Contractors, temps may have more rights

Businesses often go to great lengths to avoid treating certain workers as “employees.” After all, employees are typically entitled to benefits, minimum wage and overtime, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance. They can sue for discrimination or other misdeeds. And they can unionize.

Increasingly, though, the federal government and the courts are saying that more workers should be considered “employees,” whether employers like it or not.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Labor recently issued a new policy guidance warning that large numbers of workers who are treated as independent contractors or consultants are actually employees. The guidance makes clear that workers can’t legally be treated as contractors unless they are truly in business for themselves and are not dependent on the employer. [Read more…]

DNA tests are illegal even to investigate misconduct

A federal law called GINA (the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) prohibits businesses from collecting genetic information, such as DNA samples, from workers. The main purpose of the law is to stop employers from firing workers whose predisposition to certain diseases might drive up the company’s health-care costs.

But a recent case in Georgia shows that the law applies even if a company collects such information for nondiscriminatory reasons, such as to investigate misconduct.

In that case, an unidentified employee at a food distribution company was repeatedly defecating in various spots throughout one of its warehouses. The company suspected the worker was doing this to protest certain company policies. [Read more…]

New mothers have a right to pump breast milk at work

Many employers are still unaware that new mothers have a legal right to express breast milk at work.

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, employees must be allowed reasonable break time to pump breast milk for nursing children. In general, employees are entitled to do this until the child is a year old, in a private place other than a bathroom. Discriminating against a worker because of her need to breastfeed might also be grounds for a sex discrimination lawsuit.

Many states have similar laws, and in some cases these state laws provide more rights to new mothers than the federal law.

Employees are being asked to waive class actions

A “class action” lawsuit is brought on behalf of a large group of people who have a similar complaint. Class actions are not uncommon in employment law, especially for wage-and-hour violations. While a single individual’s unpaid wages might not be large enough to make it worth bringing a lawsuit, a group of employees might be able to share costs and make the effort cost-effective.

Recently, employers have been trying to stop class actions by requiring workers to waive their right to bring one as a condition of employment. Back in 2012, only 16% of large employers required class-action waivers, but by last year that number had skyrocketed to 43%.

Are these waivers legally valid? That’s not entirely clear. [Read more…]

It’s easier to sue for religious discrimination

Two recent court cases have made it easier for employees to bring lawsuits claiming that they were discriminated against because of their religion.

In one case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a 17-year-old Muslim in Oklahoma could sue the Abercrombie & Fitch clothing chain for denying her a job because she wore a headscarf for religious reasons.

Samantha Elauf claimed she was rejected for a sales job at a store in Tulsa because her headscarf violated the chain’s dress code, which calls for an “East Coast preppy” image. [Read more…]

Late-night emails might entitle workers to overtime

These days, many employees feel like they’re never really “off the clock.” They’re expected to check e-mails at home, and occasionally to respond to emergency text messages from their boss or co-workers.

But the truth is, many workers in this situation might literally be “on the clock.” If they’re expected to check texts and e-mails at night in addition to working full-time during regular hours, they might be eligible for overtime.

For example, a group of salespeople at T-Mobile stores brought a lawsuit complaining that they had been given BlackBerry devices and were expected to answer e-mails and texts from other staffers and from customers outside of regular business hours. T-Mobile settled their claims for overtime pay. [Read more…]

Common mistakes in employee handbooks

Many employee handbooks are riddled with errors – they contain rules that are illegal, or that are unfair or confusing to employees, or that don’t protect the employer in ways they should.

As a general rule, companies should have their handbooks reviewed by an attorney on an annual basis to make sure they’re appropriate, current, and in compliance with the law. And employees who are concerned about provisions in a handbook shouldn’t hesitate to seek legal advice.

