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A recent Sixth Circuit holding affirmed a federal district court’s ruling that an employer did not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by declining to hire a prospective employee because he refused to provide his social security number on religious grounds.

The plaintiff applied for an internship with the defendant, an energy company. However, he refused to provide his potential employer with a social security number. The plaintiff asserted that he did not have a social security number because he disavowed it upon turning 18 due to his sincere religious beliefs. When the defendant refused to hire him, he filed suit alleging religious discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a valid legal claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The district court granted the motion.

A person who files a Civil Rights Act religious discrimination claim must prove three elements:

  1. There was an employment requirement that conflicts with a genuine religious belief held by the plaintiff;
  2. The plaintiff advised the employer of the belief; and
  3. The employer terminated or disciplined the plaintiff for refusing to comply with the employment requirement.

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The Department of Labor is considering raising the minimum wage an employee must earn to be considered an overtime exempt employee. If the proposed rules raise the wage threshold as expected, millions of workers who thus far have been exempt from overtime pay could be eligible.

The federal law that controls overtime rules in Georgia and the rest of the United States is called the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA requires employers to pay employees an overtime wage of 1.5 times the employee’s normal salary for each hour in excess of 40 the employee works in a seven-day workweek.

However, the FLSA exempts many types of employees from the overtime mandate. This means that employers are not legally required to pay these overtime-exempt employees the time-and-a-half overtime wage. Whether an employee is exempt or nonexempt is determined by the primary duties of her job. The employer does not determine whether the employee is exempt or nonexempt.

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A trucking company that fired a truck driver who had been diagnosed with alcohol dependency did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), according to a recent Eleventh Circuit ruling.

The plaintiff in the case was employed in Georgia by the defendant, a trucking company, as an over-the-road driver. In 2010, the plaintiff requested and was granted an FMLA leave of absence to care for a “serious health problem” after talking with his personal physician about his alcohol issues. Upon completion of a 30-day program at an inpatient substance abuse facility, the plaintiff’s physician certified that he was fit to return to work. A week after his discharge from the treatment program, the plaintiff was fired. The reason given was that his clinical diagnosis of chronic “alcohol dependence” made him unfit for his job according to company policy and DOT regulations.

The plaintiff sued his former employer for wrongful termination under the ADA and interference and retaliation under the FMLA. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia granted summary judgment on behalf of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

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The Eleventh Circuit last month affirmed the basic principles of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by denying an employer’s attempt to blame its employee’s conduct for the employer’s violation of overtime wage laws.

The case, Bailey v. TitleMax of Georgia, involved an FLSA overtime claim brought by an employee of the defendant. The plaintiff worked at TitleMax for approximately one year. During this time, the employee routinely worked off the clock at the direction of his supervisor, who erroneously asserted that the company did not pay overtime. Additionally, the supervisor also edited time records to underreport the hours the plaintiff worked. These practices resulted in overtime hours the employee worked but was not paid for.

The plaintiff brought a claim under the FLSA in federal court for unpaid overtime wages. In response to the lawsuit, the defendant contended that the employee’s violations of company policy absolved it from liability. The company adopted internal policies that required employees to accurately report their hours, regularly verify their hours, and report any problems at work to their supervisors or higher-level managers. Since the employee violated these policies, the defendant argued that it should be absolved from liability pursuant to a legal theory that prevents plaintiffs from recovering if they bear responsibility for their own injuries. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant under this theory.

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Generally, an employer must pay employees overtime wages unless the employee is exempt under federal or state law. Determining whether an employee is overtime exempt can be difficult, especially if the employee’s duties are of a mixed nature. In a recent case, the Court of Appeals of Georgia noted that it often takes a fact-intensive inquiry into the specific duties of the employee.

The case, DeKalb County v. Kirkland, involved a claim by fire captains involving accrued compensatory time. The captains contended that the county should have allowed them to use their compensatory time or paid them for it. Part of the captains’ argument relied on a provision of the county code that prohibited cash payment for compensatory time for exempt employees. They argued that they were not, in fact, overtime exempt employees, and thus the county code did not forbid payment for their accrued compensatory time.

The Court of Appeals ultimately granted summary judgment for the county. The Court noted that the determination of whether an employee is overtime exempt or nonexempt relies on his or her actual job duties. Since the captains provided no evidence to prove that they were misclassified by the county, the court could not accept their argument. Had the captains provided some evidence of their specific job duties, the Court of Appeals may have had a much harder time making a determination.

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Old clockThe statute of limitations for a Georgia whistleblower action does not accrue until the employee receives a definitive or final determination about the alleged retaliatory action, the Court of Appeals of Georgia held late last year. This ruling helps public employees who have been wrongfully terminated by their employers prove their cases under the Georgia Whistleblower Statute.

