Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

States With Pro-Employee Laws: Noncompete Agreement Hardship On Employee As Defense

Or, States That Don't Suck For Employees Part VIII

Living in Florida, one of the worst states in America for employees on noncompete agreements, I'm used to having to deal with a statute that says the courts cannot consider any economic hardship on the employee when enforcing noncompete agreements. Imagine my surprise when researching New York law to find that other states aren't so heartless.

If you live in Alabama, Arizona, DC, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, then your state courts will balance the hardship imposed on you when considering enforcing whether to enforce the noncompete.

Alaska has a similar defense, which is whether the employee's sole means of support is barred.

Of course, if you're lucky enough to live in California, noncompete agreements are rarely enforced there.

In a country where sandwich makers can be forced to sign noncompetes, it's time that the states that don't consider economic hardship on the employee wake up and protect their citizens.

Friday, October 10, 2014

States With Pro-Employee Laws: Work Breaks For Employees

 Or, States That Don't Suck For Employees, Part VII

Some people don't believe me when I tell them that no federal law requires any breaks for employees, but it's true. No lunch breaks, rest breaks or even bathroom breaks are mandated by law (and don't tell me about OSHA and bathroom breaks*). A majority of states also don't have any laws requiring breaks for anyone but minors.

Still, if you're lucky you might live in a state that has some laws requiring work breaks. Here's how it breaks down:
  • Meal breaks:  Only 20 states require any meal breaks. California, Colorado, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Washington require 1/2 hour within five hours of work. Connecticut and Delaware require ½ hour after first 2 hours and before last 2 hours for employees who work 7½ consecutive hours or more.Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia all have laws about meal breaks. In the other 30 states, employers are allowed to starve you.
  • Rest breaks: Only nine states require any rest breaks. California, Colorado, Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon and Washington require 10 minute breaks for every 4 hours of work. Minnesota and Vermont require reasonable bathroom breaks. Illinois also has rest break requirements but only for hotel attendants. All of these states also require meal breaks. 
If you aren't in one of these 20 states, you're at the mercy of your boss to be allowed to eat, go to the restroom, or just take a stretch. Yet I still encounter folks regularly in Florida (one of the no-breaks-for-you states) that get fired after insisting on their legal right to take their lunch or rest break.

True, most bosses won't actually make you have a potty accident, but there are sadistic jerks out there who will. You do have some rights though, despite this.

Disability: If you need regular meal or bathroom breaks due to a disability, then put in a reasonable accommodation request under the Americans With Disabilities Act and have HR mandate your breaks. If the boss still won't honor your approved accommodation, report him/her to HR. If the company won't accommodate you, you probably have a disability discrimination case.

Nursing: You're entitled to a break and a private place to express breast milk if you're nursing.

Sex discrimination: I ran into a woman who was told she couldn't take her purse to the restroom when she had her period. Men had no restrictions on what they could take to the restroom. Fortunately, she reported it and HR had the sense to stop this silliness immediately.

Obviously, if the employer is only allowing employees of a particular race, national origin, age or other protected category to take breaks, that's also illegal. I shouldn't say it's obvious though, because any boss who doesn't allow reasonable bathroom or meal breaks is a sadistic idiot.

*I know I said don't tell me about OSHA, but they really are supposed to make employers allow reasonable bathroom breaks. See OSHA Standard # 1919.141(c)(1)(i)
OSHA's sanitation standard for general industry, 29 CFR 1910.141(c)(l)(i), requires employers to provide their employees with toilet facilities:
Except as otherwise indicated in this paragraph (c)(l)(i), toliet [sic] facilities, in toilet rooms separate for each sex shall be provided in all places of employment in accordance with Table J-1 of this section .... [emphasis added]
This memorandum explains OSHA's interpretation that this standard requires employers to make toilet facilities available so that employees can use them when they need to do so. The employer may not impose unreasonable restrictions on employee use of the facilities." "The language and structure of the general industry sanitation standard reflect the Agency's intent that employees be able to use toilet facilities promptly." In light of the standard's purpose of protecting employees from the hazards created when toilets are not available, it is clear that the standard requires employers to allow employees prompt access to sanitary facilities. Restrictions on access must be reasonable, and may not cause extended delays.
So yes, OSHA does state that they require employers to allow prompt bathroom breaks. I wish you good luck in actually getting OSHA to enforce this standard though. At least in Florida, they'll probably refer you to the Department of Labor, which has nothing whatsoever requiring bathroom breaks under their jurisdiction.

Friday, October 3, 2014

States With Pro-Employee Laws: Ban The Box

Or, States That Don't Suck For Employees, Part VI

You may have heard the term “ban the box” but not know what it means. These laws generally prevent employers from asking about applicant arrests or convictions at the beginning of the application process, and only allow inquiries after the applicant passes their initial screening. Why? Because about 70 million Americans have some criminal record, and the majority of them are minorities. An entire class of citizens has been made almost completely unemployable due to criminal records that have nothing to do with their ability to do jobs.

Thirteen states, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, along with 67 cities and counties, have passed ban-the-box laws. Tampa and Jacksonville are just some of those cities. Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have the only statewide laws applying to private employers. The rest apply to government employers.

Hawaii’s law was the first, and it prohibits employers from asking about criminal records until a conditional offer of employment is made (similar to what ADA requires for inquiries about disabilities). Since 1998, when this law went into effect, the incidence of repeat criminal offenses in Hawaii has dropped by 57%. Illinois law is similar to Hawaii’s.

New York’s law says employers can’t discriminate in the hiring process against applicants who have convications unless there’s a direct relationship between one or more of the previous criminal offenses and the employment sought, or if the employment would involve an unreasonable risk to others.

New Jerseys’s brand new law prohibits posting of ads saying those with criminal histories won’t be hired and from asking about arrests and convictions until the applicant is the top candidate selected. Then the employer must also consider factors like rehabilitation, good conduct, length of time that has passed, and how the crime relates to the employee’s suitability for the job.

Massachusetts’ law bans questions on written applications but not in interviews. If employers are going to refuse to hire based on a criminal record, they must first provide the applicant with a copy of the record.

Minnesota’s law is similar to Hawaii’s, but state law there also says government employers can’t discriminate unless the conviction is directly related to the job sought. It requires all employers to consider job-related factors in using criminal records.

Rhode Island’s law prohibits asking on written applications but employers can ask during interviews.

The ban-the-box movement is all about giving folks a fair chance. If they’ve done the time, let them get on with their lives. Americans usually like to give people a fair second chance, so let’s do that for the 70 million Americans who have criminal records. If we’re like Hawaii, letting people with records get paying jobs will drastically reduce repeat criminal offenses.