May 18, 2016

Long Awaited New Overtime Rules Issued

Posted in Administrative Exemption, Computer-related Occupations Exemption, Executive Exemption, Exempt/Non-Exempt Employees, Fair Labor Standards Act, Outside Sales Exemption, Overtime, Professional Exemption, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 1:15 pm by Tom Jacobson

time clockThe much-anticipated new overtime rules have been issued by the United States Department of Labor. The new rules will go into effect December 1, 2016 so employers will have until then to prepare.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has published an excellent summary of the new rules, and I encourage you to review that. Then, contact me to discuss how to implement the new rules in your workplace.

Also, the new rules will be discussed at the 13th Annual West Central Minnesota Employment Law Update. There are still a few seats available at the seminar — click here for registration information.

For more information about these or other employment law issues, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this article are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2016 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA.

May 5, 2016

Tick Tock: Appeals Court Opens Door to Stale Discrimination Claims by Broadly Interpreting Statute of Limitations Tolling Clause

Posted in Age, Discrimination, Employee Handbooks, Harassment, Limitation of Actions, MDHR Mediation, Sexual Harassment, Statutes of Limitation tagged , , , , , , , at 11:42 am by Tom Jacobson

Tom Jacobson retake - Copy - Cropped

“In light of the Peterson decision, employers should review their HR complaint policies to minimize the chance of inadvertent extensions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act statute of limitations,” says employment law attorney Tom Jacobson.

Employers may need to update their HR complaint policies and procedures in light of a May 2, 2016 decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in the case of Peterson v. City of Minneapolis. The decision has the impact of potentially extending the time limit employees have for pursuing claims under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and policy updates may minimize the impact of this decision.

The Peterson case started when two Minneapolis police officers claimed their October, 2011 transfers were the result of age discrimination. The officers filed complaints with the city’s human resources department a month later. The HR department investigated the complaints, and in January, 2013 the department concluded that the transfers were not based on age.

The officers then filed age discrimination charges with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. They later withdrew those charges, but in March, 2014 they filed a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis. The trial court dismissed the officers’ case on the basis that it was started after the one year statute of limitations in the Minnesota Human Rights Act had expired. One of the officers appealed.

In reviewing the trial court’s decision, the appellate court noted that under the MHRA:

The running of the one-year limitation period is suspended during the time a potential charging party and respondent are voluntarily engaged in a dispute resolution process involving a claim of unlawful discrimination under this chapter, including arbitration, conciliation, mediation or grievance procedures pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement or statutory, charter, ordinance provisions for a civil service or other employment system or a school board sexual harassment or sexual violence policy.

Thus, the issue before the Court of Appeals was whether filing an internal complaint with the city’s HR department meant the parties were “voluntarily engaged in a dispute resolution process involving a claim of unlawful discrimination,” so as to suspend (or “toll”) the running of the MHRA’s one-year statute of limitations. The court ruled that they were.

Specifically, the court held that the city’s HR complaint process was a “dispute resolution process” under the MHRA, so by engaging in that process, the statute of limitations did not run while that process was ongoing. Consequently, the officers’ MDHR charge, which was filed more than a year after the alleged discrimination, was ruled to be timely despite the MHRA’s one-year statute of limitations.

With this ruling, the Court of Appeals has essentially given employees a tool for dragging out their deadline for filing MHRA charges or lawsuits well beyond the one-year time limit they would otherwise have. This is because for as long as they and the employer are engaged in an internal HR complaint process, the statute of limitations clock will likely not be ticking.

Taken to extremes, this means an employee could file an internal complaint 364 days after an alleged discriminatory act, thereby likely suspending the statute of limitations that would otherwise have expired the next day. And, because the Court of Appeals did not clarify the limits of what it means to “voluntarily engage in” such internal complaint processes, it appears an employee could extend the time limit almost indefinitely by repeatedly engaging the employer in ongoing discussions about the same problem or the process itself.