Here’s a look at some common issues, mistakes and problems that arise in employee handbooks: [Read more…]

Whistleblower could sue for overtime claims

A medical technology worker in Virginia was concerned that her supervisor was altering employee time sheets to avoid paying overtime. She met with a company executive to talk about her supervisor’s practices – and was fired the next day. [Read more…]

Family and Medical Leave law now covers gay marriage

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows many employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a spouse who has a serious medical condition. Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor approved a new rule saying that this includes spouses in same-sex marriages. [Read more…]

Ban on discussing ‘company business’ with outsiders was illegal

Not many employers want their workers to criticize the company or gossip about the workplace with friends and acquaintances who don’t work there. But can a business actually ban its employees from doing so?

One company that tried recently was found to have gone too far. [Read more…]

Contractor isn’t liable for bias against subcontractor’s worker

When it comes to employment law, construction sites can be complicated places. That’s because there’s typically a general contractor who’s responsible for the whole project, but there are also a variety of subcontractors that are brought in to work on specific pieces of it. Inevitably, there’s a lot of interaction and coordination among everyone’s employees. And when something goes wrong, it’s not always clear who’s responsible. [Read more…]

Hospital tech can’t be denied job due to meth conviction

A hospital couldn’t deny a radiology technician a job based solely on the fact that he had a prior drug conviction, the Hawaii Supreme Court recently decided.

The applicant had served time in prison for possession of crystal meth with intent to distribute.

While he was in jail, he earned a college degree. When he got out, he began a program to get certified as a radiology technician, and was placed in a clinical rotation in the imaging program at a hospital. [Read more…]

‘Social anxiety disorder’ may be a protected disability

Christina Jacobs worked at a county courthouse in North Carolina. She suffered from “social anxiety disorder,” which makes it very hard for a person to handle certain situations involving interacting with others.

Christina was apparently doing okay when her job consisted of microfilming and filing. But when she was shifted to a deputy clerk position that required her to interact with the public, she started to have panic attacks.

She told her supervisor about her condition, and said she didn’t feel healthy working at the front counter. She also began treatment and made a formal request for the courthouse to accommodate her disability. [Read more…]

Wage-and-hour rules continue to trip up many businesses

Wal-Mart has more than 2 million employees, so you’d assume the company knows a lot about employment law. But the retailer was recently ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to pay more than $150 million to tens of thousands of workers for violating the federal wage-and-hour laws.

What did Wal-Mart do wrong? The workers claimed that many of the stores were understaffed, so the managers compensated by making employees work through their rest breaks, take shortened breaks, or work “off the clock” after hours. [Read more…]

U.S. slams local bakery for poor Spanish translation

A bakery in Chicago was facing a union election, and it warned its employees that if they joined a union and held a strike, it would “exercise our legal right to hire replacement workers.” It then translated this message for its Spanish-speaking employees, but the translator goofed. The translation said, in effect, that if the workers held a strike, the bakery would “exercise our right to hire legal replacement workers.”

The bakery won the election by a vote of 20-16. But the federal government set the result aside and ordered a “do-over.” Why? Because the poor translation could have been understood by the Spanish workers as an improper threat concerning their immigration status. [Read more…]

English-only rules can be illegal discrimination

Can employees be required to be fluent in English? The answer is yes … but only if speaking English is truly necessary for them to do their jobs safely and effectively. Otherwise, a company that has an English-only policy could get into legal trouble.

That’s what happened to a plastics manufacturer in Wisconsin that laid off 22 workers who lacked English language skills. The workers – most of whom were Hmong and some of whom were Latino – had apparently received good annual evaluations and didn’t need to be able to speak, read or write English to do their jobs.

The company claimed it targeted these workers for layoffs due to their “overall comparative skills, behaviors and job performance over time.” [Read more…]

Company that ‘forgave’ worker doesn’t have to do it again

Even though a company let an employee who engaged in hostile and abusive behavior “slide” and didn’t punish him, it can still fire him if he does it again, says a federal appeals court.

The case involved a sewer worker in North Las Vegas who had a long history of threatening and abusive behavior. The worker requested an accommodation for a hearing disability. A short time later, he was placed on leave after an incident where he swore at a co-worker. After an investigation of the incident, he was fired.

