Are you ready for some footballllllll-related employment law news? Last month, a regional director at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision stating that scholarship-receiving football players at Northwestern University qualify as “employees,” and therefore have the right to unionize if they wish. Because football players who don’t receive any scholarships or aid from the school can’t be considered employees, this could make for an interesting training camp this summer.
There was a lot of news concerning wages this past month. The big headline was that President Obama has instructed the Department of Labor to update regulations concerning who qualifies for overtime pay, especially workers in the “exempt” category. Speaking of overtime, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the city of LA mis-qualified some workers as being involved in fire protection (when they weren’t) to get around having to pay those workers overtime for many overtime hours they worked.
The Supreme Court’s recent cases have concerned the definitions of wages and work. SCOTUS ruled that severance pay can be considered wages, and have taxes and FICA withheld like wages. Later this spring, they’re expected to rule on a case brought by Amazon warehouse workers over whether or not the time spent going through security checks before being allowed to leave work. This case could be a big one for staffing companies; we’ll keep a very close eye on it.
Finally, in wage-land, a federal appeals court has ruled that employees can discuss their wages openly, and that company policies that declare wage information to be confidential are in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Over in FMLA country, an appeals court ruled that FMLA protections apply only to people who actually qualify for the FMLA, not people who could potentially qualify for it. And another appeals court ruled that employees can decline FMLA leave even for an absence covered by the FMLA, which seems like an odd thing to do, but people will always surprise you.
One of the ways people constantly surprise us is by discriminating against groups of workers—in this case, an older manager at Staples. The manager claims that the company tried to force him out using tactics that ranged from jokes and name-calling about his age to asking others to lie about his behavior. An L.A. district court awarded the manager $26 million in damages ($22 million of which was punitive).
Now, sometimes you can tell when a case of alleged discrimination just plain isn’t. For instance, if a criminal-justice professor were to tell his students during class that non-Christians were “going to hell” (those exact words), and have disciplinary action taken as a result of it, that would not be religious discrimination. Nor would it be First Amendment retaliation. It would be a smart move by the employer.
To make it a little easier to prevent religious discrimination, the EEOC recently released guidelines for what religious clothing and grooming is protected in the workplace. Even if your workplace hasn’t faced such issues before, it’s still a good idea to read up on this stuff.
And we end, as always, with the “They did what?!” category. Ay yi yi, this month’s was a doozy. If it ever comes up, remember that “she was only harassed by one of her supervisors!” is not a viable defense against a harassment claim. You should also know that same-sex sexual harassment and female-on-male harassment is just as awful and just as illegal as any other form. Also, firing someone for accusing her coworkers of sleeping with her boyfriend is not discriminatory (it’s damn smart).
What a month! Maybe that was the real March madness.