The law is strict about providing FMLA notice to workers

When an employee takes leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, the employer is supposed to quickly provide him or her with certain notices. These may include an “eligibility” notice, a “rights and responsibilities” notice, and a “designation” notice.

Although these notices can be somewhat technical, they’re strictly required to protect your rights.

The Wackenhut Corporation found this out the hard way when Jacqueline Young took 12 weeks of FMLA leave. Once her leave was over, she continued to be absent for another two weeks, after which Wackenhut fired her.

Wackenhut had provided an explanation of the scope of workers’ FMLA rights in its employee handbook, and it had also posted the Department of Labor’s FMLA poster in the workplace. However, it apparently didn’t specifically provide Jacqueline with the “eligibility,” “rights and responsibilities,” or “designation” notices when she went on leave. [Read more…]

Company buys rival’s assets, also buys itself a lawsuit

By the time Wisconsin-based JT Packard & Associates ran into financial trouble, it was also the target of a lawsuit by employees who claimed they hadn’t been paid overtime.

Eventually, Packard went out of business, and its assets were sold to a company called the Thomas & Betts Corp. As part of the sale agreement, Thomas & Betts specifically said that it wasn’t assuming liability for the overtime claim.

When a company purchases the assets of a failed business, rather than buying its stock, it’s generally allowed to decide what types of liabilities it’s taking on (or not taking on). That’s the rule in most states, including Wisconsin.

There was just one problem, however. The overtime lawsuit was brought under federal law, not state law. Therefore, Wisconsin law didn’t matter … and even though Thomas & Betts specifically said that it wouldn’t assume liability for the overtime issue, it had to do so anyway.

That was the ruling of a federal appeals court, which said Thomas & Betts was on the hook for $500,000 in overtime pay. [Read more…]

It’s easier to deduct a home office

The IRS has made it easier to deduct a home office, starting in 2013.

In the past, the home office deduction was very difficult to document, and the IRS was very suspicious of it. Even people who could legitimately claim the deduction were often hesitant to do so for fear that it could trigger an audit.

This year, though, the IRS has created a “safe harbor” for taxpayers. You might not be able to deduct every expense if you use this method, but it will be a lot easier and safer.

The new method involves measuring the square footage of your office and multiplying by $5. There’s a maximum of 300 square feet, which works out to a $1,500 deduction. [Read more…]

Visa rules for foreign employees leave many companies stymied

Companies that want to hire foreign workers with specialized skills and expertise are facing a growing bottleneck with the H-1B visa program, which allows skilled foreign employees a visa if they are sponsored by an American employer.

The number of visas is capped at 65,000 a year, with an additional 20,000 possible under a special program for applicants with master’s degrees and doctorates.

This year, the government was flooded with 124,000 applications, and the cap was reached in less than 24 hours. That means that many thousands of companies that want to offer a foreign worker a job will be unable to do so. [Read more…]

Why you should have a written telecommuting policy

More and more companies are allowing employees to work from home. That can be great … but working from home raises a lot of legal issues that many managers simply aren’t aware of.

If you allow telecommuting – even if you allow it for only a few employees, or only part of the time – it’s a good idea to have a written policy that will protect you if questions arise or if something goes wrong.

Here are some of the legal issues and the things a policy should cover:

► Will the employee use company equipment at home?

If the employee will be using company equipment (computers, smartphones, etc.), what happens if the equipment is lost, stolen or damaged? Is the employee responsible for the loss? If so, the employee should be asked to sign an acknowledgement to this effect, perhaps authorizing payroll deductions for the replacement cost. [Read more…]

Government workers can sue for political retaliation

The First Amendment of the Constitution says that the government can’t punish you for your political views. But did you know that that means that if you’re a public employee, your employer can’t mistreat you for supporting the “wrong” candidate?

For instance, four employees of the Michigan racing commission supported the Republican candidate for governor in the 2006 election – who went on to lose.

The employees claimed that after the election, their Democratic bosses retaliated against them by making negative changes to their job duties and working conditions, in one case eliminating a position. They sued the state for “political affiliation discrimination.”

The state argued that the workers couldn’t sue because they had no formal affiliation with the Republican Party or with the losing candidate. [Read more…]

Government workers can sue for political retaliation

The First Amendment of the Constitution says that the government can’t punish you for your political views. But did you know that that means that if you’re a public employee, your employer can’t mistreat you for supporting the “wrong” candidate?

For instance, four employees of the Michigan racing commission supported the Republican candidate for governor in the 2006 election – who went on to lose.

The employees claimed that after the election, their Democratic bosses retaliated against them by making negative changes to their job duties and working conditions, in one case eliminating a position. They sued the state for “political affiliation discrimination.”

The state argued that the workers couldn’t sue because they had no formal affiliation with the Republican Party or with the losing candidate. [Read more…]

Dentist isn’t liable for firing ‘sexy’ assistant

Can a dentist fire a pretty dental assistant because his wife is jealous and thinks the assistant is a threat to their marriage? Or is this “sex discrimination”?

According to the Iowa Supreme Court, it’s legal to fire someone for being too attractive.

Melissa Nelson worked for dentist James Knight, and apparently the two flirted occasionally. Despite the flirting, Nelson said she never felt harassed in any way. By all accounts, she was happy and capable in her job.

