Hello everyone, I am back from Italy and ready to keep you well informed about government compliance. As in any country Italy has a number of laws that are more than the United States. As of August 2013, the unemployment rate in Italy rose to 12.20% compared to the United States 7.3%. So what makes the United States so more promising to work?
Workplace safety is so important that under some circumstances safety violations may provide legitimate grounds for termination. For example, your policy and the Drug-Free Workplace Act ban drug and alcohol use in the workplace and prohibit working under the influence of either substance. Although alcoholism is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the law permits you to hold alcoholic employees to the same performance and safety standards as other employees and fire them if they pose a risk to themselves or other employees because of working under the influence. Current illegal drug use is not considered a disability under federal law. You can, therefore, test for illegal drugs and fire a worker who does not pass the test. State laws, however, may be more protective of substance abusers, so you need to understand those provisions as well.
Reckless behavior that endangers the employee or co-workers may also provide legitimate grounds for termination. Although you might not terminate for a single incident, unless it was very serious, you probably would be justified in terminating for a history of such behavior.
I worked with a company that took them three write ups before termination following a progressive disciplinary policy. The termination resulted from the employee putting himself at harm’s way by failing to wear his Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The required PPE was to wear gloves to remove soiled uniforms from fleet trucks. Without the gloves he exposed himself to needle puncture, blood borne pathogens, and hazard material. The employee was terminated for “safety violation”. At no surprise, he filed for state unemployment. In order to appeal the unemployment claim, the company had to produce documentation of all written warnings and an explanation of how he violated safety policy. The company explained if OSHA had cited the company a mandatory penalty of up to $7,000 for each violation is proposed.
Remember to document all incidents involving workplace substance abuse or reckless behavior. To have a strong defense, make sure the documentation states time of event, witnesses, company safety policy and OSHA regulations.
While you may be justified in terminating employees in the examples just described, you cannot fire employees for:
- Complaining to management about safety issues or filing a complaint with OSHA or a state safety and health agency;
- Cooperating with OSHA inspectors during an investigation; or
- Refusing to perform a dangerous job that puts the employee’s safety at risk.
Clare Vazquez is a consultant with ClubPay, providing industry leading Human Resources, Payroll, Time & Attendance, and Benefits Administration. She works hands-on with her clients providing customized training programs, harassment investigations/complaints, HR Audits, and advising in government compliance. For more information contact Clare at 561-281-4022 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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