Friday, October 2, 2015

WIRTW #384 (the “survey” edition)

Have you taken my survey on FMLA intermittent leave and salaried exempt employees? If not, click here, and answer two short questions. Let’s see if this is a problem in need of a solution, or a non-issue.

Here’s the rest of what I read this week:


Social Media & Workplace Technology

HR & Employee Relations

Wage & Hour

Labor Relations


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Should you deduct from an exempt employee’s salary for intermittent FMLA? [survey]

Suppose you have a salaried, exempt employee. You pay that employee a fixed weekly salary, regardless of the number of hours he or she works. Some weeks the employee works 40 hours, some weeks the employee works 30 hours, and some weeks the employee works 60 hours. In the calculus of a weekly paycheck, the number of hours worked is irrelevant. A salary covers all hours worked in a week, whether it’s one hour or 100 hours.

Let’s further suppose this salaried, exempt employee submits a request, and is approved for, intermittent leave under the FMLA. It could be for the employee’s own serious health condition, or that of a family member. As a result, this salaried exempt employee starts taking an hour or two off per week for doctor’s appointments related to the serious health condition. Is that FMLA time-off paid or unpaid, for the salaried, exempt employee?

FMLA is unpaid leave, and the law’s regulations make a specific allowance for an employer to require that a salaried, exempt employee take any intermittent FMLA leave as unpaid leave.

Leave taken under FMLA may be unpaid. If an employee is otherwise exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as a salaried executive, administrative, professional, or computer employee…, providing unpaid FMLA-qualifying leave to such an employee will not cause the employee to lose the FLSA exemption…. This means that under regulations currently in effect, where an employee meets the specified duties test, is paid on a salary basis, and is paid a salary of at least the amount specified in the regulations, the employer may make deductions from the employee's salary for any hours taken as intermittent or reduced FMLA leave within a workweek, without affecting the exempt status of the employee.

So, what is an employer to do? (1) what the law allows, and dock the salaried, exempt employee for any time spent taking intermittent FMLA leave? Or, (2) more than the law allows and pay the employee his or her full weekly salary?

I strongly favor option number 2.

Exempt employees do not work set schedules. They are not 9 – 5 jobs. Exempt employees work to get the job done (and, if they are not, you have problems bigger than whether to deduct an hour or two of pay for a doctor’s appointment). Because exempt employees work to get the job done, it is extraordinarily short-sighted (and, frankly, chintzy) to dock their pay for intermittent FMLA leave. What message does that send? We expect that some weeks, you will work your butt off, well in excess of 40 hours, because your job requires that you put in the extra time. That extra time will include some nights, and even some weekends. Because you’re exempt, we don’t pay you overtime for those extra hours; it’s all covered by your “salary”. Yet, when you need a few hours away from work for physical therapy for your knee injury, or to take you ill parent to a doctor’s appointment, we are going to hold back from your salary the pro rata share of those hours. How are your employees going to feel about working all of those extra hours when you nickel-and-dime them like this?

Employers, do me a favor and treat your salaried employees like salaried employees. Pay them their salary, period, regardless of how many hours they work in a week. If they are otherwise not meeting your performance expectations, treat it like a performance problem, not a payroll problem.

Now, I want to hear from you. Does your company dock the salary of exempt employees who take intermittent FMLA leave, and should it be? Answer below, or at this link. I’ll publish the results in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Independent contractors: everyone has an opinion

Everyone’s getting in on the act of defining who is an employee versus an independent contractor. This week, it’s the NLRB’s turn. In Sisters’ Camelot (9/25/15) [pdf], the Board determined that terminated pro-union community canvassers were employees covered by the NLRA, not independent contractors.

The employer, a nonprofit organization that collects and distributes food to low-income individuals, funds its operation primarily through donations obtained by canvassers through door-to-door solicitations. The canvassers, classified by the employer as independent contractors, attempted to organize into a labor union. When the employer found out, it terminated the services of one the ringleader, and suggested to others that organizing would be futile. Unfair labor practice charges followed.

