09/12/14

The impact of Unemployment Benefits on Other Sectors of the Economy

The New York Times ran an article that sheds further light on how unemployment benefits impact the real estate market. I briefly touched on this point in a larger article about how cutting unemployment benefits did not help the unemployed and in fact hurt the economy.

From July 2008 through December 2012, $250 billion in federally funded unemployment benefits helped homeowners avoid an estimated 1.4 million foreclosures. This shows how important unemployment benefits are to the entire economy. In fact the number of foreclosures prevented by extended unemployment benefits eclipses the 800,000 foreclosures that were prevented as of 2013 by the government’s main anti-foreclosure program, Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP.

The value of preventing the 1.4 million foreclosures was valued in the study at $46 billion that would have been otherwise lost on government-backed mortgages and an additional $70 billion in deadweight losses from foreclosures, including the decline in value of nearby properties and the destruction of value in deteriorating vacant homes. This is a total value of $116 billion in foreclosure prevention alone.

Beyond just helping the unemployed individual and their family stay above water, unemployment benefits help our entire economy. It is a tragedy the GOP House was so adamant about slashing benefits when they are still necessary.

 

If you are in Georgia and you have questions about unemployment benefits please contact Atlanta employment attorney Ben Kandy

09/9/14

Another Victory for the Minimum Wage

Two Oakland Raiders cheerleaders who filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL franchise for violations of the federal and California minimum wage requirements recently settled their case with the Raiders. The team will pay out a total of $1.25 million to 90 women who cheered for the team between 2010 and 2013. In addition future Raider cheerleaders will be paid minimum wage for all hours worked, receive checks every two weeks, and be reimbursed for business expenses they incur in the course of the job.

Cheerleaders for the Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, and Tamp Bay Buccaneers all filed similar lawsuits after the Raiders lawsuits were announced.

NFL cheerleaders, until these suits were filed, were commonly paid way less than minimum wage. For example Bengals cheerleaders alleged they were paid only $2.85 an hour for their work dancing at games. Many cheerleaders also alleged that they were required to work many hours of completely unpaid labor.

The Buffalo Bills cheerleaders, the “Buffalo Jills” claim they were required to perform unpaid work for the team for about 20 hours a week. Unpaid activities included: submitting to a weekly “jiggle test” (where cheer coaches “scrutinized the women’s stomach, arms, legs, hips, and butt while she does jumping jacks”); parading around casinos in bikinis “for the gratification of the predominantly male crowd”; and offering themselves up as prizes at a golf tournament, where they were required to sit on men’s laps on the golf carts, submerge themselves in a dunk tank, and perform backflips for tips (which they did not receive).

There is a common thread running through these cheerleader minimum wage cases and the unpaid internship minimum wage cases I discussed in previous posts. For-profit employers try to get people to work for them for free. Instead of money these unscrupulous businesses offer “exposure” or “experience” to get people to volunteer for their money making enterprise. In the vast, vast majority of cases a person can not agree to work for free for a for-profit business. Experience and exposure are valued by the law at zero dollars an hour.

It seems like there is a greater awareness among people that one must be paid minimum wage for all hours worked even if the employee “agreed” to not be paid. If you are working for a company that is a for-profit then they need to pay you! If you are a worker in Atlanta or Georgia more generally contact employment law attorney Ben Kandy.

 

09/5/14

Happy Labor Day

I hope you all had a good Labor Day holiday. Every year around this time news outlets and other organizations take stock of the state of the American worker. The consensus seems be that while there have been improvements since the start of the great recession, as a whole workers have not benefited from the recent economic gains. On the legal side there are new attempts at the executive, state, and local level to pass laws benefiting American workers.

First the bad news. In 2013, after-tax corporate profits as a share of the economy tied with their highest level on record. Labor compensation as a share of the economy hit its lowest point since 1948. Wage growth since 1979 has not kept pace with productivity growth. This means falling or flat wages for most workers and big gains for corporate bank accounts, shareholders, executives and others at the top of the income ladder.

