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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ideas to help employers adapt to changing attitudes about marijuana

By Rebecca Short

The legality behind firing someone for testing positive for marijuana has been called into question recently because, Colorado and Washington both passed state laws declaring recreational pot legal.

Now that marijuana use is legal in these two states, companies are being faced with a new challenge. If an employee tests positive for marijuana at a zero-tolerance company in one of these two states, is it still lawful to terminate them? The Supreme Court recently ruled that it is, but maybe there could be amendments made by the employers in an attempt to compromise.

Fit the policy to the job

The basic, standard five-panel drug test used by most employers screens for marijuana, cocaine, phencyclidine (PCP), amphetamines and opiates. This panel looks for meth, speed, heroin, crack cocaine, ecstasy and angel dust, to name a few by their street names. One reason companies opt for the zero-tolerance policy is to avoid legal issues. If they adopt an all or nothing policy, legally speaking, it is clear-cut and not open for debate. However, thanks to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington, the one-size-fits-all policy would appear to no longer stand. So, what to do from here?

No one would dispute that a significant reason these drug and alcohol policies exist is to protect the safety of other employees and clients in the workplace. How dangerous is the task at hand? Who and how many people would be affected if any accident occurred? Those operating heavy machinery are cautioned not even to take cold medicine if it makes them drowsy! It is no accident semi-truck drivers and airplane pilots are screened consistently; their jobs put them in positions where if anything goes wrong, it could cost some people their lives.

Zero-tolerance policies exist in these types of jobs for that reason. Come to work under the influence, people could die. So then what? What about all those people who take buses and trains to work and sit passively at desks or computer consoles during the day? Well, the truth is, alternatives to automatic termination are already in place. Many companies employ a warning system, which could lead to an eventual termination if an employee’s behaviors are not modified satisfactorily. Others choose to remove and suspend an employee from duty immediately pending a follow-up drug test and probationary period. Some use a variation of the two methods, depending on the infraction.

Hold out for alternative testing options

Maybe the real question should be “How do we incorporate legal recreational marijuana into our existing policies?” Any behavior that affects job performance usually leads to termination if it happens frequently enough. Drug use is not the only culprit. Alcohol and excessive illness or tardiness are also reasons. Scientists are developing a test similar to a Breathalyzer for detecting marijuana in real time. The main issue with testing for marijuana is it metabolizes significantly more slowly than alcohol, so if a person used the drug at any point in the past 30 days, the test could come back positive. That is even if the individual never came to work under the influence. If and when this test becomes available, it will be easier to separate actual recreational use of the drug from a more abusive use.

Forego random drug testing altogether

Human Resources departments recommend that one way to avoid legal troubles is to forgo random drug testing once an individual is hired by a company. Routine screenings for those working in high-risk environments are usually accepted, and they are also built into company policy. It would be in everyone’s better interest to only order a drug test if there is reason to believe an employee’s sobriety is compromised while at work. 

If recreational marijuana is legal off the clock and it is not affecting performance on the clock, then maybe we should do as the folks from Amsterdam do. Get rid of the marijuana element of the drug test in states where it is legal, but keep a stricter policy for those substances that are still 100 percent illegal.


About the author: Rebecca Short is the human resources director for her company and has to deal with setting policies on drug use and screening applicants. To help her with screening these applicants, she requires a reliable lab, and has found such a lab by going to http://www.workfloworlando.com. You can learn more about Rebecca by going to Google+.

Image: A7nubis; "Marijuana plantation"; GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0

Friday, September 19, 2014

Britain's big six energy suppliers continuing to lose market share

By Debbie Faulkner

New figures show that Britain’s ‘big six’ energy companies – British Gas, EDF, E.ON, npower, Scottish Power and SSE – are continuing to lose their market share. The large suppliers now have a 92.4% share of the market – a decrease from 99.8% five years ago.
The latest figures, from independent research group Cornwall Energy, show that 3.8m customers have accounts with small, independent suppliers. These energy companies have increased their share from 0.2% to 7.6% at the same time as the big six have taken a tumble.
big six energy suppliers
Independent energy suppliers are differentiating themselves as Earth friendly

Britain’s largest independent energy company, First Utility, has just announced it has reached over a million customer accounts and now has a share in more than 2% of the residential energy market. The utility supplier has seen a remarkable ten-fold increase in customer numbers in just under three years. Utility Warehouse is the second biggest independent supplier, with some 835,000 accounts.

Independents are differentiating themselves from the big six by underscoring their green credentials, technological advances, or market campaigns as well as offering some of the cheapest gas and electricity tariffs.

First Utility is just one of the smaller firms claiming to offer cheaper bills than those of the big six suppliers. The firm has been the cheapest gas and electricity supplier on the market for 23 out of 35 weeks in the third quarter of 2014, promising to save customers up to £213 a year. Co-operative Energy and Extra Energy also offered gas and electricity tariffs under £1,000 in Q3.

“The number of energy suppliers has almost trebled since 2010 thanks to Government action to open up the energy market and break up the stranglehold of the big six” says Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

“Reaching one million customer accounts is a fantastic milestone for First Utility. With over two million customers now signed up to independent suppliers overall it’s clear that households increasingly trust them and are benefiting from competition in the market.”