It is difficult to predict how this case will play out in practice. However, to minimize its impact, employers should consider: revising HR complaint policies to address how such complaints impact the MHRA’s statute of limitations; promptly investigating and resolving discrimination and harassment complaints so as to quickly end what could be perceived as “voluntary engagement” in a “dispute resolution process.”

For more information about these or other employment law issues, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this article are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2016 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA.

February 18, 2016

New Overtime Rules Could Result in Loss of Exempt Status for Salaried Employees

Posted in Administrative Exemption, Executive Exemption, Exempt/Non-Exempt Employees, Fair Labor Standards Act, Hours Worked, Professional Exemption tagged , , , , , , , , , at 4:58 pm by Tom Jacobson

new flsa overtime rules

Many salaried employees would lose their exempt status under the DOL’s new overtime rules.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed changes to the nation’s overtime pay rules would have a profound impact on workplaces throughout the country. The impact would be the potential loss of exempt status for many salaried employees. To prepare, employers should familiarize themselves with the proposed new rule and review their pay practices to ensure compliance in case the new overtime rules take effect.

The new rules would increase the minimum salary an employee must be paid before s/he may be classified as exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This means many employees who are now properly classified as exempt will no longer be exempt. Consequently, they would then be eligible for overtime pay if they work more than forty hours in a workweek.

The change would come about because the FLSA generally requires most U.S. employers to pay overtime (that is, one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay) when employees work more than forty hours in a work week. However, certain categories of employees are exempt from that requirement. To qualify for some exemptions, those employees must not only perform certain duties as specified in the FLSA, but they must also be paid a minimum salary.

Currently, that minimum salary is $455 per week ($23,660 per year). Under the new rule, that threshold would more than double to $970 per week ($50,440 per year).

The impact can be illustrated with a hypothetical workplace where an employee is currently paid a salary somewhere between $24,000 and $50,000 per year and works an average of 45 to 50 hours per week. Assuming that employee meets one of the FLSA’s “duties” tests, the employee would likely be considered exempt and not entitled to overtime pay. Therefore, the employee would be paid the same regardless of how many hours s/he works in a week.

If the new rules take effect, the same employee would no longer be exempt, and s/he would be entitled to overtime pay for the extra five to ten hours of work each week. Therefore, the employer would need to increase the employee’s salary to meet the new threshold and maintain the exemption, or the employer would need to convert the employee to an hourly-rate employee and pay time and a half for any overtime.

The new rules have not yet gone into effect, and it is not entirely clear if and when they will. They were initially slated to take effect this spring. However, the Society for Human Resource Management reports that this may not happen until later this year. SHRM also reports there is a remote chance that Congress could overturn the rules using the Congressional Review Act and/or that the rules will be challenged in court.

In the meantime, employers should pay attention to the potential rule change and be prepared to change their pay practices to remain in compliance. Suggestions include:

  • Determine which currently exempt employees would no longer be exempt if the salary threshold increases;
  • Assuming an employee’s exemption would be lost under the new rules, decide whether to increase the employee’s salary to meet the new threshold or convert the employee’s salary to an hourly rate basis;
  • Budget for any increased overtime costs resulting from employees who would become eligible for it under the new rules;
  • Review scheduling issues to determine whether hours can be reduced to limit the overtime liability for an employee who must be treated as non-exempt;
  • Address morale issues that could result from any perceived “demotion” of employees from exempt/salaried to non-exempt/hourly status.

In addition, although the proposed new rules do not alter the “duties” test for FLSA exemptions, employers would be wise to take this opportunity to review their exempt employees’ duties to determine whether they actually meet those duties tests. This is because even if an employee meets the salary test (whether under the current or proposed new standards), that does not automatically mean the employee is exempt from the law’s overtime pay requirements.