But there is also good news. States and localities have been leading the way instituting new benefits and protections for workers in their jurisdiction. The California Legislature just passed a bill requiring employers to provide part-time employees with three paid sick leave days per year. The New Jersey Assembly says it plans on introducing a sick leave bill of its own, though Governor Christie has said he will veto the bill.

States have also been leading the way in increasing the minimum wage. Even GOP controlled states like Michigan have passed laws increasing the state minimum wage.

At the federal level President Obama has encouraged federal agencies that enforce worker protections to cover their turf with a renewed vigor. The Department of Labor has been leading the way by cracking down on employers who misclassify their employees as independent contractors. The National Labor Relations Board has released important rulings that may serve to force franchise companies like McDonalds to take more responsibility for the labor law violations of their franchisees.

President Obama has also issued a number of executive orders that help workers working for companies with federal contracts. One order raised the minimum wage for federal contract workers. Another order requires companies taking federal contracts to release information about past labor law violations.

With GOP extremism and intransigence being the order of the day it seems unlikely that there will be any movement in Congress to strengthen worker protections. The baton has been passed to the states, localities, and the executive branch to make the changes workers in America need.

08/29/14

FMLA and Holidays: Does a holiday everybody in the workplace gets off count against my FMLA time?

This weekend is the official “end of summer”. Lots of people will be using the long weekend to take a last road trip or beach vacation. Some people will be taking a staycation and some people will have to work. Other people will take the long weekend as an opportunity to rest and recuperate from a serious health condition while on Family Medical Leave Act leave.

A question that I get from time to time is “does the holiday count toward my FMLA leave limit?” Remember that eligible employees are allowed to take 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave in order to take care of their own serious health condition, the serious health condition of an eligible family member, and for maternity leave among other reasons.

What happens when a workplace wide holiday coincides with the employee’s FMLA leave? Do the holiday days count toward the 12 weeks of leave? The answer depends on how many days the employee worked during the workweek in which the holiday occurs.

If the holiday occurs during a week when the employee takes off the whole week as FMLA leave then the holiday DOES count toward their 12 week total. For example, this year Labor Day is on Monday, August 1st. If an employee had FMLA leave that started on July 23rd and ended August 8th the Labor Day holiday would count toward the 12 week leave allotment. This is because the employee would be out on leave for the entire week of 8/1 to 8/5.

If, however, the employee does not take the whole week as FMLA leave time the holiday DOES NOT count toward their 12 weeks of FMLA leave. Tweaking the previous example slightly, if the employee was scheduled to come back to work on August 4th instead of the 8th then the holiday would not count as FMLA leave time. This is because the employee would not have taken off the entire week of 8/1. They would have worked the 4th and 5th (Thursday and Friday) of that week. Only Tuesday the 2nd and Wednesday the 3rd would count as FMLA time.

A caveat to all of this is if the holiday is not a workplace wide holiday and the employee would have been working that day had they not been on FMLA, then the holiday DOES count as FMLA leave time.

The other situation where time off on FMLA does not count toward FMLA leave time is if the entire workplace is shut down for a week or more. For instance if a factory completely shut down for a week for repairs while an employee is on leave the time DOES NOT count toward that employee’s FMLA leave time.

The FMLA can be very technical and violations can happen accidentally. Fortunately for employees, a particular intent to deprive an employee of their FMLA leave is not required for a violation of the law. Even if an employer makes an honest mistake calculating the amount of leave an employee can take it can still be a violation if that mistake results in harm to the employee. If your employer is telling you that you are about to exhaust your FMLA leave time double check to make sure they have been calculating your leave correctly.

If you are in Georgia and think that your employer failed to correctly calculate your FMLA leave contact Atlanta employment law attorney Benjamin Kandy. As always, this page does not constitute legal advice. This page does not create an attorney-client relationship between attorney Benjamin Kandy and the reader. Contact a lawyer for advice about your particular situation.

