Author Archives: Leonard Jernigan

Is it Illegal to Discriminate Against Me on the Job Because of My Accent?

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Contrary to popular opinion, many immigrants work in professional and white-collar jobs. The explosive growth of immigration to the United States means that more immigrants will work in white-collar jobs in the United States. Since white collar jobs often require verbal communication, immigrants employed in white-collar professions and their employers will increasingly face the question of whether it is legal to discriminate on the basis of accent. 

Most federal and state courts that have addressed the issue believe that it is illegal for employees to discriminate based on accent if that discrimination is tied to nationality. Courts have even gone so far as to state that nationality and accent are intertwined, which means that they take such discrimination seriously. However, courts understand that employers have an interest in clear verbal communication. So what steps should you take if you think you are being discriminated against because of your accent? 

  1. Apply for a promotion for which you are qualified: Discrimination is only actionable if the company takes some action against you. One so-called adverse action is a failure to promote. If you are a trusted and valued employee, a company will often give you a reason why you were not promoted. If this reason is related to your accent, you can often get a decision maker to say as much. Legally, this is considered direct evidence of discrimination.
  2. If possible, reach out to other foreign-born employees in your workplace: If other foreign-born employees are being discriminated against for the same or similar reasons, it makes sense to work with them, as it can show a pattern by the employer. Also, when employees work together to fight discrimination, they are not just protected by civil rights laws, but they are also protected under the National Labor Relations Act.
  3. If possible, contact an employment attorney in your area before you decide to take action:  Every situation is different, and laws vary from state to state. A lawyer can give you tips about how to potentially build a case, can give you advice about actions and tactics to avoid, and can advise you about any legal deadlines that might apply to your potential case.

Countertop Workers Face Silicosis Risk from Engineered Stone Countertops

Engineered stone countertops, a popular fixture in today’s homes, pose a health risk to workers who cut and finish them. The danger stems from the material the countertops are made from, processed quartz, which contains silica levels up to 90 percent. Silica is linked to a debilitating and potentially deadly lung disease known as silicosis, as well as lung cancer and kidney disease.

While the countertops do not pose a risk to consumers in their homes, they do pose a risk to the workers who cut and finish them before they are installed. When the countertops are cut, silica particles are released into the air, which when breathed in by the workers can start processes leading to silicosis. Manufacturers of the engineered stone countertops assert that worker hazards can be reduced through the use of protective respirators and equipment designed to trap silica dust. Despite this assertion, many safety precautions taken by employers are often inadequate.

The first documented case of silicosis among countertop workers in the United States was reported two years ago. In countries such as Israel and Spain, where engineered stone products gained their popularity, many more countertop workers have been diagnosed with silicosis and have had to undergo lung transplants. The danger of silicosis in the construction industry led OSHA to recently issue new rules requiring construction workers’ silica exposure to be reduced by 80 percent beginning on June 23, 2017.

Eastern Washington Painter Accused of Illegal Contracting Agrees to Stop

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

A Colville, WA painter facing criminal charges of unregistered contracting agreed this week to stop working illegally.

Terry Foster, 82, agreed in court that he must register with the state and pay court fees if he works as a construction contractor. He’s accused of working as a painter without registering with the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) and, in the past, has received nine civil infractions for unregistered contracting.

If Foster follows through with the agreement, breaks no criminal laws and pays $300 in court fees, criminal charges against him will be dismissed in two years, according to the Washington Attorney General’s Office.

If he violates any conditions of the agreement, the case will be reset for trial.

Faced three charges

Foster had faced three charges of unregistered contracting in Stevens County District Court in Colville, about 70 miles north of Spokane. Each is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail, a $5,000 fine or both.

He had been doing business under his own name and as “Terry the Consultant” and “Terry the Painter.” He served on the Colville City Council from late 2010 through April 2015.  

Tips from frustrated contractors

The case resulted from an L&I investigation. According to charging papers, L&I inspectors caught Foster or his son painting in Colville in 2013 and 2015 and in Chewelah in 2014. Contractors who were frustrated at having to compete against an unregistered contractor tipped off L&I to the job sites.

Since 2008, L&I has issued Foster nine civil infractions for unregistered contracting. The department is trying to collect more than $30,000 in fines and more than $130,000 for workers’ compensation insurance premiums that he owes L&I.

Law protects consumers, legal contractors

State law requires construction contractors to register with L&I, which confirms they are insured and bonded and meet other requirements. L&I can issue violators a civil infraction, refer them for criminal prosecution or both.

The registration requirement gives consumers some recourse if they have problems with a contractor, and prevents unregistered contractors from gaining an unfair advantage over law-abiding contractors.

 

Consumers can check whether contractors are registered at www.Lni.wa.gov/Verify.

 

Photo credit: Alain Wibert via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Nationwide Decrease and Attack on Worker’s Compensation Benefits

Bernie Sanders and nine other federal legislators sent a letter to the Dept. of Labor scrutinizing increasing attacks on workers’ rights.

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Recent news stories have begun to shed light on the ever-increasing attack on worker’s compensation benefits around the nation.   Further awareness has spurred legislators to action.  Click here for a recent letter from federal legislators to the Department of Labor Secretary to scrutinize what is happening to workers and worker’s rights in this country.
 
It does not appear any state is immune from these worker’s compensation “deform” proposals.  Rumblings in Wisconsin suggest proposed changes to our nationally-recognized model are coming.  We will keep Wisconsin workers and taxpayers informed as information occurs. 
 
We must always remember that as worker’s compensation benefits decrease and eligibility criteria become more difficult, the taxpayers are often left holding the bag.  Accidents unfortunately still happen.  Workers get hurt.  Medical treatment is needed.   If an employer or worker’s compensation insurance company avoids liability, those costs are shifted to the taxpayers through government-funded insurance (Medicaid/Medicare) and other social safety net mechanisms.   Legislators must be careful to not shift the cost of a work injury from the cost of doing business (employer) to the taxpayers.

