FLSA Now Requires Breastfeeding Breaks and a Place to Take Them

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 30, 2010In: Benefits, Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Legislative Update

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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed last week by President Obama will affect employers in numerous ways, many of which have not yet been explored in detail, owing to the newness of the law.  One provision of the law that is certain to have a very real impact on employers across the country but that we have heard virtually nothing about is Section 4207.  Section 4207, titled, Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  Because it is born to the FLSA, its provisions apply to almost all employers—every employer engaged in interstate commerce of at least $500,000 per year, hospitals, businesses providing medical or nursing care for residents, schools and preschools, and government agencies. 

So, what does the new law require?  Quite a bit. The Act adds the following to Section 7 of the FLSA as a new subsection (r):

An employer shall provide:

(A) a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth; and
(B) a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.

There are some exceptions to these requirements.

First, employers are not required to pay employees who take a breastfeeding break—unless, of course, there is a state law that says otherwise.  Second, an employer with less than 50 employees is exempt from the requirements if the requirements would “impose an undue hardship” by causing it “significant difficulty or expense” as compared to the employer’s size, resources, and the structure of its business. 

Workplace Bullies Are Just Big Babies

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 29, 2010In: Jerks at Work

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In a post titled, Create a Bully-Free Workplace, Nathanael Fast writes about the findings of a study he and Serena Chen conducted on workplace bullying. He reports some interesting findings from the study.  For example, he links bullying to significant costs to organizations.  Specifically, he says that bullying causes reduced creativity, low morale, and increased turnover, “all factors that weigh heavily on the bottom line.”

But what I found most interesting were his conclusions on the reasons for bullying—why bullies act like such, well, bullies. He concludes that the “simultaneous pairing of power with feelings of inadequacy” is what led bosses to become bullies.

In our studies, the power holders who felt personally incompetent became aggressive, not because they were power hungry or had domineering personalities but because they were trying to overcome ego threat. Put simply, bullying is a cheap way to nurse a wounded ego.

In other words, big babies who don’t like themselves take it out on others. 

Retaliation and the FLSA: U.S. Supreme Court Grants Cert

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 25, 2010In: Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Retaliation, U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

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Wage-and-hour lawsuits filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), are the hottest thing going for plaintiffs’ lawyers. And a worst-case scenario for an employer named as a defendant. FLSA cases can be very difficult to defend; the law imposes what is almost strict liability under most circumstances. So, when a court issues a decision in favor of an employer, it is worthy of notice. And when the U.S. Supreme Court grants certiorari of such a decision, it’s definitely worthy of notice. U.S.S.C. Building

In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., a Wisconsin factory worker filed suit alleging that he was unlawfully terminated in retaliation of his FLSA-protected activity (i.e., an FLSA-retaliation claim). The protected activity, he alleged, was his oral complaint about the placement of time clocks. Specifically, he alleged that he complained that employees were not being properly compensated for “donning and doffing time” because of the location of the time clocks.

The employer argued that the oral complaint was not sufficient—that only written complaints were protected by the FLSA. The trial court disagreed, finding that oral complaints were protected but the Seventh Circuit reversed and held that only a written complaint could trigger the protections of the FLSA. (Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Perform. Plastics Corp., No. 08-2820 (7th Cir. Oct. 15, 2009)) (pdf)

The law prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee “who has filed any complaint” against the employer. The Seventh Circuit concluded that an oral complaint cannot be “filed.” The conclusion seems perfectly logical, based on the plain language of the statute.

But, on the other hand, other employment laws do extend retaliation protection to oral complaints. For example, under Title VII, an employee is protected from unlawful retaliation for making an oral complaint about discrimination or harassment in the workplace.

The Supreme Court’s decision could redirect the course of FLSA litigation, either expanding the types of suits commonly brought to include retaliation claims—or by preventing retaliation claims from becoming the next-big-thing in employment-law litigation.

Scott Holt, Adria Martinelli, and I will be sure to cover this development in our panel discussion, Wage and Hour Update, at the Annual Employment Law Seminar on April 28, 2010. We hope to see you there!

More Men Filing Sexual Harassment Claims

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 25, 2010In: Harassment, Sexual

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WSJ Online reports on an increase in the number of sexual-harassment complaints filed by men.

