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Protests Throughout Country Seek Minimum Wage Increase to $15 per Hour

The California legislature is considering a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $9.25 an hour. However, protests throughout the country have erupted, demanding faster change, and an increase to $15 an hour. Which is more than double the current federal minimum wage. These protests have sprung up in pockets throughout the country, including Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, Detroit, and Seattle. Seattle workers have so far seen the most support from the public. The residents of a Seattle suburb known as SeaTac will be voting on a ballot provision that would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Washington already has the highest minimum wage of any state at $9.19 per hour. Nevertheless, the proposal has been backed by a wide range of individuals, from politicians to venture capitalists. Of course, the idea is also being fervently opposed by many businesses.

Critics say that increasing the minimum wage will force employers to perform less hiring, and seek to outsource even more of their labor requirements, or turn to automated machines. They also claim that consumers would be forced to pay more for their goods and services. Recently San Jose increased their minimum wage to $10 per hour, making it the second highest minimum wage outside of San Francisco. Although, it is still too early to determine what effects the increase will have on San Jose.

While economists have not yet come to a consensus on what changes would be brought about by an increase in minimum wages, one thing is clear—the U.S. has one of the lowest minimum wage rates of large developed countries. For example, the United Kingdom, Australia, and France all have minimum wages that hover at around 50% of the median income. The U.S. minimum wage is 38% of the median income; meaning that workers earning the minimum wage must work long hours and make many sacrifices just in order to make a living.

Unfortunately, even with our low minimum wage, many employers fail to properly pay their employees. Every year the California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and private attorneys recovers millions of dollars from employers for unpaid wages.

To learn more about how to recover unpaid wages from your employer or former employer contact the California employment attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham, LLP. Schedule a free consultation by calling (858) 376-7390 today.

Price is Right Model Wins $7.7 Million in Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit

Producers of the popular television show the Price is Right are facing a $7.7 million punitive damages award for allegedly discriminating against a former model.

The model, Brandi Cochran, worked on the show for seven years before she took maternity leave in 2010.

Cochran alleges that shortly after she told producers that she was pregnant with twins her executive producer asked questions about how long was she planning to work, and whether she will work if she got really big. After starting to show she claims that co-workers called her insulting names such as wide load, and also teased her about her weight.

After taking maternity leave the producers allegedly would not return Cochran’s phone calls. She claims that it took more than four months before they even sent her a notice that she would not be allowed to come back to work.

The show’s producers, FremantleMedia, have stated that they would be appealing the ruling because they claim that the court should have allowed the jury to hear evidence like the fact that the show had allowed other models to appear on the show while pregnant.

California law allows employees who have been discriminated against to recover a wide range of damages. First employees are eligible to claim compensatory damages. These damages include pay for wages lost up until the time of trial, future earnings, and interest on damages. Medical payments can also be awarded in disability discrimination cases. If the employee was harmed emotionally they may be entitled to recovery emotional damages. Attorney’s fees are also recoverable by employees who can show that they have been unlawfully discriminated against. In some cases, such as the Price is Right case, employers may be charged with punitive damages to punish the employer in order to prevent them from making the same mistake again.

In this case the punitive damages were awarded in addition to the compensatory damages that Cochran already received in the amount of $777,000. Generally the amount of damages awarded is only relevant to the extent that the employer can pay them. In this case the employer’s substantial assets make recovery of the total amount likely, as long as Cochran is successful on appeal.

If you have been discriminated against by your employer or potential employer you may be entitled to compensation. To learn more contact the attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham, LLP. Schedule a free consultation today by calling (858) 376-7390.

Source: ABC News, “Former ‘Price Is Right’ Model Awarded $7.7M in Termination Suit,” Jennifer Abbey, Nov. 22, 2012

Pregnant Mothers May be Entitled to More Than 19 Weeks of Pregnancy Disability Leave

Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) allow women to take disability leave while pregnant and after delivery. However, even with the leave afforded by both acts some women will not be able to return to work before the statutorily imposed time frames. Nevertheless, according to the California Court of Appeals some women may be entitled to even more pregnancy leave.

