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Milwaukee Employment Law Blog

Long-term disability benefits for Wisconsin workers

Wisconsin residents who are no longer able to work may be interested in learning more about long-term disability benefits. The law provides for two types of disability benefits, both of which are administered through the Social Security Administration. Social Security Disability Insurance is a benefit available to workers that contributed to Social Security and who become unable to work for an extended period of time. The other benefit is Supplemental Security Income, which is a need-based program. Injured workers must meet eligibility requirements to receive SSI.

In addition to disabled workers, surviving disabled spouses may be eligible for benefits if the deceased spouse worked and paid into the system long enough to be eligible. Individuals who became disabled and unable to work before their 22nd birthdays may also be entitled to long-term disability benefits if they have a deceased or disabled parent or a retired parent who worked long enough to be eligible. Any person who receives SSI is also eligible for health care through Medicaid.

Defining workplace harassment in Wisconsin

Under Wisconsin's Fair Employment Law, harassment can take two distinct forms in the workplace. The first type of harassment involves an employer singling out an employee based on factors such as their age, sex or sexual orientation. Another type of harassment occurs when an employer harasses based on these items. For example, making a crude sexual joke or making fun of a certain religion may fall under the second form of harassment.

How might harassment in the workplace manifest itself? In some cases, harassment may take the form of a quid pro quo. In other words, the promise of continued employment is based on an employee performing sexual or other favors for a manager or supervisor. Non-verbal harassment such as staring or unwanted gestures may be made by a colleague. Verbal or physical harassment such as making jokes about an individual's sex life or unwanted touching could may also occur.

How FMLA guidelines impact Wisconsin employees

The Family and Medical Leave Act enables workers who are dealing with health issues to leave work as necessary. This act may also apply to workers who need to leave work to deal with health issues of family members. Both the federal government and the state of Wisconsin have their own versions of the FMLA. While many provisions are the same in both cases, the state version differs from the federal version in some respects.

The federal legislation covers those who work for employers with more than 50 employees for at least 20 weeks in a year. Wisconsin provides coverage for those who work for companies with 50 permanent employees in six of the past 12 calendar months. Federal law allows for 12 weeks of leave per year while the state law allows for six weeks of leave after giving birth.

Whistleblower to receive $2.3 million in settlement

Wisconsin residents might be interested to learn about a settlement that was reached in a false country of origin lawsuit involving medical device manufacturer Smith & Nephew. On Sept. 3, the London-based company agreed to settle a lawsuit with the U.S. government by paying $11.3 million in damages. In 2008, the company was accused of selling Malaysian-made orthopedic devices to the Department of Veterans Affairs and falsely claiming they were made in the United States.

In accordance with U.S. law, the whistleblower who filed the lawsuit will receive a portion of the settlement. The former Smith & Nephew information technology manager will be paid $2.3 million. The U.S. government will get $6 million from the settlement, and the remaining $3 million will cover attorneys' fees.

Federal disability discrimination law applies in Wisconsin

Federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on a disability of an employee or job applicant. Disability discrimination is governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the protections offered by the act, employers may not treat a person less favorably because of a belief that he or she has a disability or a history of disability. Discrimination is prohibited with regard to pay rates, job assignments, hiring and firing decisions, promotions, layoffs, fringe benefits and other employment related matters.

An employer's discriminatory action may violate the ADA even if the person affected does not actually have a disability because the discrimination may occur due an employer's incorrect belief that a disability exists. History of disability may be sufficient to support a claim of discrimination as well. An employee or applicant who has cancer that is in remission, for example, may have a claim for disability discrimination if he or she suffers adverse employment action due to medical history.

Whistle-blower receives award from SEC

Wisconsin employees may want to know more about an Aug. 29 announcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission that it has made its first whistle-blower award to an employee involved in audit and compliance activities. The award, which was reported to be in excess of $300,000, was for information the employee provided to the SEC on wrongdoings at the employee's company. According to the announcement, the employee provided the information to the SEC after the company failed to act on the employee's discoveries.

According to the SEC, the employee correctly handled the matter of reporting the findings to the employee's company, even reporting them to a supervisor. However, after the company took no action over the next 120 days, the employee contacted the SEC. The information provided by the employee led to SEC enforcement action.

Whistleblower reports overpriced parts in federal contract

A former assistant controller of a subsidiary of an aircraft company has filed a lawsuit in Milwaukee against her employer after she was terminated. According to the former employee, she was fired as a result of her whistleblower action. According to the woman, her former employer inflated the price for parts sold to the United States government as part of a federal contract.

The plaintiff in the case was originally hired in 2002 as a financial analyst until she became the company's assistant controller for financial reporting and compliance in 2003. The former assistant controller said that the company marked the parts up by 20 percent, despite a provision in a Navy contract saying that the company was required to provide the parts at cost. When the company sent the parts to the government, the invoices did not mention the markup. The plaintiff was responsible for preparing documents regarding the parts between July 2006 and September 2010. She reported the issue to the company, but eventually she reported it to the U.S. government accounting manager when no action was taken.

Former manager sues Moody's for billions

Some investors in Wisconsin might not know that a man who used to be a manager for Moody's Investors Service filed a qui tam complaint against the company after he was fired for blowing the whistle on its practices. The filing was submitted and sealed on Feb. 24, 2012, but after the U.S. government decided not to intervene, the complaint was unsealed on May 30.

According to the complaint, Moody's cost the federal government billions when it untruthfully evaluated collateralized debt obligations and thousands of residential mortgage-backed securities prior to the economic downturn. Most of those securities were issued AAA or similar positive ratings without carrying out objective, independent calculations. Instead, the company issued the ratings based on its profit-maximization policies and conflicts of interest. Moody's is also accused of concealing the basis of the ratings from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Involuntary wellness program in violation of ADA

On Aug. 20, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against a Wisconsin company for how it handled its company wellness program. The lawsuit alleges that a woman who was employed by Orion Energy Systems, Inc., was retaliated against and then fired for not participating in the program. According to the EEOC, the company's policy regarding the wellness program was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuit alleges that Orion fired one of its employees one month after she opted out of the company wellness program. The program would have required the employee to submit to non-job-related medical exams that included blood draws. When the woman inquired as to whether or not she had a choice in the matter, her managers told her to get rid of her 'attitude" concerning the wellness program.

Disputing denied disability benefits

As some readers in Wisconsin may know, certain individuals are able to seek federal disability benefits. However, even if an employee has adhered to the relevant guidelines for applying for long-term benefits, he or she might still be refused coverage. Many long-term disability benefits policies are handled directly by an employer or purchased as insurance. However, some insurers might not immediately provide benefits to an eligible employee.

Often, a worker seeks disability after suffering in accident or illness that prevents him or her from continuing to work and earn wages. In some cases, the worker might also apply for those benefits while suffering from a chronic condition. If those employees are denied benefits, it might suggest that insurance bad faith exists. In such cases, an insurer might deny both illegitimate and legitimate claims for benefits.

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