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Warning: Whistleblowers Must be Handled with Care

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 6/4/2014
judge's gavel

Though dealing with a disgruntled employee can be hard, various anti-retaliation protections make it even harder when an employee’s complaints or conduct is protected by law. A 2013 Congressional Report identified 40 different federal whistleblower and anti-retaliation laws, including:

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Is There a Bully in Your Workplace?

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 4/23/2014
workplace bully

Chances are there is a bully in your workplace, and that’s bad for business. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines bullying as repeated mistreatment involving physically or verbally abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating or humiliating, or that interferes with or prevents work from getting done. According to the WBI’s 2014 Workplace Bullying Survey:

  • 27% are or have been victims of workplace bullying
  • 21% have witnessed workplace bullying
  • 23% are aware of workplace bullying
  • 65 million workers are affected by workplace bullying

Though the frequency of workplace bullying may come as a surprise to some, the consequences should not. Workplace bullying typically increases employee turnover, decreases productivity, reduces job satisfaction, undermines morale, increases workers’ compensation costs and increases employment-related litigation costs.

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Religious Garb and Grooming Accommodations under Title VII

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 3/12/2014
woman putting on sari

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charges of religious discrimination brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act are steadily increasing. These charges often involve religious dress and grooming practices, such as:

  • wearing religious clothing or articles, such as a Muslim hijab (headscarf), a Sikh turban or a Christian cross
  • observing a religious prohibition against wearing certain garments, such as a Muslim, Pentecostal Christian, or Orthodox Jewish woman's practice of not wearing pants or short skirts
  • adhering to shaving or hair length observances, such as a uncut hair and beard (Sikh), dreadlocks (Rastafarian) or peyes/side locks (Jewish)

    Title VII, which protects all aspects of religious observance, practice and belief, defines religion very broadly. It protects not only traditional, organized religions, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or may seem illogical or unreasonable to others.

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Grading the EEOC in 2013

by The Human Equation, Inc. on 1/29/2014
employee and employer

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is on a mission. According to its Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2012 through 2016, the EEOC is focused on:

  • combating employment discrimination with administrative (investigation, mediation, conciliation) and litigation enforcement mechanisms
  • preventing employment discrimination with education and outreach activities
  • delivering excellent and consistent services with effective systems.

The EEOC’s enforcement objectives and activities provide valuable insight into what employers should pay special attention to when dealing with equal employment opportunity matters. According to its Fiscal Year 2013 Performance and Accountability Report, the EEOC:

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Prevent Holiday Celebration Litigation

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 12/4/2013

The annual holiday party is an excellent opportunity for employees to strengthen bonds by mixing and mingling and for senior managers to connect with employees they might not otherwise interact with throughout the year. Holiday parties often generate feelings of family and unity in the workplace. They may also lead to litigation.

Since holiday parties are generally viewed work events, most employees know not to cross the line. When alcohol is involved, however, lines may get blurry and employers may get sued. Off-color comments, racy jokes or inappropriate flirty behavior may lead to claims of unlawful discrimination or harassment. Alcohol-related car accidents caused by those attending the party may lead to claims of negligence.

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Florida Announces 2014 Minimum Wage

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 10/22/2013

Effective January 1, 2014, Florida’s minimum wage will be $7.93 per hour. This is an increase of 14 cents over the 2013 minimum wage of $7.79 per hour. The minimum wage for tipped employees will increase by the same amount to $4.91 per hour

Florida’s minimum wage is the result of a 2004 voter-approved amendment to the Florida Constitution, and it applies to all Florida employees who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act’s federal minimum wage.

Every year, Florida’s minimum wage is recalculated to consider the rate of inflation during the prior year, and according to the Florida Supreme Court, only upward adjustments are permitted. More...

Department of Labor Extends FLSA Protections to Direct Care Workers

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 10/2/2013
elderly couple

On September 17, 2013, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced a final rule that will extend the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime protections to most of the nation’s workers who provide home care assistance to elderly people and people with illnesses, injuries and disabilities. The DOL estimates that when it becomes effective on January 1, 2015, this new rule will extend the FLSA’s protections to nearly two million direct care workers.

