DOL Proposal Could Swell Overtime Ranks

It’s as American as the Fourth of July. Employees should be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours a week. Now the U.S. Department of Labor has moved to widen the number of workers who would be eligible for overtime.

Under current rules, salaried workers who earn $23,660 a year–$455 per week–qualify for overtime if they exceed a 40 hour workweek. But managers and supervisors are exempt from overtime. DOL suspects that some employees have designated workers as managers and supervisors to circumvent the overtime rules. As a result, DOL argues, many employees who should be getting overtime are being shortchanged, even if they work for more than 40 hours.

So DOL’s answer is raise that earnings threshold to $50,440 a year–$970 per week. That would make millions of more workers eligible for overtime pay.

The proposal is generating significant pushback from the business groups, who argue back that employers are likely to respond by cutting managers’ base pay and benefits if they have to grant overtime, to keep compensation costs level without raising prices.

Here’s DOL’s web page dedicated to explaining the proposal.

EEOC Sues Wal Mart on Cancer Survivor’s Behalf

A Wal Mart store allegedly removed an employee’s chair that she used as an accommodation for her cancer–and now the retailer finds itself staring at an Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuit.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it filed the ADA lawsuit in response to the actions of Wal Mart’s store in Hodgkins, Illinois. The store had reasonably accommodated employee Nancy Stack’s request that the company provide a chair in her work area in the fitting room and limit her scheduled work hours because treatment for bone cancer in her leg limited her ability to walk and stand, the EEOC said.

After complying with her scheduling accommodation for many months, the store revoked it for no reason, according to the EEOC. And the store did not ensure that a chair was in Stack’s work area, at one point telling her that she had to haul a chair from the furniture department every day, which was of course hard for her to do given her disability. Finally, the store transferred Stack from the fitting room to a greeter position, which did not comply with her restrictions on standing.

Adding insult to injury, a co-worker harassed Stack by calling her names like “cripple” and “chemo brain,” imitated her limp, and removed or hid the chair the employee needed in her work area. Stack complained repeatedly, but the store took no action to stop the co-worker’s harassment.

This double-whammy of disability bias and retaliation has landed the retailer in court.

Read more about the case.

 

EEOC: Employer Violated ADA By Not Hiring Applicant Because Her Child Had Disability

Employers violate the Americans With Disabilities Act when they deny an applicant a job because his or her relative has a disability, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said today in announcing a ADA lawsuit against a New Mexico medical facility.

The suit against New Mexico Orthopaedics Associates, P.C., which owns and operates a medical facility in Albuquerque, alleges that discriminated against an employee because of her relationship to a person with disabilities–her toddler daughter.

According to the EEOC, the facility terminated Melissa Yalch’s temporary job assignment at their facility and failed to hire her for a full-time permanent position as a medical assistant because her daughter has several disabilities.

“Workers who have to help relatives with disabilities, especially a small child, have enough challenges on their hands without being treated badly at work or even fired simply because of that association,” said Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill of the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office. “Employers must comply with federal law or be subjected to the EEOC’s vigorous enforcement of it.”

Read more about the lawsuit.

EEOC’s page on disability discrimination–explaining the do’s and dont’s under the ADA–is here.

Park Police Rescind Policy Requiring Immediate Notification of Pregnancy; Will Comply With PDA

It took a lawsuit and settlement to convince the U.S. Park Police that its pregnancy leave policy needed an overhaul.

The U.S. Park Police’s outdated pregnancy policy was a fitting casualty of a settlement of a lawsuit last week brought by a plainclothes detective who was made to stop working as soon as she told her supervisors about her pregnancy.

Under the policy, pregnant officers had to notify their supervisors as soon as they knew they were pregnant, and provide a doctor’s note authorizing them to keep working. If the doctor determines that the employee can no longer work, she is automatically placed on maternity leave.

After giving birth and taking maternity, Officer Renee Abt sued the Park Police, alleging that the policy violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act by treating women differently than other employees with similar abilities and limitations. As part of the settlement, the Park Police agreed to pay her $300,000 for her pain and suffering–and as importantly, rescind its previous pregnancy policies.

