Thursday July 18, 2024

Department of Labor’s New Program: “We Can Help”

With so much focus these days on fair labor and decent wages, the Fair Labor Standards Act is getting a workout – and it’s being put to the test.  Employers are double checking their policies to ensure compliance.  Everything from working through lunch to taking training courses after hours and not being compensated for the time is fair game for employees who feel they’re being treated unfairly.  Employers are concerned, and for good reason, says attorney A. Harrison Barnes, who’s also the founder and president of  “There’s a reason the Department of Labor has hired 250 new employees across the nation”, he explains.  “The goal is to investigate the growing number of wage and hour complaints”.

As a result of these complaints, the Labor Department just unveiled its “We Can Help” initiative.  The goal is to ensure workers in every industry and in every state know their rights.  They also hope to encourage those who are facing wage or other disparities to come forward.  So thorough is this effort that the website is loaded with useful information for employees who might be too afraid to come forward.  Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis is starring in public service announcements in an effort to get the message out there.   Rest assured, law firms are reporting “explosive growth” in the number of wage and hour lawsuits.

If you’re unsure whether or not your company is in violation of any employment laws, A. Harrison Barnes recommends consulting with counsel so that any uncertainties can be addressed.  Further, the founder explains, new numbers suggest more than 85% of the workforce is not exempt form FLSA guidelines.  That’s an alarming number since many employers assume salaried employees don’t enjoy those same protections as hourly or non-exempt employees do.

Barnes recommends possible internal training programs to educate not only management but your employees as well.  It’s difficult to fix something that you weren’t even aware was broken, but most certainly in this case, a proactive approach is going to be much better than a reactive one after it’s  been discovered your company is not in compliance.  Other suggestions include speaking with employees one on one, asking for feedback and reiterating your commitment to your employees.  Barnes says not doing everything possible is risky business and as many companies are now discovering, it’s an expensive mistake, too.

As mentioned, the United States Department of Labor just unveiled a new website specifically for this growing problem.  On it, employers and employees will find a lot of useful information, including fact sheets and government statements.  Phone numbers and other contact information is being made available as well.  Employers are encouraged to download or order the many “We Can Help” posters and pamphlets available and finally, the Freedom of Information Act is included on the site.  It can be accessed by pointing your browser to

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Pregnancy Bias and the Americans with Disabilities Act

If you were a welder who worked in an uncomfortable environment and you were transferred once you discovered you were pregnant, would you file a claim against your employer? That’s exactly the question that has a federal appeals court divided these days. The case made it to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati where it upheld a lower court’s ruling that addressed a woman’s claims that she was discriminated against and fired due to her pregnancy. The court panel is quoted as saying, “As a whole, the evidence is sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact whether JIM Management…subjectively viewed Spees’ pregnancy as rendering her unable to weld”.

The case, Heather Spees v. James Marine Inc. and JamesBuilt LLC, revolved around a woman who discovered she was pregnant shortly after being hired at a company that manufactures various dry docks, tank barges and other decks for the shipping industry. In 2007, Spees was hired at a Paducah, Kentucky location and within a few months, discovered she was pregnant. This resulted in the company transferring her to a “safer” environment in the tool room. Several days later, she was placed on the night shift and then a week after that, her doctor took her out of work and told her to remain on bed rest for the duration of the pregnancy. From there, she was terminated “for being pregnant”. A. Harrison Barnes, founder and lawyer, says the suit was subsequently filed one year later and alleged pregnancy discrimination and disability discrimination.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects women who are pregnant under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In short, women “who are pregnant or affected by pregnancy-related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations”.

The founder continues, saying an employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant, announces her intent to become pregnant or is recovering from any kind of pregnancy related issue. Further, says A Harrison Barnes, an employer may not fire a woman for those same reasons. The Act also is very clear on women who cannot perform their usual job duties due to pregnancy; and employer is obligated to treat her in the same manner as any other “temporarily disabled employee”. An employer can’t force a pregnant women to go home and return after she gives birth and her job ‘must be held open”. This, according to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, goes right to the heart of the case at hand.

As mentioned, the case has been remanded to a lower court again, and time will tell what the eventual outcome will be. Many lawyers are watching it closely as it could set precedence for other women in the future.

The case has been remanded back to the lower courts.

