Sunday, June 29, 2008

Illinois Minimum Wage to Increase to $7.75 July 1, 2008

The state of Illinois will increase its minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $7.75 per hour effective July 1, 2008, with additional increases to $8.00 per hour on July 1, 2009, and to $8.25 on July 1, 2010.

Increasing the minimum wage to $7.75 per hour will add an additional $520 in annual wages for a full-time minimum wage worker. When the minimum wage of $8.25 per hour takes effect in 2010, state Gov. Blagojevich will have helped boost the pay for minimum wage workers in Illinois by $3.10 per hour in seven years.

Gov. Blagojevich signed legislation in December 2006 increasing the Illinois minimum wage. The governor estimates that nearly 700,000 people will benefit from the increase. "We're facing hits on food, hits on deliveries to us and now labor increases," said Todd Rawls, a local businessman "That all affects insurance, my rent’s gone up, you name it, it has all gone up."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Idaho Minimum Wage to Increase on July 24, 2008

The state of Idaho will increase its minimum wage from $5.85 to $6.55 per hour on July 24, 2008, in coordination with the federal minimum wage increase. Section 44-1502 of the Idaho Code guarantees that the majority of Idaho employees are paid the state minimum wage.

Pursuant to the bill passed in 2006, the federal minimum wage will increase in a three step process. The Idaho minimum wage is tied to the federal minimum wage. So when the federal minimum wage increases on July 24, 2008 (the second of the three increase steps), the Idaho minimum wage will increase accordingly.

The minimum wage for tipped employees in Idaho will remain unchanged at $3.35 per hour. Idaho state law also provides a special wage for workers under the age of 20: companies may pay such workers an “opportunity wage” of $4.25 per hour during the first 90 days of employment.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

California Hands-Free Law Goes into Effect July 1, 2008

SB 1613, a new California hands-free cellular telephone law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, goes into effect July 1,2008. The law prohibits the use of a cell phone in a moving vehicle unless the driver is using a hands-free device.

The new law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using any type of cell phone while driving. Anyone over 18 can drive and talk on the phone while using a hands-free device.

Specifically, SB 1613 will:
l Prohibit the use of cell phones by drivers unless the driver is using a hands-free device starting July 1, 2008.
l Allow drivers of commercial vehicles to use push-to-talk phones until July 1, 2011.
l Allow drivers to make emergency phone calls without using a hands-free device.
l Allow drivers of emergency response vehicles to use cell phone without a hands-free device.

For violators, the first offense will cost $20, and it will be a $50 penalty for each additional offense.

California Highway Patrol data show that more than 1,000 crashes, injuring 447 people, were blamed on drivers using a hand-held cellular phone in 2007,

“The simple fact is it’s dangerous to talk on your cell phone while driving. CHP data show that cell phones are the number one cause of distracted-driving accidents,” said Gov. Schwarzenegger. “So getting people’s hands off their phones and onto their steering wheels is going to make a big difference in road safety. The ‘Hands-Free’ cell phone bill will save lives by making our roads safer. I want to thank Senator Simitian for authoring this bill and for his commitment to the safety of his fellow Californians.”

What does the new law mean for employers? If employees have to use a cell phone while driving to perform their work, the employer must provide them with a hands-free device so they can comply with the law. The device can be bought by employer and given to employees, or the employer can agree to pay employees back for reasonable costs. However, if employees don’t have to use cell phones while driving but choose to do so only for their own convenience, then the employer is not required to provide or pay for a device.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

