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Milwaukee Employment Law Blog

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.

Employer socked with big fees despite small employee damages

In Cuff v. Trans State Holdings, Inc., a Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") case, the Seventh Circuit recently awarded the employee, Cuff, $331,000 in attorneys' fees, costs and interest even though Cuff's damages were only $43,000. The Court's justification for such remedies was that, "the defense had not done its homework; it was content to leave the labor to Cuff's team and the judge ... for issue after issue."  The main issue in this case was that workers are covered by the FMLA when they are jointly employed by multiple firms that collectively have 50 or more workers, and that firms may be treated as a single employer when they operate a joint business. There were several indicators that Cuff worked for both operations.  Cuff was the "regional manager" of the three firms and his business card bore the logos of all three firms. Moreover, Cuff had been hired to provide services to both air carriers.

What is considered reasonable accommodation under the ADA?

Both Wisconsin employees as well as those persons seeking a job in the state may be interested in the requirements placed on employers in order to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law uses the term 'reasonable accommodation" when describing what an employer must do in order to facilitate someone with needs either applying for or performing a job.

The law's requirements do not start with the employer. The employee must make sure that he or she lets the employer know about the limitation. In fact, often the employee can suggest the accommodation that will be most helpful to him or her being able to fulfill the requirements of a position. Since every condition is singular, each accommodation should be worked out on an individual basis.

Understanding the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act

A Wisconsin employee may face issues at times that demand personal attention. In the past, personal time might be taken to address these issues, but those who did not have such time built into their terms of employment could face negative work-related consequences for missing work to deal with family issues. However, the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act facilitates these needs in certain work environments without employees having to worry about being penalized.

The Wisconsin legislation in general covers employers with at least 50 permanent employees. Under the Act, employees may take up to six weeks off during a calendar year in connection with adoption or the birth of a child. This provision is available to both men and women. An employee may also take two weeks of leave during the year to take care of a domestic partner, parent, child or spouse. Similarly, up to two weeks of leave is allowable for personal needs to address a serious health issue. These employment rights may not be denied or limited under the state law. Additionally, an employer may not discriminate against an employee who files a complaint or assists with an investigation related to the law.

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