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Milwaukee Employment Law Blog

Whistleblower brings justice to area tradesmen for illegal wages

A Wisconsin construction company owner has been sentenced to two years’ probation for his scheme of paying his workers less than the prevailing wage for roofers working on a housing project in the local area. The man has also been ordered to pay over $659,000 in restitution in addition to the $1 million he has already been ordered to pay to settle a whistleblower lawsuit.

The New Berlin-based construction company was working on a roofing job awarded under a government contract at a Milwaukee housing project that was projected to be worth $4.7 million to the company, as well as projects in Waukesha and Beloit.  The whistleblower in the case was a roofing supervisor who also performed administrative duties for the company. The company claims that she knew of the scheme, but she maintains that many whistleblowers are innocently involved on some level with the fraud before they realize that some sort of illegal scheme is happening. She has been awarded $180,000 for reporting the fraud, but is still awaiting some resolution of a wrongful termination claim against the company, as well as an award of attorney fees for pursuing her claim in the litigation.

Your right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace

Your disability might make it more difficult for you to perform otherwise easy tasks, but you have learned to adapt, jump hurdles and move forward with your personal development. Being employed in Wisconsin provides a person with a sense of dignity and purpose — especially those with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects handicapped individuals from discrimination in the workplace. Title I of this act outlines requirements for employers with greater than 15 employers to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities. These accommodations include adjustments or modifications that make it possible for the person to adequately perform their responsibilities. This might mean taking off for appointments, making necessary changes in scheduling, providing wheelchair access, modifying the job description or simply educating other employees.

Wages for commission workers

In Wisconsin, many workers, especially in the retail industry, are paid on commission. This means most of their pay is based on how much they sell. While this can be a boon for salespeople with a flashy smile, especially during a swell in the economy. But what happens when employees don’t make enough off of their commissions? These workers still fall under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and therefore are still due minimum wage and overtime.

There are some exemptions that commissioned workers may fall under, however. The outside sales exemption allows employees who are generally work away from the office, such as a traveling salesperson, to not qualify for FLSA protection. But, if that employee has a satellite office where they meet with customers, they likely do qualify for FLSA benefits.

What is the Fair Labor Standards Act?

In the state of Wisconsin, remaining in compliance with local, state and federal labor laws is very important. These laws protect both the employee and the employer. One of the biggest defenses for equitable work conditions in the nation is the legislation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This act was created for the sole purpose of providing workers with jobs that met their needs and following federal standards. All businesses around the country are required to follow this act while governing their employees.

The Fair Labor Standards Act is responsible for establishing the federal minimum wage, currently set at $7.25 an hour, outlining child labor laws, making guidelines for overtime pay as well as record keeping. This act is critical to protecting and defining the rights of employees throughout the United States.

What is “qui tam?”

Qui tam is a segment that is clearly outlined under the False Claims Act. This act is one of the best pieces of whistle-blower protection legislation in the United States. The qui tam segment of the act allows the whistle-blower to sue the wrongdoer in the name of the federal government. The government also reserves to right to join the action or intervene. Some states, including Wisconsin, have passed laws that are very similar to qui tam. 

Qui tam lawsuits may be filed by any individual or entities that have proof of fraud against federal contracts or programs. If there has already been a false claim suit brought against this entity, you cannot file a false claims lawsuit. Some states also offer incentives for people, encouraging them to turn in whistle-blowers. There are also federal rewards available.

What is the Employee Retirement Income Security Act?

In 1974, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act was passed and made law. This act set minimum standards to be met by pension and health plans that were established by the individual, as well as protection to ensure coverage through these plans. In other words, a person who has or develops a long term disability cannot be denied their benefits due to having that disability. If they are denied benefits, the employer or employer’s insurance provider could be held liable and sued.

Some medical conditions, such as chronic fatigue, chronic pain and lupus, are hard to see through tests and x-rays. Insurance providers are often very reluctant to cover such conditions, and might initially deny benefits to a client. However, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act makes this illegal, and clients are entitled to receive the benefits that they rightfully deserve.

What is pregnancy discrimination?

Many Wisconsin women who become pregnant find themselves the victim of discrimination in the workplace. This can be due to the pregnancy itself, becoming a new mother or a medical condition that is related to the pregnancy. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects expectant mothers from unfair treatment when applying for a job or continuing work.

If a mother is unable to work, she may apply for benefits just like a disabled worker. The employer often reviews the woman’s work and makes necessary changes to protect the employee and unborn child. 

New proposal considered, possibly saving Social Security

Social Security has been in existence for a few generations now and has benefited a good portion of the U.S., including people in Wisconsin. The program has recently seen tough times due to the financial situation of the country. If Social Security is not modernized, funds will be depleted by the year 2016 for the Disability fund and 2033 for the Retirement fund, and citizens will not receive SSD benefits. 

Many who have paid into Social Security for years while working will not see the benefits of the program and could potentially find themselves in financial crises if changes are not made to the current system. Social Security was designed to assist those who were disabled and give the elderly the retirement that they deserve. A study that was set in motion by one congressman found that the rate of Social Security payments has only risen 0.2% in 40 years, while the cost of living has increased tremendously. 

What is the “SOX Act?”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued whistle-blower claims under Section 806 of the Corporate Fraud Accountability Act of 2002, which is part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, also known as the “SOX Act.” This means that there are new, definitive procedures for handling whistle-blower complaints, under the SOX Act.

These procedures include providing protection to employees who may have assisted in an investigation of their company, where the employee has reason to believe that a violation of any regulation set forth by the Securities and Exchange Commission was committed. These violations can include, but not be limited to: financial, security or shareholder fraud.

What breaks are Wisconsin employees guaranteed?

When you are on the clock for extended periods of time in the Wisconsin workplace, having a set time to sit, relax and enjoy a meal can be a boon. Though there are some federal laws regarding breaks, found under the Fair Labor Standards Act, but for the most part this area is left to the state. There are specific regulations from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development that ensure employees’ rights in this regard. These regulations are age-specific.

If you are under 18 years of age and are in the workforce, your employer is required to provide at least one half-hour break for every six hours you are on the clock. This break is to be unpaid and duty free. Any other breaks offered to you are done so at the discretion of your employer and are not required by state law.

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Alan C. Olson & Associates
2880 S. Moorland Rd.
New Berlin, WI 53151
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Phone: (262) 649-4861
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