Harassment Training Deadline Pushed Back for Some Employers

harassment training

As you should already be aware, any employer with five or more workers is required to conduct sexual harassment prevention training for their staff by the end of 2019 under a California law passed in 2018.

Due to concerns that many employers in the state may not be ready to comply, Gov. Gavin Newsom has now signed a bill into law that extends the compliance deadline for some employers.

Under the new law, SB 778, all employees, both supervisory and non-supervisory, must be trained by Jan. 1, 2021, which extends the deadline by a year.

The original law, SB 1343, required all employers with five or more staff to conduct sexual harassment prevention training to their employees before Jan. 1, 2020 – and every two years after that.

Prior to the law that took effect in 2018, employers with 50 or more employees were required to provide only supervisors with anti-sexual harassment training every two years.

Here are the new rules:

  • If you trained your staff in 2019, you aren’t required to provide refresher training until two years from the time the employee was trained.
  • If you trained your employees in 2018, you can maintain the two-year cycle and still comply with the new January 1, 2021 deadline. For example, if you trained your staff in November 2018, you would not have to train them again until November 2020.
  • If you trained supervisors in 2017 under prior law, known as AB 1825, you should train those employees this year in order to maintain your two-year cycle.

The deadline was not extended for employers of seasonal and temporary employees, who are hired to work for less than six months. Starting Jan. 1, 2020, these employees must be trained within 30 calendar days after their hire date or within 100 hours worked, whichever occurs first.

The rest of the law remains intact:

  • Supervisors must receive two hours of training and non-supervisory employees must receive one hour.
  • Training must take place within six months of hire or promotion, and every two years thereafter.

The reason the new law has been enacted is that employers who trained their employees in 2018 would need to train them again in 2019, resulting in those individuals being trained twice within a two-year period, which went against the spirit of the law.

SB 778 was essentially clean-up legislation to correct that problem by extending the training deadline under SB 1343 from Jan. 1, 2020 to Jan. 1, 2021 for those employers.

New Law Significantly Changes When Injuries Must Be Reported to Cal/OSHA

Injury claim report

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a measure into law that will greatly expand when employers are required to report workplace injuries to Cal/OSHA.

The new law, AB 1805, broadens the scope of what will be classified as a serious illness or injury which regulations require employers to report to Cal/OSHA “immediately. As of yet, there is no effective date for this new law, but observers say regulations will first have to be written, a process that would start next year.

The definition of “serious injury or illness” has for decades been an injury or illness that requires inpatient hospitalization for more than 24 hours for treatment, or if an employee suffers a “loss of member” or serious disfigurement.

The definition has excluded hospitalizations for medical observation. Serious injuries caused by a commission of a penal code violation (a criminal assault and battery), or a vehicle accident on a public road or highway have also been excluded.

The new rules

The new rules being implemented by AB 1805 are designed to bring California’s rules more in line with Federal OSHA’s regulations for reporting. Here are the new rules:

  • Any inpatient hospitalization (even less than 24 hours) for treatment of a workplace injury or illness will need to be reported to Cal/OSHA.
  • For reporting purposes, an inpatient hospitalization must be required for something “other than medical observation or diagnostic testing.”
  • Employers will need to report any “amputation” to Cal/OSHA. This replaces the terminology “loss of member.” Even if the tip of a finger is cut off, it’s considered an amputation.
  • Employers must still report any serious disfiguration to Cal/OSHA.
  • Loss of an eye must be reported.
  • Serious injuries or deaths caused by a commission of a penal code violation must now be reported.
  • While the exclusion for injuries resulting from auto accidents on a public street or highway remain in effect, accidents that occur in a construction zone must now be reported.

Compliance

Rules for reporting serious injuries and illness or fatalities are as follows:

  • The report must be made within eight hours of the employer knowing, or with “diligent inquiry” should have known, about the serious injury or illness (or fatality).
  • The report must be made by phone to the nearest Cal/OSHA district office (note that a companion bill, AB 1804, eliminated e-mail as a means of reporting because e-mail can allow for incomplete incident reporting).