For more information about FLSA exemption issues, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2016 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

February 3, 2016

“Boys are Boys” No Defense to Workplace Violence Claims

Posted in Application Process, Arrest records, Background Checking, Conviction Records, Criminal History, Negligence, Negligent Hiring, Negligent Retention, Negligent Supervision tagged , , , , , at 7:03 pm by Tom Jacobson

workplace violence

Reduce the risk of negligent hiring and negligent retention claims by adopting and following proper screening and workplace violence policies.

Employers can be held liable for injuries suffered by employees who are assaulted by their co-workers, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reiterated in a recent case. The decision highlights the importance of reducing the risk of workplace violence by conducting background checks of potential employees and enforcing anti-violence policies with existing employees.

The case, Hartfiel v. Allison (Jan. 25, 2016), started when an employee of T.J. Potter Trucking, Inc., Raymond Allison, hit co-worker Richard Hartfiel with a three-foot long steel bar while Hartfiel was sitting in his truck. Hartfiel suffered broken bones and other injuries and incurred over $75,000 in medical expenses.

In the resulting lawsuit, Hartfiel claimed that Potter Trucking was liable to him because it negligently hired and retained Allison. In support of his negligent hiring claim, Hartfiel pointed to the fact that Allison had a criminal history that included multiple assault convictions. He alleged that had Potter Trucking done a criminal background check and followed its own standard hiring procedures, they would have known to not hire Allison.

The court acknowledged that Minnesota employers may be held liable for negligent hiring if they fail to use reasonable care in hiring individuals who, through the employment, may pose a threat of injury to members of the public. This means that the scope of pre-employment investigations must be directly related to the severity of risk third parties are subjected to by an incompetent employee (the greater the risk, the more intensive the pre-employment screen should be). However, the court also noted that employers do not, as a matter of law, have a duty to conduct a criminal background check on prospective employees.

The court then rejected Hartfiel’s negligent hiring claim on the basis that Potter Trucking’s pre-employment inquiry was adequate:

Here, the unchallenged evidence shows that, although Allison provided Potter Trucking a release to perform a background check, Potter Trucking checks applicants’ driving records but does not conduct criminal background checks. Typically, Potter Trucking hires people on referral. Potter Trucking followed its standard procedures—it required Allison to submit an application, interviewed him, required him to submit to drug testing, obtained a release for a background check, and relied on a referral from Allison’s previous employer…. The record contains no evidence to suggest that Potter Trucking knew or should have known of Allison’s violent propensities when it hired him.

However, the court allowed Hartfiel’s negligent retention claim to proceed. Quoting a 1993 Minnesota Supreme Court case (Yunker v Honeywell), the court defined negligent retention:

Negligent retention … occurs when, during the course of employment, the employer becomes aware or should have become aware of problems with an employee that indicated his unfitness, and the employer fails to take further action such as investigating, discharge, or reassignment.

Applying that standard to Hartfiel’s claim, the court noted there was evidence that after Allison was hired, he assaulted a subcontractor, but the owner minimized it “because it ‘[was not] work related’ and because ‘boys are boys.'” Other evidence suggested that when Allison thought a foreman had been rude to him, he threatened, “it’s no secret where I live, come on over there and I’ll . . . kick your ass all over the yard.” Because of that evidence, the court allowed the negligent retention claim to proceed to trial:

The previously discussed evidence of Allison’s violent behavior against a Potter Trucking subcontractor in a tavern and threatening behavior toward a Potter Trucking foreman is the type of evidence on which a jury could find that Allison had violent propensities about which Potter Trucking knew or should have known.

The Hartfiel case reminds us that when hiring, employers should conduct pre-employment background checks that are sufficient to determine whether a candidate would pose a threat if hired. The greater the risk, the more intensive the background check should be. The depth of that investigation should be set well before the hiring process begins, and it should be consistently applied.

Moreover, the case reminds us that ignoring acts of workplace violence and threats of harm will subject an employer to liability for negligent retention. Thus, employers should adopt and enforce policies against workplace violence, and they should not brush off misconduct just because they think “boys are boys.”