I can’t say that I’m surprised, especially in light of the parallel increase in the number of males who have been laid off or terminated for economic reasons. The unavoidable reality is that individuals are more likely to file a claim or a lawsuit when they’re out of work and, especially, when work is hard to find. Since September 2008, twice as many men have lost their jobs as compared to women. Which could explain the 12% increase in harassment claims brought by men since 2006.73971625

The claims brought by males are somewhat different than those brought by females, though. According to WSJ’s Dana Mattioli, claims brought by men often allege harassment in the form of “horseplay” or “rough-housing” in the workplace. Apparently, it’s no more fun to get beat up in the workplace than it was in the high-school locker room. Go figure.

Male-on-male harassment can look very much like bullying and can involve verbal and physical abuse. In November 2009, the Cheesecake Factory settled a sexual harassment suit filed by six male employees, who alleged that they’d been groped and otherwise subjected to physical attacks by male coworkers. The settlement came at a heft cost of $345,000.

To prevent these suits, employers should take the following steps:

1. Have a valid and effective anti-harassment policy;

2. Train employees on the prevention of harassment and be sure to include examples other than the traditional male-boss-harasses-female-secretary scenario; and

3. Do not tolerate workplace harassment by dismissing it as a “personality conflict” or justifying it by saying that “boys will be boys.”

Terri Cheek and Lauren Hudecki will be speaking on the issue of male-on-male harassment, as well as other gender-related workplace issues at our Annual Employment Law Seminar on April 28, 2010.

See these related posts:

Employee Handbooks: Anti-Harassment Tip Sheet

3d Circuit: Who Is a “Supervisor” for Purpose of Imputing Harassment Liability

The Death of a Sexual Harassment Policy

Apr. 28: Annual Employment Law Seminar

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 25, 2010In: Seminars, Past

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Well, it's almost time for our annual employment-law seminar! We had a fantastic turnout last year with great speakers and topics and this year's schedule is certain to be just as exciting.  The registration brochure is posted below with all of the details--just be sure to sign up soon, as seats are limited.

We hope to see you then!

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Registration is also available at the (new!) Young Conway website.

May 4: GINA Audio Conference

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 24, 2010In: Seminars, Past

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Who:  Adria B. Martinelli

What:  Employee Genetic Discrimination: New Legal Pitfalls from GINA

Where:  Your office via audio conference

When:  Tuesday, May 4, 2010  11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Eastern

Cost: $247

Registration:  HR Hero website

Learning Objectives:

  • What constitutes "genetic information" and the specific rules regarding confidentiality
  • How GINA impacts hiring, promotion, and termination practices
  • The types of claims employers can expect from this new legislation
  • How GINA comes into play with the ADA, HIPAA, and COBRA
  • How you should handle information self-disclosed by employees, and how to prevent obtaining too much information
  • When GINA and social media collide: How information posted on an employee’s or applicant’s Facebook page could put your organization at risk
  • How the legislation's broad language extends to an employee’s "family members" and could add teeth to a caregiver responsibility claim
  • How to avoid GINA-based caregiver claims and how to accommodate the needs of the caregiver workforce while minimizing legal risks

May 5-7: Corporate Communications Conference

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 24, 2010In: Seminars, Past

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Who:  Molly DiBianca

What:   Speaking on social media at Ragan Communication, Inc.'s Corporate Communications Conference

Where:  Hosted by General Motors at Marriott Detroit Renaissance Center

When:  May 5-7, 2010.  Molly will be presenting on May 6

Cost:  Members $945  Non-members $1195

Registration:  Ragan.com

Overview:  The Legal Limits of Monitoring Employees' Tweets, Posts, and Other Social Media Activities

As social media become the communication tools of choice, employees' online activities become an increasing source of potential liability for employers. The need to minimize legal risk has led many employers to monitor the Internet for dangerous, defamatory or downright rude postings by their employees. The law recognizes that the Internet is a public forum, but this freedom to browse is not without limits.

  • Use the best monitoring techniques from the successes (and blunders) of employers who have required employees to disclose social media habits
  • Avoid monitoring techniques that will most likely land you in court
  • Watch for red flags when monitoring employee Twitter, blogging and Facebook activities
  • Communicate your monitoring policy to employees to generate the least amount of backlash

May 7: Ethical Issues Relating to Social Media, the Courts, and the Bar

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 24, 2010In: Seminars, Past

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Who:  Molly DiBianca as a panelist.