Because of the “diligent inquiry” component, employers should monitor an injured worker’s condition once they learn of an injury, particularly if they need to seek out medical treatment. A member of the staff should be on hand to monitor the employee and report to supervisors immediately if that person will need to be hospitalized.

Employers should make sure that supervisors are made aware of the new rules so that any time a worker is injured to the point that they need to be hospitalized, they know to notify Cal/OSHA within eight hours.

Also, if you have an employee that suffers a medical episode at work – such as a seizure, heart attack or stroke – you are required to report the hospitalization to Cal/OSHA.

It’s better to err on the side of caution if an employee is hospitalized for any reason. Not doing so can result in penalties for failure to report or failing to report in a timely manner.

Accordingly, it is important to educate management representatives, particularly those charged with the responsibility to make reports to Cal/OSHA, about the nuances of Cal/OSHA’s reporting rules.

One final note: The results of a serious injury or illness or workplace fatality will usually trigger a site inspection by Cal/OSHA.

Basics of a Strong Lockout/Tagout Program

Engineer check and control welding robotics automatic arms machine in intelligent factory automotive industrial with monitoring system software. Digital manufacturing operation. Industry 4.0

A lockout/tagout program will not be effective if your employees are not properly trained in how it works, and if you don’t have consequences for them if they fail to follow the program.

Every year, hundreds of workers in the United States die because they don’t follow lockout/tagout procedures or their employers did not have them in place – or, if they did, failed to enforce their rules.

Failure to train or inadequate training is one of the top-cited lockout/tagout violations by Cal/OSHA.

Improper training or failing to train all of your workers can have dire consequences, even for staff that are trained in procedures.

In this past year in California, two workers died because of inadequate training. One died on the job at a nut cannery because he had missed lockout/tagout training when he was on layoff.

In the other case, an employee at a clothing manufacturer was killed after a maintenance mechanic who had not been trained in lockout/tagout walked away when his co-worker entered part of the machine to remove finished product. The machine was de-energized but not locked out, and it started up when the worker entered it.

Under Cal/OSHA’s lockout/tagout standard, all authorized and affected employees, plus those who work in areas where energy-control procedures are used, must be trained on lockout/tagout procedures.

Training must include hazards related to:

  • Cleaning,
  • Repairing,
  • Servicing,
  • Setting up and adjusting prime movers, and
  • Machinery and equipment.

“Affected” employees include:

  • Qualified persons who lockout or tag out specific machines for such operations.
  • Those whose jobs require them to operate a machine. They must be instructed on the purpose and use of energy-control procedures.
  • Other employees include those whose work might be in an area where the procedures might be used. They must be instructed about the prohibitions on restarting or energizing machines that have been locked or tagged out.

HECP training requirements

The training provisions of the Cal/OSHA standard require that authorized employees be trained on hazardous energy control procedures (HECPs) and associated hazards.

Affected employees must be trained on the purpose and use of HECPs, and all other workers in the area must be instructed on the prohibition on attempting to restart machines which are locked or tagged out.

Pay especially close attention to training on controlling all sources of hazardous energy. That can sometimes require developing equipment-specific lockout procedures.

Turning off a machine is often not enough. It needs to be disengaged or de-energized. That’s because the control switch can still contain electrical energy. A release of stored energy can start the machine again briefly, but enough to cause serious injury.

If possible, you should also block out moveable parts during lockout/tagout procedures.

You also need to develop, implement and enforce a lockout program.

Cal/OSHA requires that employers must develop and utilize an HECP for cleaning, repairing, etc., and shall clearly and specifically outline the scope, purpose, authorization, rules and techniques to be utilized for the control of hazardous energy, and the means to enforce compliance, including:

  • Shutting down, isolating, blocking and securing machines or equipment;
  • Placement, removal and transfer of lockout/tagout devices;
  • Testing machines to determine the effectiveness of lockout/tagout devices; and
  • Separate procedural steps for safe lockout/tagout of each machine.

All workers involved in lockout/tagout should get their own locks. They should not use someone else’s lock, and they should not install or remove another employee’s lock.