For more information about workplace violence or guidance on how to develop or enforce policies and procedures to address these issues, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2016 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

October 22, 2015

Nursing Mothers’ Rights

Posted in Breastfeeding & Nursing Mothers' Rights, Discrimination, Gender / Sex tagged , , , , , , at 10:21 am by Tom Jacobson

BabyThough it’s been done since the beginning of time, breastfeeding in public made waves this summer when our local paper asked for comments from its readers (see It’s Your Turn: Facebook readers share thoughts on breastfeeding, Echo Press Sept. 4, 2015; A mom’s dilemma, Echo Press Sept. 4, 2015). The waves have calmed, but they exposed misunderstanding about nursing mothers’ rights. Let’s clear the air, in particular with regard to the rights of mothers who need to express breast milk while at work.

First, nursing a child in public is perfectly legal in Minnesota. Breastfeeding is an exception to the state’s prohibition of indecent exposure.

Second, mothers who need to express breast milk while at work have the right to do so in most Minnesota workplaces. This has been the law in Minnesota since 1998, but these rights were expanded in 2014 as a part of the Women’s Economic Security Act. The following will address some of the most common questions about this law.

What basic benefit does the law require employers to provide? Employers must provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child.

 

When must the break be provided? The break time must, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee.

 

What space must the employer provide for the break? The employer must make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, other than a bathroom or a toilet stall, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public and that includes access to an electrical outlet, where the employee can express her milk in privacy.

 

Are there any exceptions to the law? Yes. An employer is not required to provide break time under this law if doing so would unduly disrupt the employer’s operations.

 

Are all Minnesota employers covered by this law? Yes. The law defines “employer” to include “a person or entity that employs one or more employees and includes the state and its political subdivisions.”

 

What other protections does the law provide to employees? Employers must not retaliate against an employee for asserting rights or remedies the law.

 

What remedies are available to an employee if an employer breaks this law? Employees may bring a civil action to recover monetary damages, plus their court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. They may also seek injunctive and other equitable relief to be determined by a court.

 

Is there a state agency that could get involved in disputes regarding this law? Yes. The Minnesota Department of Labor’s Division of Labor Standards and Apprenticeship has been given the authority to receive complaints of employees against employers relating to this law. The division’s role is to attempt to resolve employee complaints by informing employees and employers of the provisions of the law and directing employers to comply with it. The division is required contact the employer within two business days and investigate the complaint within ten days of receipt of the complaint.

For more information about the rights of nursing mothers or guidance on how to develop or enforce policies and procedures to address these rights, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

July 24, 2015

Safety Leave Offers Help to Abuse Victims

Posted in Safety Leave, Women's Economic Security Act tagged , , , , at 2:45 pm by Tom Jacobson

Safety leave

Safety leave is now available to many Minnesota employees who are victims of domestic abuse.

For victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking, seeking help is sometimes the most difficult first step toward safety and justice. Adding to the struggle is the reality that taking that step sometimes means committing time during the workday to seek help. Consequently, the fear of missing work has often been an obstacle to reporting those crimes, participating in the legal process, or otherwise seeking or providing help. However, for many Minnesota employees, there is a new tool to help them get over that hurdle: safety leave.

Safety leave was authorized under the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), which was signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2014. Under this new law, covered employers must allow most workers to use their personal sick leave for safety leave. “Safety leave” is defined as time away from work for the purpose of providing or receiving assistance because of sexual assault, domestic abuse or stalking. Safety leave may be used for assistance to the employee or the employee’s child, adult child, spouse, sibling, parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, or stepparent.

Because of this new law, many employees now have a right to use sick leave benefits to take time off to seek or provide help to themselves and some family members when they are suffering from the devastating impacts of these crimes.

However, the law has limitations. For example, it does not require employers to provide sick leave. But, when they do, they must allow employees to use it for safety leave and for such reasonable times as may be necessary. Also, only employers with twenty-one or more employees at one or more sites are covered by this law.

