Articles Posted in Employment Law

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file0001838914447You’ve likely heard by now the story of freshman Louisiana Congressman Vance McAllister (R-La.) kissing one of his staffers.  Now, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) is trying to make it so that Representatives and their staffs have to undergo mandatory sexual harassment training.

Unlike the rest of the federal government and many private companies, there is no specific requirement in place that requires U.S. Representatives and their staffs to receive sexual harassment training.  And unlike many of your own workplaces, there aren’t posters and signs in break areas reminding workers of regulations and how to report unwanted conduct.  Many offices don’t even discuss sexual harassment policies at all.  The Senate has training courses for new employees, but several different policies can apply.  The House has no training schedule, but has handbooks.

Frustrated by the seemingly haphazard way these regulations have been put in place in Congress, Rep. Speier said “This is the House of Representatives, not a frat house.”  She continued, “it is time for all of us to get trained – elected officials and their staffs – to recognize what sexual harassment is, and how to prevent it, and what to do if it happens.”  Other lawmakers have expressed concern about these kinds of problems in the past.

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file000704919536In 2013, Lihuan Wang, then a student at Syracuse University and an unpaid intern for Phoenix Sattelite Television, sued Phoenix because her supervisor took her to lunch and to a hotel room where he kissed her by force and grabbed her buttocks.  She resisted and, later, Phoenix wouldn’t hire her.  U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Castel dismissed Ms. Wang’s lawsuit because she was not Phoenix’s “employee” and, thus, the New York City Human Rights Law didn’t apply to her.

Ms. Wang isn’t the first unpaid intern to have to deal with harassment at her internship.  According to Newsweek, one intern was taken out to a bar by her supervisor to discuss career options, but instead he made advances toward her and put his hand on her thigh.  Another was subjected to racial slurs while at work.  Interns – talented young people who are selected for their enthusiasm, their work ethic, and their willingness to work for literally no pay – often feel like they are powerless to stop this kind of harassment.  The most important way interns are usually “compensated” for their time is through a positive reference and/or contacts in the industry where they’re looking for find a job.  Interns feel like complaining could damage or jeopardize those references and contacts, especially when the interns are given no redress by the court system.  But, in New York City at least, this is about to change.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill into law on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 that provides NYC interns with protections from sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.  As the mayor said before signing the bill, “this legislation will clarify that interns, paid or unpaid, are guaranteed the full protections guaranteed to employees under the human rights law.”  Interns in New York will no longer be akin to fair game for harassment and exploitation as far as discrimination and harassment are concerned.

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IMG_0939A United States District Court Judge in the District of Columbia issued a recent opinion that could radically change the discrimination protections afforded to members of the LGBT community, but perhaps not in the way that you would expect.

In a complaint filed in the federal district court in D.C., Peter TerVeer alleged that he was targeted and harassed by his supervisor, a particularly religious man, after Mr. TerVeer’s supervisor discovered he is gay.  The supervisor allegedly harassed Mr. TerVeer in numerous ways, including:

  • Engaging in “religious lectures” in virtually every work-related conversation – to the point that it became clear Mr. TerVeer sought to impose his conservative religious beliefs on Mr. TerVeer.
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06d80The process of being separated from your company is often a surprising, confusing, and emotionally trying.  You walk into a routine meeting with a supervisor only to find that a Human Resources representative is also present.  Your supervisor hands over a lengthy document containing complex legalese that may not make sense, along with a packet of information about something called COBRA.  Despite loyalty and years of hard work, the company has decided to “downsize” or “go in a different direction,” and the employee is asked to review and sign the severance agreement.

The document is frequently called a severance agreement, but sometimes it’s known as a separation or termination agreement, or even the verbose “separation agreement general release and covenant not to sue.”

But what do these things actually mean?   A severance agreement is an agreement in which you settle any potential future claims you have against the company up front.  In other words, a severance agreement is like a sales contract.  You, as the employee being separated, are being offered certain things – usually money, a positive reference, and sometimes confidentiality regarding your separation.  In exchange, the the company asks you to “sell” them a series of releases from future legal action and promises about how you’re going to behave going forward.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that they believe you may have a claim against them; rather, they wish to stave off the expense of litigation of any claims you may bring while feeling singled out and possibly even discriminated against by being separated.

