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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hiring in the millennial age

People between ages 18 to 34 are in the millennial generation and were projected to number 75.3 million in 2015, surpassing the projected 74.9 million Boomers (ages 51 to 69). That generational group fills the job pool and is highly sought after. Generational differences mean you need to adjust your job screening process. Below is an excerpt from an article posted on Society for Human Resource Managers, written by Angela Preston, which explains some legal issues you should be aware of when screening Millennials.
Hiring this growing generation of workers introduces a whole new set of legal challenges to the HR department, and the background screening process is one of those challenges. These five legal lessons should provide a good starting place for making your screening program more compliant and Millennial-friendly.

Social Media Searches
Millennials love their social networks. In fact, social media in many ways defines this generation. Many have grown up with Facebook accounts and can’t remember a world without the Internet or even without Twitter. They chronicle their lives on Instagram. Some say Millennials share too freely and fail to appreciate the impact that social media posts can have on their careers. The oversharing can be tempting for hiring managers who are eager to tap into the wealth of online information…. employers are more likely to stumble upon protected class information that could get them into hot water. Employers need to make sure that any social media screening is done by those who are familiar with the legal risks—particularly anti-discrimination and privacy laws.

Digital Natives and Age Discrimination
Millennials are not direct targets for age discrimination. But here’s the rub—the hiring criteria you are using to attract Millennials might be at the expense of those older 40-somethings who are protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and other similar state laws. Another example is the term “digital native.” It’s the new code for a recent graduate and it’s popping up in ads where companies are looking for a person who was born and raised in the digital age. In other words, Millennials. Legal experts agree that pre-screening for digital natives is a form of thinly veiled age discrimination.

Driving Records
Apparently Millennials don’t like to drive. According to AARP, Millennials drive around 25 percent less than their counterparts did just eight years ago. If a licensed driver with a clean driving record is your target, you might actually be eliminating a significant number of prospective Millennial applicants. That might not be a big deal, but like all parts of a pre-employment background check, you want to make sure that the information you are seeking is relevant to the job at hand. Before you run a motor vehicle report (MVR) on an applicant, you should be asking yourself why? Is a clean driving record a bona fide job requirement?

Millennials, more than any other generation, tend to rely less on traditional bank loans and credit cards. They are more likely to use cash, and as a group they actually spend less than Generation X or Baby Boomers. They tend to borrow less, which some experts think is related to their large amount of student loan debt. Credit is already a slippery slope, with many states prohibiting use of credit for pre-employment screening.

Job History and Verifications
Millennials job hop. According to Data Facts blog, “a whopping 91% of them don’t expect to stay at a job for longer than 3 years.” They are mobile, more likely to move to large urban areas and are less motivated by pay. Their priorities are different from those who came before them and will move on in order to find more meaningful work.

Also about millennials affect on the work force is our March 2017 post Customer service in the millennial age

Monday, May 8, 2017

What’s in your wallet?

The salary question

The movement to remove the criminal history question from employment applications has been steadily gaining popularity over the last several years. Ban the Box (referring to the checkbox asking if an applicant has ever been convicted of a crime) laws have been enacted by cities, counties, and states. Most affect only government applications but a few apply to the private sector. They are currently 26 states and 150 cities and counties. Maryland is one of those states and the laws applies to state government applications only. While it is not against federal employment laws (past bills in Congress have failed) the EEOC strongly encourages employers not to base hiring decisions based on the applicant’s criminal history.

Another interview question under scrutiny is the salary question-“What is your current and/or most recent salary?” Proponents feel that asking the question will help correct salary disparities by not basing offers on past pay. Arguing that pay should be offered for the position, based on market values, not the person. Employers feel that the new laws are more government intrusion that affects hiring and hurts their overall business.

The attention to this question comes from the equal pay for women campaign, which is gaining popularity on political platforms. Women earn roughly 80 cents per dollar compared to men based on information form the U.S. Census bureau. This pay disparity tends to follow a woman throughout her career when new salary offers are based on current or past history.

Pay equity laws

As with Ban the Box, once the wave starts rolling it does not take long for cities and states to follow suit. The National Conference of State Legislatures lists 43 states with equal pay laws that prohibit discriminating between the sexes. However, Massachusetts was the first to enact a law that specifically prohibits paying a woman less than a man.

In August 2016, the Governor of Massachusetts signed into law the Pay Equity Act, which will take effect July 1, 2018. Under this law it will be illegal for employers: to pay men and women differently for comparable work, screen applicants based on past salaries, contact the applicant’s former company reference salary, and restricting employees from discussing their salaries.