The latest data reveals that more people switched their gas and electricity supply to independent firms than the Big Six in May for the very first time. The news comes after the big six suppliers announced above-inflation price rises in unison and met an increase in customer complaints.

Representing the energy market, Energy UK said more than 225,000 households are switching suppliers each month. The figures indicate consumers are now more willing to switch and are more aware of the benefits of switching.

 “More and more people are voting with their feet and switching away from the Big Six to newer providers, chasing lower prices and better service. The Big Six need to raise their game if they want to keep customers,” says USwitch chief executive Steve Weller.

The declining market share comes in unison with an enquiry into the big six suppliers by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) after regulator Ofgem said the market did not allow fair competition.

The CMA enquiry, which is to examine the possibility of breaking up the big suppliers, is due at the end of next year.

About the author: Debbie Faulkner is an energy blogger who champions green energy and campaigns against the monopolisation of the ‘big six’ energy companies.

Image: Alan Cleaver, "Electric light", CC BY 2.0

Financial news: September 19, 2014

Reuters: Dollar value ↑ sharply on future FED policy & low ECB loan demand
Bloomberg: Slow settlement periods are a potential hazard for loan investors
NYT: Hospital mergers raise price control & decreases price competition per FTC
MW: Fed Chairwoman states poorer Americans are still in recession
AP: Walmart to hire up to 60,000 seasonal workers
NAHB: August home starts down 2.4%
CNBC: Fully self-driving technology to be available in 6 years per Tesla CEO
Phil. Fed: Mid-Atlantic manufacturing slowed in Sept. per index of 22.5
CNN: Home ownership rates for 18-34 year olds is 13.2%
Fox: Tech spending to rise at 66% of banks this year
Zero Hedge: Large coal reserves in E.Ukraine add to political tensions
BBC: Only $135 billion of $516 billion in available ECB loans taken

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Employee fraud can cause major problems

By Andrew Reilly

While some people commit theft and fraud after a lot of planning and consideration, it is fair to say that many people commit these crimes because the opportunity arose. A person may not have considered themselves to be a criminal or someone who was likely to break the law, but because of circumstance, they found themselves in a position where there was an opportunity to commit a crime and receive some benefit.
Employee fraud
Fraud includes bribes, illegal transactions & extortion 

Many people will be faced with temptation and while it is fair to say that most people can resist this temptation, for a number of reasons, it may be that some people are unable to avoid this. While everyone knows that committing serious crimes like theft and fraud will have serious consequences, there is often a rationalisation that goes on in the persons head. There may also be some thought that they will not get caught, which means that they don’t pay much attention to the potential consequences of acting in such a manner. However, far too many people have found out that there are serious consequences of being caught committing a fraud, especially one of such a high nature.

This was the case for Christine Quinn, a 34 year old woman from Belfast, who pleaded guilty to defrauding a sum of £10,000. The victim was the Department for Social Development, who were employers. The period of time ran between October 2010 and March 2011, with the woman eventually pleading guilty to two counts of fraud by abuse of power, when she appeared in Belfast Crown Court. The crime was undertaken by making benefits payments, of a false nature, to her mother. Quinn also denied two other counts made against her in court, which were charges of copying a false instrument.

People in positions of trust need to be responsible

There are many positions of trust that people are placed into, and of course, there is an expectation for them to act above board in all manners. This is crucial and it is something that all employees will be told at the start and will be reminded of at various times during their career. It is not as though the law itself is enough of a reminder about what can and can’t be done by people who hold a position of power, there will be plenty of reminders that people in a position of power need to be accountable at all times.

The court heard that a total of £10,000 was paid into the bank account of her mother but before too long, these funds were transferred over to an account that Mrs Quinn held with her husband. The prosecution lawyer in court pointed out that under interview, Mrs Quinn stated that she was acting to help out her mother, and then the funds were transferred away from her mother. It was also recognised that the accused had submitted claims on her husband’s behalf, but there spotted and stopped before the money was paid. This means that there was a potential loss of £25,000.

There could be severe financial penalties to come

With the judge saying that money is expected to be paid back, there is a continuing need for Quinn to receive the best level of defence. Sentencing has been adjourned until the beginning of October with a report prior to sentencing being created. The fact that there is a dual element to the case, the sentencing and then likely a focus on the proceeds of crime indicates that there is a real need to have legal representation that is skilled and experienced.

The right sort of defence will be able to:
  • Effectively quote precedent
  • Provide reliable expectations at all times
  • Be fully prepared for what may come ahead
  • Will have experience of this style of case
  • Will prepare a client fully for questioning
  • Will be able to advise regarding appeals or follow-on cases
In this sort of case, it is possible that some clients will have one firm all the way through, while other clients may decide it is best to use to one firm for the initial case, and then to utilise the skills of another criminal defence team with respect to the amount of money that needs to be paid back,. Finding a single criminal defence team that can provide support for the entire case is likely to be of benefit but in some cases, it may be best splitting the matter into two, and then receiving the best level of support across the entire spectrum of the cases. 

About the author: Andrew Reilly is a freelance writer with a focus on news stories and consumer interest articles. He has been writing professionally for 8 years but has been writing for as long as he can care to remember. When Andrew isn't sat behind a laptop or researching a story, he will be found watching a gig or a game of football.

Image: Pixabay, US-PD