The worker sued, claiming he was discriminated against because of his disability. He said the city’s investigation of the swearing incident was just a pretext for discrimination, because he had engaged in similar misbehavior many times in the past and had gotten away with it. [Read more…]

Transgender discrimination is illegal, says U.S. Justice Department

A transgender person is someone who was born a certain sex but identifies with and lives as the opposite sex. The U.S. Department of Justice recently took the position that job discrimination against transgender people is illegal.

Specifically, the government says discrimination against transgender people amounts to “sex discrimination,” which is prohibited by federal law.

The decision means that the Department’s Civil Rights Division will be able to sue state and local public employers for discrimination on behalf of transgender individuals. [Read more…]

Companies can’t limit e-mail to ‘business purposes only’

A company that gives its employees access to its e-mail system can’t limit their use of the system strictly to “business purposes only.” That’s the word from the National Labor Relations Board.

The Board’s decision applies to both unionized and non-unionized workplaces.

However, the ruling is fairly limited, and it doesn’t mean that employees now have an unrestricted right to use company e-mail for humorous banter or idle chit-chat.

The issue arises because federal law allows workers to communicate with each other to address legitimate workplace concerns and grievances. Thus, a company can’t stop employees from using workplace e-mail to address these issues. [Read more…]

Immigration reform raises questions for many employers and workers

President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration have opened the doors to potentially millions of workers, at the same time as they have made things much more legally complicated for employers. Both sides may now need legal help understanding how these actions affect their rights and responsibilities.

In particular, employers need to be very careful because there are a lot of uncertainties about how to legally treat workers who may be affected by the changes.

First, here’s some quick background: Back in 2012, President Obama put in place a program known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” or DACA. This program allowed certain young, undocumented immigrants to receive temporary permission to stay and work in America. [Read more…]

Worker sues for firing despite union agreement

A UPS driver can sue the company in court for sex discrimination after losing her job, even though her union’s collective bargaining agreement also established a grievance procedure for such claims, according to a federal appeals court in New Orleans.

UPS argued that the grievance procedure in the agreement was the employee’s only means of complaining. But the court said the union contract didn’t clearly limit discrimination claims to the grievance process, and therefore the employee could also file a lawsuit in court.

Workers could get reimbursed for use of personal cell phones

A company that required customer service employees to use their personal cell phones for work must reimburse them for the charges they incurred, the California Court of Appeals recently decided.

The employees brought a class-action lawsuit under a state law designed to prevent businesses from passing along their operating expenses to workers.

Even where employees had a cell-phone plan with unlimited minutes, the company still had to pay them a reasonable percentage of their cell phone bills, the court said. [Read more…]

Divorcing employees may be protected from discrimination

Many states have laws that protect employees from being discriminated against based on their “marital status.” A recent lawsuit in New Jersey suggests that these laws may extend to employees who are going through a divorce.

In the New Jersey case, the director of operations for a local rescue squad separated from his wife as a result of an affair he had with a co-worker on the squad. This made things extremely awkward in the workplace, because the man’s mother-in-law and two of his sisters-in-law also happened to work for the squad.

About a month later, the man’s boss fired him, noting that he and his wife were “going to go through an ugly divorce.”

The man sued, and claimed he had been discriminated against because of his marital status. [Read more…]

Are employees entitled to be paid when they’re ‘on call’?

Many jobs require employees to be “on call” when they’re not at work. But are employees entitled to be paid for this time? The answer, as so often happens, is, “It depends.”

A recent lawsuit involved a police officer and emergency medical technician in Maryland who was required to be on-call after her scheduled shift. She filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming she was entitled to be paid for her on-call hours.

But a judge ruled against her. The judge said that during her on-call time, she wasn’t restricted in any way. She could stay in her home or she could travel around the area, and she could eat, sleep, watch TV, and spend time with her child. In other words, the fact that she was on-call didn’t interfere with her ability to engage in all her normal personal activities. [Read more…]

New rules for pregnant workers

Pregnant employees are entitled to certain rights under a federal law called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This law can sometimes be confusing. Recently, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidelines designed to clarify how the law applies to workers and employers.

