Workplace Policies and Processes

By Christopher W. Kelleher, Rashal G. Baz, James L. Curtis, and Brent I. Clark,

Seyfarth Synopsis:  On October 11, 2017, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance that will require Chicago hotels to provide certain staff with “panic buttons” and develop enhanced anti-sexual harassment policies.

In an effort to protect hotel employees from sexual harassment and other guest-misconduct, Chicago has passed the Hotel Workers Sexual Harassment Ordinance, which requires Chicago hotels to provide employees who work alone in guest rooms or bathrooms with “a panic button or notification device” which can be used to call for help if the employee “reasonably believes that an ongoing crime, sexual harassment, sexual assault or other emergency is occurring in the employee’s presence.”

According to the Ordinance, “a panic button or notification device” is a portable device designed to be used in emergency situations to summon hotel security or other appropriate hotel staff to the employee’s location.  The Ordinance does not require hotels to use a specific type of device, as long as it warns proper hotel personnel and it comes at no cost to the employee.

The Ordinance also requires hotels to develop and distribute a written policy to protect employees against sexual harassment.  Specifically, the policy must: (1) encourage employees to promptly report sexual misconduct by guests; (2) describe procedures for handling the reported misconduct; (3) instruct the complaining employee to stop work and leave the dangerous area; (4) offer the employee temporary work assignments; (5) provide the employee with paid time off to make a complaint or testify as a witness; (6) inform employees of additional protections; and (7) include an anti-retaliation provision.  The policy must be conspicuously posted in English, Spanish, and Polish.

The Ordinance authorizes fines of $250 – $500 for each day a violation continues, and two or more violations within any 12-month period may result in license suspension or revocation.  Hotels will have until July 1, 2018 to implement “panic button” systems, but must comply with the Ordinance’s other provisions (i.e. develop and distribute an updated anti-sexual harassment policy) within 60 days of the law’s publication, which we can expect any day now.

Notably, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) uses the General Duty Clause to enforce workplace issues against employers.  OSHA can rely on industry practices to support a claim that a “recognized hazard” exists.  It is possible that OSHA will use the new Ordinance and employer compliance in Chicago as a basis to require that other hotel employers should also have “panic buttons.”

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team or the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By Brent I. Clark, Adam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

shutterstock_171692768Seyfarth Synopsis:  OSHA has recently updated and published its enforcement procedures for occupational exposure to workplace violence.  The procedures explain and lay out the elements of an OSHA General Duty Clause violation, as well as NIOSH’s guidance for determining the potential for workplace violence.

OSHA defines “workplace violence” as an act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.  It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults, or homicide.  It can involve employees, clients, customers, and visitors.  In addition, OSHA asserts that nearly two million American workers report being victims of workplace violence each year.  According to OSHA: “unfortunately, many more cases go unreported.”

To assist the Agency and its Certified Safety and Health Official (CSHO) inspectors in assessing and citing instances of workplace violence, OSHA has recently released its updated Enforcement Procedures and Scheduling for Occupational Exposure to Workplace Violence, OSHA Directive CPL 02-01-058 (January 10, 2017).  The Directive was last updated in 2011.

The Directive lays out the elements of a General Duty Clause violation, including:

  • The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed;
  • The hazard was recognized;
  • The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and
  • There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.

The Directive also lists “known risk factors”, which “shall be considered in determining whether to inspect a worksite, [but which] none of them would individually trigger an inspection.”  The risk factors are: contact with the public; exchange of money; delivery of passengers, goods, or services; having a mobile workplace such as a taxicab; working with persons in healthcare, social service, or criminal justice settings; working alone or in small numbers; working late at night or during early morning hours; working in high-crime areas; guarding valuable property or possessions; working in community-based settings, such as drug rehabilitation centers and group homes.

How Can Workplace Violence Hazards be Reduced?

OSHA indicates that “in most workplaces where risk factors can be identified,” the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions.  It suggests that one of the best protections is a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence.  The policy, OSHA advises, should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel.

By assessing worksites, employers can identify methods for reducing the likelihood of incidents occurring.  “OSHA believes that a well-written and implemented workplace violence prevention program, combined with engineering controls, administrative controls and training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence in both the private sector and federal workplaces.”

