A legal decision upholding the rights of workers at Tyson Foods pork processing plants came under fire recently as Tyson filed a petition to have a $5.8 million judgment overturned. The judgment was initially awarded following a case in U.S. District Court that found workers at a plant in Iowa had not been properly compensated for the time it takes to sanitize equipment when their shifts end, nor the time involved in putting on and taking off protective gear required for working at the plant.

At the time the case was filed, Tyson paid workers an additional four to seven minutes’ pay each day for these activities, but workers said the time actually used in performing the activities was much greater – sometimes as much as 30 minutes. Tyson responded by increasing the extra pay to 20 to 22 minutes’ extra pay for each shift for its hourly employees.

The workers’ legal team countered by claiming Tyson violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as state laws by neglecting to pay overtime for actual time worked, and the class action suit was filed and won.

But now, Tyson is claiming the suit does not qualify as a class action suit under guidelines set forth in similar rulings by the Supreme Court because it’s based on complaints from a subset of workers and not the entire workforce included in the suit. Whether Tyson is able to prove its claim and have the ruling overturned remains to be seen. Until then, workers at the Iowa plant and in other states must continue to live with Tyson’s earlier decision to add 20 to 22 minutes of extra pay, personally assuming the loss for any additional time they spend adhering to mandatory sanitation guidelines.

Are you confused about your rights in the workplace? Call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP right now at (866) 348-7394, or email the team at info@jhllp.com, to explore what you can do about an employer who has harassed you or violated other laws, like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or New York Labor Laws (NYLL).

A recent audit of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation revealed substantial overtime pay for workers in the traffic paint and sign division – on average, workers were paid $48,000 in overtime compared to just over $8,000 for workers in other city departments, including police and firefighters. But while the figures may sound excessive, an audit found there wasn’t enough evidence to support a legal claim against the division. And what’s more, the workers say the additional overtime was earned.

According to Los Angeles Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds, the overtime occurred during a time during the tenure of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. During his time in office, more than 100 miles of bike lanes were commissioned and thousands of city streets had been recently resurfaced, requiring extensive hours of striping. At that time, the division employed just three crews and had access to only two trucks, resulting in significant backlogs of work which, in turn, caused the overtime to build up.

Since the audit, the city has approved the hiring of at least 20 additional employees for the traffic paint and sign division, sending a clear signal the division has been overworked.

Even the audit noted staffing levels in the division declined 20 percent since 2010 and conceded new projects could have resulted in overtime.

“There is not evidence to show that the work was not done,” City Controller Ron Galperin said, “but then again, there is not evidence to show what was done.”

Reynolds said the division will implement improvements recommended following the audit, including keeping better records and implementing improvements in monitoring overtime.

If you need assistance with a harassment, discrimination or wage and hour case from a qualified and experienced New York employment law firm, call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP today at 1 (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com.

Los Angeles officials are pointing fingers at the city Department of Transportation, alleging department employees in the traffic paint and sign division might have padded their overtime wages to the tune of $3.3 million. An initial audit of department figures revealed a superintendent employed by the division received $155,310 in overtime pay, about twice his annual salary of $78,000.

According to Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, four division supervisors were paid $70,000 in overtime pay. Overall, workers in the division were paid an average of $48,000 in overtime pay, compared to the average of $8,300 in overtime pay received by employees in other city departments, including employees in the city’s police and fire departments.

What triggered the audit? The City Controller’s office received a tip that employees in the division were claiming overtime pay for hours they did not actually work. And indeed, once the audit was initiated, overtime claims declined by 40 percent, according to the officials who completed the audit.

“One might reasonably conclude that at least some of the employees in the Traffic Paint and Sign section were committing payroll fraud,” the audit noted.

But like many other workplace- and wage-related legal issues, there’s more than one side to this story, and division employees say the case is not as clear-cut as city officials might have others believe. Even the auditors admit at this point that there’s not enough evidence to support a criminal investigation or prosecution. Read our next blog post to learn what the employees have to say.

Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP has successfully represented restaurant workers and service workers in diverse industries in many nationally prominent wage and hour cases. Call us today at 1 (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com, to schedule a confidential intake evaluation.

Dennis Hastert, retired Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is under investigation for sexual abuse against a former male student, which allegedly occurred at a school where Hastert worked as a teacher until 1981. The investigation was initiated after the FBI became suspicious of several large cash transactions involving Hastert and totaling $1.4 million. While this isn’t technically a sexual harassment case, we wanted to talk about this story for two reasons: 1) it’s a huge news item that has many people discussing just what is and what is not appropriate when it comes to conduct at work and at school; and 2) allegations of abuse or harassment at work often boil down to “he said, she said” type arguments, and this story illustrates the kind of polarization that such arguments can create.

