Judges normally make rulings on discrimination suits, rather than cause them. But a Nevada judge is turning that truism on its ear. The judge has been charged with creating a hostile work environment and treating courtroom staff like personal servants. In turn, she alleges that the real problem is discrimination based on her physical condition.
According to testimony in a judiciary hearing, Judge Elizabeth Halverson requires employees – specifically her bailiff and court reporters — to perform personal services for her ranging from foot rubs and back massages to covering her with her “blankie” for naps. Halverson’s former bailiff says the judge’s treatment left him feeling like a houseboy. When he complained, the bailiff was asked, “Do you want to worship me from near or afar?”
The 2008 NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) was signed by President George W. Bush, and went into effect immediately. A provision of this law expands unpaid, job-protected FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) leave to 26 weeks for military families.
Under the new law, every employer in Nevada and nationwide is responsible for posting the Military Family Leave notice.
Previously, FMLA leave was granted for up to 12 weeks, and family was defined as a child, a parent or a spouse. The 2008 NDAA extends the leave, plus adds “next of kin”, which includes cousins, aunt, uncles and in-laws to the “family” member definition.
Under the new NDAA, family members of active military and of National Guard and Reserve personnel on active duty can take FMLA leave to care for these military personnel when under medical care. Eligible conditions include mental and physical therapy, outpatient treatments and temporary disability from illness or injury.
The NDAA is in effect, but the final regulations have not been published yet.
The U. S. Department of Labor is asking all businesses to grant leave to eligible families as an “act of good faith” until the Secretary of Labor issues the finalized regulations. These regulations, as well as updated regulations for the FMLA, should be published about April 11, 2008.
Though the final regulations are still awaiting publication, employers are required to immediately display the new Military Family Leave poster. This poster is an addition to state and federal labor law posters already required to be displayed. Like those posters, the new Military Family Leave notice must be placed in a permanent position that is a visible to all workers. Any company that does not comply will be penalized.
In 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law. FMLA broke new ground by providing employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for a serious illness.
In early 2008, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was signed into law and will expand the FMLA for the first time since its enactment. The details of the expansion are still being finalized and the U. S. Department of Labor will publish the expanded FMLA rules in the near future.
FMLA broke new ground in requiring employers to protect the worker’s job. Prior to FMLA, if a worker took a lot of time off from work for illness or surgery, that worker often got fired. Companies had no standard guidelines to follow, and usually handled each case individually.
To be eligible for FMLA an employer must have 50 or more workers within a 75 mile radius, and workers need to be employed for the previous 12 months, for at least 1, 250 hours.
Eligible employees can take FMLA leave for their own serious illness, or to care for a parent, child, or spouse who is ill. Caring for a newborn, a newly fostered child (under the age of 18), or a newly adopted child can also be charged to FMLA leave.
Though the NDAA changes haven’t been published, some FMLA changes have been issued. On February 11, 2008, revisions were enacted to update the medical certification process, and to redefine the time frame for employers to inform workers of their rights under FMLA.
The reporting process for FMLA leave received a major revision. Previously, a worker could take FMLA leave at any time without advising the employer prior to taking time off. The updated regulations will now require employees to follow the employer’s standard procedure for reporting absences. The standard usually requires the worker to notify the company prior to the beginning of his or her shift.
Employers should be granting a newly expanded FMLA leave now to relatives and spouses of active duty Reserve and National Guard members.
A new law, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (NDAA), went into effect on January 28, 2008, and became effective immediately. The President signed the bill to amend the FMLA leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for military families.
The U.S. Labor Department is completing regulations for the expanded FMLA coverage, but in the meantime employers are expected to act in good faith to comply with the legislation.
The NDAA essentially amends the Family and Medical Leave Act. So the U.S. Labor Department is urging employers to use the existing FMLA procedural guidelines for unpaid leave. That includes medical certification and paid leave substitution.
It also appears that the NDAA allows workers to take the maximum of 26 weeks for what is called “any qualifying exigency” if a spouse, parent, son or daughter of an employee is called to active duty. Time off to care for children, when a family member is on active duty, is likely to be part of the plan.
However, information at this point is somewhat contradictory. On the one hand the provision does not become effective, at least technically, until the U.S. Labor Secretary releases the final regulations. They should describe what is included in the term “qualifying exigency.” On the other hand, the Labor Department is “encouraging” employers to make a good-faith effort to provide the leave immediately.
The NDAA enlarges FMLA to include “next of kin” as a person entitled to NDAA leave when the soldier is injured. . Aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws of the soldier could qualify for the 26 weeks of leave.