Daylight Savings: Suggestions to help workers adapt to the time change

Today’s post was shared by Work Org and Stress and comes from blogs.cdc.gov

DaylightSavingsTimeWeb

Spring forward Fall back.

We all know the saying to help us remember to adjust our clocks for the daylight savings time changes (this Sunday in case you are wondering). But, what can we do to help workers adjust to the effects of the time change? A few studies have examined these issues but many questions remain on this topic including the best strategies to cope with the time changes.

By moving the clocks ahead one hour in the Spring, we lose one hour which shifts work times and other scheduled events one hour earlier. This pushes most people to have a one hour earlier bedtime and wake up time. In the Fall, time moves back one hour. We gain one hour which shifts work times and other scheduled events one hour later thereby pushing most people to have a one hour later bedtime and wake up time.

It can take about one week for the body to adjust the new times for sleeping, eating, and activity (Harrision, 2013). Until they have adjusted, people can have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up at the right time. This can lead to sleep deprivation and reduction in performance, increasing the risk for mistakes including vehicle crashes. Workers can experience somewhat higher risks to both their health and safety after the time changes (Harrison, 2013). A study by Kirchberger and colleagues (2015) reported men and persons with heart disease may be at higher risk for a heart attack during the week after the time changes in the Spring and Fall.

The reason for these…

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How Cold is Too Cold? Tips to Protect Outdoor Workers in the Winter

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from blog.dol.gov

The National Weather Service is warning much of the country about the polar vortex, an arctic air mass that is pushing much of the eastern and central U.S. down to record cold temperatures.

During this wave, workers are at increased risk of cold stress. Increased wind speeds can cause the air temperature to feel even colder, further increasing the risk of cold stress of those working outdoors, such as:

  • Snow cleanup crews
  • Construction workers
  • Recreational workers
  • Postal workers
  • Police officers
  • Firefighters
  • Miners
  • Baggage handlers
  • Landscapers
  • Support workers for oil and gas operations

When the body is unable to warm itself, cold-related stress may result in tissue damage and possibly death. Four factors contribute to cold stress: cold air temperatures, high velocity air movement, dampness of the air, and contact with cold water or surfaces.

How cold is too cold?

A cold environment forces the body to work harder to maintain its temperature. Cold air, water and snow all draw heat from the body. The most common problems faced in the cold are hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot.

wind chill chart

What preventive measures should I take?

Plan for work in cold weather. Wearing appropriate clothing and being aware of how your body is reacting to the cold are important to preventing cold stress. Avoiding alcohol, certain medications and smoking can also help minimize the risk.

Protective Clothing is the most important way to avoid cold stress. The type of fabric even makes a difference. Cotton loses its…

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Crane, Derrick and Hoist Safety

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from www.osha.gov

Moving large, heavy loads is crucial to today’s manufacturing and construction industries. Much technology has been developed for these operations, including careful training and extensive workplace precautions. There are significant safety issues to be considered, both for the operators of the diverse "lifting" devices, and for workers in proximity to them. This page is a starting point for finding information about these devices, including elevators and conveyors, and their operation.

Crane, derrick, and hoist safety hazards are addressed in specific standards for the general industry, marine terminals, longshoring, gear certification, and the construction industry.

How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers’ rights?

Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers’ rights under the OSH Act.

OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).

Small businesses may contact OSHA’s free On-site Consultation services funded by OSHA to help determine whether there are hazards at their…

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Tile and Granite Company Fined – Silica Dust Exposure

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Wall to Wall Tile & Stone of Vancouver, Wash. has been fined $261,000 for failing to protect workers from exposure to silica dust and other health hazards associated with stone slab grinding. 

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited the employer for multiple instances of “failure to abate” serious violations after a follow-up inspection found that the employer had not corrected violations that it was cited for in November 2014.

An L&I inspection found that employees were exposed to silica quartz dust at more than three (3.4) times the permissible limit during stone slab grinding operations. Over time, breathing in silica dust can cause silicosis (a disabling lung disease), as well as lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis and airway diseases.

The employer was cited for seven “failure to abate” serious violations. These are violations that the company had been previously cited for but had not corrected, including:

  • Failing to use feasible controls to reduce employee exposure to silica dust — $40,500.

  • Not developing a written respiratory protection program to protect employees from inhaling silica dust — $40,500.

  • Failing to provide fit testing for workers required to wear full-face respirators — $40,500.

  • Not providing effective training for employees who wear full-face respirators —$40,500.

  • Not providing noise and hearing protection training to affected employees — $22,500.

  • Not providing annual hearing tests for workers exposed to excess noise — $22,500.

  • Failing to develop, implement and maintain a written Chemical Hazard Communication Program for employees using a variety of chemicals — $40,500.

Wall to Wall Tile & Stone was also cited for two “failure to abate” general violations, each with a penalty of $2,700. These violations were for not providing medical evaluations for employees who wear full-face respirators, and for not creating a list of chemicals used in the workplace.

In addition, L&I cited the company for two serious violations that were not associated with the 2014 inspection. One of the citations was for not ensuring that employees who wear full-face respirators don’t have facial hair. Respirators may not seal properly on workers with beards or other facial hair. The company was also cited for not providing appropriate respirators for employees grinding stone slabs. Each violation has a penalty of $4,050.

Serious violations are cited for hazards where there’s a possibility of serious injury or death. General violations are the lowest-level citation, involving safety issues where there is no possibility of serious injury or death.

The employer has 15 days to appeal the citation. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For a copy of the citation, please contact L&I Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.

Photo credit: The Worlds of David Darling