Employers seeking to address this topic in the company’s employee handbook or policy documents should do so carefully, as in the event of an incident, this will be one of the first company documents requested and received by an inspector.

On the enforcement side, we note that OSHA continues to issue citations under the General Duty Clause for alleged workplace violence hazards.  However, all of these citations follow one or more actual instances of violence at work.  OSHA appears to be unable to gather sufficient facts during an inspection to support a citation in advance of an actual instance of workplace violence — even though OSHA’s citations allege the employer should have addressed the hazard in advance.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team or the Workplace Counseling & Solutions Team.

By Erin Dougherty Foley, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Couple driving drunk with the carSeyfarth Synopsis:  In a recent Eleventh Circuit opinion, the Court found that the insurance carrier was responsible, under Georgia law, for the harm caused by an intoxicated employee’s vehicle usage. Great American Alliance Ins. Co. v. Anderson, No. 15-12540 (11th Cir., February 8, 2017)..

In this case, the Court explained, the appellant was involved in a car accident with an intoxicated driver who was driving a company vehicle with his employer’s permission. “After a jury found the driver liable and awarded the appellant one million dollars, the employer’s insurance company, the appellee, filed this suit for a declaration that the driver was not a permissive user – and thus not covered under the applicable insurance policies – because he broke internal company policies.”

The Court found that the Georgia Supreme Court has held that inquiries into permissive use should extend only to whether a vehicle is used for an approved purpose. Citing to Strickland v. Georgia Cas. & Sur. Co., 224 Ga. 487, 162 S.E.2d 421 (Ga. 1968).  “A subsequent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals, however, held that a company’s internal rules can govern the scope of permissive use, and that violations thereof can negate an individual’s status as an insured.” See Barfield v. Royal Ins. Co. of Am., 228 Ga. App. 841, 492 S.E.2d 688 (Ga. Ct. App. 1997).  Because the District Court followed Barfield, and thereby narrowed the scope of permissive use beyond what was permitted by Strickland, The Court found that it erred, and reversed and remanded.

Strickland, the Eleventh Circuit found, holds that the only inquiry relevant to determining the scope of a generic permissive use clause is whether a vehicle is used for an approved purpose. See 224 Ga. at 492, 162 S.E.2d at 425. In that case the Georgia Supreme Court found that where a vehicle is used for an approved purpose, an employee’s violations of explicit company policies do not foreclose status as a permissive user. See id. at 492, 162 S.E.2d at 425. “We conclude that the “actual use” contemplated and intended by the policy refers only to the purpose to be served and not the operation of the vehicle.”  The Court concluded that the purpose test set forth in Strickland controlled the inquiry into permissive use. Because the District Court extended its analysis further (to include Barfield), it was reversed.

This opinion, for Georgia employers especially, but for employers generally as well, raises important concerns about employee vehicle usage. Employer liability for employee vehicle usage can come from numerous circumstances, but most generally including injuries or accidents caused by employees acting within the scope of their employment.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Labor & Employment Group, Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team, or the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Teams.

By Lawrence Z. Lorber, Annette Tyman, Jaclyn W. Hamlin, and Brent I. Clark

BLACKLISTEDSeyfarth Synopsis: By a vote of 49-48 on March 6, 2017, by the U.S. Senate, both Houses of Congress have now moved to rescind the regulations issued pursuant to President Obama’s Executive Order 13678, entitled Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces but popularly referred to as the “Blacklisting” Order, which required government contractors to report all potential labor violations as well as disclose the basis of pay to employees working on government contracts.  If President Trump signs the rescission resolution, as he is expected to do, the regulations will be rescinded. Under the Congressional Review Act, if a regulation is subject to rescission, the Executive Branch cannot reissue the same or similar regulation absent legislative authorization.