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Subtle Wording Changes Suggest Major Initiatives

They say the truth is in the interpretation; if that’s true, the Department of Labor’s replacement of opinion letters with administrator interpretations might mean there are major changes going on behind the scenes, says A. Harrison Barnes, attorney and president of Historically, when an employer inquired about how to remain in compliance with things such as pay requirements and other subtleties associated with the Fair Labor Standards Act, the response come in the form of an opinion letter. The letter, accompanied by specific clauses in the Act that the Department sent, would provide direction for the employer. This served as legal justification for any action a company might take.

Now, says A. Harrison Barnes, the new administrator interpretations, are more general. They’re directed to entire sectors, such as manufacturing. The interpretations do not address specific questions an employer may ask, but will instead “provide guidance…clarifying the law as it relates to an entire industry, a category of employees, or to all employees”. This, from the Department of Labor, is designed for a more “efficient method”.

Many employers are crying “foul” and are saying the Labor Department is dropping the ball in its duties. They say the entire purpose of the Department is to provide specific direction for the millions of employers throughout the U.S. and are blaming the Obama Administration for making these changes that don’t answer specific questions. Further complicating matters is how job titles differ from one company to another. For instance, in one company, may list its clerk job as part time help, thereby making them ineligible for certain benefits. Another company, across the country, or across the street, may hire full time clerks while providing them with full benefits. Obviously, the differences are significant; however, if both parties were to contact the Department of Labor on clarification of some kind, they’d both receive the same letter that likely did not address either problem.

This, says the founder, is where the problems are going to be substantial. To top off these changes, some are charging the agency is leaning towards helping wronged employees in their litigation efforts. Between the national television commercial campaign and the celebrities who were no doubt pay big money to star in these ads, employees are being given quick guidelines on how to sue, via the “We Can Help” promotion.

So does this mean other areas, such as wage and hour concerns, the various disabilities acts and employment acts will suffer? “Possibly”, say some experts. If you have employers looking for the right solution and seeking guidance from the one agency that can provide it, but won’t, and if you have that same agency encouraging employees to sue those employers, there’s going to be a major unrest in the employment sector as a whole. Time will tell, of course, but this is yet another solution to a problem that never existed until an unnecessary change in policy.

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Government Jobs: Legislative Assistant

Ever wonder how the thousands of bills that are introduced each year to Congress ever get written, organized and collated to go to each member that must review, notate, approve or deny?  Who writes all these would-be laws?  If you’re thinking a well organized political secretary is behind the magic, you’re right – but only partly.  A legislative assistant is the one who shoulders the lion’s share of these bills.  Each Congressional member has at least one, but usually several, legislative assistants who work closely with the administrative assistants behind the scenes to get these documents put together. In fact, this is a legislative assistant’s primary function, says A. Harrison Barnes, attorney and founder.  They often work with others who share the same responsibilities and even as their bosses are working towards their re-election campaigns and dealing with constituents, you can be sure a legislative assistant is working magic behind the scenes.

Unlike some employees who work for politicians, especially on a federal level, such as legislative “staffers” or other delegates, legislative assistant usually work in a full time and in a permanent capacity.  In fact, many assistants have served in several terms over the years.  Further, says A. Harrison Barnes, there are generally two sections within a politician’s staff.  Those who do research, write press releases, work in the legal side and other positions are considered part of the “casework” staff while others are dealing directly with legislative issues.

One important consideration that no one should underestimate is that these positions are incredibly fast paced and assistants often get burned out.  The hours can be brutal – including up to 16 and 18 hour days – sometimes many in a row, says the founder.  That said, the work is important and those who find their niche often do well in the long term.  There’s another consideration, too.  Many have been noticed in these positions and have found themselves being promoted on a fairly regular basis.  In fact, some say the role of a legislative assistant is a good way to determine who’s best suited and those who might would do better in a different environment.

Some legislative assistants will parlay their experience into a judicial appointment and will work directly under a state or federal judge.  The educational requirements are important, however, and those with some degree of a legal background are often preferred.  The salaries vary greatly and in fact, it’s difficult to even lock in a median salary range because of the different dynamics involved in these careers.

Think this might be a great position for you?  Visit today – get your resume in tip top shape, explore the educational opportunities for your chosen career path and take a look at the most current positions, updated in real time, that catch your attention.  Your new career is closer than you think.  Be sure to browse the database of legal articles, tips and advice pages, as well.