After Massachusetts big cities quickly passed laws. Philadelphia became the first to enact such a law, which was to take effect in January 2017, but is delaying implementation awaiting a federal ruling on a petition to block the law. In April 2017, New York City barred employers from inquiring about salary information.

This issue is gaining attention at the federal level as well. In September of 2016 the Pay Equity for All Act of 2016 was introduced to the United States House of Representatives and is still in committee. The original proposal would make it illegal to screen prospective employees based on their previous wages or salary histories; ask for previous wages or salary; or fire or retaliate against any current or prospective employee because the employee opposed disclosing salary information.

Maryland’s equal pay act took effect October 1, 2016 when The Equal Pay for Equal Work Act of 2016 was enacted. The law applies to employers of any size and extends protections to gender identity as well as sex and bars employers from prohibiting employees from discussing or disclosing wages or those of another employee. The full law can be found at Maryland Equal Pay for Equal Work 
See our blog archive for more Ban the box and hiring discrimination posts:

Monday, April 24, 2017

Teach your employees well

Small business hacking is becoming more prevalent. The payoff isn’t as big but the opportunity is greater and security is lacking. Security firm Symantec reported in 2016 that 43% of cyber attacks were against small business. Small businesses have little in the way of security and employee training. They often have more to lose in the sense that they have less cash flow or all of their money is tied up in their business. Making them more likely to pay ransoms. (Ransomware is explained in more detail in our post-If you ever want to see your files again…)

Attacks can be as simple as rerouting the web address to a porn site, locking all of the computers for a ransom, all the way to hacking financial data and cleaning out bank accounts. More than half of the companies attacked were forced to go out of business. Maintaining sound computer security cannot be emphasized enough.

The website Small Business Trends, in an article posted January 3, 2017, stated that 48% of attacks are caused by an employee error. In addition to updating security software one of the biggest defenses owners can deploy is educating their employees on cyber attack indicators. The malware has to enter the system somehow. Simply clicking on attachments will send the virus into the network to do its work. The more stealthy viruses will enter the system without a show of existence. These are meant to mine data from the system. By the time you find the virus the bank accounts are fleeced.

Regularly train employees on different types of attacks and how to defend against them. Establish a policy for computer usage. Explain what is acceptable Internet use. Malware can be injected via email attachments or links to websites. These links can be introduced through email or social media. Demonstrate what a suspicious email, link, social media contact looks like. Practice solid password policies and change regularly. Encourage employees to speak up when something is suspicious and do not click on the suspicious activity.

Even if you do not think you store valuable data, although customer records are a valuable commodity, the chance of losing your business data or risking a financial attack is too great a chance to take.

See our blog archive for other posts relating to cyber security:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

437th sine die

The 437th session of the Maryland General assembly came to a close on Monday, April 10, 2017. Here are the business related laws that were passed.

Paid sick leave: Businesses with 15 or more employees would be required to provide five days of paid sick leave.

Manufacturing: Tax incentives will be offered to companies that add manufacturing jobs and provide related training for skilled workers.

Health care: A commission was formed to monitor federal actions that affect Maryland health care.

Governor Hogan has said that he will veto the paid sick leave bill. Governor Hogan proposed his own paid sick leave bill that set the employee mark for businesses at 50 and included tax incentives for smaller companies that offered paid sick leave. If the bill is vetoed, the legislature does have the necessary votes to override the veto. However, lawmakers will not have an opportunity to override the veto until next year’s legislative session, delaying the implementation of the bill until 2018.

437th session has more business laws January 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Customer service in the millennial age

Several recent experiences with different companies chat service have proven to be helpful and satisfying interactions. It seems that the customer service experience through chats and emails has been getting better. Either training has improved or companies are finally responding to customer needs. Another possible solution for this phenomenon is that the work force is getting younger.

According to a U.S Census Bureau report from June 2015, millennials represent more than one quarter of the nation’s population at 83.1 million. In comparison, the next largest population are Baby Boomers at 75.4 million. With their defined birth years between 1982 and 2000, they are well into the workforce and setting policy and trends. The economic landscape is adjusting. Millennials have grown up always digitally connected through cell phones, computers, games, and tablets. They tend to have less money to spend and will use their digital resources to scour for deals. The biggest generation in U.S. history is changing our economic landscape and how companies do business.

