Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.
Showing posts with label interns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label interns. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What Every Teen Needs To Know About Getting Paid At Work

I wrote about general workplace rights teens and young adults need to know. And before that I wrote about workplace sexual harassment. But there's even more you probably didn't learn about work when you were in school. I bet your high school and college didn't tell you about what you're entitled to be paid under the law, what hours you're allowed to work, how to figure out if your internship should be paid, and allowable work breaks, did they?

If you're a teen or young adult starting or looking for a summer job or internship, getting paid (or getting a meaningful learning experience) is one of the most important things. Otherwise, you could be at the beach or ziplining. If you're a parent, friend, guardian or relative of someone entering the workforce for the first time, make sure they know their rights on getting paid. Otherwise, they'll be hitting you up for funds, right? No worries. 

Read my article What Every Teen Needs To Know About Getting Paid At Work to find out what you need to know about teen and young adult wages, hours, unpaid internships and breaks.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What Every Teen (And Parent) Needs To Know About Sexual Harassment At Work

Thinking about a summer job or internship? I bet you didn't know that, if you are an intern, there is no federal law against sexual harassment of interns. Some states have recently passed laws to fix this horrible omission. If you live in New York, Oregon or DC, you're protected. Other places, not so much.

Big problem, right? That makes stepping out into the work world doubly scary. Your high school and college probably didn't prepare or warn you about the possibility of sexual harassment at work and tell you what to do about it.

If you're a teen or young adult new to the workplace, this article tells you what you need to know about sexual harassment at work. If you're a parent, guardian, relative or friend of a teen, make sure they know this vital information before you send them out there into the great wide world.

Read my article What Every Teen (And Parent) Needs To Know About Sexual Harassment At Work to find out what you need to know about sexual harassment. And if you aren't concerned, take a look at my article about the poster boy of sexual harassment of teens at work.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Donna's Employment Law Predictions for 2014

Last week I revealed how I did on my predictions for 2013 (pretty darned good, if I do say so myself). Today, I look into my crystal ball for 2014. Here's what I see on the horizon:
  1. Minimum Wage: Raising the minimum wage will be a hot political issue in 2014. We saw some movements in 2013 to make significant increases, and that will continue. Unless something drastic happens in the midterm elections, it's doubtful we'll see anything significant on the national level, but look for more states to increase the minimum wage to the $ 9 - 10 range. Some may go even higher, like Seattle's move toward $15. Raising the minimum wage is great for the economy. Unlike trickle-down economics, it gets money circulating quickly. Henry Ford had the right idea: pay your employees enough so they can buy your products.
  2. Legalize It: Legalized marijuana will spread to more states, creating some confusion for employers. Can they fire employees who test positive, like Colorado? Or will their state prohibit firings for legal marijuana use like Connecticut, Arizona, Rhode Island, Maine, Colorado and New York? Colorado has a law, as do other states, prohibiting firing/discrimination for legal off-duty activities, so watch for some litigation over this issue there. Look for marijuana growers and sellers to push for laws like tobacco users have in several states protecting them from discrimination at work. In the meantime, medical marijuana users will seek protection under the ADA and other disability discrimination laws.
  3. Health Care: ObamaCare kicked in and it will change the way we look at health insurance. Sure, it isn't ideal. But when a million or so people who've never had health insurance or who haven't had it in years suddenly can get medical treatment, they'll start to expect to be treated like human beings instead of human waste. From here, we'll be very close to an upheaval in the way we deal with health insurance. This year, we'll see some confusion as the regulations kick in, some stupid employers dumping insurance and cutting people to part-time to avoid paying insurance, but the employer mandates have been delayed until 2015, so most of the stupid employer activity will be at the end of the year and into next year. I say that employers who do this are stupid because they'll ultimately lose good employees. With more people covered, there will be more health care jobs available.
  4. Internships Cut: With employers under attack for unpaid internship programs that don't actually educate the interns and replace regular employees, some programs will simply disappear. That's not all bad, since the interns-as-slaves programs need to die. We'll see better internship programs cropping up, ones that are truly educational, or paid internships. But most of the new programs will start up after this year. This will be a year of lost programs. We'll also see some attempts to put interns under the protection of discrimination and sexual harassment laws. Some may succeed on the state or local levels, but there's no way that happens on a national level with Congress as it is currently configured.
  5. Failed Again: Attempts to pass anti-bullying laws and the Civil Rights Tax Fairness Act will fail just like they do every year.
  6. NLRB and EEOC Cut Off By Courts: NLRB and EEOC will continue to try to expand the protections employees have. Courts will continue to stop them. Still, they'll inch forward with some new progress for employees. Baby steps.
  7. Lip Service: While the midterm elections kick in, we'll hear lots of big proposals to help employees. Little or nothing will pass due to gridlock. Failures will include the FAMILY Act, Arbitration Fairness Act, and ENDA. However, the fact that each of these bills will be blocked will become fodder to take down some of the more anti-employee members of Congress. Maybe 2015 will see some progress.
  8. Background Checks: EEOC's efforts to demonstrate that criminal background checks have a disparate impact on blacks have been pretty well crushed so far. However, there will continue to be efforts to ban credit checks. More states will ban or limit use of credit information in hiring. The federal efforts to do so will fail. More states will pass ban-the-box laws barring many inquiries about arrest and conviction records in job applications. There is zero chance such a law will pass on the federal level this election year.
  9. Pregnancy Discrimination: The issue of whether pregnancy is covered under the Florida Civil Rights Act will be resolved one way or the other by the end of the year. I think the Florida Supreme Court will say it is already covered. If not, then the legislature will pass a fix. The difference will be for all those women caught in between. If the Court doesn't rule for employees, lots of new moms who thought they were covered and sued under state law will be out of luck. Rule wisely, Supremes.
  10. LGBT Protections: States and local governments will continue to pass discrimination laws banning LGBT discrimination. The feds will fail again, but EEOC will continue to push for application of existing law to LGBT employees.
  11. Religious Discrimination: Religious employees will push the limits on their ability to proselytize and pray at work. There will be a disconnect between the right to practice religion vs. the right not to be harassed for not sharing a religion and also LGBT rights. Look for right-wing religious groups to push the argument that religious discrimination laws allow them to speak out against gay rights in the workplace. In an election year, we'll see extreme positions pushed on both sides.
Well, that's it for my predictions. I think this year will be one where employees start to wake up to how few rights they have and start to push for more. Major change will come only with a change in Congress.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Top 6 Signs Your Unpaid Internship Should Be Paid

