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Milwaukee Employment Law Blog

Q&A: How do I qualify for Social Security Disability benefits?

The criteria for obtaining Social Security Disability benefits are the same in Wisconsin as they are elsewhere in the country. The first requirement is that an applicant must have sufficient work history before they are eligible to receive benefits. In certain circumstances, an applicant may receive benefits under a parent's Social Security record.

For those with sufficient work history, the first determination is whether the applicant is working. Individuals earning over $1,070 per month generally are not considered disabled. If an applicant is not working or is earning less than $1,070, the next step is demonstrating that the applicant's medical condition interferes with basic work activities.

Social Security benefits increase for 2015

November 2013 image.jpgSocial Security, Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits will increase in 2015 due to a 1.7% Cost of Living Adjustment.  This translates to a monthly increase of approximately $12-19 for SSI and SSDI recipients.  Individuals collecting SSI will see the increase begin on December 31, 2014 while other Social Security recipients will see the increase in their January 2015 checks.  

Features of disability insurance in Wisconsin

When an individual cannot work due to a disability, Long-Term Disability Insurance can help by replacing some of the income that would have been earned over an extended time. People whose employers have paid a monthly premium are covered by LTD.

When other benefits, like Short-Term Disability Insurance or sick days, no longer provide benefits, then workers can apply for LTD benefits. Workers who have both STD and LTD could have their STD benefits convert automatically to LTD after a specific period, depending on their policies.

Understanding the rights of a pregnant worker

In Wisconsin, it is illegal to fire or withhold benefits from an employee due to a pregnancy. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act also forbids an employer from discriminating against a pregnant employee in regards to pay, job assignments or training opportunities. If an employee is unable to perform job duties temporarily due to a pregnancy, the employer is obligated to treat that employee like any other temporarily disabled employee.

This may require an employer to provide alternate assignments, lighter job duties or unpaid or disability leave. As certain physical ailments related to pregnancy may be covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act, an employer may be required to make reasonable accommodations for an affected employee. It is illegal to harass or create a hostile work environment for an employee due to a pregnancy or health issues related to the pregnancy.

What is consider reasonable accommodations under the ADA?

Wisconsin employers must abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This federal law states that reasonable accommodations must be made for employees or applicants who suffer from a disability. An employer may be exempt from this requirement if it would create an undue hardship for the company. Reasonable accommodations are defined as modifications to the workplace that enable an employee to do the job to the best of his or her abilities.

Specific modifications include offering a modified work schedule, which may include part-time hours in some cases. Equipment may be modified to help a disabled employee use that equipment or an interpreter may be provided to help an employee understand training or other provided written job materials. If such accommodations can be made, employers may be required to adjust company policies to assist those with disabilities. Adjustments may also need to be made to existing facilities to enable disabled workers to access them.

Department of Workforce Development rejects wage claims

Although a coalition of labor groups worked vigorously, Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development rejected their claims. The groups had filed wage claims, alleging claiming that the state minimum wage is too low to provide a supportable wage.

In support of their claims, the labor groups relied on a rarely-cited statute that requires the governor to ensure that the minimum wage in Wisconsin is a living wage. This specific term means compensation that enables employees to maintain themselves under conditions that are consistent with their welfare. The complaints were filed at the end of September. The executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now says that there are many individuals who struggle to get by with the current minimum wage, set at $7.25 per hour.

What must be included in an FMLA request?

Employees in Wisconsin who wish to take leave from their jobs might be able to get paid time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act. Not all types of leave are covered nor do they all result in paid leave. Also, employers are not always required to inform their workers if they qualify for medical leave or family leave. Employees who understand the process of and how to provide their employer with notice might be more likely to get the leave they want.

Employees are allowed to notify their employers of leave requirements in writing or verbally. The responsibility for giving employers enough information to determine whether a leave request might be covered by the Act lies with the employee. This type of information might include that a person needs to go on leave due to a medical condition or that time off is necessary to care for a family member. The duration required and when an employee has to leave are also important things to tell an employer.

Pension rights at issue in Wisconsin case

The issue of whether pension multipliers can be reduced during active employment without an employee's consent has been making its way through the Wisconsin court system. Both the Milwaukee County Circuit Court and the state Court of Appeals have so far sided against the county and its efforts to reduce pension multipliers agreed upon in an employment contract. The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard this case regarding employment rights on the first of October. One justice has already stated that the case hinges on the wording of relevant statutes and the employment contracts. Another justice has suggested that an agreement between the union and the county trumps the individual's disagreement.

The plaintiff in the case was hired with a multiplier of 1.5 percent, and this was later increased to 2 percent applied retroactively for employees choosing to remain on the job. The issue is an ordinance that set the multiplier to 1.6 percent. The county applied the rate to all employees instead of new hires and those with contracts set at or below the new limit.

Wisconsin law protects employees from retaliation

The law typically protects state employees from retaliation when they report illegal or unsafe activities. These activities include violating the law, endangering the public, abuse of authority at the state or local level or wasting public funds.

The law requires that an employee accurately report any improper activities. The first step is for an employee to report the violations in writing. This can be given to the employee's supervisor or to the proper governmental agency located through the Equal Rights Division. The employee can then talk about the violations to other individuals or relevant parties that may need to intervene. An attorney, union representative or member of the legislature may be contacted at any time regarding the violations.

Whistleblower receives $30 million from SEC

Wisconsin workers may be interested in a case involving an unidentified individual who received a $30 million award from the Securities and Exchange Commission under the agency's whistle-blower program. In a statement announcing the award, a spokeswoman for the SEC only said that the person was located outside of the United States. In its statement, the SEC would not name the company or the individual who committed the fraud.

This was the fourth award given to someone outside of the United States. A representative from the SEC's division of enforcement said that the fraud would have been difficult to detect without the information provided. The $30 million award was the highest ever given to a whistle-blower by the SEC, with the previous record at $14 million. However, the amount is much lower than a $104 million award the IRS gave to a UBS banker.

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