Companies have had email and chat alternatives for customer service contact for some time. It is reasonable to say that as millennials enter the work force they will bring their values and habits with them. One of those is reluctance to speaking on the telephone. They’d much rather stay within the digital world. They, themselves, use resources such as chat and email to communicate with business. In turn they provide the same service they would like to receive, putting more effort into something in which they believe a valuable resource.

Just a theory.

See our blog archive for other posts relating to millennials:
#IQUIT February 2014

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Should social media rants get you fired?

Should an employee be fired because of social media rants? Some business experts feel that employees that sound off should be fired because they don’t uphold the character and face of company. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has heard these types of cases since 2010 and began issuing decisions in 2012. The NLRB usually sides with the employee, reasoning that the employee’s social media postings are protected activities under the National Labor Relations Act, specifically-Employee rights to organize and speak out against unfair labor conditions.

If the rants take place on company time, using company resources, the employee could be disciplined for infractions other than the actual posting. But when the postings occur outside of work, the line has been drawn between employee rights and violating policy.

Beyond firing someone for something you don’t like on social media is the policy prohibiting the rant. If the company doesn’t have a policy then little action can be taken. Many businesses, especially small business, have no policy regarding social media. Employee handbooks and company policy need to be  living documents. It seems like there is always a new topic to be covered. Social media policy is an extension of that organism. Although social media and employees going off on their employers are not new, the policies governing how businesses handle it are still evolving. And the NLRB helps draft those policies each time it offers a decision. Businesses have to stay abreast of the issues and the decisions being made.

Defending the honor of the company or getting rid of a bad employee, firing someone for his or her rants on social media can be a dicey situation. Opening up the company as well as the person responsible for the firing to court action.

See our blog archive for other posts relating to social media policy issues:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

How well do you know someone?

Watching the vetting process for the new presidential cabinet you heard politicians and others vouching for the nominees.  They would qualify their knowledge of the person’s background by stating how long they’ve known the person, “I’ve known this person for five years.” Really? Five whole years?

There is the possibility that you can really get to know someone in a short span of time. But it is highly unlikely, especially if you’re not with the person 24/7. There have been incidents of husbands and wives, who have been married for more than a decade, not knowing of the others “secret” life. So how can you vouch for a person, you have known for five years, and periodically interact with? If your “friend” is forty and you’ve known them for five, or even ten years, that seems like an eternity. However, they’ve had twenty-two years of adulthood before you ever met them.

Then you have the now cliché neighbor of a crime suspect, “[He’s] always been a good neighbor. Quiet. Never bothered anyone.” Chances are the neighbor is basing their assessment on fact. They never really knew the suspect so, of course, they were quiet and never bothered anyone.
If a background investigator has ever contacted you regarding an investigation for a security clearance how well you know someone can become shockingly evident. People obtaining security clearances fill out a questionnaire, part of which includes references. These references have to be non-work, friends and neighbors. Sometimes you have no idea why your name was used. You hardly know the person. But sometimes the investigation is for someone you’ve “known” for ten or more years (Most backgrounds require the reference to be a person you’ve known for five or more). But you don’t hang out with them, you don’t interact socially, you lose touch. But here is your name as a reference. The investigator starts asking the standard questions and you realize that although you’ve known this person since college, you cannot provide one piece of information that can verify anything about the person’s proclivity for cheese or espionage.

So to stand before a congressional committee and state that, “I’ve known this person for five years and they have absolutely the best character”, is little bit of a stretch.

See our blog archive for other posts relating to character association: 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tax [Fraud] Season

Once the calendar year turns over thoughts of filing taxes begin. So do the warnings of tax fraud and prevention tips. Having been the victim of tax fraud I know the inconvenience of proving your true identity to the IRS; now having to file under a number rather than your true name. As the digital world expands, so does tax refund fraud. It’s a good bet that you know someone who has been a victim or that you, yourself, are a victim.


Most people will file their tax returns electronically, either themselves or through a tax preparer. It’s quick, it’s easy, you get your refund faster. Unless you get an error saying that you have already filed. You’re first reaction is that there is a mistake, but you soon realize that you have been the victim of identity theft. Someone has obtained your name and social security number and filed your taxes on your behalf.