The plaintiff in the case was the police chief for a public institution in the University of Georgia system. The school fired the plaintiff in late 2009 after several contentious issues that began in October 2008. One of these was school staff interfering in a criminal investigation that the plaintiff thought was in violation of Georgia law. In June 2009, school administrators asked the plaintiff to resign from his post once he found a new job or face immediate termination. He initially agreed to resign but later changed his mind. On November 19th 2009, the school delivered a letter of termination to the plaintiff. The plaintiff filed suit under the Georgia Whistleblower Statute for wrongful termination on November 10, 2010.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment contending, in part, that the the statute of limitations barred suit. It was granted by the trial court, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

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Money dominoesThe Georgia legislature began its 2015-2016 regular session on January 12, and a controversial minimum wage bill could be up for debate in the house. House Bill 8, sponsored by Reps. Tyrone Brooks and Dewey McClain, seeks to increase the Georgia minimum wage to $15 an hour for most nonexempt employees.

The current Georgia minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, which is lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal law, must pay the $7.25 wage. Most employers not subject to the FLSA — usually smaller entities with fewer employees — must pay the $5.15 Georgia wage. The smallest of employers may be exempt from all minimum wage laws.

The proposed legislation, if it is passed into law, also would broaden the number of employees exempted from Georgia’s minimum wage. Currently, domestic workers, farm workers, and employees who depend on tips are exempt from the law, meaning that they do not have to be paid the minimum wage. The proposed legislation would change that: Employers of domestic and farm workers would be obligated to pay the new minimum wage. For waiters and other employees who are paid gratuities the new legislation would allow tips to constitute up to 50 percent of their new $15 minimum wage.

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Perhaps drawing inspiration from the college bowl games and NFL playoffs, the world of employment law lately seems fixated on the intrigue of overtime, although more in the context of bonus pay than bonus play. While it may not be as thrilling as a Hail Mary pass or as heartbreaking as a missed kick (sorry, Auburn fans) to end the game, overtime as it relates to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) can have a major impact on both employers and employees, so it’s worth taking some time out from being an armchair quarterback to look at some of the latest developments.

Two big court decisions in December went against employees looking for overtime. The first came from the US Supreme Court in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk. As covered previously on this blog, the case asked whether time—up to 25 extra minutes—spent in an internal security screening line at the end of one’s shift should be compensable. In a rare move for such divergent ideologies, the justices were unanimous in rejecting the notion that time spent in the line deserves to be time on the clock. Continue reading →

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‘Tis the season for holidays and, presumably, some time off with family and friends. Before finalizing any plans for an extended break, however, you might want to check the schedule at work. While spending days like Christmas and New Year’s opening gifts or lazing out to a string of bowl games seems like a no-brainer, for most workers in Georgia and Tennessee, there’s no law that says your employer can’t make you work those days.

For some jobs, like emergency services, restaurants, and retail, the notion that some people are stuck working on holidays seems pretty obvious. Less obvious to many people, though, is that neither Georgia nor Tennessee prohibits private employers—as opposed to state or municipal agencies—from requiring workers to come in on statutory holidays.

That means if the accounting firm or metal shop you work for decides December 25 should be business as usual, you’re expected to show up unless you’ve otherwise requested and been granted the time off. And there aren’t any guaranteed perks for being stuck at work while everyone else you know is home. If your employer is offering something like time and half for coming in on a holiday, that’s solely at its discretion. The only guaranteed extra pay is whatever you’d already be eligible for if the holiday sent you into overtime.

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With the economic downturn largely in America’s rearview mirror as job creation and employment continue to rise, there’s been a lot of talk about the quality of many of those new roles. Whether it’s fast food workers or retail employees, the most prominent new labor issue is not whether there are jobs to be found, but whether those jobs offer a living wage. Over the past several months, workers in minimum- and low-wage positions have made increasingly louder demands for higher pay and unionization rights through a string of walkouts and protests around the country. Perhaps a matter of serendipitous timing or the signal of a cultural shift, it seems that lawmakers and courts are giving life and validity to the movement, and employers should start taking notice.

Consider the situation at America’s biggest retailer, Walmart. For the third year in a row, Black Friday shoppers across the country were met by protests from workers and sympathizers demanding a base pay increase to $15 per hour and the right to form a union. Actually, the number of Walmart workers comprised only a small portion of the protesters, with the majority being members of other unions offering support. Whether the protesters actually represent the sentiment of all or even most Walmart workers largely depends on which side of the divide is offering an opinion, but an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently sided with employees who said they were unfairly disciplined by the company for their efforts to organize workers.

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