Archives for April 2012

SSA Adds New Compassionate Allowances Conditions

For Immediate Release:  Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Social Security Announces New Conditions for

Compassionate Allowances Program

(Printer friendly version)

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced 52 new Compassionate Allowances conditions, primarily involving neurological disorders, cancers and rare diseases. The Compassionate Allowances program fast-tracks disability decisions to ensure that Americans with the most serious disabilities receive their benefit decisions within days instead of months or years. Commissioner Astrue made the announcement during his remarks at the World Orphan Drug Congress near Washington, D.C.

“Social Security will continue to work with the medical community and patient organizations to add more conditions,” Commissioner Astrue said. “With our Compassionate Allowances program, we quickly approved disability benefits for nearly 61,000 people with severe disabilities in the past fiscal year, and nearly 173,000 applications since the program began.”

The Compassionate Allowances initiative identifies claims where the nature of the applicant’s disease or condition clearly meets the statutory standard for disability. With the help of sophisticated new information technology, the agency can quickly identify potential Compassionate Allowances and then quickly make decisions.

Social Security launched the Compassionate Allowances program in 2008 with a list of 50 diseases and conditions. The announcement of 52 new conditions, effective in August, will increase the total number of Compassionate Allowances conditions to 165. The conditions include certain cancers, adult brain disorders, a number of rare genetic disorders of children, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, immune system conditions, and other disorders. In his speech that opened the Congress, Commissioner Astrue thanked the National Institutes of Health for research they conducted which helped identify many of the conditions added to the list.

The agency also is improving its online disability application process, which is already substantially shorter than the standard paper application. Starting April 21, 2012, adults who file for benefits online will have the option to electronically sign and submit their Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration (Form SSA-827). This improvement allows applicants to complete disability applications in a streamlined online session, rather than printing, signing, and mailing paper authorization forms to Social Security offices.

In March, Social Security approved eight research projects through its Disability Determination Process Small Grant Program. This new program aims to improve the disability process through innovative research by graduate students focusing on topics such as the Compassionate Allowances program, Wounded Warriors initiative, homelessness and SSI, and disability enrollment issues.

For a list of the new conditions and more information on the Compassionate Allowances initiative.

If you have been denied for social security disability, the Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to competent and experienced attorneys who handle social security appeals on a regular basis.   There is no cost to you for the referral.  Call LRS at 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

New Guidance on Using Criminal Background Checks

In a press release dated April 25, 2012, the EEOC Commission issued enforcement guidance on employer use of arrest and conviction records.

PRESS RELEASE
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today issued an updated Enforcement Guidance on employer use of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Title VII). The Commission today voted 4-1 to approve the guidance document.  The Commission also issued a Question-and-Answer (Q&A) document about the guidance. The Enforcement Guidance and Q&A document will be available on the EEOC’s website at www.eeoc.gov.

“When the Commission met publicly to discuss this subject in July, 2011, I said that I hoped the meeting would help to inform the Commission’s consideration of revisions to existing EEOC guidance.  We had excellent testimony from two public meetings and hundreds of written comments submitted by a diverse group of commenters to inform our deliberations concerning the new guidance,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien.  Chair Berrien added, “The new guidance clarifies and updates the EEOC’s longstanding policy concerning the use of arrest and conviction records in employment, which will assist job seekers, employees, employers, and many other agency stakeholders.”

While Title VII does not prohibit an employer from requiring applicants or employees to provide information about arrests, convictions or incarceration, it is unlawful to discriminate in employment based on race, color, national origin, religion, or sex.  The guidance builds on longstanding guidance documents that the EEOC issued over twenty years ago.  The Commission originally issued three separate policy documents in February and July 1987 under Chair Clarence Thomas and in September 1990 under Chair Evan Kemp explaining when the use of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions may violate Title VII.  The Commission also held public meetings on the subject in 2008 and 2011.  The Enforcement Guidance issued today is predicated on, and supported by, federal court precedent concerning the application of Title VII to employers’ consideration of a job applicant or employee’s criminal history and incorporates judicial decisions issued since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.  The guidance also updates relevant data, consolidates previous EEOC policy statements on this issue into a single document and illustrates how Title VII applies to various scenarios that an employer might encounter when considering the arrest or conviction history of a current or prospective employee.  Among other topics, the guidance discusses:

  • How an employer’s use of an individual’s criminal history in making employment decisions could violate the prohibition against employment discrimination under Title VII;
  • Federal court decisions analyzing Title VII as applied to criminal record exclusions;
  • The differences between the treatment of arrest records and conviction records;
  • The applicability of disparate treatment and disparate impact analysis under Title VII;
  • Compliance with other federal laws and/or regulations that restrict and/or prohibit the employment of individuals with certain criminal records; and
  • Best practices for employers.