DOL Clarified Compensable Work Time Under FLSA

The U.S. Department of Labor recently has clarified compensable work time under the Fair Labor Standards Act regarding meal breaks, straight time, and overtime. In an opinion letter dated May 15, 2008, the Department issued the following conclusions:

l If an employee fails to take a 30-minute unpaid meal break and the failure to take a meal break does not cause the employee to work more than 40 hours in the workweek, no additional compensation is due to the employee if the employee's total wages for the workweek divided by the compensable hours worked equal or exceed the applicable minimum wage.
l If an employee fails to take a 30-minute unpaid meal break and the employee does work more than 40 hours in the workweek, the 30-minute unpaid meal break must be counted for purposes of determining overtime compensation. An employee must be paid all straight-time wages due for all hours worked before an employee can be said to be paid statutory overtime compensation due.
l If an employee who is regularly scheduled to work 35 hours per week works before the employee's scheduled start time or after the employee's scheduled end time and the employee's total hours are less than 40 hours per workweek, the employee is not due additional straight time compensation if the employee's total wages for the workweek divided by the compensable hours worked equal or exceed the applicable minimum wage.
l If an employee receives certain types of premium pay that are not otherwise legally required, that pay need not be included in the employee's regular rate of pay for purposes of computing overtime compensation. Also, certain types of premium pay may be credited toward the employee's overtime compensation requirements.
l Rounding of time is allowed so long as the employer does not arbitrarily fail to count an employee's fixed or regular working time. Rounding to the nearest five minutes, one-tenth or one-quarter of an hour is acceptable if, in the aggregate, the employer compensates the employees properly for all the time they have worked.

However, this opinion letter only provides guidable interpretation about “work time” under the Fair Labor Standards Act. So when applied to state laws, it may result in a different analysis.

Monday, June 23, 2008

OSHA Gives Advice for Workers in Summer Heat

Every summer, employees who work outdoors experience hot weather and the potential for heat-related illnesses. Now that summer has begun, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is giving all employers and employees nationwide advice about its safety and health resources to help prevent heat stress and heat stroke.

"Every outdoor jobsite faces hazards posed by the sun and heat," said OSHA's Assistant Secretary of Labor Edwin G. Foulke Jr. "We are encouraging employers and employees to take advantage of our published resources that offer sound advice to recognize and prevent heat stress and other heat-related illnesses."

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the two most serious forms of heat related illnesses. The symptoms include weakness, headaches and dizziness. Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace for employees in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and all employers and employees need to take appropriate actions to prevent heat stress and heat stroke during this time of the year.

Nevada’s Minimum Wage Increases to $6.85 in July, 2008

The state of Nevada will increase its minimum wage for common employees from $6.33 per hour to $6.85 per hour. And for employees with qualifying health benefits, such as group health insurance, the minimum wage will increase from $5.30 per hour to $5.85 per hour; both rates will be effective July 1, 2008.

Worker safety standards are enforced by the Nevada Division of Industrial Relations under the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Act. Under the act, each employee receives a 10 minute unpaid rest for each 4 hours worked, and a 30-minute unpaid meal break for each 8 hour shift.

The federal minimum wage will increase from $5.85 per hour to $6.55 per hour on July 24, 2008. This means that Nevada employers who offer health insurance but do business across state lines will pay workers at least $6.55 per hour. Nevada employers who offer insurance and do not do business out of the state will be able to pay employees $5.85 per hour.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

House Panel Approves Minimum Wage Increase in Delaware

Delaware's minimum wage could be pushed to the highest in the nation by 2010. The House Labor Committee approved a new minimum wage bill on June 11, 2008. The measure now moves to the House floor.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Senator Bobby Marshall, says Senate Bill 204 would increase Delaware’s minimum wage from $7.15 per hour to $7.75 per hour effective March 1, 2009, and to $8.25 one year later.

The federal minimum wage will be increased in July from $5.85 to $6.55 per hour and again in July 2009 to $7.25 per hour. If the DE bill passes, it would continue Delaware's tradition of requiring a higher wage than the federal minimum. The bill’s opponents contend that the minimum wage increase in the state of Delaware would put a burden on small business owners and could discourage entry-level hiring.

U.S. DOL auditing all Fragomen permanent labor certifications

On June 2, 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it has begun to audit all permanent labor certification applications filed by attorneys at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP.