Another limitation is that not all employees are eligible for safety leave. In order to be eligible, an employee must work for their employer for at least twelve months prior to the request for time off, and during that time, the employee must have worked at least half time.

The fear of missing work should not prevent domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking victims from seeking help and justice. Safety leave is a new tool to make it easier for them to do so.

If you are an employee or employer who is wondering about your safety leave rights and responsibilities, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this article are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

June 16, 2015

Medical Marijuana: Are You Ready to Roll with It?

Posted in Application Process, Discrimination, Drug and Alcohol Testing, Drug and Alcohol Testing, Medical Marijuana, Medical Marijuana, Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act tagged , , , , , , , at 9:53 am by Tom Jacobson

medical marijuana and the workplace

Medical cannabis can be lawfully dispensed in Minnesota starting July 1, 2015. How will it impact your workplace?

Medical marijuana (technically, “medical cannabis”) can be lawfully dispensed in Minnesota starting July 1, 2015. What does this mean for Minnesota employers?

First, the state’s new medical cannabis law generally prohibits Minnesota employers from using a job applicant’s or employee’s status of being on the medical cannabis registry as a reason for discriminating against that person. In other words, Minnesota employers generally cannot discipline, discharge or refuse to hire someone just because they are on the registry.

The new law also largely prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and applicants who test positive for cannabis unless they used, possessed or were impaired by the drug while at the work site or during work. While proving use or possession should not be too problematic, the law certainly complicates the “impaired by” part of the analysis.

Historically, employers could prove impairment by administering a drug test that complies with the Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act (“MDATWA”). A positive test under MDATWA opened the door for future disciplinary action or withdrawing a job offer. Now, not only are employers prohibited from discriminating against employees and applicants who test positive, but also employees and applicants will have the right to provide their medical cannabis registration as an explanation for a positive test. While this still does not allow a registered patient to use, possess or be impaired by the drug at work, the challenge is that a positive test for cannabis will not necessarily prove when the employee or applicant used, possessed or was impaired by the drug.

As noted above, these are the general rules. There are a few key exceptions. Specifically, employers may discriminate against those on the state’s medical marijuana registry if failing to do so would violate federal law or regulations or cause the employer to lose a monetary or licensing-related benefit under federal law or regulations. Thus, employers who are covered by laws such as the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 or the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 will be able to hold registered patients to a higher standard.

Employers also need to recognize that Minnesota’s medical marijuana law differs significantly from comparable laws in other states. Therefore, they should not pay too much attention to what happens elsewhere. For example, in one recent case (Coats v. Dish Network, LLC) the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Dish Network lawfully fired an employee who tested positive for marijuana, even though that employee was apparently using the drug lawfully under that state’s marijuana laws. Given Minnesota’s prohibition against discriminating against registered patients who test positive, the outcome would probably be different here.

As a practical matter, dealing with the implications of the state’s medical cannabis law should be a relatively rare occurrence. The state estimates there are only 5,000 people (about 0.09% of the entire state) who will qualify to be on the registry (see J. Ehrlich, Minnesota Medical Marijuana: What You Need to Know, MPR News, June 1, 2015). With a labor force of about three million workers (see Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Unemployment Statistics for April, 2015), that means there are probably only 2,700 potential workers statewide who could be on the registry. Given the severity of the conditions for which a person may qualify to be on the registry, the likelihood of those people also being in the workforce is even more remote.

Nevertheless, employers must be prepared to address the workplace challenges presented by Minnesota’s medical cannabis law. Specifically, workplace drug and alcohol policies (particularly MDATWA-compliant testing policies) should be reviewed and revised if needed to take into account the state’s medical cannabis law. And, employers will need to rely on evidence other than a drug test if they want to take action against employees or applicants who they believe have used, possessed or were impaired by marijuana on the work site or during work hours.

