This month’s legal roundup covers the usual topics: FMLA, discrimination, harassment and the inevitable “They did what?!” But let’s start with a unique situation for by the Northeast: a hurricane!
In late October, Hurricane Sandy did a number on the Northeast, where hurricanes are as rare as traffic-free afternoons. Obviously, many people missed work during and after the hurricane, and some folks volunteered for emergency service to help clean up after the storm. Different states have different rules for wage and hour issues around a natural disaster, so be sure to check the Virginia law before next year’s hurricane season.
Speaking of wage and hour issues, three recent pay-related cases resulted in fines totaling $18.75 million: $14.1 million from Starbucks for allowing supervisors to participate in tip pools (a practice forbidden by Massachusetts law), $3.8 million from a Tennessee company that withheld overtime pay and $850K from a now-bankrupt business whose employees claim it demanded that they pay back overtime pay. However, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that employers can change the start day of their seven-day workweeks in the hopes of reducing overtime pay. So, pay your folks what you owe them, but you can make adjustments to minimize that amount.
From the FLSA to the FMLA: a court recently ruled that reassigning an employee’s sales territory while they’re out on medical leave isn’t necessarily a violation of FMLA; just make sure you have documentation for why it’s been done. Another court ruled that you can’t take FMLA leave to avoid getting fired for cause (such as writing really vitriolic messages about your supervisor). And speaking, as we so often do, about Facebook, it’s kosher to fire an employee who posts party pics on Facebook while out on FMLA leave for allegedly debilitating back pain.
We’ve entered some new territory in discrimination: vegetarianism. A New York firefighter claims that he’s been the victim of harassment around the fire house because he’s a vegetarian — a dietary restriction that doesn’t go over well at a firehouse where meals are often communal. This should be an interesting one to follow.
An all-too-familiar territory in discrimination is sexual harassment, whether it’s perpetrated by the opposite sex or the same sex, as in this case of a manager at a steak restaurant who apparently sexually harassed 22 male waiters. The restaurant settled for $600K, which is a relatively price to pay for a lawsuit with 22 plaintiffs.
Back in male-on-female harassment country, two recent cases showcased some awful behavior: a manager of a grocery store who was romantically involved with the female owner apparently felt this gave him leeway to sexually harass female employees—some as young as 16 (ewwww!); and a Wal-Mart supervisor tormented a female employee to the point of physical distress, as in throwing up blood.
And just in case you’ve still got some faith in the human race, we close with an ice-cream store employee who was fired for posting a racial slur about the newly-reelected President of the U.S. on Facebook, as well as a hope that he’d be assassinated. We figure the anguish of being fired probably paled in comparison to the visit from the Secret Service the employee received.
Not the happiest of notes to end on. But hey, next month’s gotta be better, right? After all, nothing brings out the best in people like the holidays! 😉