Recently in Wages and Hours Category
- Whether or not an employer takes a tip credit, all tips an employee earns belong to that employee, except for any amount the employee is required to "tip out" (contribute to a legitimate tip pool). Employers aren't entitled to any part of the tip pool. At least one court had held that an employer who doesn't take a tip credit need not let employees keep their tips, as long as the employees were left with at least the minimum wage. The regulations specifically dispute the holding of this case.
- Only employees who regularly and customarily receive tips can participate in the tip pool -- and again, this rule applies whether or not the employer takes a tip credit. Employees who don't typically receive tips, such as cooks and dishwashers, may not participate in the pool. The final regulations don't set a limit on how much of their tips employees may be required to put in the pool; in fact, they state explicitly that the law "does not impose a maximum contribution percentage." Previous guidance documents and opinion letters from the DOL had put a maximum on the amount employees could be required to contribute, or said that employees could not be required to contribute more than was customary in their industry, but these limits did not make it into the final regulations. Once the employer comes up with an amount, however, it is required to notify employees how much they will be required to contribute to the pool.
- Employees are entitled to notice if the employer will take a tip credit. This notice must include: (1) the hourly cash wage the employer will pay the employee; (2) the amount of tips that the employer will take as a tip credit (that is, the employer will count that amount toward the employee's wages, to meet the minimum wage requirement); (3) that the employee is entitled to retain all tips received except any amount the employee is required to contribute to a valid tip pooling arrangement limited to employees who customarily and regularly receive tips; and (4) that the tip credit shall not apply to any employee who has not been informed of these requirements. The final regulations do not require this notice to be in writing; employers may inform employees orally, if they wish. As a practical matter, however, employers who plan to take a tip credit should provide written notice, so they can later prove that they properly notified employees, if necessary.
In an odd twist, the Court explicitly declined to address whether the employee must make a complaint to a governmental agency to be protected, even though the case involved an employee who complained only to the employer. (In other words, if the employee must complain to an agency, Kasten doesn't have a retaliation claim.) Apparently, the employer hadn't kept this argument alive properly on appeal, so the Court wasn't required to consider it. And in the majority opinion, Justice Breyer argued that there was no need for the Court to resolve this question, because it wasn't necessary to the Court's decision in the case. Still, it's a fairly large issue to leave undecided, especially when the claims of the actual employee in the case depend on how it's resolved.To fall within the scope of the antiretaliation provision, a complaint must be sufficiently clear and detailed for a reasonable employer to understand it, in light of both content and context, as an assertion of rights protected by the statute and a call for their protection.
Earlier this week, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced its regulatory agenda for Spring 2010. As always, the plan includes a number of discrete areas where the DOL plans to draft or revise regulations (for example, to require coal mine operators to inspect areas where miners will be working). This time around, the agenda also includes a broad paradigm shift: The DOL wants to replace what it calls a "catch me if you can" model, in which violations are stemmed only if and when the DOL steps in, to a "plan/prevent/protect" model, in which employers take the lead in finding, fixing, and preventing workplace problems.
What will this mean in practice? It's not entirely clear, as the DOL hasn't yet issued any proposed regulations or concrete details of how the plan will shape up. However, The New York Times reported today that the new approach will require employers to draft compliance plans explaining how they will make sure they aren't violating workplace safety and wage and hour laws. Employers will also be required to document key decisions -- for example, why the employer has determined that an employee is exempt from overtime or that a worker should be classified as an independent contractor rather than an employee -- and then provide that documentation to both the worker and the DOL.
The federal agencies have released their Regulatory Plan and Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (known as the "Unified Agenda.") Twice a year, federal agencies must provide this information to let the public know what regulatory actions they're planning and to coordinate rulemaking among the agencies.
The Unified Agenda can be somewhat daunting, both in length and in jargon (OMB Watch, a nonprofit that works to promote greater transparency in federal regulatory and budget matters, has a nice guide to some of the terms used in the Unified Agenda). Each federal agency that's included in the Unified Agenda must indicate what rulemaking it has planned in coming months. The list of agencies in the current Unified Agenda is here; when you click on an agency's link, you can see its statement.
The EEOC has identified two regulatory priorities:
- Implementing the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). The EEOC issued proposed regulations on the ADAAA in September 2009 (you can check out my blog post reviewing the regs here), and asked for public comments to be submitted by November 23. Now, the agency must review all of those comments and come up with final regulations.
- Amending its regulations on the "reasonable factor other than age" defense to an age discrimination claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), an issue the Supreme Court addressed last year. (Here's my blog post on that case, Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory.)
The Department of Labor painted with a broader brush: It begins its regulatory plan with a sort of mission statement, lising 12 "strategic outcomes," from improving health benefits to helping injured workers return to the job, all intended to further the agency's goal of "good jobs for everyone." Here are the specific regulatory proposals that interested me:
- Updates to the child labor regulations.
- A review of the military leave provisions and the 2009 regulations interpreting the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
- Changes to the record keeping regulation for Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Layoffs have been much in the news for more than a year, and with good reason: Unemployment has reached 9.8%, and is expected to continue growing in the months to come. But lost jobs aren't the only employment story of the economic downturn. Many struggling companies are trying to get more for less -- more work out of their employees for less money, that is. When companies combine layoffs with pay cuts and hour cuts, the inescapable result is that remaining employees have to work harder for less pay.
As statistics show: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released its latest figures on what it calls "labor productivity," a measure of employee output per hour as compared to the cost of that labor. Here's the good news: Employee productivity is up by 6.6% in the second quarter of this year. (Way to go, people!) The bad news is that we realized this improvement not by boosting overall productivity -- which actually declined by 1.5% -- but by working faster. Work hours declined by 7.6% in the same period. (This decline encompasses hours lost both to reduced work schedules and to layoffs.) In fact, the New York Times reported today that pay cuts -- which are often tied to reduced hours -- are more common now than at any time since the Depression.
