Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Protecting Isolated Workers

Posted by Jon Elliott on Thu, Jun 07, 2018

Many employers have employees whose ‘workplace’ activities isolate them from other employees, leaving them potentially more vulnerable to workplace violence or injury. These lone employees can include those who work:
  • In isolated areas of the employer’s workplace - such as a security guard making rounds at a site, or a miner in an isolated area.

  • At times when no co-workers are around - such as a late-working professional; a night janitor, nurse or security guard making rounds; or a hotel room service worker.

  • As the sole employee at a facility - such as late-night retail gas station or convenience stores.

  • Away from the home office, separated from co-workers and exposed to customers or others - law enforcement or security personnel on patrol, home-care health and social workers, taxi drivers, and traveling sales personnel.

Although isolation makes it inherently harder to protect these workers from harm and to respond to any incidents, employers still must provide them with reasonable levels of protection from workplace hazards. The following discussion synthesizes guidance from national agencies, and specific requirements adopted by a few jurisdictions to protect employees working alone or in isolation.

  • Who is “working alone?”

Definitions of “working alone” vary, but each incorporates some or all of the following circumstances:

• Worker is the only worker for that employer at that workplace, during any time period.

• Worker is not directly supervised, during at least part of work shift.

• Assistance is not readily available if there is an emergency.

• Conditions render this isolation potentially hazardous.

  • What employer actions can help?

Specific requirements that employers provide for isolated employees’ safety vary. For example, Manitoba requires the employer to:

  • Identify risks arising from the conditions and circumstances.

  • “So far as is reasonably practicable,” take steps to eliminate or reduce the identified risks.

  • Develop and implement safe work procedures to eliminate or reduce the identified risks.

  • Train workers in these safe work procedures.

  • Ensure that workers comply with these safe work procedures.

  • What are specific examples of workplace safety measures?

Workplace responses depend on circumstances. For example, if the isolated employee works in a single location, the location and workshift can be designed to reduce hazards. For example, New Mexico requires at least one of the following security measures be implemented in all convenience stores operating between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.:

  • Two-employee shift - two employees, or one employee plus onsite security personnel.

  • Controlled access area - this area must be behind bullet-proof glass or other similar material.

  • Pass-through window - transactions must be protected by bullet-proof glass or other similar material.

  • Alternative operations - the store may be closed for business, but employees allowed access for restocking or other duties, if signs are posted on all entryways saying the store is closed.

In other situations where the employee travels, for example to conduct a service or security sweep, there’s no single space to isolate but enhanced communication can reduce hazards. For example, Chicago’s new ordinance (dubbed the “pants on, hands off” requirement) requires hotels to do the following:

  • Develop, maintain and comply with a written anti-sexual harassment policy to protect employees against sexual assault and sexual harassment by guests, including instructions to leave threatening situations if possible, reporting procedures, onsite incident follow-up (immediate, and subsequently with law enforcement if applicable), and training regarding these procedures and employee rights (effective January 7, 2018).

  • Provide all employees with a current copy (in English, Spanish and Polish) of the hotel's anti-sexual harassment policy, and post copies in conspicuous places in areas of the hotel, such as supply rooms or employee lunch rooms (effective January 7, 2018).

  • Equip employees who are assigned to work in isolation in a guest room or restroom with a panic button or notification device (effective July 1, 2018)

Self-Assessment Checklist

Has the organization assessed work assignments and its facilities, to identify workers who may work alone or in isolation?

  • Are these assignments routine and ongoing, or infrequent?

  • Does the location contain inherent hazards (stairs, operating equipment, etc.) where mishaps or malfunctions can cause hazards?

  • Are the employees isolated from outside interventions (e.g., in a secured facility) or subject to interaction with outsiders (customers, clients, etc.)?

Has the organization identified specified hazards and their causes, and evaluated risk reduction measures?

  • Monitoring systems?

  • Staffing?

  • First aid and emergency procedures?

  • Workplace violence?

Has the organization developed risk reduction policies, plans and procedures?

Does the organization provide training and equipment to affected employees?

Where Can I Go For More Information?

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. These include:

About the Author

Jon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 13 existing products, including Environmental Compliance: A Simplified National Guide and The Complete Guide to Environmental Law.

