Minnesota now requires that employees be given paid time off at any time of day to vote. State legislators amended the voting leave statute in 2010, strengthening what was already one of the strongest voting leave laws in the country.
Under the new law, an employee in Minnesota must be allowed to be absent from work at any time of day to vote. This includes allowing time to travel to the polling place, cast a ballot and return to work. The employer must grant this time off even if the employee has sufficient time when polls are open to vote outside work hours.
The previous version of the law required only that the employer allow time off in the morning. Under the newly amended law, the employer may be required to permit sufficient time off at any time of day, including afternoon, evening or night.
In addition, the Minnesota voting law requires that employees be paid to vote. The law specifies that the employee will not be penalized or have wages deducted (more…)
On July 24, 2009, the federal minimum wage increased by 70 cents from $6.55 per hour to $7.25 per hour. This increase was the third and final increase in the federal minimum wage as set forth by the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007.
Employers in Minnesota and throughout the U.S. must take this opportunity to update their labor law posters, both state and federal. They are legally required to display the most recent labor law posters, and in a spot easily accessible to all employees.
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) is the law which governs the federal minimum wage. FLSA applies to all businesses that earn $500,000 or more per years. Companies who conduct business out of state are also covered by FLSA.
FLSA law applies to individuals engaged in interstate commerce, too, even if the business does not. For example a receptionist who answers out-of-state calls or mails packages outside of the state, qualifies under FLSA and would be paid the federal minimum.
The Minnesota Independent Contractor Exemption Certificate (ICEC) law requires individuals who work as independent contractors in the construction industry, to obtain a certificate from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. The law does not apply to individuals doing business as corporations, LLCs or partnerships.
Contractors who employ individuals who do not have an ICEC must pay state workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance for those individuals. In addition, such workers are considered employees legally and all state and federal employment laws, including minimum wage, overtime and worker safety standards, apply.
The law was designed to (more…)
The U.S. Department of Labor announced a series of grants in February, including a $250,000 grant for Minnesota.
The project will focus on economic development in 17 counties in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The grant will align economic development resources and establish structured economic strategies that create common goals for northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin. Rather than competing for industry, as neighboring states often do, the two states will collaborate to bring more employers into the area.
“Forestry and mining industry declines have hit this region’s workforce hard over the last decade, so it is important that the area’s economic goals are set up to address this issue,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training Douglas F. Small. “This $250,000 grant will support analysis of the region’s infrastructure and economic assets, and help develop viable strategies that create good employment opportunities for workers.”
The grant, awarded to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Workforce Partnership Division, will allow northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin to maximize the effectiveness of a newly established leadership group formulating economic goals and strategies focused on the needs of growing industries.
The project funded by the U.S. Department of Labor includes the Minnesota counties of Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis and the Wisconsin counties of Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor and Washburn.
Regional Innovation Grants are drawn from National Emergency Grant funds to assist state workforce agencies and local workforce investment boards, as well as their key partners, in the design and development of comprehensive and strategic regional plans focused on talent development that is aligned with the demands of the 21st century economy.
There have been a number of important grants in the past few months. When the O’Sullivan Industries closed its plant in Lamar, Missouri, displacing many, many workers, the U. S. Department of Labor awarded the state over 1 million dollars in a National Emergency Grant (NEG). In addition, the new SI WORKS program received $250,000 to help improve worker opportunities and to develop the economy in twenty southern Illinois counties.
NEGs are awarded by the U. S. Department of Labor at the discretion of the Secretary of Labor. The grants provide time-limited funds to give local and state service levels a temporary boost when affected by “significant dislocation events.” To clarify, when a company layoff or plant closure creates a greater need than the state’s resources can handle, the state may apply for an Emergency Grant. To qualify, though, the state must include among its resources and discretionary funds that are available to that state.
States are also encouraged to initiate the grant application process immediately after the need arises, in order to ensure funds will be available. State and local employment agencies have information and policies on grants and the application process.
Understand that different types of grants are awarded in different types of situations.
When a community is small or rural and is severely affected by layoffs of fewer than 50 workers, a Regular NEG may be awarded. Industry-wide layoffs within a region and layoffs of more than 50 workers would also be awarded a Regular NEG.
For communities struck by natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, blizzards, wildfires etc., a Disaster grant could be awarded.
Regional Innovation grants are often used to train laid-off worker for job in new industries. These grants are awarded to partnerships developed between business and government and non-profit agencies.
When the Department of Labor determines that an area is affected by federal trade policies, project layoffs of more than 50 workers would be awarded the Trade-WIA Dual Enrollment grant.
A recent court case makes it more important than ever that employers monitor the use of computers in the workplace.
An employee in Duluth, Minnesota was found guilty of sharing music files on her personal computer, and ordered to pay $222,000 in fines by a federal jury. With attorney’s fees, the total amount could easily top half a million dollars. The jury found that Jammie Thomas, a 30-year-old single mother, shared files of copyrighted music online, in violation of the law. Some of the file sharing was apparently done during Thomas’s work hours.
Thomas will pay the sums to six record companies: Sony BMG, Arista Records, Interscorp Records, UMG Recordings, Captiol Records and Warner Brothers Records.
As devastating as this verdict was for Thomas, it could have been much worse for her employer. While no record company has brought suit against an employer when a work computer was used –yet – it is probably only a matter of time until that happens.
A recent survey shows that many employees use the internet for recreation and even viewing porn at work. Almost certainly, some of them are engaged in illegal file sharing, which could have disastrous consequences for the companies that own the computers.
The judge ordered Thomas, of Brainard, Minnesota to pay 6 record companies $9,250 each for the 24 songs in the case. The judgment could potentially have been much greater – the plaintiffs allege that Thomas actually shared 1,702 songs illegally.
Thomas admits saving the files to her computer hard drive, but contends that someone else using her desk, her computer and her password did the file sharing.
Since 2003, the music industry has filed 26,000 lawsuits based on filesharing, including a very high-profile suit against Napster. In the last few years, the music industry has sued a number of individuals for file sharing, but all the suits have been settled out of court by paying a few thousand dollars. Thomas opted not to do this, and to fight the suit instead.
“This does send a message that downloading and distributing our recordings is not OK,” said Richard Gabriel. Gabriel is the lead attorney for the music companies in the three-day trial.
Thomas’s attorney, Brian Toder, said that his client was in tears. “All of a sudden, she could get a quarter of her paycheck garnished for the rest of her life.”
The 6 record companies accused Thomas of uploading the songs without permission and sharing them through a Kazaa file-sharing account. Thomas denies that she ever had a Kazaa account, although she admits that her password was used.
The record companies produced withnesses including officers of the ISP and a security firm who testified that the Kazaa login, “terastarr”, belonged to Thomas. Her attorney still maintains Thomas’s innocence. “We don’t know what happened. All we know is that Jammie Thomas didn’t do this.”
Thomas also claimed that she had replaced her hard drive, deleting the files, before the incidents took place. A later investigation showed that Thomas was “mistaken” about the date that her hard drive had been replaced. The switch actually occurred about a year later than she originally testified under oath to.
Under current copyright law, damages on copyright infringement cases are set between $750 and $30,000 per use. In cases of “willful” infringement, however, the damages may be up to $150,000 per song. Jurors in this case set the damages in the mid-range for non-willful violations.
Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said, ”This case has put [illegal filesharing] back in the news. Win or lose, people will understand that we are out there trying to protect our rights.” He also expressed surprise that it took so long for a case against an individual to come to trial.