In the case of Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc., Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 21, the employee, Ms. Sanchez, was diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy that required bedrest. She applied for and pregnancy leave and was granted 19 weeks of leave from her employer as required by PDLL. However, Ms. Sanchez was still unable to return to work after the leave period expired and still had 3 months to go before she could return to work. As a result her employer terminated her. Ms. Sanchez then filed a lawsuit based on sex discrimination and failure to engage in the interactive process to determine whether she could be provided with reasonable accommodations.

Her employer argued that it was not required to provide her with any more leave because she had exhausted all leave that was required by PDLL and CFRA. However, the trial court disagreed. The employer appealed and the California Court of Appeals held that the employer was wrong.

The Court ruled that simply providing 4 months of leave under PDLL does not entitle the employer to avoid the separate requirements of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in which an employer must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Ms. Sanchez argued that she would have been able to return to work shortly after delivery and that it would not have been an undue hardship on her employer. The court agreed that this in theory could have been a reasonable accommodation.

Although the court did not address the issue of CFRA, it is worth mentioning that after giving birth an employee is entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave under the CFRA in order to care for a new child.

If your employer or former employer has taken action against you or terminated you after taking disability leave you may be entitled to a lawsuit to recover your wages and other damages. To learn more contact the experienced California Employment Law attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham, LLP. Schedule a free consultation by calling (858) 376-7390 today.

Police Department Sued for Failing to Pay Employees for Checking Cell Phone off Clock

Police Officer Jeffrey Allen estimates that he took one or two off duty calls on his employer provided blackberry per day. Now Allen wants the Chicago Police Department (Chicago PD) to pay him for that time he spent taking those calls. Allen recently filed a lawsuit in the federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois alleging that the Chicago PD violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by requiring him to take calls while off duty.

The complaint alleges that Allen was a non-exempt employee, eligible to receive overtime pay for time when he worked more than 40 hours a week. In January the court approved a conditional certification of the class of plaintiffs, which means that Chicago police officers in the Bureau of Organized Crime can now also join the lawsuit. Police officers, and former officers similarly situated to Allen have until April 8 to join.

The Chicago PD responded to claims stating that it had procedures which allowed employees to report overtime worked, and that Allen and other police officers simply failed to comply with those procedures. However, Allen argues that there was an unwritten rule that if an officer wanted a promotion he or she should not report overtime for emails and calls taken off duty.

Time Spent Answering Work Email or Phone Can be Overtime

An employer must pay an employee for all time worked. An employer may not discourage employees from reporting time worked just because it happens off their employer’s listed work schedule. An employer can get into trouble with the law if they schedule their workers for 40 hour weeks and then expect employees to also answer emails or take calls at home because extra time spent working off the clock needs to be compensated at the overtime rate for every hour worked over 40. California’s fair pay law, Labor Code Section 510, also imposes stricter requirements that employers must comply with. In California an employer must also pay overtime when an employee works more than 8 hours in a single day and for any time spent working on the seventh consecutive day of the work week. In some circumstances double time also needs to be paid.

If your employer has failed reimburse you or pay your wages you may be entitled to a lawsuit. To learn more contact the experienced California Employment Law attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham, LLP. Schedule a free consultation by calling (858) 376-7390 today.

Paid Time Off and Unpaid Wages

Although employers are generally not required to offer paid time off (PTO), many do. However, the employer can place restrictions on when you use your PTO. If an employer refuses to allow you to take off the requested days, and you refuse to take off days that are available, the employer must compensate you for the time not used.

Additionally, California Labor Code section 227.3 provides that employers are not allowed to require employees to use or lose their PTO or unpaid vacation time. The employer can put a reasonable cap on the amount of vacation time that an employee may accrue. However, if a court finds that the implementation of a cap is simply to deny or make it more difficult for employees to use their accrued benefits the policy will be invalidated. Also, keep in mind that these benefits can be enhanced or limited by a collective bargaining agreement.

These rules are not to be confused with the rules for sick time. Sick time is treated differently because unlike vacation time, or PTO, sick time is not considered earned compensation because it is only to be used in the event that you become ill.

Another common question is whether an employee can simply deduct PTO or vacation leave for parts of the day. This is usually up to the specific agreement between the employer and employee, it is best to consult the employee handbook for this information because some employers provide PTO, vacation, or sick time in 1 hour increments, but require that employees use their time in 4 hour increments.