It may not have been a direct theft in the classic sense. It could have happened during an electronic data breach of a larger scale or someone hacked your computer, any number of ways. Your information is uploaded to the dark web (it’s a real thing that criminals use to conduct their business or exchange information) and resold many times. The criminal then fills out an electronic tax return with your information and bogus financial information and has the refund sent to a direct deposit or PO Box. The IRS does compare information against past filings but that doesn’t occur until well after the refund has been issued. Software is in place to try and stop fraud, but, again, the refunds are issued so quickly it happens before any alarms go off.
You then have to go through an arduous process to prove yourself to the IRS, file the fraud report, and wait for the IRS to investigate your claim. If they find that you are a victim they will then issue your return and assign you an identification number to use for future filings. The whole process takes several months. Other than the waiting, it really wasn’t an unpleasant experience and the refund was issued in a timeframe shorter than expected. It’s also interesting to request a copy of the fraudulently filed return from the IRS. You get to see what deductions your other self made and the amount some PO box received.


One school of thought of being susceptible to fraud is filing returns late in the season, near the April 15 deadline. This gives the criminals time to file their fake returns and receive the refunds before you file. Tax regulators say to file early to get a refund as quickly as possible, thus beating the criminals to your money. States have even made the effort to streamline the process so that refunds are received as quickly as possible after the return is filed.

Law enforcement doesn’t comment on the timing of the filing, but rather to delay the issuance of the refund so that fraudulent returns can be identified.  At a recent tax security summit, the U.S. Attorney for Maryland, Rod Rosenstein, commented from the panel, “The quicker you are on paying refunds, the greater the risk of not finding fraud.”

Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Utah are some of the states that are slowing returns to further prevent fraud. Maryland issues refunds within two days of receipt of the return. The comptroller’s office relying on analytical software to detect digitally filed fraudulent returns. Additionally, Maryland will not issue refunds until the comptroller’s office has a W-2 on file. With these methods in place the comptroller’s office hopes to combat fraud while at the same time efficiently serving the taxpayers.

The Maryland legislature this year is considering a bill named the Taxpayer Protection Act of 2017. This bill would give the comptroller’s office broader authority to build criminal cases against fraud and extend the statute of limitations for prosecution to six years.

There is no way to know if your personal data has been stolen. Regarding taxes it is best to file early. If you do become a victim, report it to the comptroller’s office and IRS as soon as you are aware. Document everything you do and who you speak to. Secondarily, begin looking into your banking and credit cards as they may have been breached as well. Review statements and set up alerts.

Be sure to read our others posts related to identity theft.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Which came first …

Read an interesting article about the Maryland marijuana dispensaries. Seems that it is now legal to grow the marijuana for medicinal resale, but remains Illegal to buy seeds or seedlings to start the growing process.

Maryland passed a law in 2014 decriminalizing smaller amounts of marijuana and allowing for dispensaries to grow and dispense medicinal marijuana. In December 2016 the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission approved 102 dispensaries that have been granted a license to begin growing marijuana. They have 365 days to begin their operations. The problem for these newly licensed businesses is-How do you start a business based on growing an organic product when it is illegal to buy or import the seeds or seedlings?

Once the grow operations have their crop started that crop and further crops are legal under the law.  However, obtaining the startup seeds is illegal under federal and Maryland law, as well as some other states that have approved medical and/or decriminalized marijuana. In Washington, D.C. for example, it is legal to possess and grow marijuana at home but illegal to buy or sell seeds and plants. Mostly state regulators and law enforcement are turning their heads when it comes to the topic. A don’t ask don’t tell sort of thing.

With all the politics that went into decriminalizing marijuana in Maryland and setting up the laws to allow for dispensaries it seems like someone would have taken this conundrum into consideration. Now that the licenses have been granted and the dispensaries are on the clock it will be interesting to see if this legislative session takes up the issue and corrects the legal blockade.

See our blog archive for other posts relating to medical marijuana:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

437th session has more business laws

The 437th session of the Maryland General assembly convened on January 11, 2017 and will run for the next ninety days. Before the session started two news stories came out in December that will affect Maryland business and, as always, these things tend to hit small business owners in some way.

Governor Hogan, who has been a strong proponent for Maryland business, big and small, announced on December 7, 2016, that he plans on proposing mandatory paid sick leave in his legislative package. Under his proposal, businesses that have at least 50 employees will be required to offer paid sick leave totaling at least 40 hours a year and the ability for employees to roll over a maximum of 40 hours each year. Part-time employees would be covered after a minimum of 30 working hours and seasonal industries would be exempt if workers are employed for less than 120 days in a 12-month period. Small businesses, with less than 50 employees, who offer paid sick leave, would be eligible for tax relief.

During the announcement Governor Hogan said, “While all of us agree that more workers need sick leave in Maryland, it would be irresponsible to put a law on the books that unfairly penalizes our state’s job creators. It is clear that, in order to move forward, we must strike a balance between the needs of Maryland’s employees while not hurting our small businesses and continuing to foster a more business-friendly climate in our state.”

