Diesel Owners Insulted By VW’s Goodwill Offer

vw6-LVolkswagen’s goodwill offer was proposed as a step forward for the company drowning in their emissions cheating scandal. The VW owners aren’t buying it. Most agree that the $500 gift card is chump change, the $500 credit to a VW or Audi dealership is a big joke and the 3 years of roadside assistance means virtually nothing.

Owners of the following vehicles are eligible for the package:

VW Jetta TDI (Model Years 2009 – 2015)
VW Jetta SportWagen TDI (Model Years 2009-2014)
VW Golf TDI (Model Years 2010-2015)
VW Golf SportWagen TDI (Model Year 2015)
VW Beetle TDI and VW Beetle Convertible TDI (Model Years 2012-2015)
VW Passat TDI (Model Years 2012-2015)

Full details on the package and eligibility can be found on the special website www.vwdieselinfo.com that VW has set up for concerned owners in the U.S.

In addition to the furious owners, VW also is dealing with fuming dealers. The company is offering cash and no-interest loans to its roughly 650 dealerships that are stuck with cars that can’t be sold but are taking up precious space in their lots. It is also encouraging dealers to offer pre-scandal prices on trade-ins and promising to make up the difference in value.

Plenty of bad things have happened to VW, starting with the acknowledgment in September that it sold nearly 500,000 cars in the U.S. marketed as “clean diesel”, but were quite the opposite. These vehicles instead puffed out up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide (NOx) into the atmosphere. Since then the number of cars under investigation worldwide has grown, prosecutors in Europe and the U.S. are undergoing criminal investigations and VW’s stock has tumbled. Last week, U.S. regulators said that some newer models may be involved and VW admitted an additional problem with 800,000 cars, including some gasoline models.

Many VW owners are filing lawsuits knowing compensation will eventually come their way. They certainly deserve it after being lied to by a company they once trusted.

The question is: will the bad news ever end?


Employment Law is Tricky When it Comes to Pregnancy

Employment Law is Tricky When it Comes to Pregnancy

Navigating the complexities of employment law is tough enough, but when it
comes to pregnant employees, there’s an extra dimension of trickiness that
makes this one of the stickiest areas of the law for many employers.

The Family and Medical Leave Act

Blame it on the dual definition of “pregnancy”. As the traditional
definition goes, pregnancy is a “state of being” whereas a woman is
preparing to give birth. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers who have more
than 50 employees who work within 75 miles of the workplace must provide
pregnancy and childbirth leave benefits under this act.

That leaves many small businesses in the clear, right? If there are fewer
than 50 employees, many SBO’s think they’re exempt since they’re small
enough to slide in under the threshold number of employees. However, they
could be making a terrible mistake by not providing benefits to a pregnant
employee, regardless of how many employees the have. Here’s why…

Discrimination Laws May Apply

Once your company hits the 15-employee mark, you must start paying attention
to discrimination laws. These federal laws are meant to protect a very wide
swathe of the population, and pregnant employees are included.

You see, it’s illegal to discriminate based on gender…and being pregnant
can bring on a cadre of discriminatory behavior from many employers, believe
it or not. Therefore, under the “Sex Discrimination” section of the Federal
Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Laws,
it states:

” Pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions must be
treated in the same way as other temporary illnesses or conditions.

What that means is, whatever your company’s policy is on disability, it must
also cover pregnancy as well. For example, if your policy states your
workers can take whatever leave they need when they become injured as long
as they have a doctor’s note to verify the absence, then it must apply to
pregnant women as well.

Typically doctors will authorize around six to eight weeks’ time for
recovery from giving birth.

Sometimes Just Using the Phrase “FMLA” Makes it Apply

Sometimes terminology comes into play in a very big way. Let’s say your
company has 30 employees. That mean the Family and Medical Leave Act
doesn’t apply to your situation…

…unless people start bandying around that phrase, that is! If you refer
to the FMLA, or employees who maybe came from a larger company where it
did apply start using the term, lots of confusion can ensue.
Employee’s looking for more insight should research this more in depth,
I found a good piece on this website that should help with questions you
might have.

Maybe you have a discrimination policy that allows for time off for
childbirth up to 8 weeks. But if everyone’s calling it FMLA and not what it
really is (discrimination law), then your pregnant employees can reasonably
expect to take a full twelve weeks. Why? Because that’s what’s
allowed under the FMLA.

