Employment Law Articles

Employment Law Articles

EMPLOYERS CURBING CAR CELL PHONE USE

Numerous firms are taking a new look at how employees should conduct business while driving. The reason for this change is that attorney Jane Wagner was so busy talking on her cell phone while driving that she thought the teenager she struck was a deer. It was not until the next morning when she heard about a hit-and-run driver that had killed a girl that she realized what she had done.

Now, there is a $30 million lawsuit against her firm, which is causing some employers to restrict mobile phone use on the road. Some firms are issuing a new policy that personnel are not to conduct business while using cell phones unless they pull over and stop or use a hands free device. It is believed that these new safety policies are likely to cause fewer accidents.

OVERTIME RULES HAVE CHANGED

On April 20, 2004, the United States Department of Labor issued final regulations governing minimum wage and exemptions of overtime provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act. These are the first substantive changes to the law in almost 50 years. They have been in effect since August 23, 2004.

Some of these changes in the law are as follows:

Increases the salary that must be paid to employees who are exempt from payment of overtime from $155/week to $455/week.

Eliminates the “long” and “short” tests for determining whether an employee is exempt from payment of overtime and adopts standard duties tests for each of the exemption categories (executive, administrative and professional employees).

Creates a new “highly compensated employee” category which exempts from payment of overtime those employees who earn at least $100,000 per year and who customarily and regularly perform one of the duties of any executive, administrative, or professional employee.

Gives employers a safe harbor when they improperly made deductions from an exempt employee's pay in instances where the employer has a clearly communicated policy prohibiting improper deductions, reimburses the wronged employee and makes a good faith commitment to comply in the future.

For further information about the changes in minimum wage and overtime exemptions, check with your employer or union.

WHAT RIGHTS DO EMPLOYEES HAVE TO REVIEW PERSONNEL RECORDS?

Employees have the right to review their personnel records. The employer must grant at least two inspections in any calendar year if the requests are made at reasonable intervals. An employee can inspect any personnel documents that are intended to be used to determine the employee's qualifications for employment, promotion, transfer, additional compensation, discharge or other disciplinary actions.

A few exceptions do exist however, such as letters of reference, external peer review documents for academic employees of institutions of higher education or any portion of a test document. However, the employee does have the right to see a cumulative total test score for the entire test document or a particular section. The employee cannot inspect materials relating to the employer's staff planning, such as matters relating to the business' development, expansion, closing or operational goals, or where the materials relate to or affect more than one employee.

The employee inspections must occur during normal working hours on the employer's premises. Upon an employee's request, the employer is required to give copies of the records to the employee and can ask for reimbursement for actual out-of-pocket copying expense.

NEW ILLINOIS GAY RIGHTS LAW AFFECTS EMPLOYERS AND WORKERS

Discrimination based upon sexual orientation is now forbidden in the Illinois workplace. The new law applies only to an employer with at least 15 employees in the state for at least 20 weeks in the organization.

The employer must supplement its written non-discrimination and non-harassment policies with "sexual orientation." All managers at the company must be trained to disregard sexual orientation in their management decisions. Managers will also need to monitor the workplace to stop gay jokes and barbs immediately. An employer and its manager must anticipate workplace conflicts between religion and homosexuality by planning how to resolve them before they occur. Most importantly, a customer's preference to work with a heterosexual employer cannot be accommodated. The new law does not permit a customer's bias to justify an employer's unlawful discrimination even if the result is the employer losing business.