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The Benefits of a Health Savings Plan

Most of us can relate to facing higher insurance premiums and co-pays with our employer’s health care plan.  For some, it’s become an unaffordable option and more Americans are now without any kind of health insurance for themselves and their families.  It could be a health savings account plan is your best option, says A. Harrison Barnes, founder.  There are many considerations and disadvantages that shouldn’t be dismissed without careful analysis.  Here, Barnes spells out some of those advantages and disadvantages of a health savings account.

First things first – you have to understand what these accounts are and more importantly, what they’re not.  It’s a pre-tax scenario that allows you to contribute a certain amount of your salary to the plan; much like you already do with your 401(k), says the founder.  Also, the annual contribution for those under the age of 55 is $6,150 and most of these plans have a high deductible, too.

You might be surprised to learn the number of Americans who had these particular types of health plans were more than 10 million in January 2010.  For contrast, the number was 8 million in 2009. This is interesting since fewer Americans are insured and yet there continues to be a growth in this particular option.  This very well could become the next norm.

Here’s how it works, says A. Harrison Barnes:

There are qualified medical expenses and these plans often will include prescription coverage and sometimes dental care.   Many employers are encouraging these HSAs because, among other reasons, the streamlined methods used. The employee will pay for a predetermined dollar amount each year and after that’s been met, usually around $3,000, the HSA pays 80% while you pay the remaining 20%.  Each account has its own debit card and checkbook to ensure a streamlined process for paying your medical expenses.  Plus, it makes it easier to keep track of how much you’re spending on medical costs.   Keep in mind, all the money accumulates year after year; meaning, you don’t lose it at the end of the year.  Plus – and this is a big selling point for many – you can opt to stop your contributions for a period of time, sometimes; however, a certain threshold might be required, says Barnes.

Much like you can with a 401(k), any monies you spend out of pocket if your HSA is running low on funds will be repaid to you once you’ve built your balance up again.  As with a 401(k), no one is earning interest off of your money except yourself.

Many are saying this is the new look of the American health insurance plan. More companies are beginning to take notice and have begun making the transition.  If you’re interested in finding out if this is a viable option for your employer, you should meet with your supervisor.

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Finding Bank Regulatory Agencies’ Work

Increasingly, security is an issue such that bank regulatory agencies are under fire (and under a lot of pressure) to do the job right, yet still cut costs. As bank regulatory agencies look for ways to cut costs, they can sometimes outsource so-called “nonessential” work — that which doesn’t require security clearance — for cheaper rates, so that they can spend precious dollars elsewhere where such expenditures are required.

If you’re someone who has worked for banks previously, or who knows how this type of work is done, you may just be able to find bank regulatory agencies’ work that’s “nonessential,” and best of all, you can do it from home. One such site that sometimes hosts this type of work is With, you can find basic bank regulatory agencies’ work and do it from the comfort of your own home; best of all, you don’t have to commit full-time to a job and in most cases you can do it right from where you are without having to relocate.

If you’re someone who is looking to outsource bank regulatory agencies’ work for lower level jobs, can help in this regard, too. By going to and posting these jobs on, you can find the expertise you need without having to hire full-time employees. This is money saving for you, so that you can spend precious dollars elsewhere.

As a “Solver,” or someone looking for jobs, go to, set up an account, and then look for bank regulatory agencies’ jobs that you can do. You must agree to complete the jobs in the time required, but there’s no long-term commitment. Simply work when you want to, and then don’t when you don’t want to, if you’d rather take some time off.

As a “Seeker,” or employer, you can go to, set up an account, and post bank regulatory agencies’ jobs for others to do. Post the amount of payment and time for completion, and then wait for an expert in this type of work to come and complete the job for you. It’s easy, simple and quick, and you won’t have to hire full-time employees to do these types of jobs for you. Instead, you can save money by hiring Solvers on when you need these types of jobs done, and then dispensing with them when you don’t.

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The Paralegal

Everyone knows behind every great attorney is a team of loyal and dedicated secretaries, assistants, investigators and paralegals. Each brings his own strengths to the table and together, a great team can play a significant role in a lawyer and his firm’s success. Paralegals are an intricate part of a law firm.