One final bit of advice: Once a machine is locked out, the operator should try to turn it on again to see if it has been effectively disengaged.

As Wildfire Risks Increase, Insuring Businesses More Difficult

home wildfire

Business property coverage is getting more difficult to come by for operations located in areas that are susceptible to wildfires.

The devastating wildfires of the last few years, along with the thousands of homes and businesses that have been burned or damaged due to these events, has resulted in insurers becoming more selective about the properties they are willing to cover. This intense period of yearly wildfires has led to a record $12.8 billion in insurance claims.

As a result, some insurers have started non-renewing commercial property coverage in these high-risk areas – and others have just stopped writing new policies altogether. We are seeing renewals in wildfire-prone areas on a scale we’ve never seen before.

Companies that receive a notification that their insurer plans to non-renew their policies are faced with shopping in a market that is more selective and with insurers requiring that they take certain steps to better safeguard their properties.

What’s going on

More and more homes and businesses in areas susceptible to wildfires are at risk than ever before. The fires are becoming more frequent, hotter and more widespread. Insurers have had to pay out record amounts in fire claims during the last few years, which has taken its toll on many of them.

Some insurers are non-renewing property policies of all sizes in high-risk areas, and the practice has become widespread.

Typically, insurance companies are applying three metrics in evaluating exposure to fire:

  1. Brush mapping – This is a map of the tinder and brush, nearby trees and other natural items that could contribute to your building(s) catching fire. The insurer will use the mapping to see if you are keeping up your property by removing combustible materials from the perimeter and limiting the amount of shrubbery and trees.
  2. The nearby wildland-urban interface – The closer that a building is to wildlands (open spaces with combustible materials), the more likely it is that insurers will balk at writing the policy. A wildland-urban interface is defined by the Forest Services as a place where “humans and their development meet or intermix with wildland fuel.” Communities that are within a half a mile of the zone are included.
  3. Concentration of other properties an insurer covers in your area – If your insurance company already writes policies for many other businesses and homes in your area and they feel they have too much risk concentrated in that zone, they may opt to non-renew policies in order to reduce their exposure.

While we can sometimes work with an insurer to have the property owner clear brush and take measures that would reduce the chances of their property catching fire to satisfy the brush-mapping metric, it’s more difficult to negotiate about numbers two and three.

The options

If you have a business in a wildfire area and your insurer plans not to renew your coverage, and if other companies are not willing to underwrite your policy, we can help you find new coverage. If no admitted insurers (those that are licensed and regulated in California) are willing to cover your building, we have two options:

The non-admitted market – These insurers are not licensed to do business in California, but we can still use them to write policies for businesses. These insurers, which includes Lloyd’s of London, are usually willing to write buildings in higher-risk areas, but they too have increased their underwriting criteria.

The California FAIR Plan – If we are unable to find an insurer in the admitted or non-admitted market, the last choice is FAIR Plan, which is the state-run market of last resort for homeowners and commercial property owners that cannot get coverage in the regular market. Commercial policies are available for:

  • Buildings with five or more habitational units (e.g. apartment buildings, hotels, motels, or home-sharing services such as Airbnb)
  • Retail mercantile
  • Manufacturing risks
  • Office buildings
  • Residential or commercial buildings under course of construction.

Policies cover losses from fire, lightning, and explosion only. Also, policies are limited in what they will pay out, so if you have millions of dollars tied up in equipment and/or inventory, the policy may not be enough to cover all the damage you incur from a wildfire.

The maximum limit for commercial properties is $3 million for structures and $1.5 million for all other coverages, for a combined $4.5 million limit for all commercial properties at one location. But there are some exceptions.

What we can do if you go to the FAIR Plan

If the FAIR Plan coverage is not enough coverage or falls short, we can find another insurer that provides excess coverage that would kick in at a certain dollar amount of damage.

And for the aforementioned risks that are not covered, we would have to also find you a “differences in conditions” policy. Combined with FAIR Plan coverage, adding such a policy can nearly mimic the coverage of a commercial or homeowner’s policy.