Abt had informed her supervisor of her pregnancy as required under the policy and was then taken off fieldwork.

The Park Police had tweaked the original policy to allow women to notify their supervisors in their first trimester.

That policy was thrown out too as part of the settlement.

Don’t be like the Park Police! Make sure you allow female employees who become pregnant to call the shots on how long they want to work–rather than impose arbitrary rules that force them to the sideline before they are ready to stop working.

 

OSHA Issues Reminder on Fireworks Safety

What would the 4th of July be like without fireworks?

A lot less exciting for many spectators–but also less dangerous for the workers whose job it is to set off these explosives.

So here comes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration–the nation’s chief workplace safety watchdog–to remind employers and employees about the hazards of handling fireworks and ways to make the holiday safer for all involved in putting on fireworks displays.,

Earlier this year, the agency Lone Star Management, for nine serious safety violations arising from an incident at its firework storage facility in Pittsburg, Kansas. The company specializes in importing and distributing Class 1 fireworks.

In that instance, two employees were directed to use a gas-powered forklift to move pallets of fireworks and cardboard out of an explosives storage facility when the gas ignited, which caused an explosion and fire, killing one worker and critically injuring another worker, OSHA charged.

OSHA has several resources addressing safety issues and improvements, including:

  • OSHA’s Web page on the pyrotechnics industry, addressing retail sales of fireworks and fireworks displays;
  • Information on common hazards and solutions found in both areas of the industry, and downloadable safety posters for workplaces are available at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/pyrotechnic/index.html. It also includes a video, available at http://www.osha.gov/video/fireworks/index.html, which demonstrates best industry practices for retail sales and manufacturers based on National Fire Protection Association consensus standards.

Here’s today’s fireworks advisory.

Free to Get Married–But Also to Be Fired

Gay marriage is now legal everywhere in the United States–thanks to Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling–but in most states it’s still legal to fire or refuse to hire or promote someone because they are gay.

According to workplacefairness.org., “22 states and the District of Columbia have laws explicitly protecting LGBT workers from being fired because of their sexual orientation. However, this means that there are still 28 states that allow an employee to be terminated on the basis of sexual orientation, and in those states legal remedies are often narrow for private sector employees.

On the federal law front, neither Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act not any other federal antidiscrimination law, prohibits sexual orientation discrimination. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is of the view that discriminating against transgender individuals, or discrimination based on gender identity, is discrimination based on sex and therefore prohibited under Title VII.

Discrimination based on sex stereotypes, or sexual orientation, is also illegal, asserts the EEOC. It has instructed investigators and attorneys that lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals may bring valid Title VII sex discrimination claims and the EEOC should accept charges alleging sexual orientation related discrimination.

Several executive orders prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, but they only affect employees of government contractors. A bill to ban this discrimination has been introduced over the years in Congress (the Employment Nondiscrimination Act), but passage in the current Congress is very unlikely.

So it’s a mixed bag. Gays can marry but their employment is possibly still in jeopardy. There’s more work to be done to bring equality to all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

EEOC: Unlawful Medical Questions Still Problem

An employer that allegedly forced its employees to answer questions about their medical conditions–or not be allowed to take excused sick leave, and risk other adverse employment actions–has thought better of it and decided to settle a lawsuit brought against it by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

According to the EEOC, Erie Strayer Company, a concrete product and services company, subjected Thomas Young and other employees to unlawful medical inquiries and adverse employment actions resulting from such inquiries including coercion, intimidation, threats, and retaliation for refusing to comply with Strayer’s inquiries.

“Requiring employees to reveal the specific nature of their medical illness in order to deem the use of sick leave an excused absence is an unlawful disability-related inquiry under the ADA not justified by business necessity,” said Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office, which oversees Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland and portions of New Jersey and Ohio.  “Employees should not have to worry that their private and potentially harmful information will be used against them later to unfairly exclude them from jobs they could otherwise perform.”

The company agreed to pay $15,000 and take other steps to settle.

Read more from the EEOC’s announcement.

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