Federal authorities levied charges against Hastert, whom they allege lied to the FBI about why he was making large cash withdrawals. According to the charges, the funds were being paid to the former student to keep the alleged abuse incidents secret.

The indictment also charges Hastert agreed to pay a total of $3.5 million to ensure the former student would not make the abuse public. Initially, Hastert withdrew $50,000 at a time to make payments, but after bank officials questioned the activity, he lowered the amount of each withdrawal to below $10,000. The large and consistent number of withdrawals attracted the attention of federal officials, who suspected Hastert was attempting to evade income reporting requirements.

Ironically, Hastert replaced GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1998, after Gingrich was ousted amid an ethics investigation for which he wound up being heavily fined. Since leaving Congress in 2007, Hastert has worked as a co-leader of Dickstein Shapiro’s Public Policy and Political Law practice, as a board member for a firm specializing in the futures market, and as a board member of the evangelical Christian school, Wheaton College, located on the outskirts of Chicago. Hastert resigned all three positions after the indictment was announced.

The Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP team can help you understand your rights and options in a potential sexual harassment case. Call us today at 1 (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com, to schedule a free intake evaluation.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane doesn’t intend to remove Chief of Staff Jonathan Duecker from his post, despite allegations by Deputy Attorney General Kathleen Kluk accusing Duecker of sexually harassing her. Duecker, who had headed the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation, was promoted to chief of staff in early May.

Kluk says Duecker ran his hand up the back of her shirt and touched her skin; she also alleges that he placed his hand on her thigh during a dinner with other narcotics bureau agents.

Kane’s communication adviser Chuck Ardo said Kane believes the claims are being made to undermine her, and he added that, after the incident, Duecker “went through his chain of command to request they look into it. The chain of command looked into it and felt no further action was warranted.”
Ardo added that it’s unclear whether an investigation was ever initiated under the attorney general’s Office of Professional Responsibility, the attorney general’s version of an internal affairs unit.

Sexual harassment isn’t just unpleasant – it’s illegal. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has established these guidelines regarding sexual harassment in the workplace:

*    It’s against the law to harass someone because of his or her gender. You may not make sexual advances, request sexual favors and make offensive remarks about a person’s gender.

*    Victims and harassers may be of the same or opposite sex.

*    Although offhand comments are not prohibited, consistent or severe teasing is illegal when it creates a hostile work environment.

*    Workplace harassment regulations cover bosses, employees, coworkers and even customers.

The Joseph & Kirschenbaum, LLP team can help you understand your rights and options in a potential sexual harassment case. Call us today at 1 (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com, to schedule a free and totally confidential strategic consultation.

As Los Angeles city leaders ponder the steps they need to take to increase wages across the city, business owners are pushing hard to have tips counted toward minimum wage requirements for workers in the restaurant industry and other service industries where tipping is more common. Currently, California labor laws prohibit business owners from counting tips toward minimum wage requirements. But area restaurant owners claim increasing minimum wage levels across the city will force them out of business entirely unless they can use tips to offset their obligations.

The California Restaurant Association has been working to rally support. In response, state Assemblyman Tom Daly recently introduced association-sponsored legislation to loosen regulations that prohibit counting tips toward minimum wage, but he indicated the legislation failed to garner enough support to move forward, despite backing from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Studies in other areas, including New York, where tips can be counted toward wage requirements, have found that complex rules can result in workers being significantly underpaid.

As an employee, knowing your rights is critical. Here are six common misconceptions about wages you need to know:

1.    You check can’t be withheld for poor performance.

2.    You must be paid on time.

3.    If you work more than 40 hours in a week, and you’re not considered an exempt employee, you must be paid at least one-and-a-half times the regular hourly wage for your overtime.

4.    Whether or not you’re exempt from overtime is determined by federal regulations, not by your employer.

5.    You must be paid for the hours you work – you cannot be given “comp time” or other options instead of pay.

6.    You cannot be prohibited from discussing your salary with your coworkers.

Are you confused about your rights in the workplace? Call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP right now at (866) 348-7394, or email the team at info@jhllp.com, to explore what you can do about an employer who has harassed you or violated other laws, like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or New York Labor Laws (NYLL).

The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit against the owners of two restaurants in Ames, Iowa, alleging they failed to pay workers the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour as well as additional payments for overtime as required by law.

The suit lists nearly $600,000 in damages for the wages it says are owed to the workers at both Mongolian Buffet and the now-defunct King Buffet. Both restaurants were owned by Li Ying Li and Jian Yum Zheng, a husband and wife who are both named in the lawsuit.

According to the suit, which was filed in late April, both servers and kitchen employees at the two restaurants were expected to work 72 hours per week. Some of the employees received fixed weekly wages of $450, which works out to $6.25 per hour.
The U.S. Department of labor regulators say $597,000 is owed to nearly 40 workers for violations that occurred during a two-year period from March 2012 to March 2014.

