Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Coronavirus Update 5-12-2021: We are in the midst of a public mental-health crisis; how employers can help

Consider these statistics, courtesy of the National Institute of Mental Health, which recently examined mental health issues one year into the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • 31% of people report symptoms of anxiety or depression​
  • 13% report having started or increased substance use​
  • 26% report stress-related symptoms​
  • 11% report having serious thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days​

These grim numbers tell me that COVID-19 has created a national mental health crisis. At least some of your employees are struggling. Your challenge is what to do about it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Coronavirus Update 5-11-2021: I ❤ science

Late yesterday, the FDA announced that it has authorized Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for 12-15-year-olds. It's the best news I've heard in 14 months. We've literally been living on pins and needles, feeling like we are daily dodging viral bullets as we wait for our high-risk 12-year-old and his 14-year-old sister to be able to get vaccinated.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Coronavirus Update 5-10-2021: EEOC Commissioner wants industry-specific Covid guidelines

Last week, the EEOC held a public meeting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on civil rights in the workplace. Following up on the remarks at that meeting, EEOC Commissioner Keith Sonderling, speaking at a virtual summit held by the Institute for Workplace Equality, said that employers need guidance on whether their Covid-related decisions are legal, and that the EEOC should issue industry-specific guidance to clear up these ambiguities.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Happy birthday to me!

This weekend, the Ohio Employer Law Blog turns 14! 

May 9, 2007 — my first post ever here at the blog. 3,628 posts and three law firms later, happy birthday to me!

May 9 offers another reason to celebrate, Mothers' Day. I haven't seen my mom in 19 months, but with vaccines hopefully on the immediate horizon for my kids, I should be able to give my mom a sorely missed and needed hug really soon. This long-distance message will have to do until then.

Today also happens to be my mom's birthday, so everyone please wish her a happy one!

Next week, more legal stuff, starting with some good, and not-so-good, news from the EEOC.

* Photo by Marty Southwell on Unsplash

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Coronavirus Update 5-6-2021: Do your employees have “Covid anxiety syndrome”?

The Telegraph recently tweeted about what is being called "Covid anxiety syndrome." The whole thread is a fascinating read, but its bottom line is that some people are reacting irrationally by continuing extreme Covid mitigation measures when they are no longer needed.

The Guardian quotes professor Marcantonio Spada London South Bank University, who first theorized this syndrome after noticing people were developing a particular set of traits in response to Covid.
Fear is normal. You and I are supposed to fear the virus because it's dangerous. The difference, however, in terms of developing a psychopathological response is whether you end up behaving in … overly safe ways that lock you into the fear. My expectation is we're going to have … chunks of the population that are avoiding re-engagement and constantly worrying about the virus for months to come, whether they are vaccinated or not.

So here's my question for you — do you have employees experiencing such behavior? Continuing to insist on remote work even after being fully vaccinated? Wearing a mask all of the time, even when alone in an office? Insisting on constantly wiping down surfaces as if they are disinfecting a crime scene? 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Coronavirus Update 5-5-2021: NFIB’s survey of small employers reveals some disturbing Covid vaccination trends

The National Federation of Independent Business just released the results of its most recent Covid-19 Small Business Survey. 546 businesses, all with fewer than 200 employees, provided their experiences on a variety of Covid related topics. The results that jumped off the page, however, were the two questions about the Covid vaccine.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

An update on the Worst Employer of 2019

What did Bobby Edwards do to earn the title of the Worst Employer of 2019?
Bobby Edwards, the manager of J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, effectively enslaved JCS (to whom we refer with the fictitious name "Jack"), forcing him to work at the restaurant over 100 hours per week without pay. …

In 1990, when Jack was 12 years old, he started working part-time at J&J Cafeteria as a dishwasher. He has an intellectual disability and an IQ of 70. After a few years of part-time work, Jack dropped out of high school and started working full-time at the restaurant. For the first 19 years of his employment, when the restaurant was owned and managed by different members of the Edwards family, Jack was always paid for his labor.

That, however, changed in September 2009, after Bobby Edwards took over the management of the restaurant. Edwards moved Jack into an apartment attached to the restaurant and forced him to work more than 100 hours per week without pay — usually 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. for 6 days and 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. Not only did Jack work long hours without pay, he was never given a day off. Edwards effected this forced labor by taking advantage of Jack's intellectual disability and keeping Jack isolated from his family, threatening to have him arrested, and verbally abusing him. His control over Jack also involved physical abuse. Once, when Jack failed to deliver fried chicken to the buffet as quickly as Edwards had demanded, Edwards dipped metal tongs into hot grease and pressed them to Jack's neck, resulting in a burn that fellow employees had to immediately treat. Other times, when Jack made supposed mistakes, Edwards whipped him with his belt, beat him with kitchen pans, and punched him with his fists. This treatment left Jack physically and psychologically scarred. Jack later said, "I felt like I was in prison. Most of the time I felt unsafe, like Bobby could kill me if he wanted. … I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn't think about how I could without being hurt."

At the time of sentencing, the judge ordered Edwards to pay Jack $272,952.96 in restitution, in addition to sentencing him to 10 years in prison. 

Last month, the court of appeals ruled that Edwards should pay liquidated damages to Jack under the FLSA in addition to the $272,952.96 of back wages. Under the FLSA, an aggrieved employee is entitled to an award of liquidated damages in an amount equal to the total amount of unpaid wages (i.e., double damages) unless the employer can show (1) that it acted in good faith; and (2) that it had reasonable grounds to believe it had complied with the FLSA. I see no way possible that Edwards could have ever hoped to have met that standard.

Thus, at the end of the day, Jack should receive a total award of $545,905.92 in restitution. Of course, how Edwards intends to make good on his substantial obligation to Jack is another story. 

Finally, my offer to Bobby Paul Edwards still stands. If the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina, will not allow him to collect his trophy, I’ll have it waiting for him to claim when he's released in 2029.