According to the DOL, direct care workers remain among the lowest paid in the service industry because they have been denied minimum wage and overtime compensation under the FLSA’s companionship services exemption. The DOL suggests that courts have applied this exemption too broadly to encompass essentially all workers providing companionship services for those requiring care because of age or infirmity.

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Unlawful Retaliation under Title VII: No More Mixed Messages

by The Human Equation, Inc. on 8/21/2013
workplace discrimination

Title VII prohibits retaliation against employees who engage in protected activity, such as opposing or alleging unlawful workplace discrimination. Those suing for unlawful retaliation must prove that there is a link between the retaliation and their protected activity. But, how strong must the link be? The U.S. Supreme Court recently answered this question in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar.

In this case, Dr. Nassar alleged that his supervisor was biased against him on account of his religion and ethnic heritage. His supervisor once remarked that “Middle Easterners are lazy,” and, upon hearing that another physician of Middle Eastern descent was hired, the supervisor said that the hospital had “hired another one.” Dr. Nassar lodged several complaints about his treatment. Thereafter, a series of events led to Dr. Nassar leaving the hospital for another position. More...

Who is a Supervisor under Title VII? Why does it Matter?

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 7/17/2013
supervisor and employee

Who is considered a supervisor under Title VII? Since our last article discussing Vance v. Ball State University, the U.S. Supreme Court has given us the answer. According to the Court, a supervisor is a person

empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim; to effect a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.

Vance involved allegations of racial harassment and discrimination in violation of Title VII. Though the parties disputed the precise nature and scope of the harasser’s duties, it was clear that the harasser did not have the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline the plaintiff. Given the harasser’s inability to take a tangible employment action against the plaintiff, the Court held that the harasser does not qualify as a supervisor under Title VII. More...

EEOC Focusing on Employers Using Criminal Background Checks

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 6/18/2013
background check

In a previous article we discussed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) position on the use of arrest and conviction records in the employment context. According to the EEOC, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) prohibits the use of arrest and conviction records in a manner that discriminates on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex. The EEOC recently reaffirmed its position by filing two lawsuits involving the use of criminal background records.

BMW Manufacturing Co.

The EEOC claims that BMW’s criminal conviction policy, which disproportionately screened out African Americans, is not job related and consistent with business necessity. The lawsuit alleges that BMW’s policy is a blanket exclusion that does not provide for an individualized assessment of the nature and gravity of the crimes, the ages of the convictions, or the nature of the workers’ respective positions. More...

The New Form I-9: What’s Different?

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 4/30/2013
paperwork

Those of you following us on Facebook or Twitter know that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) recently revised the Employment Eligibility Verification Form (Form I-9). Though optional since early March 2013, the revised Form I-9 will become mandatory on May 7, 2013. As of this date, employers must stop using prior versions of the Form I-9 and begin using the version dated 03/08/13. (The version date can be found at the bottom of the form.)

I-9’s are used by employers to verify the identity and employment authorization of every new employee hired in the United States, regardless of citizenship. This process is authorized by the Immigration Reform and Control Act to preclude the unlawful hiring, recruiting or accepting a fee for the referral of aliens who are not authorized to work in the United States. More...

Individual Liability under the Fair Labor Standards Act

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 4/3/2013
alarm clock

Did you know that individuals can be held personally liable for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? The FLSA’s broad definition of employer includes “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interests of an employer in relation to an employee.” The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently considered when it is appropriate to hold someone personally liable for wage and hour violations under the FLSA.

In Lamonica v. Safe Hurricane Shutters, Inc., former employees sued their employer to recover unpaid overtime wages under the FLSA. The employees also sued two of the corporate-employer’s directors, arguing that they sufficiently controlled the corporation to justify holding them personally liable under the FLSA. To support their case against the directors, the employees showed that: More...

Is Your Unpaid Intern Really an Employee?

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 3/12/2013
woman training man in the workplace

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes federal standards for minimum wage and overtime compensation. Under the FLSA, interns in the for-profit private sector will generally be viewed as employees entitled to compensation except in very limited circumstances.