CALIFORNIA: Bureau Recommends Workers’ Comp Rates Drop 5.4%

graph growth

Workers’ compensation insurance rates will likely continue sliding in 2020 after California’s rating agency submitted its recommendation that the state insurance commissioner reduce the average benchmark rates by 5.4%.

If the recommendation is approved, it will be the ninth consecutive rate decrease since 2015 (some years had two decreases), which have resulted in the average benchmark rate for all of California’s class codes falling a combined 45% since then.

The Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau, which made the filing, said that average claims costs continue falling due to the effects of reforms that took effect in 2014. Rates are still declining because:

  • Claims cost development continues falling.
  • Claims are being settled more quickly.
  • Average pharmaceutical costs continue falling sharply.
  • The number of liens on claims continues dropping.

Offsetting those positive trends are:

  • Increases in cumulative trauma claims (particularly in Southern California).
  • Rising individual claim costs.
  • The cost of adjusting claims is increasing.

The Rating Bureau tracks workers’ comp costs in the state and makes the recommendations for changing the benchmark rates, which insurers use to price their policies. Every class code gets its own rate, which will change depending on the trends in claims costs and numbers for that class code.

Insurers use the benchmark rates as guideposts for pricing their own policies, but in the end, they can price the policies as they wish.

After using the benchmark rate, insurers will add surcharges for various classes or regions, and add on administrative costs to arrive at their own rates. Also, rates will not fall for all employers.

Rates depend on a number of factors, including an employer’s claims history and region. Policies in Southern California, for instance, are often surcharged because of the amount of cumulative trauma claims filed in the region.

The Rating Bureau will review accident-year experience valued as of June 30 once it has the figures, and it could amend the rate filing later. The state insurance commissioner will hold a hearing on the rate filing in September or October, and then make a final decision on the rate change.

What to do

Just because rates have been falling, employers should not waver in their focus on safety.

Here are some mistakes to avoid:

Becoming complacent – Falling rates act as blinders for many employers. When the cost of your workers’ comp policy continues declining, it’s easy to shift focus away from workplace safety, injury management and cost containment to other business matters. This is a mistake and can cost you in additional workplace injuries.

Focusing on just workers’ comp premiums – Premiums are only part of the cost of workplace injuries. Indirect costs – including overtime, temporary labor, increased training, supervisor time, production delays, unhappy customers, increased stress, and property or equipment damage – represent several times the direct cost of the injury.

Expecting rates to stay low forever – Workers’ comp rates always follow a cycle of increases and decreases. As rates fall, employers reap the benefits in lower costs, but their attention to workplace safety may wither and then overall claims numbers and costs start increasing and/or reforms erode, starting a cycle of increasing rates. The key is to ride the low rates for as long as you can through unwavering attention to workplace safety and claims management.

Chasing low rates – One benefit you have from working with us is continuity, and jumping ship to another broker just to save a few thousand dollars on your premium is not always a smart choice, particularly if the new brokerage is not involved in helping you keep claims costs low.

A Lesson in Timely Claims Reporting

file claims

A recent appeals decision denied coverage to a company on its directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance policies for taking too long to file the claim.

In this case, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans sided with an insurer that had denied a claim a company had made after being sued for failing to pay overtime wages to nonexempt employees.

The insurance company had denied the claim because the first employees’ claim was made in August 2014, but the company failed to inform the insurer of that and subsequent claims until September 2015.

This case illustrates the importance of filing claims in a timely manner.

When the employer actually got around to filing the claim it had an in-force D&O policy with the insurer, although there was an earlier policy in force when it had received the first claim of failing to pay overtime.

Under the policy in force at the time of the first claim, the insurer would have been obligated to pay all claims made against the company under the policy.

“That earlier policy would have provided coverage except that the insured failed to comply in 2014 with a notice provision. We conclude the district court was correct to rely on this difference,” the three-judge panel in the appellate court wrote in an opinion that upheld a lower court’s ruling.

Timeliness

One of the critical obligations of an insured is the duty to timely report claims or circumstances that may give rise to a claim. Failure to report a claim in accordance with the policy requirements can result in a claim being denied, or worse, having the entire policy voided.

