Thursday, May 29, 2008

$6.55 Per Hour: The Second Step of the Federal Minimum Wage Increase

The federal minimum wage will take the first of its two additional scheduled increases effective July 24, 2008, when the federal minimum wage moves from $5.85 per hour to $6.55 per hour.

On May 25, 2007, President Bush signed a bill that amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide for a three-step increase in the federal minimum wage: to $5.85 per hour effective July 24, 2007; to $6.55 per hour effective July 24, 2008; and to $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments.

If an employee is covered by both a state minimum and the federal minimum, the worker is entitled to the higher of the two.

As of February 2008, Washington has the highest minimum wage of all 50 states, and California, Massachusetts and Oregon follow. Kansas has the lowest minimum wage. Texas is one of a number of states that pegs its state minimum wage to the federal minimum wage; the current federal minimum wage applies for most jobs in these states.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Same-sex marriage in California

California has been one of the most active battlegrounds in the same-sex marriage debate. The fight began in earnest in 2000 when the state's voters passed Proposition 22, which defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

Four years later, the supreme court of the state of Massachusetts reached a conclusion that defining marriage as “between a man and a woman” and excluding same-sex couples is a violation of constitutional rights of privacy and equal protection under a proposed (but not enacted) Massachusetts law. The issue is also currently pending before the Connecticut Supreme Court.

In September 2005, the California Assembly became the first state legislature in the nation to proactively approve same-sex marriages. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ultimately vetoed the bill on the basis of Proposition 22. Then the California Supreme Court began to consider whether Proposition 22 violates the state constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

On May 15, 2008, the ban on same-sex marriage was overturned, making California the second state, behind Massachusetts, to allow full marriage rights for same-sex partners. Marriage licenses will be issued to same-sex couples starting on June 14, 2008.

For several years, California had already been providing legal protections, similar to those for which married couples are eligible, to same-sex domestic partnerships, granting "same-sex couples all state-level rights and obligations of marriage — in areas such as inheritance, income tax, insurance and hospital visitation"

In the most recent review, California laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples were deemed to violate same-sex couples' rights under the California Constitution. The Court explained that, "in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples."

Because the Court found the exclusion is not justified, the decision will enable same-sex couples to be married in the eyes of the State of California. However, the Court's decision does not alter federal law or the marriage laws of other states.

The Court also evaluated the challenged marriage statutes under the Equal Protection clause of the California Constitution, concluding that the laws excluding same-sex couples from the definition of marriage do not discriminate on the basis of sex but discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

California businesses and employers must be alert. As same-sex couples begin to exercise their new right to marry under California law, discrimination against these individuals may subject employers and businesses to legal liability. Complaints of discrimination based on the exercise of the right to marriage by same-sex couples also should be taken seriously.

In addition, before this decision was issued, employment discrimination on the basis of marital status and registered domestic partner status were both already prohibited to the same extent in California, and the protections available to same-sex couples under these laws will remain the same. What is new is that same-sex couples can now claim the same protection via marriage as opposite-sex couples.

Finally, same-sex couples who were married in other jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriage before this decision and then relocated to California will not presently be considered "married" and are not currently entitled to the protections or benefits available to married persons.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Minnesota Minimum Wage Veto Triggers Response From Worker Advocates

Last week, Governor Tim Pawlent vetoed legislation approved by both houses of the Minnesota Legislature that would have increased the state minimum wage from the current $6.15 per hour to $7.75 per hour in 2009. The state law would have provided a raise beyond federal minimum wage $7.25 next year.

More than 300,000 Minnesota jobs was paid less than Pawlenty vetoed $7.75. Kris Jacobs, director of the statewide JOBS NOW Coalition, said, "I don't think a total of $8 a week above the federal minimum wage for the rest of this year or $13 a week over the next year is too much to ask. Seven out of 10 Minnesotans agree. Twenty-eight states have higher minimum wages than Minnesota."

He also said a minimum wage increase is especially important for workers outside the Twin Cities metro area: although Greater Minnesota workers hold just 41 percent of the state's jobs, they hold 56 percent of the jobs that pay less than $7.75 per hour.

In a statement, the members of the coalition present their response to the veto that the Governor said the wage was too high, so they compromised by lowering the amount in both the first and second years. The Governor said he wanted to keep a sub-minimum wage for younger workers. They compromised by putting it back in the bill. The Governor argued that most restaurant servers earn more than the minimum wage, so they should be excluded from the increase.

"If only that were true," said Jacobs. "According to the Governor's own Department of Employment and Economic Development, the state median wage for servers (including tips) is $7.69 per hour. That's why a tip penalty for servers was the one thing we could not agree on."