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Football EquipmentThis is the beginning of a series on the implications of today’s National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) decision that Northwestern’s football players, “are employees of the school and therefore entitled to hold an election to decide whether to unionize,” according to The Chicago Tribune.

We’re going to start by focusing on the definition of employee.

The first question is what the NLRB means by “employee.” Well, the National Labor Relations Act defines employee with a long paragraph that starts out pretty broadly with, “The term ’employee’ shall include any employee… unless this subchapter explicitly states otherwise…”  29 U.S.C. 152(3).  The definition goes on to carve out exceptions for agricultural workers, individuals covered by the Railway Labor Act, and some other exceptions.

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StoplightHave you been treated unfairly by your employer but feel like your claim is too small for anyone to care?  Based on a recent case in Millville, New Jersey, it may be time to think again.

People are sometimes reticent to approach a lawyer even when they know they’ve been treated unfairly.  They see their claim as relatively small, especially when compared with the resources of their employer, and decide that the case isn’t worth their time or effort.  This isn’t always true, and if you think you’re being treated unfairly, then we urge you to contact one of our attorneys to set up a consultation.  Let’s look at a specific example of how a case like yours might be worth pursuing.

On November 7, 2011, a police captain ordered Patrolman Edmund Ansara to void an otherwise valid traffic ticket that he had written.  The person to whom the ticket had been written was connected to a local politician or police leadership.  Patrolman Ansara followed orders and voided the ticket.  Lieutenant Edward Zadroga refused to sign off on the void form and reported a ticket-fixing problem to the county prosecutor’s office.  After the complaint, Patrolman Ansara gave testimony to the prosecutor’s office regarding the allegedly fixed ticket.

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140828790KE004_President_ObPresident Obama issued an executive order last week that would expand the pool of workers eligible for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

You may or may not already be familiar with the overtime portions of the FLSA; in case you aren’t, we will provide you with a brief synopsis.  In short, the FLSA provides that many employers have to pay overtime to their employees who work more than 40 hours per week.  This provision is not universal, however, because the Department of Labor is given the ability to create exemptions to it.  As a friendly reminder, don’t forget that you can make overtime even if you are a salaried employee.  Although salaried employees are often exempted from overtime by the professional, executive, or administrative exemptions, there is a threshold below which salaried employees must be given overtime pay.  Prior to recent developments, the FLSA guaranteed overtime pay for salaried workers only if they made less than $455 per week or roughly $23,000 per year.

The new executive order issued last week, for which specifics have yet to be released, is estimated to increase that threshold to between $550 and $970 per week, or approximately $28,600 to $50,440 per year.  In other words, depending on the specifics of the executive order, salaried workers who make up to $970 per week may now be covered under this executive order.

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New and ImprovedThe Erlich Law Office is very proud to announce the launch of its fully redesigned website.  The site features detailed descriptions of our practice areas, profiles of our attorneys, and other resources, including information about our local counsel services for Virginia Federal and State Courts, a breakdown of the results we have obtained for past clients, and a newly improved and updated contact form.  The website can be found at https://www.erlichlawoffice.com/.

The Erlich Law Office is also very proud to announce the creation of our new blog, for which this will be the first entry.  We want this blog to be an accessible and informative resource for anyone who wants to be sure that they’re being treated fairly on the job.

The blog will feature updates and insights into recent developments in employment law in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, as well as federal law.  We will provide updates containing information and reports on the proposal, discussion, debate, and passage of legislation on the federal level and on the state level in Virginia, Maryland, and the District.  Furthermore, the blog will cover judicial decisions and relevant precedent in state and applicable federal courts.  Our goal is to take developments in legislation and jurisprudence and make it easy for you to understand and apply to your own situation. If, after reading one of our blog entries, you feel like you need to speak to an attorney, please contact us.

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With the holiday coming up, I wanted to write a quick post

linking to some interesting (and in one case bizarre) labor and employment law

stories. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

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The California legislature and Governor Jerry Brown recently

reached a deal that will bring substantial changes to the state’s pension

system. Some of the changes include a cap on annual pension payments, a