Even those at the bottom of the economic ladder are facing declining wages: Colorado has said that it will have to cut the minimum wage from $7.28 an hour to $7.24 an hour as a result of deflation. Colorado is one of ten states in which the minimum wage is tied to inflation. This type of legislation is typically intended to protect low wage workers by making sure that the minimum wage keeps up with the cost of living. But when the cost of living drops, these laws requires the minimum wage to drop along with it.
Those of us who live in the Bay Area are familiar with Cafe Gratitude, a small chain of raw food restaurants. These restaurants have a particular atmosphere and culture, one that feels very familiar to me as a local child of the 60s and 70s. I think of it as "control-freak hippie," an apparently easy-going presentation with a very strident center. (As in, "Hey people, I think it would be really cool if we could all DO THIS EXACTLY THE WAY I WANT RIGHT NOW!")
A game created by the founders, called Abounding River, is available to play at the many shared tables, so diners can explore "Being Abundance" and discover a "Spiritual Foundation that opens up to a whole new way of looking at money and resources" (quotes from the Cafe's website). Everything on the menu is called "I am [positive adjective]", such as "I am worthy," "I am present," or "I am dazzling." And that's what you have to call it when you order: If you try to get away with, "I'd like the pesto pizza," you will be gently encouraged to call it by its true name ("you mean, 'I am sensational'?"). And when your pizza arrives, the server smiles, looks you in the eyes, sets it in front of you, and says, "you are so sensational!" The staff is friendly, the atmosphere is warm, and there are rules.
As the East Bay Express recently reported, the Cafe's philosophy and culture stem from the Landmark Forum (which grew out of est (Erhardt Seminar Training)), a "transformative learning" program whose graduates sometimes recruit others in ways so insistent that it can feel like proselytizing.
As some Cafe employees have discovered: According to the Express article, all employees are "encouraged" to attend the Landmark Forum, a weekend-long introductory course, and all managers are required to go -- and pay for it. Managers hold daily "clearings," "during which employees answer a series of questions before 're-creating' each other in a process aimed at freeing the workers to be present and alive in the moment for the job" (quote from the Express article).
Would you like a side of "I am litigious" with that? Because there could be some employment law problems here, as the article also points out. First of all, employers that require employees to attend training sessions have to pay for it -- twice. The employer has to pay the cost of the training, and then has to pay employees for the hours they spend doing it. Then there's the potential religious discrimination problem: Whether or not the Landmark Forum or the owners of Cafe Gratitude would describe their philosophies as "religious," the belief in human potential -- that we create our own reality -- may itself conflict with a religious view that a higher power does the creating. And, if an employer fires or disciplines those who don't share the company's official belief system or complain about feeling pressure to adopt it, an experience one employee described in the Express article, a retaliation claim may not be far behind.
Earlier this month, a report was released on a 2008 survey of low-wage workers in the cities of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. The title of the report, "Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in America's Cities," kind of gives away the ending. The statistics are truly shocking:
- More than a quarter of those surveyed reported that they had received less than the minimum wage in the previous week, and 60% of those reported being underpaid by more than $1 per hour.
- More than three-quarters(!) of those surveyed reported not being paid for overtime worked in the previous week -- and they averaged 11 hours of weekly overtime.
- Almost a quarter worked off the clock (and weren't paid for it), and nearly two-thirds of those entitled to a meal break didn't receive the full, uninterrupted, work-free break required by law.
- 41% had illegal deductions taken from their paycheck (for breakage or to pay for tools or other items required for work, for example).
- 43% of those who had made a complaint or tried to form a union in the past year faced retaliation. One-fifth reported that they had not complained about a serious workplace problem in the past year, primarily because they feared losing their job.
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis told the New York Times that the report "shows that we still have a major task before us." She also indicated that she's in the process of hiring 250 more wage and hour investigators.
To find out more about wage and hour laws, including the minimum wage, overtime, and what counts as an hour worked, see the Compensation and Benefits section of Nolo's website.
Despite some signs of an economic rebound in the stock market, housing sales, and other areas, unemployment continues to rise. Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the national unemployment rate has reached 9.7%. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the jobless rate in California has hit 12.2%, with 2.25 million residents of the Golden State out of work and actively looking for new jobs.
People are starting to refer to our current economic situation as a "mancession," because so many who have lost their jobs are male. Nationally, the BLS reports that the male unemployment rate is 10.1%, while the female unemployment rate is only 7.6%. As a result of this skew, women now make up virtually half of the workforce, for the first time in history.
This morning, the New York Times reported on one effect of these statistics: Women who left the workforce after having children are trying to return to work, often to replace a spouse's lost income or hedge against the possibility of a spouse's layoff down the road.
The article focuses on women who had the option of staying home with their children, so it's necessarily limited in scope to the upper end of the economic spectrum. A lot of the women profiled were attorneys, for example. And, it's a little bit hard to find too much sympathy for someone who had to return to work in part to offset investment losses "in the healthy six figures." Still, it's one more fundamental change attributable to the recession.
I'm interested in hearing how this gender shift in employment will affect overall pay and benefits. Not every working woman is an attorney pulling down a six-figure salary. In fact, women tend to earn less than men on average (currently thought to be about 80 cents on the dollar), are more likely to work part-time jobs, and are less likely to receive benefits. Will the gender shift -- and the resulting increase in families being supported primarily by women's work -- lead to higher pay and benefits for women? Or will pay and benefits decrease as women increase their participation in the labor force?