A paralegal, or sometimes “legal assistant” is one who is qualified via training, education and/or previous work experience within the legal sector. That experience comes from a law firm, a corporation, a government agency or anywhere else where a lawyer is responsible for the work that’s being done. They are highly qualified and accept many responsibilities throughout the course of their careers. Their work is substantive and significant and quite often, they put in as much as their lawyers do.

While each state has its own educational and experience requirements, paralegals are not a replacement for a lawyer (although some feel as though they are at times), says A. Harrison Barnes, attorney and founder of There are, however, different certification levels that include various certification processes. Some of those associations include:

” The National Association of Paralegals (NALA)

” The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)

” The American Alliance of Paralegals (AAPI)

Since the late 1960s, the American Bar Association, or ABA, has “endorsed the use of paralegals and established the first committee on paralegals in the country”.

According to A. Harrison Barnes, paralegals are generally given their tasks by the attorneys they work for and will vary on a daily basis, from one law firm to another and from lawyer to another within the same firm. They review client files, organize files, conduct various legal research efforts, type pleadings, notices and witness statements and will often sit in on meetings between lawyers and their clients. They often work as a liaison between the attorney and clients and will generally ease the load on the attorneys they’re assigned to.

Paralegals are not synonymous with administrative assistants. They are usually privy to information secretaries and other assistants do not have access to. They accompany lawyers to court and ensure the files are organized so that the lawyers can present the different cases. They ensure witnesses arrive to the courtroom on time and they meet with these clients to ensure they’re aware of what’s being expected of them.

Many law firms agree the addition of a paralegal allows them to reduce costs, thereby reducing the fees that are passed on to their clients. Since the paralegal will work as a “go between” with the lawyers and clients, it’s usually a more satisfying experience for the client as he feels as though he’s being “kept in the loop” at all times; a practice a lawyer who’s working without the benefit of a paralegal might not be able to provide.

Salaries will vary, as well. An experienced paralegal can expect to make an impressive salary. Even those recently certified paralegals discover their salary negotiations are smooth. It stands to reason the more experience, the most impressive the salary.

For those considering a change of pace, opting for a career as a paralegal is both rewarding and challenging, says the founder.

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Gravy Job? A Day in the Life of a Video Game Tester

Even as April showed a drop in U.S. retail sales of various video games and associated products, there are still many jobs available for those wishing to be the first to test new products. Not only that, but experts say the industry is strong and these jobs are going to be increasing in availability. Is it the gravy job you’ve been looking for? founder and career coach A. Harrison Barnes says, “Not necessarily”. Let’s take a look at what goes into the perfect employee who tests video games for a living:

It’s actually quite competitive. This is why it’s important to get a head start. Consider a game design education or at least be willing to start on the ground floor and work your way up.

It’s an uncertain industry, even with its growth potential. Once a market becomes saturated with the latest “must have” console, the industry as a whole usually hits a plateau, says A. Harrison Barnes. This means there may times throughout one’s career that he is unemployed for periods of time. Still, there are always those new and better systems coming down the pipe, it’s just that makers know how to time the releases.

The video game makers are human. They worry a new release won’t garner the response they’re hoping for, so it’s not uncommon for them to overthink their product lines. “They can’t predict the future and the gaming industry is tough”, says the founder.

Believe it or not, the gaming industry, due to its “escapism” factor, does well when the economy’s in a slump. People won’t to run away from life for a little while and often, these video games provide that solution. That doesn’t mean the industry as a whole crashes once the economy improves, it just means it’s another factor to keep in mind.

Different companies require different educational backgrounds; what worked for one might not even be considered a plus on your resume to another company.

Finally, many Americans have discovered they have a better career opportunity overseas. While some are fine with relocating to Asia, many of us simply don’t want to leave home. That’s OK, most Americans are traditionally “home bodies”. Again, it’s just another factor to keep in mind, says the founder.

If it’s a career in this industry you want, there’s no reason not to pursue it, provided you can balance those downtimes against the upswing of the industry. Then again, many careers are like that. Often, it’s simply a matter of deciding what you’re willing to sacrifice and how hard you’re willing to work for your own version of a dream job. Just be sure to consider all of the pros and cons.

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Does More Pay Equate to a Meaner Boss?