For more information, see please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this article are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

February 23, 2015

Medical Marijuana in the Minnesota Workplace

Posted in Application Process, Drug and Alcohol Testing, Drug and Alcohol Testing, Medical Marijuana, Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act tagged , , , at 6:34 pm by Tom Jacobson

medical marijuana and the workplaceThis morning I had the opportunity to give a Minnesota Continuing Legal Education presentation on the workplace impacts of Minnesota’s legalization of medical marijuana at the 2015 Public Sector Labor and Employment Law Update in Minneapolis.

In short the state’s legalization of medical marijuana (technically, medical “cannabis”) could prove to be very challenging for Minnesota employers. Generally, the law prohibits employers from taking adverse action against applicants and employees who are on the medical cannabis registry and test positive for cannabis components or metabolites.

There are exceptions to that general rule. For example, even when employees are on the registry, the law does not allow them to use, possess, or be impaired by medical cannabis on the work premises or during the hours of employment. Use and possession would be relatively easy to prove, but the presence of cannabis components or metabolites does not necessarily equate to impairment. Consequently, a positive drug test without evidence of impairment (especially following a random test) may be of little value.

Similarly, a positive test result during a pre-employment drug screen of an applicant who is on the registry may also be of little value. After all, because applicants are not yet employees, any impairment could not possibly be “during the hours of employment.” Thus, employers may be left with looking into whether or not the applicant used, possessed or was impaired by medical marijuana on the work premises.

Another exception allows employers to discriminate against employees and applicants who are on the registry if not doing so would violate federal law or regulations or cause the employer to lose a monetary or licensing-related benefit under federal law or regulations. Thus, for example, it is likely that for jobs requiring a commercial driver’s license subject to federal DOT regulations, employers may discriminate against those who are on the registry.

As a practical matter, the legalization of medical marijuana will affect relatively few Minnesota employers as the law is currently written. It has been estimated that only 5,000 Minnesotans will qualify for the registry (WCCO reports that only about 1,000 to date have expressed interest). And, those who do are unfortunately suffering from a short list of serious impairments, many of which will likely keep them out of the workforce. Thus, it should be a rare occurrence for an employer to need to address this issue. However, the potential expansion of the list of reasons for getting on the registry would greatly increase the chances that employers will be faced with these challenges.

As a result, employers must be prepared to deal with these issues. This means training employees to recognize signs of use, possession and impairment, and proactively amending policies to be prepared for these challenges before they arise.

Finally, employers and employees need to keep in mind that medical cannabis cannot be made available in Minnesota until July 1, 2015. So any positive test results until then cannot be excused by being on the registry.

For more information about this article, please see Dazed and Confused: Medical Marijuana and the Workplace, or contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this article are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

December 9, 2014

Supreme Court sides with employers in security screenings pay case

Posted in Fair Labor Standards Act, Hours Worked, Principal activities, Security screenings tagged , , , , , , at 3:02 pm by Tom Jacobson

time clockThe United States Supreme Court today ruled unanimously in favor of employers in a case relating to whether or not employees must be paid for time spent in security screenings. The case is Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk.

Integrity Staffing Solutions required its hourly workers to undergo security screenings before leaving the warehouse each day. The workers were not paid for this time, which took about 25 minutes per day. A group of former employees sued, claiming the practice violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (as amended by the Portal to Portal Act). This law generally requires employers to pay employees for all hours worked.

The high court rejected the employees’ claims. Specifically, the court noted that under the FLSA, employers do not have to pay for activities that occur before or after “the performance of the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform.” Under the court’s precedents, compensable “principal activities” include tasks that are “integral and indispensable” parts of the principal activity.

Thus, the legal question was whether or not the screenings were part of the employees’ principal work activities (which would be compensable) or mere pre- or postliminary activities (which would not be compensable).

In siding with the employer, the court ruled that the screenings were not the principal activities the employees were hired to do. Rather, the court said, the employees were hired “to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package them for shipment,” not to undergo security screenings. The court also ruled that the screenings were not “integral and indispensable” to their retrieving and packaging responsibilities.

