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Rice Law Office Blog

This blog reviews important legal issues including: personal injury, employee compensation, workers compensation, discrimination and wrongful termination.

SCOTUS and Same Sex Marriage

SCOTUS and Same Sex Marriage

The Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage nation wide will have sweeping impacts, both immediately and in years to come. One of the immediate effects of the 5-4 ruling in favor of universal marriage rights will come in the realm of employment law. The legalization of gay marriage has necessitated policy changes for employers around the country. 

The new ruling will have immediate effects on benefits for spouses. Companies that extend spousal benefits, either because of state laws or company policy, will be immediately required to provide equal coverage for same-sex marriage spouses. Employers will need to review health insurance, tax status, and spousal leave options for same-sex married couples in the context of the new ruling. 

One specific effect is that companies must extend Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits to same-sex married couples. FMLA mandates that employers provide up to 12 weeks of leave annually for an employee who is either dealing with a serious medical condition themselves, or caring for an immediate family member (including spouse) with such a condition. Without exception, same-sex couples must now be provided equal benefits.

The ruling clears up what could have been a complicated legal situation for employees and employers alike. Some states had previously legalized same-sex marriage, while others had not—this meant that it was possible for a same-sex couple to be legally married in one state, but receive no spousal benefits if they worked in a state that did not recognize gay marriage.

With the new Supreme Court ruling, there is no lack of clarity—employers must provide same-sex married couples the same rights and access to benefits that heterosexual married couples receive.

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Supreme Court to Determine if Time Spent Donning Required Protective Gear is Compensable

Supreme Court to Determine if Time Spent Donning Required Protective Gear is Compensable

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphaeko, to determine whether time spent putting on and taking off protective equipment required for work is compensable work time under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The suit is a collective action claim, and claimants include a number of Tyson employees who allege the company did not properly compensate them for time spent changing before and after their shift.

Many jobs require special protective clothing and equipment, however it is unclear whether the time spent putting on and taking off this equipment is compensable work time. In some cases, “donning and doffing” protective equipment can add up to a lot of time, and represents significant potential unpaid wages.

In Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphaeko, the company did pay its employees for time spent changing by estimating the duration of the activity and then adding wage based on that estimate to the employees paycheck.   Employees allege that Tyson’s estimates are far below the actual time required. A jury in a lower court agreed, and awarded nearly 6 million dollars in damages, 

Tyson has maintained the suit should not be granted collective action status as many of its employees take different amounts of time to change, and in fact wear different types of equipment. The plaintiffs have responded by referencing statistical sampling to demonstrate average changing times, a method the eighth Circuit Court has deemed allowed under the FLSA.

The Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments in the coming months, and their ultimate decision will have implications for workers wearing required protective equipment across the country.

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Supreme Court Rules Employers Must Accommodate Pregnant Employees

Supreme Court Rules Employers Must Accommodate Pregnant Employees

On March 25, 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that employers must provide the same work accommodations for pregnant employees with work limitations as they do non-pregnant employees with a similar inability to work. The ruling clarifies and extends employee protections under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, requiring employers to provide “legitimate, non-discriminatory” reasons when denying accommodation to a pregnant employee.

In Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS) the plaintiff worked as a part time UPS driver, and after becoming pregnant her doctor advised that she should not lift more than 20 pounds as she had suffered several miscarriages in the past. UPS would not accommodate this restriction, and Young ultimately lost her job for choosing to stay out of work. As a result, the plaintiff lost her health insurance and was forced to take on the costs of her pregnancy without coverage. 

Young brought an action against UPS, but the company maintained that they were only required to provide work accommodations for employees that were injured on the job, had lost their Department of Transportation Certificates, or were disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act. After the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with UPS, the case was picked up by the Supreme Court, which ruled in Young’s favor.

NH law already provides pregnant employee with extensive job protection and time off with right to return to work after, this ruling clarifies accommodations for pregnant employees while they are on the job.

What does this mean? Companies that offer light or accommodated work duty for employees with work limitations have to provide similar accommodation for pregnant employees. Employers need to be proactive in updating their policies, and pregnant employees should be aware that they might have the right to accommodated work during the course of their pregnancy.

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