The big legal news last week was about the one-year delay businesses have before they need to start implementing the employer mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act. But before that, the whole month of June was filled with cases, declarations and other developments in employment law.
Among the major decisions from the Supreme Court, their ruling in Vance v. Ball State significantly narrowed the definition of “supervisor” for harassment lawsuits. According to the Court, a supervisor is someone who can have the following impacts on a supervisee: “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.”
The SCOTUS decision that got the most play in the news was the declaration that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, and that same-sex couples could legally marry in states that did not specifically forbid such unions. For employers, one of the main questions following that ruling is: How does this affect the company’s benefits? This article has a great rundown of how those benefits could be affected, especially the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
While we’re on the subject of FMLA news, two recent cases dealt with the limits of FMLA leave on employees. A federal appeals court ruled that if an employee voluntarily resigns, they cannot claim FMLA interference if they try to rescind that resignation. On the other hand, an employee who was fired for exceeding the number of estimated episodes of a chronic illness (while still being within FMLA limits) has a viable FMLA claim.
In man-bites-dog news, an employee has won a $820,000 whistleblower suit… against OSHA! The employee claimed that for 25 years, OSHA had tried to stifle his speaking out about underreporting of workplace injuries, and a U.S. circuit court of appeals agreed. It’s kind of nice to realize that nobody’s exempt from whistleblowing.
Moving on from OSHA to the FLSA, a recent case involving unpaid interns at a production company revisited the Department of Labor guidelines from 2010 and found in favor of the interns. Basically, if a worker is adding value to your company rather than requiring an investment from it (in the form of training time and supervision, among other things), that worker is entitled to pay.
Also, workers are entitled to overtime pay if they work overtime, even if they “agree” not to get paid for overtime. A recent case in Michigan reinforced that an unlawful agreement, such as “okay, you don’t have to pay us overtime, even if we work over our proscribed hours and are hourly employees,” is in fact unlawful.
You know what else employers can’t do? Pre-populate the first section of the electronic version of the I-9. Honestly, it wasn’t saving you that much time anyway.
It’s a rare month that doesn’t involve at least one harassment case, and June had 2 notable ones. According to the courts that decided these cases, it isn’t harassment when a creepy stalker moves in to the same apartment complex as the co-worker he’s stalking. Well, it’s harassment, all right, but according to an Oregon court, it’s not the responsibility of the employer because the creepiness happened outside of work.
What is harassment? When a creepy manager harasses both genders in a sexual manner, then tries to pull the “I’m an equal-opportunity harasser, therefore no foul!” excuse. (Note: this excuse should never work past the 4th grade, anyway.) A Minnesota court ruled that since the harassment was sexual in nature, it was in fact sexual harassment (as opposed to harassment based on gender).
And finally, we close the month not with our usual “They did what?!” case, but with a link to an excellent, engaging tale of why the reason for an employee’s termination should always be logical, clear and complete. Bonus: it includes a picture of Alfred Hitchcock!
Have a happy, fun and most of all legal July, everyone.