What:  CLE session presented by the E-Discovery & Technology Law Section of the Delaware State Bar Association on the ethical issues that arise in the context of social media.  Approved for 3.0 hours CLE credit in Enhanced Ethics.

When:  Friday, May 7, 2010 • 9:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.

Where:

Live in New Castle County at Delaware State Bar Association
301 N. Market St., Wilmington, DE

Live in Kent County via Simultaneous Broadcast at 
Community Legal Aid Society, Inc., 840 Walker Road, Dover, DE

Live in Sussex County via streaming video at Tunnell & Raysor
30 E. Pine St., Georgetown, DE (Parking lot in back, use back entrance)

Program Description:

This workshop will focus on new technology issues affecting the Courts and the Bar: social media and email. From Chambers to law offices to deliberation rooms, we are all affected. The Rules of Engagement are changing daily. What do the Judges need to know to instruct jurors regarding use of social media during deliberations? Are model jury instructions needed? What are the ethical lines for judges and lawyers regarding their own use of social media? What are the ethical and liability issues regarding the use of email. Is there a need for guidelines?

Registration:  (PDF)

3d Cir. Upholds Discipline of Student Based on Out-Of-School Conduct

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 24, 2010In: Public Sector

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J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District is a First Amendment claim in the school-law context. The case was filed by J.S., a student at a middle school in Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountain School District. The student claimed that she had been suspended for 10 days in violation of her right to free speech. The suspension was in response to a fake MySpace profile the student had created.

The fake profile purported to be her school’s principal. It contained his picture, which she obtained from the school’s website. It did not identify him by name but did identify him as a middle-school principal.

The profile was written in the first-person so the comments on the page would be attributed to the person pictured (i.e., the unknowing principal). The content of the profile contained profanity to make most adults blush in the presence of mixed company, was sexually graphic, and even indicated that the principal was a pedophile.

The student initially left the page as public, but later changed the settings to private. The student invited others to view the page, though, and those students invited yet more students. The principal learned about the profile from one of the students. After viewing the site, he met with the appropriate members of the district and then suspended the two students responsible. One student (through her parents) then sued.

The district court found that the suspension had not violated the student’s First Amendment rights under Tinker because the school “could reasonably have forecasted a substantial disruption of or material interference with the school.” The Third Circuit affirmed the decision and agreed with the trial court’s analysis.

The student also argued that the district violated a Pennsylvania statute, which limits the conditions under which a school may impose discipline. She claimed that the statute prohibited the school from disciplining a student based on conduct that occurred off of school property and time. The district court rejected that argument because: (1) the student was enrolled in the district when she created the profile; and (2) the principal punished the student “to prevent interference with the educational process.”

It is a powerful decision for the education-law context but also demonstrates the courts’ willingness to discipline students for conduct outside the school walls. This is a logical progression, especially considering cases upholding the discipline of teachers for their off-duty conduct. It seems like a natural progression as the line between home and work (or school) continues to blur.

May 11: DSBA Labor and Employment CLE

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 24, 2010In: Seminars, Past

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Who:  Adria B. Martinelli and other members of the Labor and Employment Section of the Delaware State Bar Association

What:  Labor and Employment Update 2010 Seminar

When:  May 11  9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

May 25: Social Media Plus (PA Convention Ctr.)

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 23, 2010In: Seminars, Past

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Social Media Plus will be the Mid-Atlantic's largest business summit for professionals interested in learning about the latest in Social Media and web 2.0 technology, and I'm excited to be taking part in it. It's going to be a huge event--they're anticipating 1000 attendees, 50 exhibitors and 28 sessions led by local and national professionals in the fields of technology, marketing, sales and, of course, Social Mediaimage

 

This one-day business summit is aimed at helping businesses learn how to start incorporating Social Media into their overall business strategy. image

 

Attendees can participate in one of four distinct tracks to ensure they get topics most relevant to their organization.  The tracks include: Executives: HR; IT; and Sales and Marketing.

 

Registration is open with early-registration savings available until March 31.