 

08/16/14

Cutting Unemployment Benefits Did Not Promote Work

Over the last few years Republican politicians and thought leaders have pushed the idea that the reason the unemployed were not finding jobs was because unemployment insurance benefits were too generous.

The GOP House refused to extended federal jobless benefits that allowed some unemployed workers to receive up to 99 weeks of payments. A number of Republican controlled states also slashed state unemployment benefits cutting the number of weeks one could receive as well as the size of the benefit. The most radical cuts happened in North Carolina.

These state level benefit cuts helped to create a natural experiment where economists and other social scientists could compare states that had cut unemployment benefits with those states that did not cut unemployment benefits.

Economists on the left and the right have been looking at the data. Comparing outcomes in states that made benefit cuts like North Carolina, to nearby states that did not cut benefits shows at a minimum benefit cuts do not help the unemployed find a job. Groups like the left wing Economic Policy Institute and the right wing American Enterprise Institute have confirmed that cuts to unemployment did not help the states making cuts to grow faster or have less unemployment.

The evidence also shows that unemployment insurance payments help stabilize a weak economy. Economists examining the great recession found that the Federal expansions of UI helped to avert about 1.4 million foreclosures and $70 billion of housing-related deadweight losses between 2008 and 2012.

Unemployment benefits are a vital part of the safety net. The benefits are earned through work and are only available to people who have worked enough to qualify. One would think that unemployment benefits would be the last type of benefits to be cut when the economy is still not fully recovered from a major recession.

08/11/14

An Example of Guts and Determination

I have written a few different posts about unpaid internships. Thankfully companies are starting to convert their unpaid internship programs to paid positions due to legal pressure. Individual lawsuits and government action at the state and federal levels have shed light on how widespread unpaid internships had become. In the media industry unpaid internships were/are especially common. As a result media companies like Hearst Magazines, Fox Searchlight, Gawker, Condé Nast, and Warner Music have all been subject to lawsuits claiming violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Combating illegal unpaid internships had been difficult because potential plaintiffs were hesitant to come forward and sue the company that had given them the internship. Internships are now the main path of entry into a number of industries and some potential plaintiffs felt, probably with good reason, that filing a lawsuit over an illegal internship would affect their ability to get a job in the future.

It takes a brave person to stand up to a big company in a glamourous industry and say “enough!” Kimberley Behzadi was brave enough to be that person.

Ms. Behzadi got an internship with ICM partners, a huge literary and talent agency. Over a five month period Ms. Behzadi worked long hours for no pay. Ms. Behzadi realized that making a stink about the lack of pay would imperil her chances of getting a job in the industry after graduation.

“Unpaid internships are almost an acceptable thing in the industry — there were 100 other people who wanted my internship. If I voiced grievances about not getting paid, I would have been bumped out and that would leave me nowhere, with little chance of finding work in the industry.”

Like most unpaid internships, Ms. Behzadi spent most of her time doing work that benefited the her employer. For example she would read and summarize scripts, answer phones, do expense accounts for agents and maintain the weekly calendar of comedy events to help the agency scout up-and-coming comedians. ICM said in legal filings that it ran an “educational internship program” but I don’t know what Ms. Behzadi learned other than simple administrative skills.

Even though these internships teach few actual skills, they are still in high demand. ICM said its “academic internships” were coveted, with more than 300 people applying a year and only 10 to 15 percent of applicants being given internships. Kids realize that these unpaid internships are becoming almost the only way to break into many industries.

Without people like Ms. Behzadi willing to put it on the line we all would be a little bit worse off. In the US individuals can make a big difference in all of our lives by bringing the right lawsuit at the right time.

07/22/14

The Restaurant Oppurtunities Centers United

I recently saw this video that explains the tip credit for restaurant servers and why they can be paid less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The restaurant industry has been one of the main industries where I have tried to focus my practice. Restaurants have lots of issues with tips, tip pools, unpaid overtime, and sexual harassment.  I think I like to help restaurant workers because I have worked in a number of restaurants and so I have seen first hand the violations that are common to restaurants all over the country.