Courts have sided with employees who thought
they were covered under the FMLA even when they weren’t, and granted the
full 12 weeks. Simply because there was confusion in the workplace and the
wrong terminology was used.

So if you’ve got fewer than 50 employees, you’d better get your terminology
straight, use the right paperwork, and make sure everyone’s on the same page
as far as pregnancy goes. It makes a true difference. Employers who are looking for
more info should read this to get more info.

Employee or independent contractor?

The issue of independent contractor vs. employee can be summed up to who pays the taxes and whether you, as an employee, are responsible for withholding them. To be able to tell whether someone you have hired is an independent contractor or an employee, you must ascertain certain factors regarding your relationship with the worker.

These factors are:

  1. Behavioral: does the company control or have final say in how the worker performs his job?
  2. Financial: Are the business expenses of the worker’s job reimbursed by the payer? (this includes payment mode, who provides tools/supplies and so on)
  3. Type of Relationship: Is there a written contract in place? Do you provide benefits to the worker (insurance, vacation plan, 401K, etc.) Does this relationship end when the performed work is completed?

When you’re looking at these factor, don’t forget the nature of the job and how the job fits in with the rest of the industry. This guide will help you determine the role of a worker. As a rule of thumb, the more control you have over a worker, the more likely that he is your employee.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you establish when and where the person works?
  • Does the worker use his equipment or yours?
  • Is the worker able to hire other people to finish the job without your approval?
  • Does the worker purchase his own supplies or services or do you?
  • Do you establish what specific tasks must be done by a specific worker?
  • How much guidance do you provide the worker for completing a task?
  • Do you pay him a flat fee or an hourly rate?
  • Do you provide benefits such as health insurance, vacations or paid time off?
  • Do you reimburse the worker for expenses that were incurred during the job?
  • Does the worker perform the same services for others?
  • Is there a written agreement with the person regarding the job that is to be done?
  • When the job is completed, does the person continue to work for you or is he free of any obligation?
  • Is the work performed an integral aspect of your business?

By answering the above questions you will be able to determine the level of control you have over a worker and thus establish if you’re hiring an employee or an independent contractor. Don’t forget though that you must look at your industry as whole to correctly determine these factors. For example, it’s more common for trade workers who are employees to use their own equipment than it is for office workers. You have to look at all the factors to ascertain whether you have to withhold taxes for a worker or not.

plumber independent contractor

Although there is a high degree of control over a plumber’s work, he is still an independent contractor

Other factors may indicate a high level of control even though the person you are hiring is an independent contractor. Take plumbers for example. If you’re remodeling your house and you hire one to install new fixtures, you will generally agree to have the work done at a certain place and at a certain time. You pay him an hourly rate and reimburse him for any expenses that occur. All these factors show a high degree of control but ultimately it is the worker who performs the job and thus controls the process. This is why he is an independent contractor and not an employee.

Consult IRS publication 15a or contact me if you’re unsure whether a worker you have hired is an independent contractor or an employee.

Facebook, the First Amendment and Your Employees

What is your firm’s stance on employees using Facebook, Myspace or maintaining a blog during or after work hours? You should have some kind of policy regarding this subject. No matter how comfortable or friendly you want your company’s workplace to be, some things should be strictly left at home or barred altogether. So what can you do about employees that are goofing off on FarmVille or have a sideblog that might turn out to be a liability in the future? There are some limits to what kind of discipline or limits you can enforce on your employees. In this article we will look at the issue and give you some practical tips that will keep employee productivity up while making sure that social networks and other media is kept to a minimum.

Private company? The First Amendment does not apply

Many people have the incorrect notion that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the right to free speech, grants them the ability to say whatever and wherever they want be it in a blog post or social network. This is wrong, however. Just like it is with the remaining Amendments, the federal Constitution protects people from the government, not from private companies. This is good for you because it means that you can enforce what is acceptable and what is punishable within your enterprise. As a private employer you have the right to ask of your employees not to blog or talk no social media about the company or the industry related to it. The First Amendment protects people (within reason) from getting disciplined by the government for things they might say – the same is not true when it comes to private employers.

Do bloggers have legal protection?