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at: tei@ix.netcom.com



photo credit: spanaut winning via photopin (license)
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Tags: Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, Workplace violence

Key Employment Law Decisions from 2017

Posted by Bethan Dinning on Tue, May 15, 2018

By Audrey Belhumeur, Bethan Dinning, Andrew Nathan, Kamini Dowe, and Tommy Leung

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Tags: Business & Legal, Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights

California Adds Ergonomics Standard for Hotel Workers

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, May 08, 2018

There are no national ergonomics requirements for employers, but California has just expanded its longstanding requirements, to add specific protections for hotel housekeepers. These new requirements complete review and rulemaking triggered in 2012 by a petition by a labor advocacy group, and are consistent with other requirements already administered by the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA). The state’s efforts are also consistent with general guidance provided US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). (OSHA has enforced its General Duty Clause against employers found to have ignored known hazards to their employees, since President Bush signed legislation in 2001 repealing OSHA’s own national ergonomics standard.).

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Tags: Employer Best Practices, Health & Safety, OSHA, Employee Rights

Should You Have AEDs In Your Workplace?

Posted by Jon Elliott on Thu, Apr 26, 2018

Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) are appearing in more and more public spaces and workplaces. These electronic devices are designed to deliver an electric shock to a victim of sudden cardiac arrest, and could save thousands of lives every year:

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Tags: Employer Best Practices, Health & Safety, OSHA, Employee Rights, AED

Does Sex Discrimination Include Sexual Orientation – The Second Circuit Changes Sides

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Apr 24, 2018

Because federal anti-discrimination statutes include “sex” discrimination but do not define the term, its interpretation evolves with social and political changes, with policy changes by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which administers and enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a variety of subsequent laws, and with court decisions. A major present debate is whether “sex” encompasses “sexual orientation” – which would protect non-heterosexual employees against employment action based on their sexual orientation. On February 26, 2018 the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed its own precedent, and decided that homosexual employees are protected.

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Tags: Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, Workplace violence, EEOC, directors, directors & officers

Ninth Circuit: Salary History Doesn’t Justify Male-Female Pay Disparities

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Apr 17, 2018

On April 9, a majority of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an employer cannot rely on newly-hired employees’ salary histories to justify paying men more than women for the same work. Although the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 allows disparities based on factors “other than sex,” the court found that salary histories are sufficiently tainted with sex discrimination to bar such reliance. Since it’s taken over 50 years for an appeals court to reach this conclusion, it’s worth exploring the court’s reasoning.

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Tags: Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, directors, directors & officers

NLRB Sends Mixed Signals for Future of Employee Electronic Communications

Posted by Linda Riedemann Norbut on Tue, Mar 20, 2018

On December 19, 2017, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) asked the U.S. court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to affirm the NLRB’s ruling in Purple Communications, Inc., a 2014 NLRB decision which ruled that employers must presumptively permit “employee use of email for statutorily protected communications on nonworking time.” The ruling applies to those employers who have chosen to give employees access to their email systems, and the presumption of employee rights can be overcome in only very limited circumstances.

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Tags: Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, Internet, NLRB

NLRB Eases Restrictions on Employer Policies

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Feb 06, 2018

Most employers promulgate a wide range of employee-related policies and work rules, which some compile in employment manuals. All too frequently, these policies and work rules contain ambiguities that employees try to parse to understand what rules really apply, and why. What if employees interpret – or might reasonably interpret – an ambiguity in a way that appears to restrict employees’ rights to organize themselves? Do these provisions violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)?

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Tags: Business & Legal, Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, NLRB, directors, directors & officers

A Cautionary Tale for Employers Drafting Discretionary Bonus Plans

Posted by Jennifer M. Fantini on Tue, Jan 23, 2018

In the recent British Columbia Supreme Court decision of Kenny v. Weatherhaven Global Resources Ltd., the plaintiff successfully claimed unpaid bonuses and bonus amounts owed over the contractual notice period of approximately $170,000.

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Tags: Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, Canadian, directors, directors & officers

California’s New Cleaning Products Right to Know Act – A First Look

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Jan 16, 2018

Does your employer’s Hazard Communication program pay attention to cleaning agents used in the workplace – bleaches, disinfectants, glass cleaners, etc? If it does more than mention their existence and note that they’re probably corrosive and maybe toxic, you’re almost certainly in the minority. In most workplaces, workers who use cleaners are exposed to undisclosed or unexplained chemical hazards. And even if your organization’s employees do receive this information, does your employer contract out janitorial and other service work without ensuring that those night janitors are fully trained and protected?

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Tags: Business & Legal, Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, Environmental risks, Environmental, Hazcom