The materials for the public meetings held on the use of arrest and conviction records, including testimony and transcripts, are available at http://eeoc.gov/eeoc/meetings/index.cfm.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.

The Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to qualified and experienced attorneys to assist you with your employment law issues.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a confidential online referral.

 

Does Your Business Own Its Social Media Accounts?

When an employee creates and maintains a social media account on behalf of his/her employer, what happens to the account(s) when the employee is terminated or resigns?

The world is closely watching a federal case in the Northern District of California where a mobile news and reviews resource company, Phonedog, is suing a former employee Noah Kravitz (or independent contractor, depending on what news report you read) over who owns a Twitter account that was started in association with PhoneDog, and is now being used by Kravitz as his own Twitter account. The issues drawing so much attention include who owns a social media account – the employee who posts on it, or the employer on whose behalf the employee was posting. The other issue is what value, if any, can be placed on Twitter followers (or, by analogy Facebook likes), when social media attracts people who are portable and not “owned” by the social media account.

The crux of the lawsuit is that Kravitz was paid as a product reviewer and video blogger for PhoneDog from April 2006 through October 2010, and that this position included posting tweets on a Twitter account called @PhoneDog_Noah. After Kravitz left PhoneDog, he changed the name of the account to @noahkravitz, and kept its followers instead of relinquishing the account and its followers over to PhoneDog as was requested of him.

Michelle Sherman, Esq.  at JDSupra.com gives the following advice to employers:

In general, companies should to the greatest extent possible register social media accounts in their own names or through a senior marketing person and/or social media manager if the account needs to be in the name of a person. Further, on social media accounts such as Facebook pages, where you can have more than one administrator, companies should take advantage of this option and have several administrators. Having several administrators, and asserting control over the account, is another way to demonstrate “ownership” of the account, and also avoid some of the problems experienced by PhoneDog.

Read the full article by Michelle Sherman, Esq.

If you are an employer with questions about issues regarding your employees, past and present, the Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to competent, licensed and insured attorneys who specifically represent employers. Call 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

Are Your Digital Assets Covered in Your Will?

Sharon D. Nelson, Esq., President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a computer forensics and legal technology firm in Fairfax, Virginia, recently wrote in her blog about what can happen to online accounts  after a person dies.

Ms. Nelson relayed a story told by an attorney friend, about a client whose husband passed away without leaving behind the password to their bank account.  He had gone paperless and paid all bills online, and the bank refused to give her his password.  Without the password, the client had no way of knowing when bills were due, and quickly became delinquent on all accounts.

Collaborating with her own attorney on research, Ms. Nelson came up with language for wills and Powers of Attorney that include digital assets.  She shares them on her blog, inviting readers to pass along to anyone who might be interested.

POWERS OF ATTORNEY

To give the Agent power over digital assets:

“Digital Assets. My Agent shall have (i) the power to access, use, and control my digital devices, including but not limited to, desktops, laptops, tablets, peripherals, storage devices, mobile telephones, smartphones, and any similar digital device which currently exists or may exist as technology develops for the purpose of accessing, modifying, deleting, controlling, or transferring my digital assets, and (ii) the power to access, modify, delete, control, and transfer my digital assets, including but not limited to, my emails received, email accounts, digital music, digital photographs, digital videos, software licenses, social network accounts, file sharing accounts, financial accounts, banking accounts, domain registrations, DNS service accounts, web hosting accounts, tax preparation service accounts, online stores, affiliate programs, other online accounts, and similar digital items which currently exist or may exist as technology develops, and (iii) the power to obtain, access, modify, delete, and control my passwords and other electronic credentials associated with my digital devices and digital assets described above.”

