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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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A broad set of protections, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on a number of factors, including race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Over the past 50 years, courts and lawmakers have dedicated a lot of time to tweaking the law and figuring out how to apply it to situations that may be completely unique or reflective of society’s ever-evolving norms.

Recent months have proved to be no exception, with a number of continuing legal challenges arising under Title VII further defining the breadth and boundaries of the protection it offers. Around the country and even up to the US Supreme Court, Title VII litigation is making for some interesting decisions and debates. Here are some of the more noteworthy questions and revelations of late:

Volunteers aren’t entitled to Title VII protections from employment discrimination

This might strike some as obvious, since the very notion that one is a volunteer rather than a paid employee should be enough to draw a distinction. Numerous other recent suits brought by interns and independent contractors looking to confer employee status upon themselves, however, have blurred the lines more than before. As in those cases, a big question for the Sixth Circuit in Sister Michael Marie v. American Red Cross was the amount of control exercised over the means and manner of the volunteers’ performance.

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The economic downturn that began in 2008 changed a lot of things about the job market. Apart from the jump in unemployment rates, may of the jobs that were available were no longer the full-time positions that traditionally served as the norm for the workforce. More roles were converted to part-time or temporary jobs that didn’t include the benefits of full-time positions. Many of these positions also came with a certain degree of instability and no guarantee of hours, while many of the temporary workers being staffed by employment agencies were ceding a significant chunk of their potential earnings to the agencies.

Emerging from this came a rise in independent contractors (“1099 workers” to the IRS), who were often completely competent employees forced out during tough times who remained un- or under-employed for long periods and decided to cut out any middleman as they did piecemeal work where they could. The system worked out well for businesses using the independent contractors, since they were not obligated to offer benefits or even pay employment taxes on the 1099 pool of labor. As long as the workers could exercise a great deal of autonomy as to how they accomplished the assigned tasks and there was some level of impermanence, everyone–including the IRS–was happy.

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Just a couple of decades ago, some of the biggest unsanctioned communications “perks” an employee might covet would be making a long-distance call on the company dime or using the fax for personal business when no one was looking. Then came the chain emails and funny cat videos one could sneak in between doing actual work. Now, however, an array of social media sites being constantly updated tethers many workers to information and entertainment streams that have nothing to do with their jobs and everything to do with wasting time.

Abstractly, time spent mindlessly browsing Facebook or Twitter while on the clock is time being stolen from the company. To combat the problem, it used to be that businesses could simply add a few firewalls and restrict access to certain sites. As smartphone ownership with high-speed data has become more of the norm, however, there’s less that can be done to stop employees from simply shifting their Internet play time off the company servers and into their palms. But is the time spent goofing off online really any different from time that was once wasted at the water cooler, or have workers merely taken inherent down time to its natural technological extension?

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The US Supreme Court reconvened last month with this term’s docket including several employment law cases, some that might even make for major changes from business as usual. Considering that about 10,000 cases seek review by the Supreme Court, which has great discretion over which ones it will hear, and only about 80 actually make it to oral arguments in the October-through-June term, it’s significant when employment law cases account for about 10% of the roster.

Most prominently among the employment law cases is Young v. United Parcel Service, which will look at whether pregnant employees are entitled to accommodations with work restrictions if similar accommodations are being offered to non-pregnant employees. It’s a test of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and whether a pregnant employee seeking accommodations should be given the same consideration as a UPS employee injured on the job or one who’s protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Regular pregnancies aren’t considered disabilities.)

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As a kid, everyone seems to have that one friend whose parents are infinitely more permissive than their own. They get to stay up late, eat junk food, and come and go at their leisure. For the envious rest of us, childhood was just a matter of biding time until we were all grown up and could do what we pleased without anyone telling us what to do. All those years of waiting for the freedom we’d only dreamed about seemed poised to bathe us in unrestricted joy…

Then came our jobs. Actual responsibilities and obligations became our new burdens, at least as long as we wanted the income to support our fabulous visions of freedom. Bosses and clients and our direct reports and customers and partners:  everyone’s demands whittle away at the dream of complete autonomy. Before you realize it, you’d love it if someone would make you go to bed by 10 on a weeknight, but then who’d get to all those backlogged reports?

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