Here are some highlights:

  • The law prohibits discrimination against workers who are pregnant, but it also prohibits discrimination against workers based on their having been pregnant in the past or their possibly becoming pregnant in the future. Among other things, this means that it might be illegal for a business to ask questions of a job candidate designed to probe whether the candidate has children or plans to have children in the future.
  • A business cannot force a worker to take leave just because she is pregnant. A business can force a pregnant worker to take leave only if the pregnancy makes her unable to do her job.
  • Only women can take leave for pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. However, if an employee offers parental leave to women after childbirth, it must also offer parental leave to men on the same terms.
  • An employer has to treat a pregnant employee who is temporarily unable to do her job the same way it would treat a non-pregnant employee who was temporarily unable to do a job. This means that if other employees would be given a temporary light-duty assignment (say, as a result of an on-the-job injury), then similar accommodations must be made for pregnant employees.

Company sued for retaliating against employee three years later

Deborah Malin worked in the IT department of a health care company. When she told her boss that she was going to report a co-worker to the human resources department for sexual harassment, her boss strongly discouraged her. But she reported the co-worker anyway.

Over the next three years, Deborah applied for several promotions, but she didn’t get any of them. Three years later, her department was reorganized, and she was demoted. She filed a lawsuit claiming that her boss had retaliated against her because of her harassment complaint three years earlier.

Her company argued in court that three years is a long time, and it didn’t make any sense to claim that Deborah was still being held back for something that happened literally years in the past. [Read more…]

Companies must stop harassment – even if it’s by non-employees

Everyone knows that a business can be sued if an employee is harassed because of race, sex, religion, etc., and the company doesn’t take appropriate action. But did you know that a business can sometimes be sued even if the harasser doesn’t work for the company?

That’s right – businesses sometimes have a legal duty to protect their workers from harassment by third parties, such as clients, customers, contractors, vendors, and other people they come into contact with in the course of their work.

A company that leases office space, for example, might have to protect against harassment by security guards or maintenance workers hired by the landlord, as well as by caterers and others who are brought in to do work on-site. [Read more…]

Worker fired shortly before her job anniversary can sue

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act applies to workers only if they have been on the job for at least a year. So does that mean a company that doesn’t want to accommodate an employee with pregnancy complications can fire her one day before her first-year anniversary, so she’s not eligible for protection under the law?

No way, according to a federal judge in Minnesota.

The judge sided with a property manager named Ena Wages who was fired after her doctor ordered her not to work more than 20 hours a week. [Read more…]

Employee can use up vacation time before taking family leave

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows certain workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a medical problem, for the birth of a child, or to care for an ailing family member.

Usually, businesses want to minimize the time that an employee is away from work. So a lot of companies have a policy that requires employees to use up their accrued paid vacation or sick time as part of their 12 weeks of leave.

Suppose an employee has two weeks of vacation, and wants to take off 12 weeks to care for a sick relative. A business that has such a policy could require that the employee take the vacation as part of the leave. The employee would be paid for two of the 12 weeks of leave, but would have no accrued vacation time left when he or she returned to work. [Read more…]

Training and orientation may have to be ‘on the clock’

In general, hourly workers are paid only for time they actually spend performing their job duties. But there are exceptions. For example, courts have recently ruled that workers should also be paid for time they spend putting on and taking off safety equipment, and even for time they spend showering before leaving the premises if they have been working with hazardous materials.

And according to a federal judge in Chicago, training and orientation for new hourly hires who haven’t started work yet should be considered paid time as well.

In that case, nearly 10,000 people hired to work as security guards for Securitas Security Services USA were forced to attend an unpaid orientation and training session before starting their employment. [Read more…]

Protections for disabled workers are expanding

Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, workers who are otherwise qualified for a position but who have a disability must be given “reasonable accommodations” that enable them to do the job.

