275-A:4 used to be “Illegal Aliens Prohibited” and is now “Undocumented Workers Prohibited.” The current wording of the law states, “No employer may employ any employee without obtaining documentation showing the employee’s eligibility to work in the United States. The employer shall maintain such documentation for the period required by federal law. Acceptable documentation of eligibility to work in the United States shall include documents required by federal law or supporting documentation that satisfies the requirement of federal law.”

You should check the language in your Employee Handbook or Guide to make sure your language models the new text; or contact HR Compliance 101 and we’ll check it for you.

Another new law also has limited effect on business owners since it exempts private residences from inspecting and certifying boilers. I like to bring laws like RSA 157-A:6 to the attention of business and building owners just in case they mistake the scope of the change. In this case, the exemption applies only to individual private residences and apartment houses of three or fewer family units.  Any business owner or the landlord of a building with more than three family units still needs to get the building’s boilers, air compressors, and water heaters inspected and certified every two years.

Recent New Hampshire Laws Target Internet Access and Charitable Giving by Employees

Are your employees using the internet at work to look for a new job on LinkedIn or e-mailing friends and relatives about their current job stress? Or would you like to know what job applicants are saying about their interviews on Facebook?

As tempting as it might be, a New Hampshire law (RSA 275:72) recently made it unlawful to request or require that employees or job applicants disclose their login information or lower their privacy settings on any electronic mail or personal account.

Bottom line: You can’t have access to their LinkedIn, Facebook, or other social media accounts. Make sure that you review your Employee Handbook or Guide to find out if your computer, e-mail, communication, and internet policies comply with this new law.

By the way, similar bills have been proposed in Congress. New Hampshire is merely ahead of the federal government on this issue.

HR Compliance 101 can review your Employee Handbook or Guide to make sure that all your stated policies are in compliance with State, Federal, and OSHA regulations for your specific industry.

One of those policies is of particular interest to charitable organizations. New Hampshire House Bill 1334 now permits charitable organizations to withhold from employee wages for voluntary contributions to the organization when the employee has given his or her written approval.  This is an addition to other legal deductions from wages that were previously permitted.

The charitable organization’s tax or payroll person can confirm whether the voluntary contributions are legal, from both a state and federal perspective.

But note especially the words “voluntary” and “written approval.” Any sort of pressure on employees to contribute to charitable organizations—even a friendly “reward” for donors—can affect morale, may be seen as coercion, and may lead to complaints.

New posters may be issued due to these legislative changes.  One good reason to pin up these posters is to prevent misunderstandings by employees about the legality of company policies. Another good reason is that the posters clarify how the requirements apply to you and your company. HR Compliance 101 provides posters for free and lets you know where to obtain free posters. But if you have any question about the new laws (or old ones), please email me personally.

Time Management Seminar presented during BizCon NH

Paula Mathews, President of HR Compliance 101 in Fitzwilliam, NH, will give a workshop on Time Management to business professionals at BizConNH 2011 in Peterborough NH on Saturday October 1.

Mathews works with her clients to bring them into compliance with OSHA, state and federal regulations. As a strategic partner for her clients, she represents their interests in Workers’ Compensation claims and in OSHA and DOL audits. Her quarterly newsletter is distributed to over 225 employers in NH, serving as an educational tool for her clients and their employees.

Mathews has facilitated workshops for MicroCredit-NH, River Valley Community College and Hannah Grimes. She has been a featured speaker for most of the local Chambers and served on the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors for five years.

Business owners, managers, sales teams and executives wanting to connect with other businesses are invited to attend the all day conference and expo on Saturday, October 1 in Peterborough. The day includes 24 workshops by experts on social media, business disaster preparedness, business law, finance, time management, project strategies, marketing and more.

Over 40 businesses will welcome attendees in the exhibit hall, providing more learning, networking and lead generation opportunities.

Annie Card
Phone: 603-924-6605

Seminar Helps Businesses Create Safe, Productive Workplaces

RINDGE, NH, March 9, 2006—Business owners who want a safe and productive workplace for themselves and their employees will discover how to achieve that goal at “Workplaces That Work for Everyone” on Thursday, March 23 at Franklin Pierce College. During the workshop, Paula Mathews, owner of HR Compliance 101, will show business owners in retail, services and manufacturing how to perform a risk assessment of their business for compliance with OSHA, State and Federal regulations.

The workshop will be held at the Lakeside Educational Center of Franklin Pierce College on College Road in Rindge from 9 a.m. to noon. The fee is $20 with pre-registration ($25 at the door). For more information phone 603-585-3139 or e-mail Email Paula at hrcompliance101 dot com.

“Even if a business has just one employee, it falls under government regulations,” says Mathews. “It’s risky to ignore them and actually easy to comply.” The workshop will also feature Gail Kennedy-Haines, an expert in workplace violence.

Since 1989, HR Compliance 101 has been helping businesses throughout the Monadnock area comply with ever-changing regulations, create the company culture they’ve always wanted and establish a stable foundation for growth.

Paula Mathews
Phone: 603-585-3139
Email: Email Paula at hrcompliance101 dot com

Certification Achieved by Local Business Woman

FITZWILLIAM, NH, June 27, 2006—Paula Mathews, president of HR Compliance 101, LLC has successfully completed the requirements for the Occupational Safety Professional Basic Certificate Program through the Safety & Health Council of NNE. This certificate is awarded to those who have demonstrated the ability to develop and implement an effective occupational safety and health program. The courses that Paula attended dealt with such topics as accident investigations, safety inspections, electrical and fire safety, emergency action plans, response preparedness, job hazard analysis and communication, toxicology, ergonomics, and back injury prevention. Paula is now armed with current information and practical strategies to aid her in assisting her clients to cope effectively with the federal and state regulatory environment.

Paula Mathews
Phone: 603-585-3139
Email: Email Paula at hrcompliance101 dot com