HR Health & Safety FAQ

How does the “play or pay” provision of the health care reform law work?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 includes two play or pay provisions: one for individuals and one for employers. Both are set to start in 2014, although there are a number of pending legal challenges to these requirements that could change the rules. As the law stands currently, all individuals will have to be covered by health insurance or pay a fine; help will be available for those who can’t afford coverage. The employer mandate requires employers with at least 50 employees to provide health care coverage for employees or pay a fine. Even employers who provide coverage may have to pay a fine, depending on the benefits provided, their cost, and employees’ ability to pay. For more information, see Nolo’s article Health Care Reform: What Employers and Employees Need to Know.

What does OSHA require employers to do?

It depends on how large your company is, your industry, and your company’s history of accidents, inspections, and so forth. Generally speaking, however, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to provide a workplace free of known hazards, to train employees on proper use of equipment and materials, and to provide safety equipment, among other things. OSHA also requires employers to post notices, submit to inspections, and keep records of workplace illnesses or injuries. For more information, see Nolo’s articles OSHA: Complying With Workplace Health and Safety Laws and OSHA Compliance: Recordkeeping, Reporting, Posting, and Inspection Rules.

Is every employee injury covered by workers’ compensation?

Worker’s compensation covers injuries or illnesses suffered on the job. This covers more than just workplace accidents: Any work-related injury is covered, including an injury suffered while an employee is at an offsite company event, traveling for work, or otherwise doing company business. Cumulative injuries and illnesses are also covered, if they are work-related. For example, repetitive stress disorders related to work fall under workers’ compensation coverage, as do illnesses caused by exposure to workplace chemicals or radiation. For more information on workers’ comp, see Nolo’s article Workers’ Compensation Basics for Employers.

Should our company prohibit employees from using their cell phones for business while driving?

Yes. Although not every state currently bans use of handheld cell phones while driving, the clear trend favors such restrictions. Every year, more states ban texting while driving, require drivers to use hands-free devices if they want to talk on the phone, and restrict certain drivers (such as teens) from using cell phones altogether. As an employer, you have more than driver and pedestrian safety to worry about: Your company could also be legally liable if an employee causes an accident while talking on the phone. For information on employer liability, as well as tips on what to include in a cell phone policy, see Nolo’s article Cell Phone Policies for Employees Who Drive.

What are repetitive stress disorders?

Repetitive stress disorders (RSDs) are cumulative injuries, which result from prolonged repeated, forceful, or awkward movements. Common examples include carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. More than half of all workplace injuries are RSDs; because these disorders occur on the job, they are covered by workers’ compensation insurance. There are a number of steps employers can take to reduce the incidence of RSDs, with ergonomic adjustments topping the list. For more information, see Nolo’s article Repetitive Stress Injuries in the Workplace.

Is alcoholism a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean an employer has to put up with an employee’s drinking. The disease of alcoholism meets the definition of a disability, which means that an employer may not make job decisions based on the fact that an employee is an alcoholic, attends AA meetings, or takes medication to curb the urge to drink. However, an employer may prohibit drinking at work and may generally hold all employees to the same standards of performance and conduct. An employee who can’t meet those standards because of drinking may be disciplined and ultimately terminated, even if the employee is an alcoholic. For more information on workplace drug and alcohol rules, see Nolo’s article Handling Employee Alcohol and Drug Use. For more information on the ADA and disabilities, see Nolo’s article Reasonable Accommodations for People With Disabilities: The ADA.

Are there inexpensive ways to encourage healthy habits in our employees?

Yes. Even if your company can’t afford such luxuries as an onsite gym or company cafeteria, there are plenty of steps you can take to promote employee wellness. For example, offer some health alternatives to candy, chips, and soda in company vending machines. Encourage employees to get some exercise by starting a walking group and creating maps of local walking destinations. And don’t forget to take a stand on one of the most significant health risks by making your workplace a smoke-free zone. For more ideas on easy – and inexpensive – ways to encourage employee wellness, see Nolo’s article Workplace Wellness Promotion: Checklist of Cost-Free Steps.

What are the benefits of adopting a workplace wellness program?

There are many ways a workplace wellness program can help improve employee health – and cut costs for your business. Healthier employees have fewer absences and higher productivity. (And, they’re less likely to commit the workplace sin of “presenteeism”: coming to work ill, where they’re unable to get much done beyond infecting their coworkers.) Employees whose employers promote health and fitness are more likely to be satisfied in their jobs. And, the cost of health insurance is significantly less for healthy employees. For information on how unhealthy employees can cost your company, see Nolo’s article Could Poor Employee Health Be Hurting Your Business? For information on the benefits of workplace wellness initiatives, see Nolo’s article How a Wellness Program Can Help Your Business’s Bottom Line.

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