The NLRB concluded that the canvassers are employees, not independent contractors. In so ruling, it balanced the following 11 factors:

  1. Extent of control by employer
  2. Whether the individual is engaged in a distinct occupation or business
  3. Whether the work is usually done under the direction of the employer or by a specialist without supervision
  4. Skill required in the occupation
  5. Whether the employer or individual supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and place of work
  6. Length of time for which individual is employed
  7. Method of payment
  8. Whether the work is part of the regular business of the employer
  9. Whether the parties believe they are creating an independent-contractor relationship
  10. Whether the principal is or is not in the business
  11. Whether the evidence shows the individual is rendering services as an independent business

The NLRB concluded that only two of the factors either favored independent-contractor status or were inconclusive on the issue—length of employment (which is sporadic and permits them to hold other jobs) and whether the parties believed they are creating an independent contractor relationship (with some testifying that they had signed independent-contractor agreements). The other nine, however, favored a finding of employee status:

Critically, when the canvassers work for the Respondent, they do so at times and locations determined by the Respondent. Their compensation is nonnegotiable and strictly limited by the Respondent’s time and location restrictions. Canvassers must generally use the Respondent’s tools and instrumentalities, including materials and transportation. They have no proprietary interest in any part of the canvassing operations, including their maps. They must keep accurate and detailed records as part of the Respondent’s close scrutiny of their activities. If they do not comply with the Respondent’s directives, they may be subject to discipline. Canvassers are also well integrated into the Respondent’s organization and identify themselves as part of it. The Respondent provides training, and canvassers need not have any specialized education or prior experience. While the Respondent conducts other fundraising activities beyond neighborhood canvassing, it could not fulfill its charitable mission without the canvassers, who procure most of its operating funds. Finally, there is no evidence showing that the canvassers render services as part of an independent business.

So, add labor organizing to the list of concerns employers need to have regarding independent-contractor classifications. It’s not enough to worry about whether they are employees for wage/hour purposes, workers’ comp purposes, or tax purposes, but also whether they are employees for union-organizing and other labor-relations (i.e., protected concerted activity) purposes. Even though this issue is now squarely in the NLRB’s line of sight, the suggestion on how to classify workers in close cases has not changed: unless one is clearly an independent contractor, over whom you exercise no control, the safest course of conduct is to classify that worker as an employee and not take any unnecessary legal risks.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Is digital “shunning” illegal retaliation?

Wired tells the story of an Australian tribunal, which ruled that an employee was illegally bullied at work, in part because a co-worker had unfriended her on Facebook.

Transfer this case to America, and assume that the employee is claiming retaliation based on the unfriending. Supposed Employee-A complains to HR that Employee-B is sexually harassing her, and, as soon as Employee-B finds out about the complaint, he unfriends Employee-A on Facebook. Does Employee-A have a claim for retaliation based on the unfriending?

The answer is likely no.

As a matter of law, an adverse action sufficient to support a claim for retaliation merely must be an action that would dissuade a reasonable worker from complaining about discrimination. Yet, the Supreme Court has stated that the adversity to support a claim for retaliation must be “material”, and that petty slights, minor annoyances, or a simple lack of good manners normally will not count:

We speak of material adversity because we believe it is important to separate significant from trivial harms. Title VII, we have said, does not set forth “a general civility code for the American workplace.” … An employee’s decision to report discriminatory behavior cannot immunize that employee from those petty slights or minor annoyances that often take place at work and that all employees experience…. It does so by prohibiting employer actions that are likely “to deter victims of discrimination from complaining to the EEOC,” the courts, and their employers…. And normally petty slights, minor annoyances, and simple lack of good manners will not create such deterrence….

A supervisor’s refusal to invite an employee to lunch is normally trivial, a nonactionable petty slight. But to retaliate by excluding an employee from a weekly training lunch that contributes significantly to the employee’s professional advancement might well deter a reasonable employee from complaining about discrimination.

Thus, an ostracism or shunning from a social network—one that serves no work-related purpose other than fostering congeniality among co-workers—likely should not support a claim for retaliation.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Does an employee have to be “disabled” to claim retaliation under the ADA?

The ADA protects employees with disabilities? But what about its anti-retaliation provision? Does an employee have to be “disabled” under the ADA for the statute to protect that employee from retaliation? According to Hurtt v. International Services, Inc. (6th Cir. 9/14/15), the answer is no.