D&O policies are “claims made” policies, meaning that coverage exists only for claims made during the time period the policy is in effect. Claims made while no policy or extended reporting period are in effect are not covered.

Claims-made policies also have retroactive dates. Ideally, the retroactive date is the day the insured started business, but it can also be the day that it first purchased professional liability coverage.

Assuming the retroactive date has not been advanced, the policy in force when a claim is made is the policy that will respond, regardless of when the negligent act, error or omission took place.

However, there is one important qualifier. This insurance applies to claims that took place after the retroactive date, but prior to the end of the policy period, provided that the insured had no knowledge of the claims prior to the effective date shown in the declarations.

In other words, if you knew of a claim prior to the time you renewed your claims-made policy but did not report it, and if a claim is subsequently made, the insurance company can deny coverage. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s been continuously renewed by one insurance company, the policy excludes it.

This underscores the importance of timely reporting of all claims prior to renewal each year.

New Law Bars Hairstyle Discrimination

woman with curly hair

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed legislation that will make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees and job applicants based on their hairstyle if it is part of their racial makeup.

The law, known as the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair),

amends the state Education and Government Code to define race or ethnicity as “inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles like braids, locks and twists.”

This broader definition of race means that natural hair traits fall under the context of racial discrimination in housing, employment and school matters.

The law could apply to anyone, but as legislation it was specifically introduced to stop instances of discrimination against black employees over their natural hairstyles. There have been a number of high-profile incidents over the past few years where employees and students were discriminated against based on their hair:

  • A sixth-grade Louisiana girl was expelled because her hair violated school policy.
  • In October 2018, a wrestling official in New Jersey ordered a black wrestler to cut his dreadlocks if he wanted to compete.
  • An Alabama woman sued her employer for discrimination after the organization had rescinded a promotion to another position because she had dreadlocks.

The new law “protects the right of Black Californians to choose to wear their hair in its natural form, without pressure to conform to Eurocentric norms,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who introduced the legislation.

The takeaway

The law means that it will be illegal for employers to discriminate against someone because of their hairstyle if it’s tied to their ethnicity and race. Employees that fall into this category can sue their employer for discrimination based on race under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

You should update your employee handbook to include this definition of race in the employment discrimination section, and also train your managers and supervisors in the change.

Remember, discrimination cases can be costly, even if the employer wins in the end. There are legal fees, costs of witnesses and damage to reputation to contend with.

The best prevention for discrimination is to have rock-solid policies in place. It’s also wise to secure an employment practices liability insurance policy. That’s a smart move for any business, particularly as the number of discrimination cases is on the rise nationwide, alongside higher jury awards for employees.

Cal/OSHA Issues Emergency Rules to Protect Workers from Wildfire Smoke

wildfire

Cal/OSHA has issued emergency regulations that require employers of outdoor workers to take protective measures, including providing respiratory equipment, when air quality is significantly affected by wildfires.

Smoke from wildfires can travel hundreds of miles and while an area may not be in danger of the fire, the smoke can be thick and dangerous, reaching unhealthy levels. The danger is worst for people with underlying health conditions like heart disease, asthma or other respiratory issues.

Cal/OSHA decided to start work on the new regulations after worker groups filed a petition asking the agency to step in and protect people working outside from unsafe air quality caused by wildfires.

Below is all you need to know about the new emergency regulations that are slated to take effect in early August 2019.

What to expect

The draft of the regulations, which were approved at a July 18 Cal/OSH board hearing, would require that employers take action when the Air Quality Index (AQI) for particulate matter 2.5 is more than 150, which is considered in the “unhealthy” range.

The protections would also be triggered when a government agency issues a wildfire smoke advisory or there when there is a “realistic possibility” that workers would be exposed to wildfire smoke.

All California employers with “a worker who is outdoors for more than an hour cumulative over the course of their shift” would be required to comply with these regulations:

Checking the Air Quality Index – Employers of outdoor works must check the AQI at the worksite to see if it is above 150, which would require the employer to take protective measures for the workers. AQI can be checked in the following ways:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow website.
  • The California Air Resources Board website.
  • Your local air pollution control district website.
  • Checking PM2.5 levels at the worksite and converting them to the corresponding AQI (Appendix A of the regulations explain how).