In honor of my daughter landing her first internship, I thought I'd go through once again an issue that comes up every summer. Many internships that are unpaid are exploiting young people for free labor instead of providing a meaningful learning experience.

If your internship is more about scut work and less about learning, you are probably an employee who needs to be paid, not an intern. Here are some top signs that your unpaid internship is really a job that should be paid: 
  1. You aren't learning: An internship is supposed to provide training similar to that you would receive in a vocational school. In other words, you should be learning something helpful to your future career. If you're sorting mail, licking envelopes, filing, digging ditches or picking up the boss's dry cleaning, that work has to be paid. Internship assignments are supposed to build on each other to help you develop more skills, similar to the way each chapter of a textbook builds on the other.  
  2. You have someone else's job: If you find out you're the temp covering for someone on maternity leave or you replaced a salaried guy they thought was making too much money, you have a job, not an internship.
  3. You're on your own: Let's say they toss you in a room and say, "Here's the manual. Do this project on you own. Tell me when it's done." You are an employee.
  4. The company benefits, not you: This is where most intern programs go seriously wrong. The company is supposed to be giving training that benefits you way more than it benefits them. If they can make money off what you're doing, or if you're saving them from having to pay another employee, you probably have to be paid. 
  5. They promise a job at the end: The whole point of the internship is probably that you want them to hire you somewhere down the line. However, if you are guaranteed a job if you complete a specific training period, you're likely a trainee and must be paid. 
  6. Where's my check?: If you go into a job thinking you're going to be paid and they announce only after you start that you're an unpaid intern, you're probably an employee. If you didn't understand before you accepted that there would be no pay while you're training, then you're probably entitled to be paid.
 The Department of Labor has been cracking down on illegal unpaid interships for several years. If your employer screws up, they may owe you wages, overtime, liquidated damages that equal the wages they failed to pay, and your attorney's fees. Here in South Florida, we also have some counties with wage theft ordinances that can even triple the amount you're owed. If your internship isn't what you thought it would be, have until the end of the statute of limitations (generally 2 years under the Fair Labor Standards Act) to wait to see if you get the job you thought you were earning. If you sue, you can sue on your own behalf and on behalf of all the other interns who didn't get paid.

Even if you sign a waiver saying you agree not to be paid, it won't hold up if the internship is really a job, so talk to an employment lawyer in your state about it.

Internships can get you college credits, contacts, community service hours for high school, and maybe even a paid job down the line. That's what the good ones are supposed to do for you. Just beware the ones that turn you into slave labor. Before you accept an internship, get a clear understanding of your job duties, whether you'll be paid, and what the employer expects of you.

If you aren't going to be doing something that puts you on your career path, turn it down. If you find out that it wasn't what you expected, get out of there.

Time is money. That's what they say in business. Make sure you get your money's worth out of your internship. If not, wouldn't you rather spend your summer taking classes, getting a paid job, or texting your friends?

If you have a terrific internship, great. I wish you the best. If not, talk to an employment lawyer about your rights.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Unpaid Interns: Learning Experience or Illegal Exploitation? (Guest post on AOL Jobs)

I read Ross Perlin's recent editorial in The New York Times, "Unpaid Interns, Complicit Colleges," with great interest and not a small bit of dismay. As an employment lawyer who has represented employees for 25 years, I wasn't surprised to see that so many for-profit employers are still getting it wrong. The sad truth is that most unpaid internships at for-profit companies are probably illegal.

What did surprise me was Perlin's observation that so many colleges and universities are willing to look the other way at this practice. Yes, internships can be a great opportunity. But in this economy I think it's downright un-American that some unpaid internships are being used to exploit our young people and rob paid employees of their jobs. Fortunately, it's also illegal. The Department of Labor has made it clear that this sort of exploitation won't be tolerated.

It looks like some career office or guidance counselors might not tell you what an unpaid internship is and is not supposed to be. Students may assume that the career office wouldn't list an unpaid internship opportunity if it didn't comply with the law, but that's not a safe assumption.

Because so many students will be starting their internships in the next few weeks, I wanted to tell you about some top signs that your unpaid internship might be exploiting you:

Read the rest on AOL Jobs . . .

Thanks again to Gina Misiroglu of Red Room for putting me in touch with the AOL people!