The DOL says that it is doing so because it has information indicating that in at least some cases the Fragomen firm may have improperly instructed clients who filed permanent labor certification applications to contact their attorney before hiring qualified U.S. workers.
Specifically, several recruitment forms drafted by Fragomen attorneys instructed their clients that “After interview, should any of the applicants appear to be qualified for the position, please contact a Fragomen attorney immediately to further discuss the candidate’s background as it relates to the requirements stated for said position.”

The DOL said they are going to audit all of Fragomen's permanent labor certification applications to see if anything illegal or improper was done.

The permanent labor certification process, established by the Immigration and Nationality Act, allows an employer to hire a foreign worker to work permanently in the United States, but only where it been established through a strict, detailed recruitment process that there is no qualified, willing and available U.S. worker to fill the position. According to the Department's regulations, the employer’s attorney is not supposed to be involved in the recruitment process (unless he or she is typically involved in the employer’s hiring). Audits of applications are one of the major tools the Department uses to ensure program integrity, and they are used to thoroughly examine applications to ensure that all program requirements have been properly followed. They are routine and regularly undertaken to ensure the program’s integrity.

“The department’s decision to further investigate these applications will help ensure the integrity of the permanent labor certification process and ultimately protect job opportunities for American workers,” said Gregory F. Jacob, solicitor of labor. “The department takes seriously its responsibility to ensure that American workers have access to jobs they are qualified and willing to do and that their wages and working conditions are not adversely affected by the hiring of foreign workers.”

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is now investigating the matter.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Assembly Approves Paid Sick Leave

On May 28, the California Assembly passed legislation that would make the state the first in the nation to ensure at least a week of paid sick leave for all workers.

Paid sick days could be used for a personal illness, to care for a sick family member, or to recover from domestic violence or sexual assault.

Nearly six million working Californians, or about 40% of the workforce, currently receive no paid sick days through their employers. Assembly woman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, said her Assembly Bill 2716 would protect those who are forced to choose between working while sick or losing pay.

"(It's) a win-win for workers and employers alike and is an important part of maintaining a healthy economy here in California," Ma said, "When employers offer paid sick days, employee morale is better, turnover is less, and health care costs decrease." Dr. Vicky Lovell of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research Institute concluded that AB 2716 will save California nearly $1 billion annually, primarily due to reduced turnover and reduced spread of illness in the workplace.

The Assembly approved the bill with no support from Republican, who said AB 2716 would impose a one-size-fits-all mandate that many small businesses simply could not afford. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken no position on the legislation, which now moves to the Senate, where Ma has indicated it will be heard in June.

Under AB 2716, businesses of 10 employees or more would be required to provide up to nine days of sick leave per year while those with fewer than 10 employees would provide up to five days. Full-time and part-time workers would earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The benefit could be used after 90 days of employment.

AB 2716 is co-sponsored by the California Labor Federation and California Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and is supported by a statewide coalition of over 50 organizations including local governments, health professionals and civil rights organizations.

"Simply put, workers should not live in fear of being fired when they take a day off when they or their children are sick," said Ma.

According to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, the requirement would be overseen by the Department of Industrial Relations, whose costs would be about $600,000 annually if the bill were signed into law. The measure also could be enforced through civil lawsuits.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Florida woman gets 7 years in slavery case

A Fort Lauderdale federal jury recently sentenced a South Florida woman to seven years and three months in prison for keeping a teenage girl from Haiti in servitude for six years.

Maude Paulin, a 52-year old former school teacher from Miami-Dade County, was convicted in March along with her mother, Evelyn Theodore, of conspiring to enslave the girl, forcing her to work, and harboring an illegal immigrant.

Simone Celestin, who was living at a Haitian orphanage, was brought to the U.S. in 1999 at age 14 and escaped from the Paulin home in 2005.

