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Milwaukee Employment Law Blog

Eligible employees entitled to leave under federal and state laws

According to the United States Department of Labor, employees in Wisconsin are offered certain amounts family and medical leave under both state and federal law. These guidelines provide protection for workers who meet the eligibility standards, which is based on the amount of time that the employee has spent working for the employer and the size of the employer, which is defined by the number of workers that it employs.

In Wisconsin, eligible employees are offered leave for a number of reasons, including serious health conditions affecting the employee or the employee's immediate family member. A serious health condition is defined as a disabling condition that requires treatment or supervision by a health care provider. Family leave may also be granted if the employee gives birth or adopts a child. Employees are allowed six weeks of leave for birth or adoption and two weeks of leave for health-related issues.

Wisconsin county has issues with FMLA administration

Records for Milwaukee County indicate that approximately 20 percent of its employees used the Family Medical Leave Act to take time off during 2013. The law enables employees to take unpaid leave for issues such as the birth or adoption of a child or caring for an ill family member without negative job consequences. While this ensures job protection for the individual who needs extended time off for such reasons, his or her employer may have trouble with filling the position during the absence.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division stated that Milwaukee County showed certain patterns of violations with its FMLA administration. For example, many of those who took time off through FMLA were written up on attendance issues. Untimely responses to FMLA requests were also identified. Negative attendance reviews and related disciplinary actions also stemmed from the county's failure to seek renewals for leaves in some cases, opting to deny further leave instead.

New laws protect employees from prying employers

Currently, 17 states have laws regarding what an employer can see on an employee's social media page by banning employers from asking for their employees' passwords and login information. Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Louisiana passed employee rights legislation of this nature in 2014. Additionally, Maine lawmakers voted that the restrictions should be studied. More than 20 other states are considering similar legislation.

Michigan, California, New Jersey and Utah have also passed laws that prohibit governmental and private employers from snooping on their employees' social media accounts. Proponents believe that laws of this nature are necessary to protect privacy rights in light of new technology. One such lawmaker compared having an employee place private letters in his or her locker with people today putting personal correspondence online. For this reason, new legislation is required to protect this correspondence.

Overview of Social Security disability benefits

Social Security disability provides benefits to people in Wisconsin and across the nation if they suffer a serious impairment that keeps them from working. Statistics show that about one-third of people will either die or need disability benefits before they can take advantage of full retirement at age 67. Benefits average about $1,140 each month, but that income can make a huge difference for the recipient. About 80 percent of beneficiaries report they rely heavily on that money each month; for some, it is their only income. Benefits vary depending on how much the person previously contributed to the system.

Applying for benefits is far from easy, and less than 40 percent of all applicants are approved. Those who receive benefits often suffer from a terminal disease; about 20 percent will pass away within five years of receiving benefits. Other recipients suffer from multiple health issues.

Schedule change and rush-hour traffic at issue in employee's suit

Wisconsin residents who are stressed by traffic may sympathize with a New Jersey woman who has filed a lawsuit against a former employer. In the disability discrimination case, she alleges that her wrongful termination was due to her inability to drive in rush-hour settings. It is reported that the woman took time off for medical issues in 2012 as she suffered from anxiety and depression. The suit indicates that these issues are aggravated by crowded roadways.

The woman requested an adjustment in her work schedule upon her return so that she could avoid stressful traffic conditions. Her suit indicates that her medical condition serves as criteria for being categorized as disabled. The initial request for a modified schedule was approved, but the woman indicates that she received poor performance ratings not long after returning from leave. She was then demoted from her position as a marketing coordinator to clerical duties. She was fired shortly after filing a complaint with the employer's ethics board.

Veterans die as VA covers up long waits

Wisconsin veterans might have heard that records regarding deceased veterans have been changed or physically altered before and after the media revealed the Veterans Affairs scandal. Numerous whistleblowers have alleged serious allegations against the VA, including assertions that it attempted to cover up the number of people who have died while waiting for care.

In particular, one scheduling clerk alleges that notes with annotations of "deceased" were omitted from the files of veterans in order to skew statistics regarding individuals who died while they waited on care at a Phoenix VA hospital. She said that supervisors ordered her to handle a secret waiting list on which the names of veterans were listed, sometimes for months, while they received no care. One of her central duties was to call individuals on this list when appointments were available. In many cases, she would discover that the veteran had died while waiting and would note this on the file.

The benefits and drawbacks of long-term disability insurance

Wisconsin employees may be interested in an article discussing some of the characteristics of long-term disability insurance. While this type of insurance is very beneficial to employees should they be unable to work, there may be difficulty in getting the insurance company to approve the claim.

There are generally two types of disability insurance. Short term insurance covers a person for a period of anywhere from three to six months, should that person be unable to work. Once that time is up, long-term disability insurance is necessary if the person is still unable to return to work. Long-term disability policies usually pay the person around 50 to 60 percent of the income they were earning prior to the disability, though there may be limits to the coverage.

Can LGBT workers be terminated?

Although most Americans believe that it is illegal to fire someone on the basis of sexual orientation, only 21 states, including Wisconsin, have made it illegal for employers to do so. Even in some states where employees cannot be fired on that basis, some small businesses are exempt. In some cases, a company may need to have 15 or more employees before that rule takes effect.

Large cities in states that do not have bans against firing employees for their sexual orientation have banned the practice within city limits. Those who work in cities such as Cincinnati, Phoenix or Philadelphia cannot be fired solely based on their sexual orientation. In areas where no ban is in effect, an employee may be able to take legal action against an employer if that employee is part of a union. This action would be taken under the cause clause that most unions have in their contract.

Employers offer long-term disability insurance, but fewer enroll

Wisconsin employees may be interested in an article discussing some of the issues surrounding disability insurance in America. Even though more employers are offering this type of insurance, fewer employees appear to be taking advantage of these benefits.

According to claims data collected by the Council For Disability Awareness, the total number of employees carrying this insurance declined from 34 million in 2009 to 32.1 million in 2013. One of the reasons for this may be that many employers are adding long-term disability insurance as an option, but the employees generally have to pay the full monthly premium. Traditionally, the employer covered the cost of coverage. This led to all covered employees carrying the insurance. Data shows that when employees are given the option to enroll, the rate of coverage is closer to 40 percent.

SCOTUS ruling protects subpoenaed whistleblower

The United States Supreme Court unanimously decided to overturn part of a lower court's ruling rejecting the claim of a former community college official who attributed his firing to retaliation for his testimony against a state representative. The ruling could inform the handling of many future whistleblowing cases in Wisconsin and nationwide.

The plaintiff was directing a community college program in Alabama in 2006 to help at-risk youth when he discovered through an audit that the college was paying a state representative on the program's payroll for doing nothing. He terminated her employment and was later subpoenaed regarding his discoveries in a federal indictment against the politician that led to her conviction.

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