For our readers that are interested in occupational safety and health topics, we are blogging this link to our colleagues “One Minute Memo”, with this introductory note. OSHA citations are covered among the labor laws covered by Executive Order 13673 (Blacklisting Order). The way the Blacklisting Order read was that the covered violations included citations which were not final, which were being contested by the employer, and which may ultimately be withdrawn through settlement or by a Judge once  the employer had a chance to present its defense.  The Blacklisting Order was another example of the Obama Administration’s “guilty until proven innocent” approach to regulating businesses and employers.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the OFCCP & Affirmative Action Compliance Team, the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team, or the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.

By Benjamin D. Briggs, Brent I. Clark, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Smart technology setSeyfarth Synopsis: Keep your holidays happy and safe. At this time of year, with all of the joy, parties, and excitement the season brings, employers need to be especially vigilant to keep and maintain a safe workplace environment for employees and customers and other third parties. A distracted or inebriated employee may be an employee at risk, which may in-turn bring liability onto the employer.

The holidays are a time to redouble your focus on workplace safety. At this time of year, people can be distracted or tired and may be teaming with people they do not ordinarily work with due to others taking time off. Working with someone new, especially at high risk jobs, may be a recipe for disaster. It is important to ensure all employees are properly trained and qualified for the tasks they are being asked to perform, especially if a task is not within their normal job activities.

In addition, with all of the joy, parties, and excitement the season brings, employers need to be especially vigilant to keep and maintain a safe workplace for employees, customers, and other third parties. A distracted or inebriated employee may be an employee at risk, which may in-turn, bring liability onto the employer. The holidays are a good time to remind employees of drug and alcohol policies and to be on the lookout for violations of those policies. See Eleventh Circuit Says “NO” to Drunk Driving, and President Declares “National Impaired Driving Prevention Month”.

The holidays are also a time when your employees may be at risk for workplace violence, both from within the company and from third parties. Many employees will be excited about the time spent with friends and family, but many others may not have those opportunities. Be aware of the signs of a distressed and potentially violent employee. See for instance, Wave of Shootings Puts Workplace Violence Back in the Spotlight, and NIOSH Offers Free Training Program to Help Employers Address Safety Risks Faced by Home Healthcare Workers. We have also blogged about workplace safety risks from shoppers and third-parties. See Holiday Shopping and Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers,

In addition be on the lookout for other holiday workplace liability issues, especially at company holiday parties. For instance, in Don’t Let Too Much Eggnog Ruin Your Office Holiday Party: Tips to Limit Employer Liability at Company Parties, we suggested that employers consider these tips to minimize your organization’s exposure to legal liability and, more importantly, prevent an undesirable incident from occurring at your office holiday party:

  • Prior to the party, circulate a memo to reiterate your company’s policy against sexual and other forms of harassment. Remind employees in the memo that the policy applies to their conduct at company parties and other social events, and they should act in a professional manner at all times.
  • Set a tone of moderation by reminding employees of the company’s policy against the abuse of alcohol and zero tolerance with respect to the possession, use, or sale of illegal drugs.
  • Ensure your dress code prohibits any form of revealing or provocative attire, and remind employees that the policy applies at company-sponsored events.
  • If appropriate, allow employees to invite a spouse or their children to the party. Many employees might think twice about their actions if spouses and/or children are present.
  • Consider limiting the number of alcoholic drinks or the time during which alcohol will be served. In either case, stop serving alcohol well before the party ends.
  • Serve food at the party so employees are not consuming alcohol on an empty stomach and make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives available.
  • Host the party at a restaurant or hire a caterer. Remind bartenders that they are not permitted to serve anyone who appears to be impaired or intoxicated and to notify a particular company representative if anyone appears to be impaired.
  • Remind managers to set a professional example, and designate several managers to be on the lookout for anyone who appears to be impaired or intoxicated.
  • Anticipate the need for alternative transportation and don’t allow employees who have been drinking heavily to drive home. If an employee appears to be heavily intoxicated, have a manager drive the employee home or ride with the employee in a cab to ensure he/she gets home safely.
  • Check your insurance policies to ensure they cover the company adequately, including any accidents or injuries that arise out of a company party or event.
  • Promptly investigate any complaints that are made after the party, and take any necessary remedial action for conduct that violates company policy.

Employers with questions or concerns about any of these issues or topics are encouraged to reach out to the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team or the Workplace Counseling & Solutions Team.