Hurtt worked at ISI as a senior business analyst, earning a yearly draw plus a percentage commission on sales. The day after he requested FMLA-leave for (job-related) anxiety and depression, ISI terminated his draw and switched him a commission-only comp plan. He sued, claiming, among other things retaliation for requesting various accommodations for his disability, including requests for a leave of absence and for a reduced work schedule.

The 6th Circuit reversed the trial court’s dismissal of Hurtt’s retaliation claim, holding that the mere act of requesting an accommodation is sufficient to raise the specter of retaliation, regardless of whether the employee is actually “disabled”:

We have held that requests for accommodation are protected acts…. Hurtt argues that he engaged in protected activity when he requested a reasonable accommodation and when he took FMLA leave…. But, the pertinent inquiry here is not whether Hurtt proved he had a disability under the ADA, or whether ISI had specific knowledge of Hurtt’s alleged disability, but rather, whether Hurtt showed a good-faith request for reasonable accommodations.

The takeaway here is more common sense than law. If Title VII can protect a white guy from retaliation when he complains that his black co-worker is being mistreated, the ADA certainly should protect an employee requesting a reasonable accommodation, whether or not a court determines after the fact that he is, or is not, legally “disabled”. Employees who request accommodations should always be treated with care; otherwise you risk stepping on a retaliation landmine.

Friday, September 25, 2015

WIRTW #383 (the “iOS” edition)

wwdc-2015-ios-9-news-iconThanks to iOS 9, you now have a new way to read the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog. If you own an iPhone or iPad, and have upgraded to iOS 9, you have a new app called “News.” Within that News app, search for “Ohio Employer’s Law Blog” and you’ll be able to read all of my daily updates in Apple-land. As for me, I’ll be reading on my new iPhone 6S, which, barring a FedEx mix-up, should be delivered this afternoon.

Here’s the rest of what I read this week:


Social Media & Workplace Technology

HR & Employee Relations

Wage & Hour

Labor Relations

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The time for your safety audit is now.

According to data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers killed on the job as a result of slips, trips, and falls rose in 2014 by nearly ten percent.

Here are some the key findings:
  • The number of fatal work injuries in private goods-producing industries in 2014 was 9 percent higher than the revised 2013 count but slightly lower in private service-providing industries. Fatal injuries were higher in mining (up 17 percent), agriculture (up 14 percent), manufacturing (up 9 percent), and construction (up 6 percent). Fatal work injuries for government workers were lower (down 12 percent). 
  • Falls, slips, and trips increased 10 percent to 793 in 2014 from 724 in 2013. This was driven largely by an increase in falls to a lower level to 647 in 2014 from 595 in 2013. 
  • Fatal work injuries involving workers 55 years of age and over rose 9 percent to 1,621 in 2014 up from 1,490 in 2013. The preliminary 2014 count for workers 55 and over is the highest total ever reported. 
  • After a sharp decline in 2013, fatal work injuries among self-employed workers increased 10 percent in 2014 from 950 in 2013 to 1,047 in 2014. 
  • Women incurred 13 percent more fatal work injuries in 2014 than in 2013. Even with this increase, women accounted for only 8 percent of all fatal occupational injuries in 2014. 
  • Fatal work injuries among Hispanic or Latino workers were lower in 2014, while fatal injuries among non-Hispanic white, black or African-American, and Asian workers were all higher. 
  • In 2014, 797 decedents were identified as contracted workers, 6 percent higher than the 749 fatally-injured contracted workers reported in 2013. Workers who were contracted at the time of their fatal injury accounted for 17 percent of all fatal work injury cases in 2014. 
So, we know that workplace fatalities are on the rise? What does this mean for your business? It means that now is the time for you to get your workplace-safety house in order. You are (god forbid) one fatality, serious injury, employee complaint, or planned investigation away from an visit from your friendly neighborhood OSHA investigator. 

Do you want to know what your safety programs look like before OSHA shows up at your door? Do you want the comfort of knowing that your OSHA logs and safety training material are in order, and that your safety low-hanging fruit (guarding, lock-out/tag-out, fall protection, PPE, etc.) is handled? 

If so, consider the current time (when OSHA is not in your facility) as borrowed time. Use this borrow time wisely to audit all of your safety practices. It could mean a difference of tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars in fines. Time and money well spent, if you ask me.

Latest Posts