In other words, if a worker has the skills, training and aptitude to do a job, but needs some modifications – such as a flexible schedule, a more handicap-accessible workplace, or minor alterations to job duties – the employer has to allow them, as long as they don’t overly burden the business.

For example, Jane Harris worked as a resale steel buyer for Ford Motor Company. Her job required telephone and computer contact with co-workers, and she received excellent performance reviews. However, she also suffered from a severe case of irritable bowel syndrome, which was so bad that she often couldn’t drive to work or get up from her desk without soiling herself. [Read more…]

Workers’ ‘right to complain’ is expanded by the U.S. government

Recently, a car salesman in Arizona met with the owner of the dealership and a couple of managers to complain about his wages, commissions and break times. During the discussion, the owner became frustrated and told the salesman that if he didn’t like things the way they were, he was free to seek employment elsewhere.

The salesman flew off the handle, and unleashed a torrent of obscenities at his boss. Not surprisingly, he was fired.

End of story, right? Not quite. Even though the salesman didn’t belong to a union, he complained to the National Labor Relations Board. And the Board decided that he had been wrongfully fired, and ordered the dealership to reinstate him with full back pay.

How could this be? [Read more…]

‘Appearance’ policies can conflict with workers’ religion

Most employers value a professional-looking workforce. But problems can arise when a company’s idea of what constitutes a “professional look” bumps up against the religious customs and traditions of employees and job candidates.

For example, in one recent case a member of the Sikh faith applied for a sales job with a New Jersey Lexus dealership. The dealer’s dress code prohibited beards, but the man’s religion required him to wear a beard. The employer apparently told the applicant that he could have the job if he shaved, but the man refused. [Read more…]

Sports bar pays $6.8 million for breaking rules on tips

Under federal law, it’s legal to pay service employees such as waiters, waitresses and bartenders as little as $2.13 an hour, as long as they receive enough in tips to equal at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The law also allows businesses to require employees to contribute to a “tip pool” in order to distribute tips more evenly among employees.

However, if there’s a tip pool in place, none of the money in the pool can go back to the company. Also, managers and supervisors are not allowed to share in the pool, even if they occasionally wait tables or tend bar and receive their own tips. [Read more…]

Requiring a doctor’s note for ‘intermittent’ leave might be illegal

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows certain employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for health problems, or to care for a new baby or a sick relative.

The Act also allows workers with serious medical conditions to continue working while taking small, periodic increments of “intermittent” leave. This is allowed as long as the worker provides a doctor’s certification that includes dates of expected treatment, the medical necessity of the leave, and how long the leave is expected to last. [Read more…]

Employees who return from military leave have special rights

Employees who leave for military service with the National Guard or Reserves have important job rights when they return from duty.

These rights are guaranteed by the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA. This law protects military veterans from workplace discrimination due to their service, and also gives them the right to get their job back when they return.

The law generally applies as long as the employee (1) gave the company adequate notice before leaving, (2) was away less than five years, (3) was honorably discharged, and (4) applied to get his or her job back in a timely manner after returning from service.

What is a “timely manner” can depend on the length of service. For instance, if an employee was on active duty for more than 180 days, he or she must apply to get a job back within 90 days after completing service. [Read more…]

Confidentiality agreements can help both sides – but be careful!

Recently, a private school in Miami called the Gulliver Preparatory School decided not to renew the contract of its 69-year-old headmaster, Patrick Snay. Patrick sued the school for age discrimination.

The school settled the case by agreeing to pay Patrick $80,000. As part of the deal, Patrick signed a “confidentiality agreement.” This was a written contract saying that Patrick wouldn’t tell anyone the details of the settlement other than his wife and his lawyers.

Not long afterward, however, Patrick’s college-age daughter Dana wrote on Facebook that “Ma and Pa Snay won the case against Gulliver,” and bragged, “Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer.”

The message went out to more than 1,000 of Dana’s Facebook friends, including a number of Gulliver students and graduates. [Read more…]

You must protect employees from sex harassment … by customers

Everyone knows that businesses can be sued for sex harassment if an employee or manager harasses another employee. But did you know that you can also be sued if the harasser doesn’t work for you – if the harasser is a customer, contractor, or other person connected to the business?