The video was released by an organization called Restaurant Oppurtunites Centers United (ROC). ROC was originally founded in NYC after 9/11 in order to support restaurant workers displaced by the WTC tragedy. Since then ROC’s mission and geographic scope has expanded to support restaurant workers and advocate for better working conditions all over the country.

Some of the issues that ROC is working on include a Fair Minimum Wage and paid sick days for restaurant workers. ROC also produces a dinners guide to help restaurant patrons choose restaurants that treat their workers fairly and with dignity.

Even if you don’t work at a restaurant there is a lot you can do to help make restaurants a better place to work. Check out the ROC’s website and dinners guide to see how you can help.

If you are a restaurant worker check out the ROC website and see if there is a chapter in your city. If there is no chapter in your city contact ROC to see how you might be able to help start up a chapter where you live and work.

As always, if you are a worker in Georgia who believes they have been mistreated at work, contact Atlanta employment attorney Ben Kandy for a consultation.

 

 

support to restaurant workers displaced as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy – See more at: http://rocunited.org/about-us/our-history/#sthash.HAmiKuGw.dpuf
support to restaurant workers displaced as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy – See more at: http://rocunited.org/about-us/our-history/#sthash.HAmiKuGw.dpuf
support to restaurant workers displaced as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy – See more at: http://rocunited.org/about-us/our-history/#sthash.HAmiKuGw.dpuf
initially founded after September 11th, 2001 to provide support to restaurant workers displaced as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy – See more at: http://rocunited.org/about-us/our-history/#sthash.HAmiKuGw.dpufin NYC after
initially founded after September 11th, 2001 to provide support to restaurant workers displaced as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy – See more at: http://rocunited.org/about-us/our-history/#sthash.HAmiKuGw.dpuf
07/17/14

Federal, State, and Local Governments Try to Make Sure Part-Time Workers Have Steadier Schedules

In the service industry it is common for part-time employees to have “on-call” shifts as part of their weekly schedule. On-call shifts are usually where an employee is told they should be free on a particular day and time in case they are needed. The on-call employee may or may not actually get to work during the shift. It depends on the store’s needs. If the employee is not called in to work then they don’t get paid. Another common scenario is the on-call employee is called into work, but their shift is only a couple of hours. This means the employee has to rearrange their entire day for a couple hours of pay typically at a low hourly wage. On-call shifts are especially difficult for parents. The employee has to make childcare arrangements for a work shift that may not happen or may only be for a couple of hours. On-call shifts also make it impossible for a part-time employee to have other part-time jobs to supplement their income.

The problem of unsteady shifts for part-time workers extends to schedule making practices in general. It is common for schedules to be made only days in advance of an employee’s shift. This makes it very difficult for part-time employees to plan for other jobs, school, or family responsibilities.

States and local governments are recognizing the problem of on-call shifts. Laws are being introduced to help stem some of the worst uses of on-call shifts and as needed scheduling. The proposed laws focus on two different ways to make on-call shifts better for employees. One proposed law would require companies to pay employees extra for on-call work. The second proposal would require employers give two weeks’ notice of a work schedule to give employees the ability to better plan their life schedules.

Representative George Miller of California, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, plans to introduce legislation this summer that would require companies to pay their employees for an extra hour if they were summoned to work with less than 24 hours’ notice. He is also proposing a guarantee of four hours’ pay on days when employees are sent home after just a few hours — something that happens in many restaurants and retailers when customer traffic is slow. Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, has introduced a similar bill in the senate.

At the federal level these bills are unlikely to go anywhere. The GOP is against anything that would make life easier for workers. The problems of unsteady shifts and working on short notice is for business and the GOP an example of “flexibility.”

Anytime a business organization or the Republicans talk about flexibility you know it is meant to be flexibility for the employer. Nothing the GOP ever supports is good for workers. Republicans are concerned only with the rights of capital and management. Business wants employees who are available anytime the employer needs them for any amount of time the employer requires. The needs of the workers does not factor into their decision making. Only through collective bargaining either via a union or using the democratic power of government can flexibility be made to work for employees and employers.