The law guarantees 26 weeks of the unpaid FMLA leave so a spouse, child, parent or next of kin may take care of a member of the military services who is getting medical treatment. That would include mental and physical therapy, outpatient treatment, recuperation, or caring for someone on the temporary disability retired list for a severe injury or illness.
Until 1993, employers in Nevada and elsewhere in the U.S. were under no obligation to provide workers with job protected, unpaid leave for an illness. If a worker got a heart attack or had to undergo chemotherapy or major surgery, he or she could be fired for taking 2 or 3 weeks of work off.
That all changed with the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. With the passage of the Act, workers could take as much as 12 weeks of unpaid but job protected leave during any 12-month period if there is a serious illness.
“Job protected” means the employee was now guaranteed his or her job back at the end of the leave. If it was impossible to provide the same job, then one with very similar duties, pay, benefits and conditions must be offered.
FMLA allows workers to take leave also to care for a seriously ill member of the “immediate family,” namely spouses, children, or parents. Some states have expanded that. Hawaii, for example, allows workers to take leave to care for grandparents or in-laws with serious illnesses.
FMLA is also a maternity/paternity leave. It allows workers to take the time to bond with a newborn child, a newly adopted child, or a new foster child under age 18.
The FMLA only covers companies with 50 or more workers within 75 miles, although 11 states in the U.S. have extended the law to cover smaller firms.
Employers are allowed to count paid leave, such as sick time or PTO (Paid Time Off) against the 12 weeks of FMLA. However, the employee must be notified of that intention in writing before his or her leave begins.
“Job protected” means the employee is entitled to the same or similar work when he or she returns. If the same job cannot be provided then the employer must provide one with similar pay, duties, working conditions, and benefits.
While the FMLA limits leave to care for “immediate family,” some states have expanded that. Hawaii, for example, allows workers to take job protected unpaid leave to care for grandparents or in-laws.
Before the passage of the FMLA, employers were under no obligation to keep an employee who had to take time because of serious illness, even if the worker underwent chemotherapy or major surgery.
Good news is on the horizon for Nevada workers with disabilities. The US Department of Labor has joined forces with a large human resource organization to improve the job situation for disabled workers. As a group, disabled workers are often underutilized in the workforce. This alliance should help improve the employment outlook for disabled workers.
The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, also known as ODEP, has joined forces with the Society of Human Resource Managers, also known as SHRM. Working together, these two organizations will be able to supply guidance and information to help improve the employment picture for workers with disabilities. In addition, this partnership should provide access to resources.
According to Roy Grizzard, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy, “This alliance formalizes the relationship we have had with SHRM, benefiting SHRM as it serves its membership with the resources ODEP brings to the table and offering ODEP the opportunity for broader contact with human resource professionals.”
Both organizations bring a great deal to the table. Created in 2001, the Office of Disability Employment Policy focuses on integrating disabled workers into the workforce. The assistant secretary was assigned the responsibility for this agency by U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. The Office of Disability Employment Policy is the federal agency responsible for the policy impacting disabled workers.
For its part, the Society of Human Resource Managers has over 205,000 members. As the largest human resource professional association in the world, SHRM has worked since it was founded in 1948 to provide human resource professionals with necessary resources. With members in over 100 countries around the globe, SHRM has 550 chapters.
Thanks to the new alliance between these two organizations, disabled workers will have increased access to training, education, and technical assistance. Moreover, this alliance will foster a dialogue on a national level about the employment situation for disabled workers.
So far, the U.S. Labor Department has awarded $260 million in WIRED grants to 26 regions throughout the country. Each of those regions had one thing in common. That was a stagnant economy with high unemployment.
The third round of WIRED grants has been announced. The name stands for Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development. As the name suggests, grants are awarded to proposals that offer new, non-traditional, and innovative ways of answering the challenges involved in making a region’s workforce relevant to the 21st century and its global marketplace.
“This regional economic development strategy,” said U.S. Labor Secretary Chao, “transcends political boundaries to better leverage a region’s assets to help workers succeed in the 21st century worldwide economy.” The initiative operates under the umbrella of the Employment and Training Administration, part of the Labor Department.
A Nevada unemployment grant would help workers in regions of the state where unemployment has been an ongoing challenge. Such a grant would join others already awarded in northern Indiana, northern Alabama, the Delaware Valley, northern California, and the Mississippi/Arkansas Delta.
The grants are highly competitive. The process begins when Secretary Chao announces the latest generation of grants to every governor in the state. Regions submit grant proposals to governors, and governors may choose two per state, each with a maximum request of $5 million.
“Investing in area workforces through this collaborative approach,” said Secretary Chao, “will boost entire regions economic vitality.”