Friday, May 16, 2008

GINA—a newly passed act to protect employees against genetic discrimination

Employers will soon be prohibited from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their genetic information.

On April 24, 2008, the Senate unanimously passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) by a vote of 95 to 0. On May 1, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the same bill by a vote of 414 to 1.

Genetic tests are now regularly used to determine an individual's predisposition for diseases such as cystic fibrosis, breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, etc. As genetic testing has become more prevalent, the U.S. Congress has enacted GINA to address widespread concerns that genetic test results might be misused, especially in the health care and employment arenas.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) will protect individuals against discrimination based on their genetic information when it comes to health insurance and employment. It will make it illegal for employers to use individuals’ genetic information when making hiring, firing, job placement, or promotion decisions. It will also be illegal for insurance companies to deny or limit coverage, or charge a different rate or premium, to an otherwise healthy individual found to have a potential genetic condition or genetic predisposition towards a disease or disorder.

Thus, the bill will give comprehensive protection against all forms of genetic discrimination.

These protections are intended to encourage American individuals to take advantage, as part of their medical care, of genetic screening, counseling, and testing opportunities that will result from scientific advances in the field of genetics.

Legislation on genetic nondiscrimination that specifically addressed discrimination in health insurance was first introduced in the House of Representatives in 1995 but didn’t pass; similar bills failed to pass in the 104th, 105th and 106th congresses.

In 2002 during the 107th Congress, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act was introduced. The bill addressed discrimination in both health insurance and employment decisions but did not pass. In the 108th and 109th congresses, it likewise failed to pass.

But this year Congress passed the Act, and president Bush has stated he will sign the GINA legislation if it comes before him. The employer provisions of the bill would then take effect in November 2009, after the U.S. Department of Labor has had an opportunity to enact implementing regulations.

Monday, May 12, 2008

US Congress passes Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

On May 1, 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) by a 414-1 vote.

The bill is designed to protect workers against discrimination based on genetic information. Now the bill heads to the Congress and is expected to be signed into law by President Bush.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act was first proposed more than 13 years ago, in order pave the way for workers to take advantage of the promise of personalized medicine without fear of discrimination. At the time, fewer than 100 genetic tests existed; today, however, there are more than 1,200 genetic tests that are widely used for medical diagnoses, covering areas such as cancer, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.

When the bill is signed into law, employers will not legally be allowed to ask employees for genetic information. It is also illegal to make employment decisions-- including hiring, firing, promotions, pay, training, status and working conditions -- based on genetic information.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act will be the first federal law to prohibit discrimination based on genetic information; some states already have similar statutes in place.

The minimum wage in Delaware is $7.15 per hour

Now the minimum wage of the state Delaware is $7.15 per hour.
The Minimum wage law is updated yearly and if the minimum wage in Delaware ever falls below the federal minimum then it is automatically replaced by the federal rate until the state minimum wage rises above the federal minimum.

On January 1, 2007, the first step of the increase went into effect, raising the minimum wage from $6.15 to $6.65 her hour. On January 1, 2008 the minimum wage increased again from $.6.65 per hour to $7.15 per hour.

The Delaware minimum wage applies to businesses with over 10 employees, but there are exceptions to the minimum wage rules. Businesses and organizations that are exempt include disabled workers, student learners, tipped employees, agricultural workers, domestic service providers, commissioned sales people, white collar executives and professionals, state inmates and volunteer workers. “Tipped” employees can be paid a minimum wage of $2.33 per hour. But if their total earnings are less than $7.15 an hour, their employers must make up the difference.

Missouri’s Minimum Wage has increased to $6.65 per hour in 2008

Missouri's minimum wage has increased by 15 cents from $6.50 to a new rate of $6.65 per hour on January 1, 2008.

The minimum wage for tipped employees has also increased – from $3.25 per hour to $3.325 per hour. Employers must pay tipped employees at least 50 percent of the minimum wage.

Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations must do study using the Consumer Price Index, and then determine the increases or decreases of the minimum wage for the coming year.

That initiative hiked the basic wage from $5.15 to $6.50 per hour in 2007 and the 2008 increase in the minimum wage was based on a 2.2 percent change in the Consumer Price Index between July 2006 and July 2007.The minimum wage law does not apply to retail or service businesses with annual sales of less than $500,000. All other businesses need to pay employees the minimum wage.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Minnesota Minimum Wage Increase Is Now In Governor's Hands

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on May, 8 that would increase the minimum wage for Minnesota’s lowest-paid workers.

Under the plan, for large employers (enterprise with annual receipts of $625,000 or more), the minimum wage would increase from $6.15 an hour to $6.75 per hour on July 24, 2008, and would increase again to $7.75 per hour in July of 2009. For smaller employers (enterprise with annual receipts of less than $625,000), the minimum wage would increase from $5.25 to $5.75 per hour on July 24, and up to $6.75 per hour in 2009.