Summary of HIRE Act*

Posted by E-LawOn March 23, 2010In: Legislative Update

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The IRS has issued a News Release explaining the new tax benefits that were part of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (“HIRE”) Act. For each worker retained for at least one year, the employer will be entitled to a general business credit of up to $1,000 on its 2011 income tax return, as well as relief from certain employment taxes. These benefits are available to employers who hire and retain certain unemployed workers after Feb. 3, 2010 and before Jan. 1, 2011.

These credits are specifically targeted to help businesses create new positions that will allow them to hire those who are unemployed. If a new hire fills an existing position, the prior employee must have left voluntarily or for cause in order for the employer to qualify for the HIRE Act credits. These credits will be available to a wide variety of employers, including businesses, agricultural employers, tax-exempt organizations, and public colleges and universities. However, household employers cannot claim these benefits. To be eligible, an employee must have been unemployed for at least 60 days, or must have worked less than 40 hours for someone else during such 60-day period, and the employer must obtain a statement certifying this prior period of unemployment from the employee.

Hiring employers will be exempt from paying the employer’s share of Social Security taxes on wages paid to these qualifying workers after the date of enactment, although the employer must still pay its share of Medicare taxes on these wages. Employers must also withhold the employee’s 6.2-percent share of Social Security taxes, as well as income taxes and Medicare taxes on these wages. These employment tax benefits will be claimed on an employer’s federal employment tax return, most of which are filed on a quarterly basis.

 

*This post was written by guest blogger Jennifer R. Noel.  Jenn is an associate in Young Conaway's Tax, Trusts & Estates Section, where she advises clients with respect to local, state, federal, and international tax issues, the legal aspects of the formation and operation of small and emerging growth business enterprises, and the preparation and negotiation of commercial contracts.

Work-Life Balance Update

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 22, 2010In: Women, Wellness, & Work-Life Balance

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Work-life balance is a hot topic in the world of workplace initiatives. It’s so hot, in fact, that it can be difficult to keep up with the latest developments.  Here are a few items to get you started:

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Work-Life Balance Award Act of 2010

This bill was introduced on March 16 by two Democrats on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee. The Act would establish an annual Work-Life Balance Award to be presented by the U.S. Secretary of Labor based on recommendations from an appointed advisory board. Any private and public employers of any size, except federal agencies, would be eligible for the reward. The list of winners would be published on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.

 

Work-Life Balance on NPR

National Public Radio has an interesting series on work-life balance and the need for more flexible work arrangements, done in the context of its impact on children and the education system. You can listen to the program (for free, of course), via the NPR website

Why We Should Dump “Balance” from “Work-Life Balance” Altogether

Cali Williams Yost is the go-to expert in the area of work-life balance and flexible working arrangements. Except that, according to Yost, there’s really no such thing. In an interview with BNet, Yost encourages businesses to drop the word “balance” in favor of “fit.” She says that “balance” suggests that there’s a right way to manage your life and work. But there’s no one right answer for anyone and what’s “right” is likely to change over time, depending on where you are at the moment.

Workplace Prof Blog’s List of the Best Labor & Employment Blawgs

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn March 22, 2010In: Resources

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My mother always told me that it’s never too late to say “thank you.”  With that excellent advice in mind, I’ll thank the fine authors of the Workplace Prof Blog, who included Delaware Employment Law Blog on its list of its readers’ favorite employment law blogs.  This is high praise from one of the very best employment law blogs in the legal blogosphere.  Be sure to check out the entire list, it’s just the place to update your blog reader.   You can also check out our Top 100 Employment Law Blogs.

What Is the Burden of Proof In Age-Discrimination Cases?

Posted by Sheldon N. SandlerOn March 18, 2010In: Cases of Note, U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

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In Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a plaintiff claiming a violation of the ADEA must do more than prove that age was "a motivating factor" in the adverse employment action. Rather, the plaintiff must prove that the action would not have occurred "but for" the employee's age, making ADEA cases harder for plaintiffs to win than other kinds of discrimination cases. Legislation to overturn the Gross case has been introduced and is pending in the Senate and House.

That proposal, called "The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act," would adopt the burden of proof currently used in mixed motive disparate treatment cases under Title VII. Under that approach, once a plaintiff proves that age was a "motivating factor" for the adverse action, he or she would win unless the employer proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the same decision would have been made if age had not been considered. 

At Young Conaway’s Annual Employment Law Seminar on April 28, we will discuss the prospects for passage of the POWADA and how it would affect the defense of ADEA cases.