The court expressly rejected the employees’ argument that the focus should be on whether the particular activity was required by the employer. Rather, the court said, the focus must be on whether the task was tied to the productive work that the employee was employed to perform.

The decision is a victory for employers in that it re-affirms decades of precedent that hourly employees do not have to be paid for mandatory pre- and postliminary activities that are not the employees’ “principal activities” and are not “integral and indispensable” to those activities. Employers should, however, use caution when applying this standard and should carefully analyze any pre- and post work tasks to determine whether they are or are not compensable.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

October 16, 2014

Workplace bullying: on the job with Scut Farkus

Posted in Bullying, Bullying, Cyber Bullying, Discrimination, Harassment, Harassment, Hostile Work Environment, Workplace Violence tagged , , , , at 10:30 am by Tom Jacobson

Scut Farkus

Scut Farkus – future workplace bully?

In the holiday classic A Christmas Story, playground bully Scut Farkus torments Ralphie Parker until Ralphie pummels Scut after one too many snowballs to the face. We cheer for Ralphie because he’s the good kid who takes a stand against Scut’s relentless bullying. But what happens when Scut gets a job? What is the law on workplace bullying?

I recently attended a community conversation about workplace bullying. The discussion confirmed that there is much confusion about the topic. The debate is no doubt fueled by recent media attention and legislative attempts to regulate bullying.

Those efforts have been partially successful in the school setting. For example, the State of Minnesota earlier this year passed the Safe and Supportive Schools Act. This new law defines and regulates bullying in the state’s public and charter schools. However, workplace bullying is neither defined nor prohibited by any state or federal law.

Even if the conduct creates a hostile work environment, bullying alone is not unlawful unless the behavior violates some other established law. Recent court decisions emphasize how difficult it is to turn garden-variety bullying into a legal claim.

For example, in Johnson v City University of New York, an employee claimed that a co-worker’s bullying violated Title VII. The judge last month threw out the case, saying:

Victims of non-discriminatory bullying at the workplace, like those treated unfairly for reasons other than their membership in a protected class, must look outside Title VII to secure what may be their fair due. The Court does not condone bullying, but it cannot read Title VII to protect its victims unless the bullying reflects discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals last year overturned a $270,000.00 Ramsey County jury verdict in favor of an employee who reported being bullied by his boss (see Absey v. Dish Network, LLC). Because Minnesota has no anti-workplace bullying law, the plaintiff’s legal theory was actually based on Minnesota’s whistle-blower law, Minn. Stat. § 181.932. In reversing the jury’s verdict, the Court of Appeals ruled that the plaintiff failed to prove that the employer’s adverse action against him was because he complained about his boss.

Bullied employees have found some limited success in the courts. In one Indiana case, Raess v. Doescher, an employee won a lawsuit based on his employer’s behavior, which the court described as “aggressively and rapidly advanc[ing] on the plaintiff with clenched fists, piercing eyes, beet-red face, popping veins, and screaming and swearing at him.” This conduct could certainly be characterized as “bullying,” but the plaintiff won his case not because he was “bullied” but because the jury found the employer’s conduct to be an assault under Indiana law.

These cases underscore the current reality that when employees are confronted by a Scut Farkus-like co-worker, there are no laws specifically defining or prohibiting workplace bullying. However, if the bully’s conduct is egregious enough, there already exist other legal claims that could provide recourse. In addition to assault and whistle-blower claims, it is conceivable that under the right set of facts, bullied employees could successfully sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence or other wrongs based on another employee’s bullying behaviors. And, when bullying is based on employees’ protected class status, they may have viable claims under Title VII and/or comparable laws.

But rather than litigation and legislation, perhaps the better solution is to curb such behaviors through better employment policies and practices that encourage and model respectful working relationships.

For more information about this article, please contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com or  taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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