For greater emphasis to banks, include in the provision giving the Agent powers regarding financial accounts:

“….and to access, modify, delete, control, and transfer my digital financial accounts.”

Read entire blog post.

Do you have an up-to-date will and advanced directives?  The key is to create them BEFORE they are needed – BEFORE it’s too late!  The Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to a competent attorney who is experienced with estate planning.  Call LRS today at 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

File Your Taxes Before Identity Thieves Do

Elisabeth Leamy, ABC NEWS Consumer Correspondent reports:

Tax day is a week away and I hope you’ve already filed, because if you haven’t, it’s quite possible con artists have filed FOR you, using your Social Security number to claim refunds for themselves. Tax-related identity theft has doubled over the past two years and now makes up the single largest category of the crime. In 2009, only 12 percent of identity theft was related to taxes. Now tax identity theft makes up 24 percent of all ID theft crimes reported to the Federal Trade Commission. Crooks have found that Uncle Sam is a pretty easy target and they can scoop up tax refunds using YOUR good name.

Here’s the ugly part: if a crook files a tax return using your name and SSN before you file your own return, you’ll be stuck having to prove YOU really are yourself and THEY really are the criminals. There’s also another twist in which criminals use other people’s SSNs when they get jobs. The income from that job then shows up as yours, and when you don’t account for it on your tax return, the IRS may come after you. The third twist is when crooks steal the SSN of a child or elderly dependent of yours, and then you have to prove that person really belongs on your tax return. Not only will your refund be delayed, it’s possible you may end up spending money to clear your name.

Read the entire story.

If your identity is ever stolen, hiring an experienced attorney may be the quickest route to recovering your good name.   The Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can help with a referral to an attorney who specifically handles identity theft issues.  Call 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

Debt Collectors Profiting From Student Loan Crisis

John Hechinger, writer for Bloomberg Businessweek reported on March 26, 2012:

With $67 billion of student loans in default, the Education Department is turning to an army of private debt-collection companies to put the squeeze on borrowers. Working on commissions that totaled about $1 billion last year, these government contractors face growing complaints that they are violating federal laws by insisting on stiff payments, even when borrowers’ incomes make them eligible for leniency.

Education Department contracts — featuring commissions of as much as 20 percent of recoveries — encourage collectors to insist on high payments. Former debt collectors said they worked in a “boiler-room” environment, where they could earn bonuses of thousands of dollars a month, restaurant gift cards and even trips to foreign resorts if they collected enough from borrowers.

The article goes on to describe the specific federal laws that debt collectors must abide by.

Federal-aid law requires collectors to offer “reasonable and affordable” payments, so debtors can “rehabilitate” their loans, repairing their credit and making good on what they owe taxpayers.

The law mandates no minimum payment for a borrower to enter a rehabilitation program, and collection companies may take borrowers’ finances into account. The fair debt act forbids collectors from making “any false, deceptive or misleading representation.”

Insisting that cash-strapped borrowers make minimum payments and then failing to disclose lower-cost options violates both federal-aid and fair debt-collection laws, according to Deanne Loonin, an attorney with the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center.

Read the entire story.

If you are struggling with your student loan debt, check out the National Consumer Law Center’s  Student Loan Borrower Assistance website.

Some student loan issues may need legal intervention.  The Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to an attorney who handles student loan and/or debt collection issues.  Call 603-229-0002 or request and online referral.

Justices Approve Strip-Searches for Any Arrest

Adam Liptak, correspondent for the NY Times wrote on April 2, 2012:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, joined by the court’s conservative wing, wrote that courts are in no position to second-guess the judgments of correctional officials who must consider not only the possibility of smuggled weapons and drugs, but also public health and information about gang affiliations.

“Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed,” Justice Kennedy wrote, adding that about 13 million people are admitted each year to the nation’s jails.

The procedures endorsed by the majority are forbidden by statute in at least 10 states and are at odds with the policies of federal authorities. According to a supporting brief filed by the American Bar Association, international human rights treaties also ban the procedures.

Read the entire story.

Being arrested is no picnic, and dealing with an arrest without an attorney can have serious consequences.  The Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can connect you with an attorney  skilled with handling criminal matters.   All attorneys must meet specific education and experience criteria before receiving referrals from LRS in felony criminal matters.  Call LRS at 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.