That might not seem fair, since you have no control over a customer’s actions. But you still have a duty to provide a way for employees to complain, to investigate accusations, and to take reasonable steps to stop any harassment to the extent possible.

In one recent case, a graduate student who worked as a manager for the Hofstra University football team sued the university, claiming she had been harassed by some of the football players. [Read more…]

Employee goes to work for competitor – despite contract

Michael Holton was the president of a cancer radiation services company. When he took his job, he signed an agreement saying that if he left, he wouldn’t disclose any confidential information or trade secrets to a competitor for at least a year.

After the company merged with another business, Holton was terminated. A month later he went to work for a competing firm. His original company went to court, saying he shouldn’t be allowed to work for the competitor.

The original company wasn’t able to prove that Holton had divulged any specific confidential information or trade secrets. But it said it should win the case anyway, because Holton would “inevitably” disclose such information as part of working as an executive at the new company. [Read more…]

Whistleblower claims are on the rise

The federal government is encouraging employees to blow the whistle on company wrongdoing by offering what can be enormous financial incentives.

The federal Dodd-Frank Act offers a “bounty” to employees of public companies who report fraud and other securities violations to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Whistleblowers whose tips lead to a successful enforcement action or court penalty of more than $1 million can now automatically collect up to 30% of the penalty. (Previously, such rewards were at the SEC’s discretion, and were limited to 10% of the penalty.)

The law also provides whistleblowers with more protection against retaliation by their employer, protecting them not only for reporting actual violations, but also for reporting things they reasonably believed were violations, even if it turns out there was no wrongdoing. [Read more…]

Employee could be fired for Facebook rant

Two employees of a Chicago community youth center engaged in an expletive-laden Facebook conversation that included complaints about how they were treated by their employer. The posts were not visible to the public; only the workers’ Facebook “friends” could see them. But someone took a screenshot and passed the conversation along to a supervisor, who fired them.

One of the workers challenged the firing, arguing that the pair were actually engaged in “concerted activity” related to improving the workplace, and therefore their actions were protected by the National Labor Relations Act. [Read more…]

Timekeeping shortcuts get companies in trouble

It’s perfectly normal for employers to find shortcuts that enable simpler, more efficient recordkeeping. That’s why if you’ve ever worked for an hourly wage, you’ve very likely had your work time rounded to the nearest quarter-hour. That’s acceptable under the law.

Nonetheless, certain recordkeeping shortcuts can get businesses in trouble if they leave workers less than fully compensated.

For example, Aramark – a huge provider of food services, facilities and uniforms – was accused by employees of underpaying them as a result of its policy of rounding punch-in and punch-out times to the nearest 15 minutes, while also disciplining workers for clocking in more than five minutes late. The workers said this combination of policies resulted in their being underpaid an average of 30 to 40 minutes per pay period.

Some 3,000 Aramark employees sued the company, and Aramark paid a significant sum to settle the case out of court. [Read more…]

‘Sex harassment’ doesn’t require sexual interest

The classic image of sexual harassment is a boss who makes passes at employees or tries to use his position to extract sexual favors. But it’s important to know that “sexual harassment” is really much broader than that, and can include any situation where workers are made to feel uncomfortable in a way that relates to their gender – even if the culprit isn’t trying to seduce the victim.

For instance, one recent case was brought by a member of a bridge maintenance crew in Louisiana who didn’t seem to fit his supervisor’s idea of what a “rough ironworker” should act like. The supervisor, who viewed the worker as effeminate, allegedly harassed him by doling out verbal abuse, engaging in taunting gestures of a sexual nature, and exposing himself to the worker. [Read more…]

Bullying in the workplace

When most people think of bullying, they think of a tough kid demanding a smaller boy’s lunch money or “mean girls” ostracizing a classmate in a school cafeteria.

