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New York Employer Law Blog

Court rules in favor of employers in minimum wage case

According to a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, employers can average hours worked throughout the week in an effort to comply with minimum wage rules. Similar rulings have been issued by the 2nd Circuit, which covers New York state. The ruling was issued in a case involving two Xerox employees who performed varying tasks with no set pay rate for some tasks.

If the workers received a rate equivalent to minimum wage or higher in a given week, their paychecks remained unchanged. However, if their pay was less than minimum wage for the week, they received additional compensation equal to minimum wage. The employees contended that they should be paid at least the minimum wage for each hour worked. However, it was found that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn't call for a set time period in which wages need to be computed.

Understanding Title VII in the workplace

Employers in New York need to develop a clear understanding about what it means to deal with employees in protected classes, especially in matters related to promotions, hiring or firing. Human resources professionals work to protect their companies from legal liabilities by protecting employee rights under the law and ensuring compliance with existing legislation. By adhering to clear policies, companies can help to protect themselves from potentially costly litigation.

Title VII is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it lays out five categories or protected classes in which employers are prohibited from discrimination. The original five protected classes are race, color, religion, sex and national origin, but subsequent amendments have prohibited discrimination on the basis of age over 40, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation or reprisal. At first, the law may seem to come in conflict with at-will employment policies. It is legal for companies to hire or fire workers at any time for any reason except, of course, for the prohibited forms of discrimination outlined here.

Court finds that cumulative liquidated damages not allowed

A decision that will apply to New York employers found that cumulative liquidated damages may not be awarded to plaintiffs when the same conduct violates several wage and hour laws. This means that employers will not face the potential for being assessed triple damages for wage and hour violations. However, it is best for companies to take steps to ensure that they are complying with the wage and hour laws so that they can protect themselves.

The case involved a Bangladeshi man who was lured by the promise of a job in the home of a Bangladeshi diplomat to New York. When he arrived, the diplomat and his wife took away his passport and made him work like a slave from morning until night each day. The man was eventually able to escape and reported what happened to the police. He then filed a lawsuit against the diplomat and his wife under New York labor laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Companies address discrimination with clear policies and training

Employers concerned with staying up to date with laws about discrimination and harassment might need to review their policies and training programs. New York and other jurisdictions have added new laws that companies need to comply with. In addition to staying informed about current workplace standards, employers should focus on preparing clear policies that describe unacceptable behavior and develop training programs that effectively engage staff members.

Reducing the possibility of employee complaints that could lead to lawsuits starts with a company leadership that makes it clear that discrimination will not be tolerated. Written policies that use plain language should emphasize that people can file complaints without fear of retaliation and that the perpetrators will face consequences for unlawful conduct. Managers and supervisors need to understand that complaints should be taken seriously and investigated in a fair manner.

What benefits do businesses get from a gig economy?

The term “gig economy” has become ubiquitous in the past few years. Companies like Lyft, Postmates and TaskRabbit allow people to earn extra income without sticking them with a part or full-time position. Employees enjoy this freedom to earn extra money without the commitment.

By offering competitive opportunities to this group, companies can benefit from these agreements in several ways:

Duty of employers to ask about accommodations

New York employers who have employees that have disabilities might wonder when they must offer reasonable accommodations to them. Many employers think that they do not have to offer reasonable accommodations to their disabled employees unless the employees request them. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has provided guidance about when employers must begin an interactive process with employees concerning their need for accommodations.

According to the EEOC, employees who have disabilities generally have the duty to tell their employers and to request reasonable accommodations so that they can perform their job duties. However, employers may have the duty to initiate the process themselves in certain cases.

Preventing sexual harassment in pediatric offices

Pediatric offices in New York may want to take steps to ensure they have policies in place about sexual harassment. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 33 percent of female physicians say they have experienced sexual harassment while the number of men filing complaints is on the rise.

Examples of sexual harassment could include an employee telling jokes in the break room even after being told it makes others uncomfortable or a doctor who repeatedly asks a colleague to his room for drinks despite her refusals. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers need to have clear harassment policies, a way to report harassment, regular training, leadership and accountability. The AAP has created some guidelines for employers to consider.

Employer control influences independent contractor classification

As a business owner or entrepreneur in New York, you may benefit from assigning work to independent contractors. These self-employed individuals could save you money on payroll taxes and act flexibly as the workflow rises and falls. Care must be taken, however, to avoid treating someone as an independent contractor when the relationship might actually meet the definition of an employer and employee. That status could trigger additional labor laws and financial obligations. The legal determination of the work relationship depends in large part on the amount of control that you exert over the person's job.

The law might view you as an employer if you assign specific hours that the person must work or insist on work being done in specific places. Providing supplies, tools and equipment to the person could represent direct employment. Directly supervising a person, requiring approval for time off or insisting that the person work exclusively for you might undermine your ability to classify the person as an independent contractor.

What employers should know about overtime laws

If employees exceed the weekly hour limit imposed by the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers may be responsible for providing workers with overtime pay. It is important to point out that independent contractors in New York state are not eligible for overtime time. Farm workers, taxi cab drivers and those who work on commission may also be exempt from receiving such pay. Finally, salaried workers who make more than $455 a week are generally not entitled to overtime.

Eligible employees who work more than 40 hours in a week are entitled to 150 percent of their normal pay. In other words, someone who makes $10 an hour would receive $15 for all hours worked over 40 in a week. Employers and employees can agree on what a workweek is, but it must be seven consecutive 24-hour periods. Furthermore, employers are not required to provide overtime pay simply because an employee worked during a weekend or on a holiday.

Common errors in FLSA compliance

Employers in New York must take care to observe the Fair Labor Standards Act. Failing to do so can be an expensive error. In 2017, Walgreens, TGI Fridays and MetLife paid out millions of dollars in claims related to failing to pay wages properly. Their violations included misclassifying employees and overtime violations.

Misclassification of employees is a common error. This determines whether or not an employee is owed overtime or is exempt. Some employers make the error of thinking that paying an employee salary is the determining factor; however, other elements must be in place. For example, the main duty of the employee must be consistent with the requirements of the professional, administrative or executive exemption.

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