We’ve all seen the arrogant manager who feels a bit entitled because he has the reserved parking space and earns considerably more than those who report to him. But do these perks and higher salaries result in these clueless supervisors treating their employees unkindly and in some cases, down right mean? One researcher, Sreedhari Desai, says yes. A. Harrison Barnes, career coach and founder says the combination of ego, entitlement and arrogance can culminate into an impossible supervisor who’s anything but what a leader should be. Desai says the more compensation is increased for some executives, the meant they get and how far down the proverbial food chain you are determines how poorly you’re treated.

Desai and two co-authors, Jennifer George of Rice University and Arthur Brief, a senior at the University of Utah, wrote “When Executives Rake in Millions: Meanness in Organizations”. The founder says the paper is revealing and unflattering to some executives who recognize themselves, whether they admit it or not. This makes it difficult for new employees who come in wide-eyed and ready to make their mark. They’re faced with fair warnings from new co-workers and as a result, tend to approach the meanie manager with a large degree of caution. “No one wants to start a new career that way”, says A. Harrison Barnes.

It’s true. A recent study showed more than 85% of college graduates who were preparing to enter the job market cited interactions with management as their biggest stress factor. “Every new employee who’s barking on his career wants two things: to get along with his supervisor and to make a good impression”. An intimidating boss can make both efforts nearly impossible, says the founder.

So what’s a new employee to do when he realizes he’s now reporting to the boss from hell? Barnes says it’s important to not allow yourself to become a victim or allow any bullying. You’re there to do a job; if you can effectively pull this off on a daily basis, you should try to stay out of the line of fire and keep your eye on the ball. That said, he also reiterates that no one wants to go to a job each morning with knots in their stomachs and dreading the day ahead. For some, the solution is to get out fast before an ego-driven boss poisons every aspect of your life. While waiting it out at times can result in seeing the bully asked to leave the premises (or if karma’s involved, being publicly fired), it’s a gamble, especially if it’s already taking a toll on your work and personal life.

Bottom line, says Barnes, is that only you know your breaking point. It’s a tough decision, especially if it’s a job you’ve envisioned since you entered college. Regardless, it’s not the only dream job. Maintain your perspective and maturity, and you’ll come out ahead and who knows, maybe even you’ll find yourself in a management job with an advantage: you already know what not to do.

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7 Ways to Get Started on the Right Foot With a New Employer

Ah, you landed the job with the company that you’re sure will be the one hosting your retirement party in thirty years. All the sacrifices, the interviews with other potential employers that went nowhere and the collective dues you’ve paid along the way are finally paying off. Now it’s just a matter of getting to Monday morning and walking through the door for the first time. Here are a few tips that will get you started on the right path with a new job, courtesy of A. Harrison Barnes, employment coach and founder.

1. Get up early! Getting up a half hour early in the mornings allow you to get the day started without the frustrations we feel when we’re running late. Too many times, those frustrating mornings lend to the entire day being nothing more than a series of aggravations. Those few minutes gives you time to contemplate on the day ahead and drinking your morning joe with no sense of urgency.

2. Remain consistent with your lists. Some of us aren’t list makers while other of us would be lost without those To Do lists on our BlackBerry or even those quick handwritten notes we keep close by. Lists keep us focused and grounded in terms of our priorities. It’s a great habit to develop, says the founder.

3. Go into your new job completely organized. Clean out your purse or computer bag, your car and the junk drawer in the kitchen. The more organized you are, the better balance you’ll find in your life as a result – including the transition to a new career.

4. Exercise is crucial, not only for that first day at the new job, but for our lives as a whole. Exercise keeps brain fog at bay and our bodies in shape. Remember, energy is like money; you have to spend it to make it. This is another fine way to take advantage of those few minutes in your mornings, says A. Harrison Barnes.

5. Make a commitment to yourself that you’re finally going to take that evening class or complete those credits lacking for your degree. It’s an important accomplishment for you on many levels and does wonders for your confidence. Not only that, says Barnes, but it also increases your negotiation powers. Now’s the time – you’re beginning a new chapter in your professional life and this bodes well with your objectives.

6. Stick to your goals of building an emergency fund, building your savings or increasing your contributions to your 401(k). Money’s not everything, but the peace of mind it provides when we know we have a few dollars in the bank allows us to rest at night.

7. Finally, just as you defined a new morning ritual, be sure to create a block of time in the evenings when you go from career to home life. Unwind, decompress and maintain your commitment of keeping them separate.

Don’t forget that while your career is important, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the ride in the process. There’s nothing that will burn us out faster than when we become stifled in our jobs.

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