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things you should know

COBRA Subsidy and Unemployment Insurance extension signed into law

On December 21, 2009, President Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2010 Department of Defense (DOD) Appropriations Act that provides the following:

Expand the ARRA’s COBRA premium subsidy period from nine to 15 months
Change the end date for eligibility for the subsidy from December 31, 2009, to February 28, 2010
Provide a retroactive period of 60 days (commences upon enactment) for payment of premiums for eligible individuals whose subsidy period expired on November 30, 2009
Require a special notice outlining these changes within 60 days to all eligible individuals on COBRA on or after October 31, 2009, or those who are terminated after this date
Clarify the original COBRA subsidy program, noting that eligibility and notice are based on the timing of the qualifying event

Unemployment Insurance

The DOD bill also provides an extension and expansion of unemployment insurance benefits.  These changes are outlined below.


DOL updates 'Employment Law Guide'

The Department of Labor recently posted an updated version of its Employment Law Guide. The guide offers information on workplace laws and worker rights and responsibilities, and is designed for those needing "hands-on" information to develop wage, benefit, safety and health, and nondiscrimination policies.

DOL also offers the FirstStep advisor, which answers questions online to help employers determine applicable federal laws.


Strength training reduces pain among female office workers

According to a Danish study published in the November issue of the American Physiological Society's Journal of Applied Physiology, performing strength training exercises using dumbbells can significantly reduce neck and shoulder pain in female office workers.

During the 10-week study, 42 women whose office work involved repetitive tasks and computers were divided into three groups: strength training, general fitness and a control group that received counseling on ergonomics but no physical training. All participants had reported neck pain and tightness and tenderness of the trapezius muscle, which extends from the neck to the upper back, according to an APS press release.

Women who participated in the strength training program experienced a pain reduction of more than 50 percent, had better rapid force capacity and developed more of the muscle fibers that help generate power, while members from the other two groups reported no major changes, the press release said.


Fake job reference services growing

Appealing to desperate job seekers, web-based services that offer fake work history and references such as and are a challenge for employers. While they may have short life expectancies like AlibiHQ, they point out the need for due diligence in job screening practices. It’s more difficult to falsify records relating to jobs at a large company, so problems often relate to small business references. Internet searches to be sure the company exists, reverse telephone checks and W-2 forms can be useful resources. It’s important to remember in hiring practices to treat applicants equally and require all to submit the same documentation to avoid discriminatory treatment.


Being bullied at work impacts sleep patterns

A study of 7,500 workers in France, published in the journal, SLEEP, found that both men and women who experienced bullying at work were almost twice as likely to experience problems falling asleep or difficulty falling back to sleep after a premature awakening. Moreover, over 30% reported a rise in sleep disturbances.


NIOSH updates nanotechnology resources

NIOSH on Dec. 8 released new online resources on nanotechnology. The agency's nanotechnology website now features a link for occupational safety and health practitioners. One of the biggest areas of nanotechnology risk management lies in Workers’ Compensation; the proper development of a risk management program is critical.


OSHA issues hazardous substance guidance for EMS

Released Nov. 30, a new OSHA guidance covers hazard assessment and emergency response plans, and appropriate training and personal protective equipment. It advises employers of emergency medical service responders on best practices for protecting EMS workers who care for victims of hazardous-substance release incidents.