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.

Friday, November 15, 2019

California Bans Forced Arbitration For Discrimination Claims - Will Other States Follow?

Starting in 2020, employers in California are banned from requiring employees to agree to arbitration of state discrimination and labor law issues. That's good news for employees, maybe. And it may have an impact beyond California.

Arbitrations are bad for a number of reasons when done as mandatory processes rather than truly voluntary. Employees have been pushing back on mandatory arbitration, sometimes successfully. So this law will hopefully prevent abusive forced arbitrations in California.

This could affect employees beyond California if they work for a company with offices in California. Many will simply drop forced arbitration across the board.

I say maybe it's good for employees because there's still the Federal Arbitration Act to deal with. Employers will argue that this California law is preempted by the FAA, which allows abusive forced arbitration. I'm guessing we'll see litigation about this soon.

We need action in other states, and we need action on the federal level to ban abusive forced arbitrations. Arbitration can be a wonderful thing if truly voluntary and truly fair. We need to make sure that all employees get to make a real choice rather than being forced into an unfair process.

C'mon Florida. Let's do something to help employees for a change.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Florida Workers Get A Whopping Ten Cents, But There's Hope

Yipee! Florida's minimum wage is going up a whopping 10 cents, from $8.46/hour to $8.56/hour. Tipped workers will get $5.54/hour.

If that news generates a big yawn, or a "how the heck can anyone live on that?" there's hope. 

A new petition to very gradually raise Florida's minimum wage to $15/hour just got enough signatures to make the ballot in November. It would raise the minimum wage to $10 in September 2021, and then go up $1 annually after that. So it wouldn't be until 2026 that it finally gets to $15. 



Hey, at least it's something. Other states have already raised minimum wage to $15: California will have it by 2022, New York by 2020.  Washington's will be $13.50 in 2020. Arizona and Colorado have raised theirs to $12 effective in 2020. Oregon's is currently $11.25 and will be $13.50 by 2022.

Surely Florida can do at least as well as these states for its workers. To me, the ballot measure is a no-brainer. The current minimum wage means people working those jobs live below the poverty line. If you're thinking folks should just get a better job, that doesn't solve the problem, does it? It just means that some other worker will live in poverty instead. Do you really believe that some full time jobs need to be done but the people who do them should live in poverty? I didn't think so.

Make sure you vote in November to raise the minimum wage in Florida.

If you think minimum wage is too low and want to help, then check out the Fight for 15. They are teaching workers to organize to fight for better wages. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Finally, One City Goes After Thieving Employers

I've done a few posts about the criminalization of employment law, and in those posts I've asked why it's all one-sided. Employees are going to jail for alleged trade secret theft, accessing employer computers once they're fired, and a host of other offenses. Yet employers who steal from employees and who commit other crimes against employees largely escape.



Well, one city has had enough. Philadelphia now has a unit in the DA's office just for prosecuting crimes against employees. The big focus is wage theft, but I'm betting they will get all kinds of crimes they can prosecute, like assault and battery, theft of personal items, antitrust violations if they have a state antitrust law, and other criminal violations.

It's about time. When will other cities and states prosecute employers for breaking the laws with respect to employees? Stay tuned.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Is EEOC Turning Down New Charges of Discrimination?

I've heard from multiple different clients and potential clients that they've contacted Miami EEOC and were either turned away or were unable to get an appointment. Some were told on the phone that EEOC is not taking new cases. Others filled out the form online and the next step is to set an appointment. But when they click on the next step they are unable to get an appointment.

WTH?

Filing a charge of discrimination is required before filing a charge of discrimination. In Florida, it must be filed within 300 days from the date of discrimination. In other states it's either 180 or 300 days. If EEOC is refusing to allow folks to file charges, that means workers who were subjected to discrimination may not be allowed to file a discrimination lawsuit.

Sure, the Supreme Court recently ruled that filing a charge with EEOC is not jurisdictional, meaning that the lack of a charge doesn't automatically mean the courts can't hear the case. But the Supremes also said, "EEOC charge-filing is still a mandatory prerequisite to filing suit and remains a procedural step that a court must enforce if the issue is timely raised . . . ."

I'm sure hoping that the folks telling me that EEOC is refusing to allow them to file charges of discrimination have somehow misunderstood, but I've heard it enough in the past couple weeks to think a pattern is developing.

If filing a charge of discrimination is still a "mandatory prerequisite to filing suit," then EEOC needs to take all charges that workers want to file. Otherwise, it is preventing people from pursuing their legal remedies for race, age, sex, national origin, pregnancy, disability, color, religious, and other discrimination cases.