If you are having a problem with your employer in Georgia contact Atlanta employment lawyer Ben Kandy.

07/9/14

Department of Labor Proposes a Change to the FMLA Definition of a “Spouse”

On June 20th the Department of Labor proposed a change to the current Family Medical Leave Act definitions. The proposed changes would strengthen the rights of same sex married couple to take FMLA leave to care for a spouse with a serious health condition.

Currently the definition of spouse reads “a husband or wife defined or recognized under State law for purposes of marriage in the state where the employee resides, including common law marriage in States where it is recognized.” (emphasis added). This means that the law only recognizes same sex married couples that are married under the law of the state in which they reside.

This definition means a same sex couple that is married in a state recognizing same sex marriages, but live in a state that does not recognize same sex marriage would not be considered a “spouse” under the current definition. There are many same sex couples who have travelled out of their state of residence to get legally married. These couples have fewer rights under federal law because their states of residence do not recognize their marriage.

The DOL has proposed changing the definition to read:

“For purposes of this definition, husband or wife refers to the other person with whom an individual entered into marriage as defined or recognized under State law for purposes of marriage in the State in which the marriage was entered into, or in the case of a marriage entered into outside of any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State. This definition includes an individual in a same-sex or common law marriage that either (1) was entered into a State that recognizes such marriages or, (2) if entered into outside of any State, is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State.”

This new definition means a couple that marries in a state recognizing same sex marriage but lives in a state that does not recognize same sex marriage would now fall under the definition of “spouse”. Under the new rule a same sex married couple would be able to take FMLA leave in order to care for their spouse if the spouse has a serious health condition. It would not matter if the couple lived in a state that does not recognize the validity of their marriage. This helps to equalize rights under federal law for same sex couples regardless of their state of residence.

It is still possible that this proposed rule change will be blocked or the rule altered before implementation. However, with the recent court decisions striking down same sex marriage bans from Kentucky to Utah it seems likely that this definition will be become the new law.

The proposed DOL definition change will be very good for the many married couples in states that don’t recognize same sex marriage, like Georgia for example. If you are a in a same sex marriage but live in Georgia, and you have run into trouble taking time to care for your spouse, contact Atlanta FMLA attorney Ben Kandy.

 

07/8/14

An Attack on New DOL Home Health Care Workers Overtime Rule

The changes to overtime rules announced by President Obama and the Department of Labor have already come under attack by a combination of state governments and home health care agency owners.

The rules, scheduled to come into effect January 2015, would require home health care workers be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a week. Currently a health care worker who works in a private home may not need to be paid overtime under federal law.

Some state governments want the rule to be delayed because they are worried about medicaid costs. Currently medicaid pays for home health care for poor people. The state’s medicaid budgets are balanced by underpaying certain workers and the states are concerned that they may not be able to change their budgets in response to the new requirements. The fact that a number of states already require that home health care workers be paid overtime suggests that the proposed federal changes would not make home health care financially unfeasible for medicaid patients.

Private industry associations have also challenged the new rule by suing the Department of Labor in Federal Court. The industry groups are claiming that the Department does not have the authority to institute the new rules and did not follow the proper procedures. Following previous court decisions should lead to the challenge failing. In 2007 the Supreme Court ruled the DOL’s interpretation of the rule that denied overtime for home health care workers was appropriate because Congress authorized the Labor Department to write the regulation on who was to be covered under the law and the department properly did just that. It would be incredible (though with this supreme court possible) that a court could rule that the Department has the authority to institute rules to deny overtime protections for home health care workers but not interpret the rule to allow overtime protections where the statute is silent on the issue.

While there are many situations where an individual doing health care work in a private home is exempt from being paid overtime, it’s not always the case. If you are providing health care and other duties and don’t get paid overtime it is worth speaking with an attorney. In Georgia contact Atlanta overtime lawyer Ben Kandy.