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Milwaukee Employment Law Blog

Court dismisses counterclaim against whistleblower

A lot of Wisconsin companies require workers to sign confidentiality agreements when they hire them, but this does not prevent workers from reporting legal violations. This is what LifeWatch Services learned on May 9 when a U.S. magistrate dismissed its countersuit against a whistleblower for violating employment and nondisclosure agreements.

The certified LifeWatch technician conducted heart monitoring assessments and looked for dangerous or unusual heart arrhythmias. He passed the results to the patients' cardiologists to use in their diagnoses and heart treatments. The employee signed a privacy agreement in 2003, when the company first hired him, agreeing not to use any confidential data from the company during his employment or after for himself and not to disclose information to any non-employee of LifeWatch. The worker also signed an HIPAA nondisclosure statement in 2006.

Changes in caregiver trends and FMLA

As many Wisconsin families have both parents working to make ends meet, the need for one of them to take time off to care for a sick child could have an adverse employment effect. In other cases, a single-parent household could be headed by either a mother or a father, and that party might need to make use of FMLA rights at times based on a child's medical needs. However, the increasing need for fathers to use this type of leave does not always equate to a cooperative response from an employer. Just over one-fourth of FMLA cases filed for problems related to child care are filed by men.

Statistics indicate that challenges over the Family and Medical Leave Act are also increasing for men who care for spouses or the elderly. Nearly 40 percent of filings over elder care involve men, and men file 55 percent of cases for spousal care. Although these statistics do not necessarily reflect the percentages of men handling these types of care in the population at large, experts note that men involved in such care of their loved ones are typically employed.

Lowe's settles disability discrimination claims

Many Wisconsin residents shop at Lowe's for their home improvement needs. They may be interested to learn that thousands of its former workers may receive compensation for wrongful termination. The company recently agreed to settle a slew of employment discrimination claims for $8.6 million. The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The EEOC lawsuit stated that Lowe's routinely fired employees for taking medical leaves of absence. The company had set up a maximum leave policy that it used to automatically fire employees once they had exceeded the company leave limit. According to the EEOC, Lowe's policy on medical leave was discriminatory, and the company did not provide disabled workers with reasonable accommodation.

The importance of employment laws for small-business employees

Employees in Wisconsin should be aware of employment laws so that they know whether an employer might be taking advantage of them. An employer might be doing so out of an effort to save money or because of ignorance of the law, but an employee may still file a lawsuit against an employer who violates those rights.

An employer cannot call an employee an independent contractor unless certain conditions are fulfilled. In addition, an employer is not allowed to classify an employee as salaried in order to avoid paying overtime. Even salaried employees must meet exempt employee qualifications if they are not going to be paid overtime.

Disability and hostile work environments

Although most Wisconsin employees and supervisors understand that making fun of another employee's disability is never acceptable in the workplace, it can still occasionally happen. Supervisors especially should remember that it is their responsibility to stop any harassment against employees as soon as possible. Additionally, they are required to take steps that will prevent the harassment in the future.

The reminder came from a recent case where an employee's co-workers and supervisors made fun of the employee's degenerative condition through name-calling. The employee stated that this continued daily. When the employee's condition worsened and he informed his superior that he may need to take FMLA leave in order to receive medical treatment, he was terminated. The reason was reportedly for failing to do his work and engaging in non-work activities while he was on the clock.

Woman alleges she was fired for being pregnant

Some women in Wisconsin face workplace discrimination after they become pregnant. A pending case in New York demonstrates that pregnancy discrimination is a pervasive problem at workplaces around the country.

According to court documents, a woman who worked for a Dolce&Gabanna shop, which is owned by Procter and Gamble, was allegedly fired for being pregnant. The woman worked in New York City at the store located inside of Saks Fifth Avenue. Before she became pregnant, she reportedly mentioned to her boss that she might like to some day. She alleges he responded by telling her that pregnancy was not a look that the store wanted to promote.

Wage and hour compliance for telecommuting workers

Telecommuting is becoming more and more popular in Wisconsin and around the country. The number of Americans who telecommute has more than doubled since 2005, and this rate of growth is expected to accelerate in the years ahead as so-called Millennials become a more dominant part of the workforce. Allowing employees to work from home provides employers with a number of benefits, but it can sometimes be challenging for them to comply with federal hour and wage laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Laws like the FLSA require employers to keep accurate records of the hours their employees work and pay overtime rates when workweeks stretch beyond 40 hours. For telecommuting workers, employers may provide daily or weekly time sheets that must be completed and signed. This can be done electronically or with paper time cards. Companies that allow employees to work from home should also draft policies that clearly indicate what activities workers will be compensated for.

New poster with easier-to-understand FMLA regulations

The U.S. Department of Labor has produced a new poster on the Family and Medical Leave Act for covered employers in Wisconsin and around the country to post in the workplace. Those employers are not required to use the new poster if they have an older one containing the same information on display, but they might want to because the information is presented in a way that is easier to read and understand.

A FMLA poster must be hung at a FMLA-eligible workplace even if none of the employees themselves are eligible for FMLA. The poster must not only be visible to current employees but to job applicants as well. The poster must also be distributed to employees in some way. This might be in an employee handbook or provided with other new hire paperwork such as information on benefits. It can also be distributed electronically. If an employer's workforce is significantly made up of people who cannot read English, then the notice must be provided in a language they can read.

Confidentiality at issue in ADA case

A 2015 EEOC lawsuit may cause Wisconsin employers to take note of communications with employees in cases involving potential discrimination investigations. The case that brings this concern to light involves an electrician working for an engineering and construction company. The firm reportedly terminated the man because of his disability, failing to provide reasonable accommodations. He subsequently filed a complaint with the EEOC.

Reports indicate that the EEOC requested contact information of other electricians who had worked with the company in the same time frame as the party making the complaint. The company, however, notified nearly 150 employees through letters, which identified numerous personal details about the case. These included the nature of the discrimination charge and disclosure of the former employee's work restrictions.

Employers should train managers on FMLA rights

Many Wisconsin employees may be unaware of their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and their supervisors at work may not be clear on what the policies do and do not permit. Staples, the office supply chain, was forced to pay one of its former employees $250,000 because instead of telling him he could take time off to take care of his wife, who was terminally ill, the company had him working from home. The man was fired, and he successfully sued Staples for interference.

Some employers do not train their supervisors on how to recognize a legitimate FMLA request because the regulations are so complex. However, this can result in supervisors who do not understand what is and is not a legitimate request, and as a result, supervisors may inadvertently penalize employees.

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