Yesterday afternoon, New York States’ Fast Food Wage Board approved a set of three resolutions that recommend raising the minimum wage for employees who work for fast food chains to $15 per hour. This would be $6.25 more than New York’s current $8.75 minimum wage.

The Fast Food Wage Board was formed the past May, at the request of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, to review wages in the fast-food industry.

Fast food workerUnder the three resolutions, covered “Fast Food Establishments” include any business in New York State that serves food and drink (1) at which customers order and pay before they eat; (2) which provides “limited service,” which presumably means they offer limited or no table service; and (3) which are part of a chain that has at least 30 locations throughout the United States.

Yesterday, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), protects employees who blow the whistle about issues that relate to their job duties.

CEPA is a broad whistleblower law. It prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who, among other things, object to or refuse to participate in activities they reasonable believe are illegal, fraudulent, or violate a clear mandate of public policy relating to public health, safety, welfare or the environment. It also protects licensed medical professionals who object to or refuse to participate in activities they reasonably believe constitute improper quality of patient care.

On several occasions, New Jersey’s Appellate Division has ruled that employees are not protected by CEPA if their objections relate to their job duties. This threatened to dramatically limit the scope of CEPA’s protection since employees typically are in the best position to blow the whistle on activities related to their job functions.

A recent decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals makes it more difficult for unpaid interns to successfully bring overtime and minimum wage claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and New York State’s wage and hour law. The FLSA is a federal law that requires employers to pay certain employees at least the minimum wage, and time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours per week. The Second Circuit handles appeals from federal courts in New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

unpaid intern making photocopies for employerThe case was filed by Eric Glatt, Alexander Footman, Eden Antalik. Mr. Glatt and Mr. Footman worked for Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc. in connection with the movie Black Swan, and Ms. Antalik worked for the company in another capacity. Their job duties varied, but included things like copying and scanning documents, taking lunch orders, making deliveries, hotel reservations and catering arrangements, and taking out the trash. They worked between 30 and 50 hours per week. Fox classified all three as interns and did not pay them at all. They sued, claiming Fox failed to pay them minimum wage and overtime in violation of the FLSA and New York State law.

The United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) has a longstanding guidance which sets a very high requirement before a company can treat someone as an unpaid intern without violating the FLSA. Under it, an employer must pay an intern unless all six of the following conditions are met:

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently ruled that the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey applied the wrong test to determine whether Sleepy’s LLC misclassified its delivery workers as independent contractors, rather than as employees. The case was decided under the New Jersey Wage Payment Law (“WPL”) and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (“WHL”).

The lawsuit was brought as a class action by Sam Hargrove, Andre Hall, and Marco Eusebio. They each worked for Sleep’s LLC as mattress delivery workers. They had signed Independent Driver Agreements (“IDAs”) which deemed them to be independent contractors rather than employees. Sleepy’s requires its delivery workers to sign similar agreements.

three mattressesThe workers claimed Sleepy’s misclassified them and the company’s other mattress delivery workers as independent contractors, rather than employees, in violation of the WPL, the WHL, the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act (“ERISA”). For example, they claim Sleepy’s improperly withheld money from their wages in violation of the WPL, and failed to pay them overtime as required by the WHL.

Last week, the New Jersey Supreme Court permitted criminal charges to proceed against an employee who took documents from her employer to try to prove her employment discrimination and retaliation claims.

business woman copying employer's confidential documentsIvonne Saavedra worked as a clerk for the North Bergen Board of Education. In 2009, she filed a lawsuit which included allegations that the Board had discriminated against her because of her race, ethnicity, national origin and gender, in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”). She also alleged retaliation in violation of the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”).

In her employment law case, Ms. Saavedra produced copies of documents she took from the Board while she was working for it. This included both originals and photocopies of documents that the Board claims contain “highly confidential student educational and medical records.” According to Ms. Saavedra, she took these documents in an effort to prove her discrimination and retaliation claims. She did so without the Board’s permission.

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that an employer cannot refuse to hire a job candidate because she needs a reasonable accommodation for her religious practice even if the prospective employee did not request an accommodation.