But when Knight’s wife found out that her husband and Nelson had been texting each other, she became upset and demanded that Nelson be fired.

Nelson sued. She argued that her firing was “sex discrimination,” because she wouldn’t have been terminated if she had been male. [Read more…]

Worker gets unemployment after taking early retirement

An employee could collect unemployment compensation after accepting an early retirement package as part of his company’s reduction in force, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently decided.

The worker was a 63-year-old shipping clerk whose employer announced a round of layoffs due to poor financial conditions. To encourage more senior employees to leave so that more junior employees could keep their jobs, the employer offered an early retirement program. The worker accepted the offer.

He also filed for state unemployment benefits. The unemployment board denied his claim, finding that he voluntarily left his job and therefore was ineligible.

But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed. According to the court, early-retirement packages are really just another way for employers to accomplish a layoff. Therefore, workers who accept such packages shouldn’t be considered to have left their jobs “voluntarily.” [Read more…]

Worker with high-risk pregnancy may get extra leave

A woman who was ordered by her doctor to have complete bed rest after she was diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy may be entitled to more pregnancy leave than is allowed by state law, says the California Court of Appeal.

In this case, the employer gave the woman the four months of pregnancy leave that was required by state law.  But when she was unable to return to work after 19 weeks of leave, it fired her.

The woman sued for disability discrimination. [Read more…]

Tired employees may be entitled to go to work late

We all have those mornings when we just don’t want to get out of bed. Usually this means hitting the snooze button a few times before rushing to get to work on time.

But what if a disability makes someone so tired in the morning that they can’t get to work on time? According to a recent ruling by the federal appeals court in New York, the employer might just have to wait.

In that case, a New York City social worker suffered from schizophrenia and took a prescription medication that left him “sluggish” in the morning.

His agency had a generous flex-time policy that allowed workers to arrive between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m., and didn’t actually consider them late unless they arrived after 10:15. [Read more…]

Do disabled workers have a ‘right’ to a job transfer?

Bob worked for years in a physically demanding job. But after he became disabled, he could no longer perform the work. Does he have a “right” to be transferred to different job that’s less physically challenging?

That’s a question that’s increasingly vexing both workers and employers.

The federal Americans With Disabilities Act says that companies have to “reasonably accommodate” employees who become disabled. And one of the ways that can happen is for the employee to be transferred to a different job that better suits his or her abilities.

So far so good. But what if the company typically fills such positions through a competitive hiring process … and what if there are other, more highly qualified workers who also want the job? Who wins? [Read more…]

Attorney Mary Hart

I am a part time real estate agent and have known Attorney Hart from the Beliveau Law Group for six years. She has handled many of the real estate transactions for my clients, family members as well as myself. She is a very dedicated and responsible attorney who always goes the extra mile to complete the tasks on the client’s behalf. She answers questions promptly, and I can even talk to her late in the evening to resolve any issue that may arise unexpectedly. I trust her completely, and I have no hesitation to recommend her to anyone.  ~ Anita Sung, real estate agent

Don’t get tripped up by a wash sale

Are you eyeing your portfolio with year-end investment loss harvesting in mind? Before you place those sell orders, take a moment to review the “wash sale” rules.

A wash sale occurs when you sell a stock, bond, or mutual fund and buy the same or a substantially identical security within 30 days before or after the sale. When this happens, you’re barred from deducting a tax loss on the sale. Instead, your cost basis of the new security is increased by the loss.

Example. Say you sell 100 shares of XYZ mutual fund at a loss of $3 per share. A week later, you regret your decision and buy another 100 shares of XYZ fund. Your original loss of $300 will be disallowed, and you’ll add the $300 to your cost basis in the new shares. [Read more…]

Kickoff of health care law for individuals

Although the employer mandate for providing health insurance coverage to workers under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was postponed for one year – until January 1, 2015 – the rules for individuals remain in place, at least for the foreseeable future. What are your main rights and responsibilities under the ACA? Here’s a brief summary.

Essentially, unless you are already covered by an employer’s plan, Medicare, or Medicaid, you’re required to obtain coverage on your own or pay a penalty. The plan is to have affordable options available through state-operated exchanges. Some low-to-moderate income families may be eligible for various subsidies.

  • · Insurance exchanges. The health care exchanges in 14 states, as well as the federal government’s default exchange, opened for business on October 1, 2013. Coverage will be available as of January 1, 2014, for an open enrollment period ending on March 31, 2014. [Read more…]

1099s: A little form with a painful bite

When Congress tried unsuccessfully to expand the Form 1099 filing requirements a couple of years ago, at least one thing was accomplished. It raised awareness of an important IRS business reporting rule. And at $100 per infraction, the penalty for ignoring this regulation can be painful.

That’s right; the IRS can fine you $100 for each 1099 form that you fail to file, up to a maximum penalty of $1.5 million. The most common Form 1099 is the 1099-MISC, which is used to report payments of $600 or more to vendors who provide services to your business. Examples include payment for repairs, accounting services, consulting fees, and legal advice. Normally if the vendor is incorporated you do not need to send them a 1099-MISC, but there is one important exception. All payments to attorneys must be reported, whether they are incorporated or not. [Read more…]