During the trial, Simone Celestin, 22, testified she was brought to the United States from Haiti when she was 14 to be a maid in the Paulins' home in southwest Miami. Then she was forced to work 15 hours per day, seven days per week and sleep on the floor. When she failed to finish her long list of chores, Maude Paulin and Theodore would beat her with "anything handy," including shoes and kitchenware. In 2005, Celestin escaped from the home and alerted authorities.

Testimony showed that Celestin got virtually no schooling, was frequently threatened, and beaten. Celestin testified that she thought about killing herself frequently during the ordeal.

Maude Paulin admitted she had made mistakes in bringing Simone Celestin to the U.S. and apologized for what happened, but insisted she wanted only good things for the girl.

"I love Simone with all my heart," Paulin told Senior U.S. District Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr. at a sentencing hearing. "Unfortunately, I can't change what is already done… I regret it. I blame myself."

Paulin’s daughter Erica Paulin said "My mother is an inspiration to her friends and her family, to so many people. She is not a monster."

But Prosecutor Edward Chung of the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division sees it differently, saying the defendant simply won’t admit that she did something wrong. "Maude Paulin does not to this day acknowledge that she committed this crime, " Chung said, "This was a middle school teacher placed in charge of this community's children. She was the one who committed this crime and she's the one who still to this day believes she's done nothing wrong." Chung also said Paulin had shown no remorse for "an extremely serious crime."
Paulin’s ex-husband, Saintfort Paulin, was found guilty of harbouring an illegal immigrant and was sentenced to 18 months' probation, including six months of house arrest, and ordered to pay a fine of $500. He told Gonzalez that he left the home in 2001 and that Celestin's treatment was his ex-wife's idea. "I ended up going along willingly. I'm sorry for what transpired," said Saintfort Paulin, who now lives in New Jersey.

A sentencing hearing for Theodore was postponed because she suffered a stroke after her conviction,

The sentence received by Maude Paulin was at the lower end of federal guidelines, but is still higher than prison terms in many similar cases.

Prosecutors said Celestin is one of thousands of Haitian children, known by the Creole term "restaveks," who are forced into involuntary servitude both in Haiti and in the U.S. UNICEF has estimated that up to 17,500 such people are brought to the U.S. each year to become slaves.

Gonzalez said Maude Paulin and her mother are liable for more than $162,000 in restitution to Celestin. They were convicted of conspiring to violate Celestin's 13th Amendment rights to be free from slavery, of illegally forcing her to work for them, and of harboring an alien for financial gain.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

U.S. DOL announces $20 million competition for demonstration projects to assist dislocated workers

On May 16, the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor announced a competition for nearly $20 million in funding to build the skills and employment options for workers who have been dislocated or at risk of dislocation. State workforce agencies that want to get the grant have to compete to design demonstration projects targeting these workers.

“The programs that state workforce agencies devise will let workers vulnerable to joblessness take greater ownership of their careers,” said acting Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training Brent R. Orrell.Proposals may fall into four categories: “Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Dislocated Workers” programs will help individuals launch small businesses. “Getting Ahead of the Curve: Raising Educational/Skill Levels of Workers in Declining Industries” projects will develop strategies to upgrade the career skills of workers who are likely to face unemployment. “Innovative Adult Learning Models for Dislocated Workers” projects will identify new and innovative ways to train unemployed workers. Efforts aimed at “Preventing Dislocations of TANF Recipients Moving Into Entry Level Jobs Subject to Economic Churn” will help former TANF recipients maintain employment and enter or advance within high-growth industries. (“TANF” stands for “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.”)
“The four categories outlined in this announcement offer state workforce agencies an opportunity to tailor programs that address their particular workforce needs,” said Orrell.
Each state workforce agency can only submit a single application under one of the four categories. To deliver services with sufficient depth, each application must detail partnerships that include employers, education and training providers, faith-based, community, and philanthropic organizations.This competition will close on June 13, 2008.