Communications – Employers must establish and implement a system for communicating wildfire smoke hazards to affected employees, including allowing employees to inform the employer of such hazards at the worksite. Communications should include:

  • The current AQI for PM2.5.
  • Protective measures available to workers to reduce their wildfire smoke exposure.
  • Encouraging employees to inform the employer of worsening job site air quality.
  • Reporting symptoms such as asthma attacks, difficulty breathing and chest pain.

Training – Employers with outside works should train them in:

  • The health effects of wildfire smoke.
  • The right to obtain medical treatment without fear of reprisal.
  • How employees can obtain the current AQI for PM2.5.
  • The requirements in Cal/OSHA’s regulation about wildfire smoke.
  • The employer’s communication system.
  • The employer’s methods to protect employees from wildfire smoke.
  • The importance, limitations and benefits of using a respirator when exposed to wildfire smoke.
  • How to properly put on, use and maintain the respirators provided by the employer.

Suitable protection – There are a number of methods employers can implement to protect workers when the AQI for PM2.5 exceeds 150.

  • Engineering controls, such as providing enclosed structures or vehicles with effective filtration where employees can continue working, or
  • Administrative controls like:
  • Relocating workers,
  • Changing work schedules,
  • Reducing work intensity, or
  • Giving them additional rest periods, or
  • Respiratory protective equipment. The employer must provide respirators to all employees for voluntary use, and encourage them to use them.

Respirators shall be NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)-approved devices that effectively protect the wearers from inhalation of PM2.5, such as N95 filtering face-piece respirators. Respirators shall be cleaned, stored, maintained and replaced so that they do not present a health hazard to users.

Where the current AQI for PM2.5 is 501 or greater, respirator use is required.

Why Workers’ Comp Claims Spike in the Summer

Construction Site

Workplace injury rates rise during the summer months. When summer rolls around, companies in many sectors, including agriculture and construction, significantly increase production.

Increased road construction raises risks for workers and drivers. Many of the newly hired workers are young and inexperienced, creating a high potential for workplace injuries.

Toiling in the sun is also a leading cause of weather-related injuries, including heatstroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion. Heat illnesses occur when the body overheats to the point it cannot cool off, even with profuse sweating.

Young workers

Too often, young workers enter the workforce with little or no on-the-job safety training, heightening safety risks.

Recently, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries released a report showing that teens are twice as likely to be hurt on the job as adults.

In Washington state, a total of 547 youths aged 17 and under were injured in the workplace in 2014, up nearly 14.7% over the previous year. Of the total, 173 were in the food and hospitality industries. The next largest total, 80, was reported in both the retail trades and agriculture.

Falls to the floor increased 77%, to 55 cases, as the chief cause of injury.

Young workers, aged 14 to 24, have more accidents because they lack the knowledge, training, and experience to prevent them. Some common issues employers encounter with young workers are:

  • They do not understand what can go wrong.
  • They do not always follow the rules.
  • They fail to use personal protective equipment (PPE) or use it incorrectly.
  • They horse around on the equipment.
  • They do not ask questions.
  • They think they are infallible.

It’s also important for supervisors to recognize the physical, cognitive and emotional developmental differences between young and adult workers. It takes extra effort to train and supervise seasonal employees on working safely.

Here are some training suggestions:

  • Repeatedly demonstrate job procedures and safety precautions. Don’t overlook the basics, such as starting and stopping equipment.
  • The step-by-step instructions for any task must include the task’s hazards and how to avoid them. Take the time to clearly explain the risks of not following the proper steps. Use examples.
  • Explain when and how to use PPE, as well as where to get it, how to inspect it, and how to remove and store it properly.
  • Train one-to-one with young workers and observe them performing tasks.
  • Encourage them to report problems and to ask questions.
  • Assign specific clean-up tasks and emphasize the importance of a clean, clutter-free worksite.
  • Control the hours worked. Many popular summer jobs, such as construction workers, landscapers, and jobs in hospitality and food industries, require long hours of work in the heat that can lead to fatigue, inattention, and stress, increasing the likelihood of injury.
  • Provide a mentor.
  • Demonstrate that safety is a priority at your facility. Words aren’t enough. New workers also need to see actions that reinforce the message: clean worksite, properly labeled hazardous substances and readily accessible safety data sheets, workers wearing required PPE and who are concerned about workplace safety and show it, and so on.

