Articles Posted in Workers’ Rights

During the holiday season around my college campus, there was “common knowledge” that one of the biggest benefits of working retail on holidays like Black Friday was that you’d be entitled to time and a half solely because you worked on that day. Cut to becoming an employment lawyer and it’s time to debunk that myth. There are a few things that factor into working during the holiday season, which traditionally kicks off with Thanksgiving and more importantly, Black Friday. The first is whether a non-exempt employee can be forced to work on a holiday, then whether there are any additional benefits to working on a holiday that may make it worth it, and finally whether an exempt employee has access to these same considerations.

For starters, when I use the phrase “non-exempt” and “exempt” I am referring to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) denotation for employees who are entitled to overtime (and therefore “non-exempt”) and employees who are not entitled to overtime (and therefore “exempt.”) We are going to focus on non-exempt employees because that’s where the myth of extra pay originates. Turning to whether non-exempt employees can be required to work on a holiday like Thanksgiving or a federally recognized holiday, the short answer is: unfortunately, yes. The FLSA does not require employers to give employees days off even on a federally recognized holiday. Individual employers, of course, can decide to have truncated days or allow employees to request those days off, but there is no law requiring them to do so. There are a few exceptions to that rule, and they mostly involve employees that are allowed to have days off because of a different allowance like observing a religious holiday or where there is a collective bargaining agreement (union contract with employer) that allows those days off. Without an exception, the non-exempt employees are at the mercy of their employers. (There’s also that meme that says requests for days off are simply polite notices of non-attendance, but I would not recommend that strategy.)

Next, we turn to the myth that started it all: employees get paid extra to work on holidays. This myth is both true and false like all good myths. The true part is that if working on Black Friday pushes non-exempt employees over the 40-hour threshold, employers are then required to pay time and a half like any regular overtime. The false part is that there is no requirement under the FLSA that says employers must pay workers time and a half simply for working on a holiday if those hours do not count for over 40 hours. Therefore, it can be beneficial for employees to work on holidays because the hours are longer and more likely to net overtime pay, but there is no benefit just by working on a holiday. 

Summary: This article briefly looks at the trend of the aging workforce—sensationalized or real? It also touches on some of the positive and negative impacts of that potential trend. 

In the last decade or so, the media has begun talking about the so-calledgraying” of the American workforce—the idea that people are working later in life and retiring later, if at all.  Sometimes this is talked about in almost apocalyptic terms when it comes to productivity and benefits.  First, this article touches on the actual extent to which that is true.  Second, because a lot of coverage of this phenomenon seems to be from a “macro” (i.e., employer’s) perspective, this article briefly explores some of the implications of that trend for the workers’ themselves.

First of all, this is a real trend: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the share of the workforce age 75 or over will almost double by 2030.  This is in large part driven by the Baby Boomer generation.  However, in absolute terms this “problem” may be bit overblown by the media: those same projections say the share of the workforce in the 55-74 age bracket will actually decrease by 2030, and even the 75+ age bracket will be less than 12 percent of the workforce by 2030.  In addition, while the average age of retirement is going up, it is doing so slowly, creeping up by approximately 3 years since the early 1990s.  Life expectancy overall has been increasing, though not during the pandemic years; it remains to be seen if the upward trend in that resumes.  Though not some immediate existential threat, this aging of the population likely will put increasing pressure on our social safety nets.          

In 1994, Congress passed the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”) which protects military service members and veterans from employment discrimination because of their military service. USERRA requires that employers allow service members to regain their civilian jobs following their military service. Many states like Texas have implemented state laws that also protect service members at the state level.

Although one would believe Texas understands the importance of protecting our military service members, since it has passed laws to protect them, Texas has been fighting to protect itself from liability under USERRA.  Texas’ long battle has now come to an end, and now service members can sue state employers if they violate USERRA.

Le Roy Torres served our nation since 1989. In 2007, Mr. Torres was deployed to Iraq, and unfortunately, while on duty, Mr. Torres was severely burned and developed a respiratory condition that made it difficult to breathe. As a result of his respiratory condition, Mr. Torres was no longer able to continue his job as a state trooper. He then asked the Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) to accommodate him by reemploying him in a different role. DPS refused, so Mr. Torres sued DPS in state court.

The newest shockwave to hit employment customs is the murmurs of a four-day workweek. In fact, Iceland recently declared their experiment with the four-day workweek a success. Belgian workers won the right to a four-day workweek in February, and the United Kingdom has set up a trial run that began this month with about 70 companies volunteering. Further, other countries are looking at the European peninsula to see how their experiment goes to consider instituting the shortened workweek. So, how could we get a four-day workweek in the United States? 

The first way is obvious but unlikely. Either the House or Senate would have to draft a bill that mandated a four-day workweek for all businesses. Then, the bill would go to the opposite chamber of Congress before a final agreed upon draft was sent and signed by the President. The chance of a bill of this magnitude, with the potential to cause ripples throughout all levels of industry and business, wading through the stagnant pond of Congress is low, so we turn to a second method.

The second method has a greater likelihood, and it involves rallying all your coworkers during lunch to discuss how much you want to only work for four days. If multiple people agree, then you can be designated as a spokesperson for the group and approach your boss on their behalf to ask that a four-day workweek be considered for multiple reasons like everyone hates Monday anyways, Tuesday is the new Monday, and no one actually works on Friday. Be sure to also mention that a four-day workweek has been linked to boosted worker morale and productivity in the workplace, which would in turn help businesses. The positive of this method is that under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, approaching your boss like this is considered protected speech about the terms and conditions of employment.