There are some laws that give employees some rights when it comes to blogging, however. The main issue is what the employees are writing about. Trade secrets, company data and information that is related to the company that would hinder a firm’s activity is grounds for firing. However, there are laws which prevent employers from retaliating against employees that speak up about certain issues and raising concerns about the work or ethics of the company. In such cases, you might have little control against prohibiting this type of whistleblowing. Some states also have laws that protect what employees do on their own time, so it’s best to consult an attorney that specializes in this issue.

The following laws may protect an employee that keeps a private blog:

Off-duty conduct laws. A number of states, including California, have passed laws that prohibit employers from disciplining or firing their employees for activities they pursue off-site, on their own personal time.

Although the original intent of this law was to protect smokers from discrimination, the wording of the legal text tends to include language that protects employees who use “legal products” while off duty and other states have laws that protect employee conduct (as long as it’s legal). You should consult these laws if you want to adopt a policy regarding blogging and using social networking sites at your company.

Protection for political views. Some states grant employees legal protection against discrimination for their political views. Disciplining an employee for a post that endorses a political cause or candidate could be illegal in these states.

Protection for whistleblowers. Whistlebloggers, a portmanteau of whistle blower and blogger, are protected if they raise concerns about safety hazards or illegal activity at work. Whistleblower laws recognize that few employees will come forward with issues that endanger the public if they can be fired for it – thus these laws protect them to a certain degree from disciplinary action or firing.

Prohibition on employer retaliation. Employment laws may protect employees from retaliation if they raise complaints that their rights have been violated. If an employee writes a post about workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, wage or hour violations, violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act or other illegal activity, they might be immune from disciplinary action.

Group activity protections. The National Labor Relations Act and other states laws protect the employees’ rights to join together in a union or otherwise and communicate with each other about the terms and conditions of employment and bring forward concerns about similar issues to the employer. You might have a hard time stopping employees that write publicly about low wages, unfavorable work conditions or long work hours. The National Labor Relations Board is fairly keen to get involved in such claims, bringing unfair labor practices against employers who have fired or punished their workers for airing their complaints in a public format.

Would you risk losing your job over a mindless joke?

Would you risk losing your job over a careless comment on Facebook?

Employee guidelines

If you’re an employee and you’d rather avoid this kind of unpleasantness in the first place, here are a couple of tips that will keep you out of trouble if you’re going to be using social media or blogging. Remember that the company you’re working for has many competitors that would use all avenues to discredit and get ahead of your employer so it’s in your best interest to follow company rules – by protecting your employer, you’re protecting your own job.

Don’t criticize or harass your co-workers. Even if it’s an inside joke that everybody’s in on, your boss might not get it.

Take for example Heather Armstrong, the first person who was fired for blogging. She wrote posts that made fun of or were critical of company workers and management as well as how she spent her time at home when she was supposed to be working. You can imagine that it wasn’t long before she was fired.

Don’t post anything that could be construed as discrimination. Racist, bigoted or sexist comments may seem funny when you write them but they may get your employer in a heap of trouble. In some cases, companies had to get rid of employees because of public pressure. Even if you think it’s just your opinion, when it comes to the workplace, nothing is too little to not be noticed.

Take for example former Mozilla CEO, Brendan Eich, who had to step down because he made a public donation supporting the gay marriage ban. An unfortunate event, but you can never be too careful when it comes to these things.

Don’t ever talk about your company’s trade, secrets or other confidential information that they would rather not make public. It was Michael Hansom, a temporary Microsoft employee that was fired after he posted photos of Mac computers arriving at Microsoft with the snarky tagline: “Even Microsoft wants G5s.” Another example is “Troutgirl,” a Friendster engineer who was fired after she wrote a post on her blog about the company’s site architecture overhaul.

Solve workplace problems through the usual channels first instead of going direct to blogging. You might have some legal protection if the information you’re posting falls under whistleblowing laws or if you’re writing about unsafe work conditions for example, but do you really want to go through the hassle of losing your job and then having to fight for it in court?

Take the story of Michael De Kort, a whistleblower who exposed Lockheed Martin in a video he posted to Youtube. De Kort leaked possible design flaws that the company had committed in refurbishing a number of patrol boats for the Coastal Guard. Sure, De Kort received an award for ethics and the government sided with him in the case, but that did not help him keep the job.

Use an anonymous blog or restrict who has access to it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation suggests employees open anonymous blogs in order to avoid persecution. If you’re going to blog, don’t reveal any personal details about you or your job, restrict who can view your blog (password-protect) or use a robots.txt file to exclude search engines from indexing your blog.