News & Analysis

DEC employee's fishy claims don't pass the smell test

At the end of August 2016, the Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision in Thomas v. State of Alaska affirming the lower court's findings and the jury's verdict in favor of the state. In so holding, the court rejected the seafood inspector's claims that he was wrongfully terminated. The case raises interesting points for Alaska public-sector employers, including how much due process an employee must be offered before he is terminated. It also suggests that it's OK for HR to work closely with supervisors to draft correspondence to employees.

9th Circuit nixes judge's duplicative award in retaliation case

When an employee wins an employment case, the jury typically decides the amount of damages. But certain claims—those labeled "equitable"—are decided by the trial judge, who may then impose a remedy. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings apply to all Alaksa employers) recently considered what happens when a jury awards damages and the trial judge then adds duplicative damages as an equitable remedy. The panel decided there could be no "double-dipping" and limited damages to those awarded by the jury.

Rail union's remedy is arbitration, not a court action

To minimize disruption and strikes in the transportation industry, the Railway Labor Act (RLA) prohibits covered workers from striking over "minor" disputes with their employers. Instead, arbitration is the exclusive remedy. Only "major" disputes that can't be resolved through interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement permit covered parties to sidestep the statutory mechanism for resolving grievances. A recent decision of the 9th Circuit affirmed the distinction, requiring that a rail union's dispute be resolved through arbitration.

NLRA bars 'separate proceedings' for arbitration of wage and hour claims

May an employer require workers to agree to arbitrate all employment disputes in "separate proceedings"? Not if the requirement interferes with the employees' ability to act together in addressing issues related to terms and conditions of their employment. According to a recent 2-1 decision of the 9th Circuit, denial of a collective action by employees for their mutual benefit runs afoul of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Employers, take note: Earlier ACA filing deadlines coming in 2017

The transitional relief offered to large employers and self-insured small employers that relaxed the filing deadlines for employee health benefits is ending. In 2017, employers will need to be prepared for earlier deadlines for submitting filings to the IRS and meeting their obligation to provide health benefit statements to employees.

Bonuses and the new FLSA overtime regulations

Under the final overtime regulations released by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), employers will now be able to count nondiscretionary bonuses, incentive payments, and commissions toward as much as 10% of employees' salary to determine whether they have reached the salary threshold for exemption from overtime. For these payments to count, they must be paid on a quarterly or more frequent basis. The new rules also permit employers to make a catch-up payment.

Agency Action

DOL awards $1.1 million in grants to study paid leave. The U.S. Department of Labors (DOL) Womens Bureau has awarded $1.1 million in grants to research and analyze how paid leave programs can be developed and implemented across the country. The grants build on the Paid Leave Analysis Grant Program, which since 2014 has committed more than $3 million to 17 states and municipalities to support research and analysis on the implementation of paid family and medical leave programs, according to a DOL announcement. Recipients of the new grants are the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry; the Hawaii Department of Human Services; the Indiana Commission for Women; the city of Madison, Wisconsin; the city and county of Denver, Colorado; and the Franklin County, Ohio, Board of Commissioners.

Workplace Trends

Study predicts loss of middle-wage jobs. A study from CareerBuilder and Emsi shows that most occupations projected to lose jobs over the next five years are middle-wage positions. Highwage and low-wage occupations are each projected to grow 5% from 2016 to 2021, but middlewage jobs are estimated to grow only 3%. At the same time, 61% of the 173 occupations expected to lose jobs over the next five years are in the middle- wage category. Low-wage jobs were defined as those that pay $13.83 per hour and below, middlewage jobs earn $13.84 through $21.13 per hour; and high-wage occupations make $21.14 per hour and higher.

Scottsdale spine center fired nurse on day she returned from leave

While Arizona is an at-will-employment state, the decision to discharge an employee shouldn't be made lightly because certain circumstances may implicate other state or federal employment laws. Take the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), for instance.

Vigilance, receptivity will keep you out of the headlines

The serial complainer is an archetype well-known to HR departments. Likewise, HR is very familiar with the imperative to design incentive plans that effectively support business goals by driving desired behaviors. These two disparate but familiar HR issues implicate the difficult task of controlling the essential tools of your operations—the human beings who work for you and on whom you must rely to represent you to the world.