I hope this is not a new anti-employee policy implemented by this administration to prevent workers from exercising their rights. Say it ain't so EEOC!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Make Less Than $35,568? Starting January 1, You Get Overtime

The Department of Labor has just raised the minimum amount employees must make to be considered exempt for overtime, from $23,660 to $35,568, starting January 1. You still have to also meet one of the exemptions, such as administrative, professional, executive, computer professional, or outside sales, and still have to be paid on a salary basis rather than hourly.

This new rule will add about 1.3 million workers to the employees entitled to be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours/week. So yay!

Here's DOL's summary of the rule's effects:
  • raising the “standard salary level” from the currently enforced level of $455 per week to $684 per week (equivalent to $35,568 per year for a full-year worker);
  • raising the total annual compensation requirement for “highly compensated employees” from the currently enforced level of $100,000 per year to $107,432 per year;
  • allowing employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) paid at least annually to satisfy up to 10% of the standard salary level, in recognition of evolving pay practices; and
  • revising the special salary levels for workers in U.S. territories and the motion picture industry.
While this is good news, I'd note that President Obama was going to raise the amount to $47,000, but this administration stopped that from happening. So if you make between $35,568 and $47,000, you should reflect your displeasure when you vote next year.

This new rule won't be automatically increased for inflation, so it may be decades before we seen another increase. Enjoy it while you can.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

More States Fight Back On Low Wage and Surprise Noncompetes

Once legislators woke up to the fact that employers were running amok with noncompete agreements, imposing them on sandwich makers and other low-level employees, some states took action. Here are some new state laws that limit noncompete agreements:
  • MaineThe Act to Promote Keeping Workers in Maine, which went into effect this week, bans no-poach or non-solicitation agreements with other employers; prohibits noncompetes for employees earning at or below 400% of the federal poverty level, mandates pre-employment disclosure of non-compete agreements; says non-competes can't take effect until after one year after the employee is hired or 6 months after the employee signs the agreement, whichever is later; and imposes $5000+ fines for violations.
  • New Hampshire: New Hampshire already required employers to provide a copy of a required non-compete agreement to potential employees before the employee accepted any offer of employment. Starting September 8, NH employers can't force low-wage employees, meaning “an employee who earns an hourly rate less than or equal to 200 percent of the federal minimum wage,” to sign noncompetes.
  • Rhode Island: The Rhode Island Noncompetition Agreement Act, signed in July, and going into effect next year, will bar employers from entering into or enforcing noncompetes with hourly employees, undergraduate or graduate student interns, employees 18 or younger, and low wage employees (those employees whose annual earnings are not more than 250% of the federal poverty level).

Michigan has a bill working its way through the legislature limiting noncompetes. So do Vermont and Pennsylvania.

If you think sandwich makers and other low wage employees shouldn't be prohibited from moving on to better paying jobs, and that employers shouldn't be able to surprise new employees with noncompetes after they start, tell your state legislators to get with it and join the pro-employee movement banning low wage and surprise noncompetes.


 




Sunday, September 1, 2019

You Don't Have To Work In Dangerous Post-Hurricane Conditions

After a storm, I usually get lots of calls and emails about employers making employees work in conditions they deem unsafe so I thought I'd repost this for those affected by Dorian. In general, you don't have to work in unsafe conditions. Here's what OSHA says about workplace safety:
You have the right to a safe workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) was passed to prevent workers from being killed or seriously harmed at work. The law requires that employers provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. OSHA sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards. OSHA also provides information, training and assistance to workers and employers. Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) if you have questions or want to file a complaint. We will keep your information confidential. We are here to help you.
OSHA also has a flyer about safety during disaster cleanup here. Some basic safety rules:
  • Keep an adequate amount of clean water for drinking.
  • Make sure workers are trained to do any complex or hazardous tasks.
  • Provide the proper equipment such as gloves, respirators, boots, lifting equipment and eye protection.
A host of other specific fact sheets are here. Some particularly useful ones for hurricanes are:
Bottom line for employers is: don't be stupid. Don't have employees in business attire climbing ladders and removing debris. Make sure employees are properly dressed. Don't cheap out and try to use your clerical employees to move downed trees or work around downed power lines. The lawsuit you will face when someone is seriously injured or killed will cost you way more than hiring the correct folks for the job.

The worker's page for reporting problems and with more resources is here.

By the way, if your "exempt" employees are doing debris removal or other scut work, they probably aren't exempt from overtime for that work. But that's another issue for another day.