Heat illness dangers

While there are many excellent resources on dealing with heat, it’s important for employers to recognize that there are individual differences among workers and those who are struggling may be hesitant to complain.

The American Society of Safety Engineers calls heat the “unseen danger” at construction sites because the symptoms of heat illness can be subtle and misinterpreted as mere annoyances rather than signs of a serious health issue.

Workers new to outdoor jobs are particularly vulnerable. Implementing an acclimatization program, providing adequate water and frequent breaks are all critical, but the best way for employers to prevent heat illnesses is to consistently interact with workers to gauge how they’re feeling and provide current information on weather conditions.

Also, using apps, such as OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool, is a good way for workers to monitor their risk levels.

Is Your Business Prepared for Recreational Marijuana Use?

cannabis marijuana work

Companies in states that have legalized marijuana are wrestling with how to deal with employees that use, particularly if they did so the night before and are still feeling the effects the following day.

A new survey found that one-third of business owners are not prepared for managing the effects of legalized marijuana in the workplace. The biggest issue facing employers is ensuring that workers don’t come to work under the influence, or that they don’t sneak off for a few puffs during their lunch breaks.

The problem is that it’s difficult to see if someone is under the influence if they have smoked a little bit and are slightly “buzzed.” On-the-spot drug tests won’t work because marijuana can stay in the system for 30 days or more, making it impossible to know when they used it last.

With no clear guidance, some employers have responded by relaxing their drug policies to allow for employee consumption outside the confines of the workplace, while others have kept the zero-tolerance rules in place to thwart employees who may try to use cannabis during the workday.

Employer concerns

The biggest concern for employers is workplace safety, as well as the safety of customers and even the general public if a driving employee is using while on the clock.

When someone is under the influence their judgment is impaired and their reaction time is slowed. That could lead to workplace accidents and worker injuries. That, in turn, can result in fines by OSHA as well as higher workers’ comp rates, in addition to lost time by key employees.

If an impaired worker is operating equipment in a retail establishment and injures a customer or a vendor, you could be facing a substantial liability lawsuit.

If you have an impaired driver who causes an accident and injures or kills a third party, and/or destroys a third party’s property, you could also face a liability suit.

What you can do

First, you have to decide your business’s level of tolerance for employee marijuana use. Obviously, for workers using heavy machinery, or in other safety-sensitive jobs like drivers, it would be wise to have a no-tolerance policy in place that includes drug testing.

Whether pot is legal in your state or not, you are still free to ban marijuana use on the job, just as you can alcohol – and you can fire someone for using it on the job.

It’s important that whatever policy you put in place, it is communicated to employees through a staff meeting as well as in your employee handbook. You should inform them of the consequences of violating that policy.

For the sake of workplace safety and your overall liability exposure, you should consider restricting marijuana use to the extent permitted by law.

At the very least, you should prohibit marijuana use in the workplace, as well as marijuana impairment during work hours or in the workplace.

Your approach will depend on which state your business is located in. For example, California provides a constitutional right to privacy which restricts employers from monitoring off-duty conduct.

That said, pre-employment drug-testing is generally permitted, as long as it is conducted in a fair and consistent manner and administered to all applicants for a position within a specific job class.

After employees start working, they have a higher expectation of privacy. That means you should restrict any drug-testing to suspicion-based inquiries, like someone who appears under the influence. Random testing is highly restricted in California and should be reserved for certain safety-sensitive positions.

Remember though: There are exceptions for medical marijuana use. Most workers must be allowed to take medical pot, just as they would any other legal drug.