Summary: This article touches on some of the complex issues surrounding the apparent boom in unionization—will this be a sea change or just temporary? What are the implications of recent union victories in major multinational companies? 

There have been high-profile union victories in the news lately for the employees of major multinational companies, particularly Amazon and Starbucks.  The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”), which oversees union elections and investigates “unfair labor practice” claims, has also gone to bat recently against those same companies for numerous allegedly unlawful tactics they engaged in during union elections.  It could be that unions are on the verge of a renaissance in the face of the “great resignation” causing a shift in the power dynamics between employees and employers.  Indeed, unions are more popular with the public now than they have been in generations.  

Is 2022 just a blip, or the sign of something more? What are the implications of, and obstacles to, an increase in unionization? This article will briefly touch on these complex topics.  

Earlier this month, Sheryl Sandberg announced her resignation from Facebook parent Meta Platforms, Inc. Her departure was a surprise to many people. Ms. Sandberg was the Chief Operating Officer of one of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world. She was the primary reason why Facebook scaled from a company with $153 million in revenue and 500 employees in 2007 to its current size, with more than 77,000 employees.

This past week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Ms. Sandberg decided to leave Meta after a years-long process of battling job burnout. She felt like she had become a punching bag for the company’s problems and that she was targeted in a way that would not happen to a man, according to the Journal. This caused Ms. Sandberg to become disconnected from the business and less visible publicly.

In a way, Ms. Sandberg’s departure shouldn’t have been surprising. The writing was on the wall. Job burnout is real and it’s becoming more prevalent. It can happen to anyone at any level, like Ms. Sandberg, who earned $35.2 million in 2021 and has a net worth of $1.6 billion.

The death by suicide of Cheslie Kryst was a big wake up call. Mental illness is prevalent amongst Americans now more than ever. According to data collected by Mental Health America, Texas is the second most prevalent state for mental illness.  As a Texas employee, you should be aware of the resources available to you. 

Historically, many cultures have viewed mental illness as a form of religious punishment or demonic possession. Negative attitudes toward mental illness persisted into the 18th century in the United States, leading to stigmatization of mental illness, and confinement of mentally ill individuals. As a society, we still have negative views of and oftentimes downplay the severity mental disabilities. In fact, I just watched an episode of the Bachelor where one contestant mocked another because she suffered from ADHD. I was disgusted by such a display of ignorance, but at the same time, was proud that mental health was being talked about on a such a widely televised platform. 

I say that to say that although there are individuals who still have negative attitudes toward mental illness, it is no longer a taboo topic that we must be hush hush about. In 2021, approximately 19% of adults experienced a mental illness, which is equivalent to 47 million Americans. In addition, 7.67% of adults reported substance abuse disorders in 2021. Approximately 10.7 million or 4.34% of adults experienced severe suicidal thoughts in 2021. These are just the statistics for adults. Children also experienced high rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.

It is no secret that in the past few years companies have been moving their principal places of business from progressive states, like California or New York, to Texas. Texas has been known as a “business-friendly” state, and for good reasons. Among other things, Texas has a healthy economy, a prime location in the center of the country, no state income tax, and affordable cost of living.

One major factor that doesn’t receive much publicity is Texas’s far less-restrictive labor & employment laws. After all, a company relocating thousands of its employees to work in Texas means a lesser risk of violating more restrictive laws in states like California or New York.

So how is Texas different from other progressive states when it comes to employee rights? To answer this, let’s explore some of the labor & employment laws of the state of New York.

By all accounts, we can agree that the year 2020 was unconventional in every way. We were forced to live our lives in ways that many of us never imagined. And when we thought things were going to get better, it seems things only got worse. As we enter into the new year, it is our hope that our best days are ahead of us with the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine (“vaccine”). 

No one knows how long it will be before everyone is vaccinated or even if the rushed vaccine will work. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, while Americans’ confidence in the vaccine is increasing, many groups remain hesitant about getting vaccinated. It is becoming clear that whether we want the vaccine or not, employers are going to have a critical role in the administration of the vaccine.  This article discusses employees’ rights as it relates to employer-mandate vaccinations. 

On December 16, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) published its guidance related to workplaces requiring the COVID-19 vaccine. This guidance helps us better understand what we can expect in the days and months ahead. Nevertheless, employers must not violate employment laws in mandating or administrating the vaccine. 

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For an employee in Texas there are very few protections because Texas is an at-will employment state. An employer can fire an employee for any reason or no reason, and it is protected under Texas state law. The only thing an employer cannot do is terminate someone or take an adverse action against them for an illegal reason where their motivation is based on an employee’s protected characteristic. On that backdrop, it would seem that an employee has no recourse against an employer who is treating employees poorly, but not illegally. However, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) does more than protect unions, it also creates an avenue for employees to raise concerns about the terms and conditions of their employment. The NLRA was meant as a way for workers to advocate for themselves, which most of the time takes the form of creating a union, but the protection is not limited to union members. Section 7 (aptly named “Rights of Employees”) states that “employees shall have the right…to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”  This provision is given teeth by a later section which states that things like an employer’s interference with or restraint of these Section 7 rights is an unfair labor practice. The NLRA even created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is an independent Federal agency that operates to enforce these provisions. Based on this history and structure, the NLRA gives employees a toolbox that can be used to approach an employer about their employment and have that activity protected by law. 

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