February 28, 2006 > Watercooler Counsel
by Rich Proulx
Q: In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and knowing The Big One is coming, what are my obligations as a Bay Area employer with disabled employees and evacuation plans?
A: Kristin Gossel, Director of the Ready Campaign, states that for all employees it is important to establish good communication before, after and during an emergency, including establishing a password protected website or out-of-town voicemail box where messages can be exchanged. Good communication with employees with disabilities is similarly critical. It's important to ask them what assistance is needed in an emergency. Ask about communication difficulties, physical limitations, equipment instructions and medication procedures. In addition, identify people willing to help co-workers with disabilities and be sure they are able to handle the job. Also, plan how you will alert people who cannot hear an alarm or instructions. Lastly, Ms. Gossel recommends frequent drills to practice your emergency plans. For more information on employer and individual emergency preparedness, visit www.ready.gov.
Q: We have an offsite company event where everyone is bringing their spouse and girlfriends. I told my boss I'd like to bring my boyfriend (I'm a man). He said that wouldn't be appropriate. What can I do?
A: You could have your boyfriend crash the party, but might I suggest instead bringing this situation up to another manager at your company and see if your employer will do the right thing. Alternatively, or in addition, you could call the CA Department of Fair Employment and Housing at 1-800-884-1684. They enforce state laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. This includes subjecting you to different terms and conditions of employment because you're gay.
Q: I'd like to do a favor for my former employees. Is there any problem with coding all their separation forms "at will", so they can qualify for EDD until they get new jobs?
A: The truth is always the best bet. Loree Levy, spokesperson for EDD, says that if someone is laid off due to a lack of work, typically they are eligible for benefits providing they meet all of the other eligibility requirements. If someone is fired or quits, there is no hard and fast rule that they will or will not be eligible for benefits. Each case is determined on its own merits. Providing false information can result in fines and/or penalties for the employer as well as the employee. It is always best to provide the correct information.
Q. If I'm 17 and applying for a job where they will only hire people who are over 18, isn't that age discrimination?
Union City, CA
A. I'm afraid not. It's not illegal to discriminate against younger people. To be protected by age discrimination laws, the magic number is 40 (or over).
Rich and his team of government experts leave no stone unturned in their efforts to get YOU answers. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 18% of the population has a disability. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, whose day job is Enforcement Supervisor for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission www.eeoc.gov. Identifying information in the questions may be fictional.