But as a highly publicized situation recently involving the NFL’s Miami Dolphins suggests, bullying doesn’t always stop after high school graduation. It often continues into adulthood, including the workplace.

In the Dolphins’ case, one teammate allegedly tried to “toughen up” another player through a series of abusive text messages and threats of violence.

While that case generated a lot of publicity, the vast majority of workplace bullying incidents don’t show up in the news media. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t real – survey after survey shows that a high percentage of Americans say they have experienced or witnessed workplace bullying over the course of their careers. [Read more…]

Company policy may override medical marijuana law

Many states have now legalized or decriminalized marijuana possession, and even more have legalized marijuana use for medical purposes. But while these laws may allow employees to avoid criminal consequences for smoking pot, they might not allow them to avoid workplace consequences.

Take the case of a Wal-Mart employee in Michigan. His doctors prescribed marijuana to control pain related to cancer, and he was a registered user under Michigan’s medical marijuana law. But when he tested positive for the substance under Wal-Mart’s drug use policy, the company fired him.

The employee sued Wal-Mart, but a federal appeals court upheld the firing. [Read more…]

Former shareholder couldn’t sue for discrimination

Bob Mariotti was a manager, shareholder and director of a family company that sold building supplies. At some point he experienced a “spiritual awakening” and began to expound religious ideas that often offended the other members of his family.

Eventually, the rest of the family decided to fire him as a manager. However, he continued to receive compensation as a shareholder and to act as a director for another six months, until he was voted out of those positions as well.

Mariotti sued the company for religious discrimination. But a federal appeals court in Philadelphia rejected his suit. [Read more…]

Company can’t fire worker whose spouse is sick

Marc Flagg worked for a Boston-area medical supplier for 18 years, apparently receiving positive performance reviews the whole time.

But in late 2007, his wife underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor, requiring expensive rehabilitative care afterward. As a result, Flagg had to leave work about a half-hour early each day to pick up his daughter from school. His manager apparently had no problem with the arrangement, or the fact that Flagg didn’t “punch out” during this time.

A few months later, Flagg’s wife was back in the hospital due to a recurrence of her tumor. The company then fired Flagg, claiming his failure to punch out resulted in his being paid for time he didn’t work. The termination meant that Flagg’s health insurance was cancelled and his unemployment benefits were denied. [Read more…]

OSHA goes after companies for discouraging workers from reporting injuries

First, the good news: According to the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration, the number of reported workplace injuries dropped by more than 30 percent over the last 10 years.

Now the bad news: OSHA believes a big reason for the decline in reported injuries is that workers are becoming afraid that they’ll be retaliated against if they report them.

Of course, under federal law, it’s illegal for employers to retaliate against workers for reporting injuries, and it’s also illegal for them to reward employees in return for not reporting injuries. [Read more…]

U.S. settles first lawsuit under new health privacy law

The U.S. has settled its first lawsuit under the a new health care privacy law, and appears poised to aggressively target other employers who ask their workers about family illnesses.

The case involved a fabric distributor in Oklahoma that apparently required its workers to undergo physical exams in which they were asked whether cancer, heart disease or mental disorders ran in their families. The company quickly settled the case and agreed to pay $50,000 in damages to a job applicant who had been asked to provide such a family history.

This was the first lawsuit brought under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA. The law – which prohibits employers from asking about genetic testing results or family medical histories – was intended to encourage people to undergo genetic testing without having to worry about negative repercussions in the workplace. [Read more…]

Employee or contractor? Obamacare raises the stakes

It’s not always clear whether a worker should be treated as an “employee” or an “independent contractor.” But how a worker is classified it makes a huge difference to both workers and businesses – and that’s especially true as a result of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Generally speaking, employers have a big incentive to treat workers as contractors rather than employees. If a worker is a contractor, then the employer might not have to worry about complying with wage and hour laws, payroll taxes, or unemployment and worker’s comp insurance. An employer might also be shielded from certain types of lawsuits, such as for discrimination, wrongful termination, or personal injuries that the worker causes to third parties. [Read more…]