The decision was made under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal anti-discrimination law. Among other things, Title VII prohibits discrimination based on religion. For example, it prohibits employers from refusing to hire or from firing an employee because of his or her “religious observance and practice.” It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for their religious practices, observances and beliefs.

The case, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., involves Samantha Elauf, an individual who applied for a job at Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. Ms. Elauf is a practicing Muslim who wears a headscarf. After interviewing Ms. Elauf, Abercrombie determined that she was qualified for the job. However, it did not offer her a position because the company’s “Look Policy” that prohibits employees from wearing “caps” because the company considers them to be too informal for its image. Abercrombie made this decision even though it realized Ms. Elauf’s probably wore her headscarf because of a religious belief.

A recent New Jersey Appellate Division ruling provides a good example of how dangerous it can be to compete with your current employer.

B&H Securities, Inc. designs, sells and maintains security monitoring systems. In spring 2007, three of its employees, Michael Poisler, Marc Palladino and Duane Pinkney, decided to start a competing business, Advanced Integration Security. At the time, Mr. Pinkney was B&H’s IT manager, Mr. Poisler was its sales manager, and Mr. Palladino was one of its salesmen.

A “Confidentiality Clause” in B&H’s employee handbook states that after leaving their job, B&H employees cannot contact the company’s customers. When he was hired by B&H, Mr. Pinkney signed a document agreeing to abide by this clause for 48 months after leaving the company. The company did not require Mr. Palladino or Mr. Poisler to sign any such agreement.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain to their employer’s about a violation of the FLSA. The FLSA is a federal wage and hour law that, among other things, establishes minimum wage and overtime requirements. The Second Circuit handles federal appeals out of several states, including New York.

The case, Greathouse v. JHS Security Inc., reversed a 1993 Second Circuit ruling to the contrary.  Specifically, in Lambert v. Genesee Hospital the Second Circuit concluded that because the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who “filed” a complaint, it applies only protects employees who filed a written complaint with a government agency. The opinion in Greathouse expressly overrules Lambert.

Darnell Greathouse worked as a security guard for JHS Security. He made numerous oral complaints to his boss, Melvin Wilcox, because the company was late paying him and took illegal deductions from his salary. For example, in October 2011 Mr. Greathouse complained to Mr. Wilcox because the company had not paid him in several months. In response, Mr. Wilcox told him: “I’ll pay you when I feel like it.” Mr. Wilcox then pulled out a gun and pointed it toward Mr. Greathouse. Mr. Greathouse took this to mean he was fired.

New Jersey’s Appellate Division recently ruled that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) protects employees who are harassed because of the race of their spouses, fiancés, or children.

Businessman Harassing His SubordinateShi-Juan Lin, who is Chinese, worked for Dane Construction Company. Ms. Lin’s is engaged to a man who is black and of Jamaican descent. The couple has a son who is of Jamaican and Chinese descent.

According to Ms. Lin, Dane subjected her to a hostile work environment because of her race, which eventually forced her to resign (a “constructive discharge”). Specifically, she heard the company’s owner and Chief Executive Officer, Pat Buckley, referred to numerous individuals by using the “N-word.”

On April 20, 2015, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlazio signed a new employment law into effect. The new law amends the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) to permit the New York City Commission on Human Rights to hire individuals who will either apply for or inquire about job opportunities to determine whether they experience any discrimination that violates the NYCHLR.

Specifically, for a one year trial period these “testers” will conduct at least 5 investigations at New York City businesses. The testers will work in pairs, making sure they have similar qualifications for the job but a difference between them in one legally protected characteristic such as their “actual or perceived age, race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation or alienage or citizenship status.” The New York City Commission on Human Rights will report any actual or perceived discrimination it uncovers during the to its law enforcement bureau.

By March 1, 2017, the Commission is required to prepare a report regarding the information it learns during the investigations, including which protected classes it tested, the number of times there appeared to be discrimination based on each such protected class, and a description of the actual or apparent discrimination uncovered by the investigation.

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