This type of compensation can amount to a lot of unpaid wages over the years. This is one reason why so many workers are not receiving the full amount of compensation they are entitled to.

Although most employers are not required to provide PTO, vacation, or sick leave some cities and municipalities throughout the country have modified this by requiring employers to provide a minimum amount of these benefits. One example is San Francisco, where an employer must provide employees with 1 hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

The California employment law attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham, LLP have many years of experience handling wage and hour cases, including lawsuits for unpaid wages due to failure to provide proper breaks. To schedule a free case evaluation contact us at (858) 376-7390 today.

New FMLA Amendments for Airline and Military Employees and Family

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees to unpaid leave with the right of reinstatement for specific family or medical reasons. Earlier this week the Department of Labor finalized new rules to increase the benefits and eligibility for military families and airline workers.

Generally, employees working for an employer with at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius of the workplace can qualify for FMLA. An employee must also have worked at least 1250 hours in the previous 12 months before taking leave. However, new amendments alter the hours worked requirements for employees in the airline industry. The amendment provides that airline flight crew members or flight attendants meet the hours of service requirements, if in the past 12 months they 1) worked or have been paid for at least 60% of the total monthly guarantee, and 2) have worked or been paid for not less than 504 hours, not including personal commute time, time spent on vacation, medical or sick leave.

Generally, an employee is entitled to as much as 12 weeks of leave per year, as well as continuation of group health insurance, and mandatory restoration of their previous position or an equivalent position on return. The new rules allow military family members to take leave for an additional 15 days to care for a covered veteran with a serious illness or injury on leave from active duty. Family members caring for covered service members are eligible to take as much as 26 weeks of leave to care for the covered service member.

Violations for FMLA can be costly for employers. If an employer discriminates against an employee by harassing, demoting, or terminating an employee for taking leave they may be liable for damages including lost wages and benefits, liquidated damages up to twice as much as actual damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.

In related news The FMLA is turning 20 this month. It was first signed into law on February 5, 1993 on the principal that employees should not have to choose between their job and caring for their illness or the illness of a family member.

If your employer is giving you a hard time or has taken adverse action against you for use of FMLA leave enforce your rights. To learn more contact the experienced California Employment law attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham, LLP. Schedule a free consultation by calling (858) 376-7390 today.

Trend of Increased Numbers of Employees Suing for Unpaid Wages Continues

It is no secret that many employers fail to pay their employees what they rightfully earn. However, it appears that more employees are suing their employers over these unfair practices. The Federal Judicial Center recently released statistics that show, for the fifth year in a row, employees have filed more lawsuits against employers than last year. In federal court 7,754 lawsuits alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) were filed this year, up from 7,064 in 2012.

Wage and hour lawsuits dealing with hospitality workers was an area that saw a particularly high increase in lawsuits. One reason for this was because of increased targeting by the federal Department of Labor of unfair pay practices involving workers who receive tips, such as restaurant employees. Additionally, the stabilization of the economy may also be another reason for the increase in litigation. As companies start backing away from bankruptcy they become more attractive targets. New companies in particular are very susceptible to FLSA lawsuits.

It also seems that these lawsuits are generally on the rise from the past decade. Since 2003 wage and hour lawsuits have grown by 400%. According to the National Employment Law Project 68% of low wage workers report being required to work without full pay. It seems that the more widespread wage and hour violations become, the more that employees are encouraged to stand up for their rights and demand full pay under the law.

Although the statistics released by the Federal Judicial Center were nationwide, California litigation follows very similar trends. California employees have additional protections that employers often violate. For example, many small employers in states without state pay laws do not fall under the protection of the FLSA. In California however, all employees are required to be paid for overtime, unless they are exempt employees; and all employees are required to be paid a wage or salary at or above the minimum wage. The major exception for these rules is with independent contractors. One common area of contention between employers and workers is whether an employee is an independent contractor or an employee. To learn more about these distinctions contact a California attorney.

If you have been cheated by an employer the California employment law attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham., LLP can help you recover your unpaid wages. We work on a contingent fee basis which means we do not get paid unless we get a settlement or judgment in your favor. To schedule a free consultation call (858) 376-7390 today.