Whether an individual working in an internship or training program is considered an employee that should be paid minimum wage and overtime compensation under the FLSA depends on the facts and circumstances. When making this determination, the following criteria must be applied to each particular situation:

  1. The internship, even though it includes performing actual work, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern works under close supervision of existing staff and does not displace regular employees;
  4. The employer derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and its operations may occasionally be impeded by the intern;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
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Condominium Pet Policy vs. Service Animal Request

by Anita Byer, President - The Human Equation on 2/19/2013
woman in condo with dog on her lap

In a previous article we discussed what can happen when a condominium association improperly handles an accommodation request involving a service animal. Unfortunately, a recent federal case in Florida shows that some associations are still struggling with requests for service animals.

In this case, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was told he could not keep his dog because it exceeded the association’s 25-pound limit. The unit owner sent a letter from his treating physician stating that the emotional support animal was prescribed to help the unit owner cope with his PTSD-related depression, stress and anxiety. The physician then provided two more letters describing the nature of the disability and the need for an emotional support animal in greater detail.

Nevertheless, the association requested more information from the unit owner and his physician. After several months without a response, the association formally demanded removal of the dog. After filing a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Florida Commission on Human Relations, the unit owner sued the association under the federal and Florida Fair Housing Act (FHA) for denying him a reasonable accommodation.

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Court Interprets FLSA’s Break Requirement for Nursing Mothers

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 1/29/2013

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently became the first federal appellate court to consider a significant, though rarely publicized, provision of the Affordable Care Act—the reasonable break time requirement for nursing mothers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In Miller v. Roche Surety and Casualty, an employee sued her employer alleging a violation of her rights as a nursing mother under the FLSA. Under the FLSA, employers are required to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child. This requirement, which extends for 1 year after the child's birth, requires an employer to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public,” so that the employee may express breast milk.

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Improper Salary Deductions Under the FLSA

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 1/8/2013

The Fair Labor Standards Act limits an employer’s ability to make salary deductions from employees who are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime compensation provisions. Exempt employees must generally receive their full salary for any week in which they perform any work, regardless of the number of days or hours worked. And, the FLSA generally does not allow employers to deduct from an exempt employee’s salary because of variations in the quality or quantity of work performed.

However, there are limited exceptions to the FLSA’s general rule against salary deductions for exempt employees. For example, salary deductions are allowed:

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Employers May See More Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 11/20/2012

An employer’s liability for sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act depends on whether the harasser is a supervisor. If the alleged harasser is the victim’s co-employee, the employer may have various defenses to liability. However, if the harasser is a supervisor, Title VII’s strict liability standard may be triggered and the employer may be left defenseless.

So, who is considered a supervisor under Title VII?

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Florida's Minimum Wage Increasing on January 1, 2013

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 10/24/2012

Effective January 1, 2013, Florida’s minimum wage will be $7.79 per hour. This represents an increase of 12 cents over the 2012 minimum wage of $7.67 per hour. The minimum wage for tipped employees will increase by the same amount to $4.77 per hour.

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ADA Court Ruling Shocks Employers - Reassignment may be a Reasonable Accommodation

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 10/17/2012

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued United Airlines since disabled employees who could no longer do their jobs had to compete for vacant positions instead of being automatically reassigned. According to the EEOC, this practice violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

When the EEOC made a similar argument to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2000, the Court held that the ADA does not require an employer to reassign a disabled employee to a job for which there is a better applicant—provided it is the employer's consistent and honest policy to hire the best applicant for the particular job in question.

Undeterred, the EEOC again asked the Court to answer the same question. This time around, the EEOC got a different answer. More...

Condominium Governance: For Emergency Use Only

by Anita Byer, President - The Human Equation on 10/9/2012

For Board Member education as defined by the State of Florida, Click Here.
For Community Associtation Manager Continuing Education, Click Here.

During an emergency, decisions need to be made fast. There usually isn’t time to go “by the book.” This is why Florida’s Condominium Act authorizes association boards to exercise additional emergency powers More...

The Human Equation's newsletters and publications are intended as an information source for the clients and friends of the firm. Their content should not be construed as legal advice, and readers should not act upon the information in these publications without professional guidance. Please note that newsletters and publications that are archived by The Human Equation are not updated after initial publication and may not contain the most current information available.

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