On December 20, 2016, news broke that five retailers who do business in Maryland agreed to end “on call” scheduling. This type of scheduling is not what one would commonly define as being available to be recalled to work. No, this type of on call means that employees must call their employer an hour before a scheduled shift to find out if they are required to work that day. If not, they are not paid for that shift, even though they may have been scheduled or planning to work.  

Aeropostale, Carter's, Disney, PacSun and Zumiez stopped the practice after an inquiry from attorneys general in Maryland, New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia. In part, the inquiry stated that unpredictable schedules make it difficult for retail employees to work a second job, pursue an education, or care for family members.

The Maryland gubernatorial election is in 2018 and you can expect the political posturing to start this legislative session. Hang on, because this ride is always bumpy. We’ll see what comes out in April.

Monday, January 2, 2017

How to buy a gun in Maryland

Note: This post was originally published on January 28, 2016 and has been updated with new information.

Buying a handgun (regulated firearm) in Maryland just got easier, at least the process is easier. The Firearm Safety Act of 2013 added steps to the purchase process, but it also included language that the Maryland State Police must create an electronic purchase application that can be submitted online. Beginning January 1, 2017, all handgun purchase applications must be submitted through the Maryland State Police Licensing Portal.

Handgun purchase history

The impetus to first write this post in January 2016 was in response to a friend’s question as to how to buy a handgun in Maryland. The question may seem silly coming from an avid hunter who owns firearms of all kinds and has purchased handguns in the past. But, if you haven’t bought a handgun in the last three years Maryland laws changed in 2013 and the process is quite different than it has been for the last twenty years.

You haven’t been able to go into a gun store in Maryland and walk out with a handgun for fifty years. In 1966, Maryland enacted laws that required a background check and a seven-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns. The purchaser completed a personal questionnaire and the form was submitted to the Maryland State Police (MSP) to conduct the background check. If you cleared the check, and seven days had passed, the store could transfer the gun to the buyer. That part of purchasing a gun hadn’t changed for a generation of gun buyers, until 2000.

The Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000 added the requirement that purchasers must complete a firearms safety class prior to purchasing a gun. The buyer still completed the forms, which were submitted to the MSP for a background check, and waited seven days, but before the buyer could obtain the gun they had to complete a certified firearms safety-training course.

Purchase Process

The process changed most recently in 2013. The Firearm Safety Act of 2013 added another step to the purchasing process. A prospective buyer must now possess a Handgun Qualification License (HQL). As part of the HQL application process the buyer must submit to a fingerprint background check, submit an application for a HQL to the MSP, and complete a four-hour Firearms Safety Training Course presented by a State approved instructor. The HQL is good for ten years and costs $50. However, the application cannot be submitted without digital fingerprints, the cost of which vary by vendor and is in addition to the HQL fee.

Also included in the Firearm Safety Act of 2013 was the requirement that the MSP create an electronic application. Purchase applications will no longer be submitted on paper forms via the firearms dealer. The prospective purchaser will submit applications through the Maryland State Police Licensing Portal. All the fees remain the same, including the $10 application fee, which is paid at the time of the application submission. If the purchaser does not have access to a computer, Internet, or credit card, the application may be submitted through a firearms dealers’ on site portal. The online application goes directly to MSP and removes the dealer for the submission process.

Now to answer the question-How to buy a handgun in Maryland?  Another four pages could be written, but to be succinct, the prospective buyer must complete the following process.
  1. Obtain digital fingerprints
  2. Submit digital fingerprints to the MSP
  3. Submit application to the MSP for HQL
  4. Complete Firearms Safety Training Course
  5. Receive HQL card
  6.  Complete the online Application to purchase handgun through the MSP portal
  7. Wait seven days
  8. Go to the firearms dealer, supply the dealer with your last name as used on the application and the unique 77R-E application number
  9. The Dealer logs into the MSP Licensing Portal and queries the system for the last name and application number combination provided
  10.  If the application has be approved the dealer may transfer the gun

You now own a handgun. Of course, Maryland’s one gun a month law is still in effect. So if you desire to own another gun you have to wait thirty days. The subsequent purchases would be easier as you already have your HQL. You would only need to complete and submit the new application to the MSP and wait the seven days.

Of course, with any law there are exceptions. There are exceptions to the training component and to the need for a HQL. For more, the Maryland State Police, Licensing Division, provides a detailed explanation of the Handgun Qualification License process on it’s website.