“Without an increase in the minimum wage, many of our lowest-paid workers will soon find themselves unable to afford their basic necessities. I believe that this agreement takes a major step in the right direction, and will help thousands of our state’s residents cope with the challenges presented by our current economic downturn,” said Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, who carried the measure in the Senate.

The House and Senate agreement also increases the state’s training wage from $4.90 to $5.35 per hour in July, and increase to $5.75 per hour in 2009, while reducing the maximum age to receive a training wage down to 17.

Minnesota’s current minimum wage of $6.15 per hour for large employers has fallen below many Midwestern neighbors, including Iowa ($7.25), Illinois ($6.50, increasing to $7.50 in July), Wisconsin ($6.50), and Michigan ($7.15, increasing to $7.40 in July).

The state’s current minimum wage also ranks lowest among the 31 states that have enacted minimum wages above the federal minimum.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Michigan Minimum Wage Will Increase to $7.40 in July 2008

The state of Michigan will increase its minimum wage from $7.15 per hour to $7.40 per hour, effective July 1, 2008, 25 cents higher than 2007. For tipped workers, the wage remains at $2.65 per hour.

Businesses can pay the young workers 85 percent of the adult minimum wage, a youth sub-minimum wage. The sub-minimum wage will be increased from $6.08 per hour to $6.29 per hour on July 1, 2008.

The state minimum wage covers employers who employ two or more persons, 16 years of age or older, and also covers some certain employees in federally-covered businesses.

If an employee is covered by both the state minimum and the federal minimum, the worker is entitled to the higher one. In Michigan, almost every employee is entitled to the state minimum wage because state minimum wage is higher than the federal rate.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

VFCP—a program to help benefit employers

In recent years, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) has given employers instructions and provided them information about how to comply with federal benefits laws. At the same time, it also set rules on how employers must manage their employee retirement and benefit plans. Generally speaking, employers who violate these rules will fines and penalties. Employer utilization of the “VFCP” is one way to reduce or eliminate the risk of such adverse consequences.

The Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP) is designed to encourage employers to voluntarily comply with the ERISA by self-correcting certain violations of the law. Many workers can benefit from the program as a result of the increased retirement security associated with restoration of plan assets and payment of additional benefits.

Participating in VFCP can save employers a large amount of money in taxes, fees and penalties. Any employer who may be liable for fiduciary violations under ERISA may be eligible to use VFCP, giving them an opportunity to identify and correct problems and certain violations of the law with employee benefit accounts. However, companies must completely and accurately correct all violations, as well as provide proof that the violations were all corrected; those who don’t may still be subject to enforcement actions, including civil penalties, according to ERISA Sections 502 (I) and 502 (i).

The VFCP was begun in 2002 and was expanded in 2006. Now Employers can correct their past errors in 19 categories of transactions.

“The VFCP is an effective strategy in protecting the pension benefits of America’s workers,” said Billy Beaver, director of the ERISA’s San Francisco Regional Office. “Through this voluntary program, EBSA helps employers resolve issues related to employee benefit plans that they sponsor.”

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Maine Will Increase Minimum Wage To $7.25 On October 1, 2008

Maine State Governor John E. Baldacci signed LD 1697 on April 17 that will increase the minimum wage from the current $7 per hour to $7.25 per hour, effective October 1, 2008, and increase to $7.50 per hour on October 1, 2009.

The Governor said this legislation makes sure that wages in Maine keep pace with the rest of New England.

“We need to make sure we do everything we can to reward work,” said Governor Baldacci. “Maine men and women should be able to earn a living wage so they can support their families. There is no safety net better than a job with benefits.”

The Governor also said, “this is an important step, and it’s another in a series of efforts that they have joined together on to ensure all Maine people have access to good paying jobs and a brighter future.”

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Texas Workforce Commission Collects Nearly $10 Million in Unpaid Wages

The state of Texas recovered $9.9 million in unpaid wages on behalf of workers in 2006 and 2007.

The Texas Workforce Commission collected the back wages through its enforcement of the Texas Payday Law, which requires private employers to provide workers with earned compensation in a timely manner.

"Texans who have not been paid for work have a true resource in the Texas Workforce Commission," says Larry Temple, executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission. "Services from our Labor Law Section are at no-cost to the worker, and we work aggressively to collect unpaid wages once we determine wages are due."

Texas Workforce Commission Labor Law investigators annually conduct more than 15,000 wage claim investigations across the state.

TWC also makes presentations to employer organizations, education service centers and workforce boards to educate the public about the Texas Payday Law, the Texas Child Labor Law and the Texas Minimum Wage Act.