Wage violations are some of the most common labor violations in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Labor sets wage standards under its Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In general, employees must be paid at least the federal minimum wage, which is currently established at $7.25 (state and local jurisdictions may set higher minimums); and overtime (more than 40 hours per week) must be paid to all non-exempt employees at a rate of at least one-and-a-half times the normal rate of pay. You can read more about the FLSA at the U.S. Department of Labor website here.

Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP has successfully represented restaurant workers and service workers in diverse industries in many nationally prominent wage and hour cases. Call us today at 1 (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com, to schedule a free and totally confidential strategic intake evaluation about your situation.

San Francisco has joined its sister city, Oakland, in establishing the highest minimum wage rates in the country, increasing the citywide minimum wage from $11.05 to $12.25. The hike occurred on April 15th following Oakland’s raise in early March, and it marks an important step toward achieving the eventual goal of $15 per hour that’s targeted for 2018, according to the Service Employees International Union 1021.

The union hailed the move in a statement issued just prior to the rate going into effect, calling it a “mass movement on behalf of all the low-wage workers in our society.”

“The Bay Area is moving to develop the first regional standard in the country for wages and working conditions,” said Gary Jimenez, SEIU 1021’s Vice President for the East Bay.

Following the lead of San Francisco and Oakland, Bay Area cities Emeryville and Berkeley hope to join in a minimum wage hike. In Emeryville, the city council will consider a proposal to raise the wage to $14.42 immediately, with plans to raise it to nearly $16 by 2019. Berkeley’s council will consider a proposal in June aimed at raising the minimum wage in that city to $15.99 by 2017.

The hikes in minimum wage reflect a nationwide movement toward better rights for minimum wage workers who often find themselves struggling to make ends meet despite working long hours. Demanding a fair wage may seem intimidating to many workers, but the fact is, workers have many rights of which they may not be aware. Different cities can have very different wage and labor laws, and understanding your rights in terms of your location is critical to ensuring that your employer treats you fairly.

If you need assistance with a harassment, discrimination or wage and hour case from a qualified and experienced New York employment law firm, call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP today at 1 (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com.

A lawsuit recently filed in Manhattan Federal Court alleges that executives at CBS committed sexual harassment. The lawsuit, filed by celebrity reporter Ken Lombardi, describes an ongoing climate of harassment at the CBS office, where the 29 year old reporter worked for several years.

The story serves as a powerful reminder that the victims of sexual harassment need not always be women.

Documents filed in the suit allege that, at a 2013 holiday party, Duane Tollison, a senior producer and Lombardi’s boss at the time, “grabbed Lombardi’s crotch and kissed his neck.” Tollison followed up the following day with a written correspondence saying: “I wanted to apologize if anything I did offended you or crossed a line. I like to get a little crazy. If you weren’t offended, then let’s do it again. LOL How is your day so far? :)”

The lawsuit also alleges that, when Lombardi turned to another boss, “CBS Evening News” director Albert (Chip) Colley, for professional advice and help dealing with Tollison’s unwanted actions, he instead received sexual advances, including text messages with links to porn sites and unwanted physical advances. In addition, Lombardi says he was harassed because of his sexual orientation (Lombardi is bi-sexual) by Colley, who allegedly told Lombardi that he “did not really believe being bi-sexual was real and told plaintiff that he was actually completely gay.”

Lombardi claims that Colley’s harassment was unrelenting and predatory in nature, eventually causing Lombardi to quit his job. Prior to taking that step, however, he reported the harassment to Human Resources at the network. Not only were his complaints to HR ignored, according to the suit, but Lombardi suffered retaliation for reporting the unwanted advances.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on a variety of characteristics, including sex, and it prohibits harassment in the workplace. Lombardi’s lawsuit seeks an undetermined amount in damages for violations of labor laws, emotional distress, and discrimination.

The Joseph & Kirschenbaum, LLP team can help you understand your rights and options in a potential sexual harassment case. Call us today at 1 (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com, to schedule a free and totally confidential strategic consultation.

Fast food giant McDonald’s recently announced, after some significant prodding from employees, that it will increase pay for all employees by $1 an hour. While the change represents a step in the right direction, it falls considerably short of the $15 an hour many workers’ rights advocates say that employees need to survive and thrive in today’s economy.

Just a few short years ago, at the height of the most recent economic downturn, unemployed workers counted themselves lucky to find even a minimum wage job at a fast food restaurant. With the Great Recession thankfully behind us now, however, these workers are beginning to feel secure enough once again to speak out against repressed wages as well as wage and hour violations and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Organized demonstrations across the country have put pressure on big name employers to raise wages – and companies appear to be feeling the pressure. Within the last few months, McDonald’s, Walmart, TJMaxx, Marshalls, Homegoods, and Target have all agreed to increase wages to at least $9 an hour for all employees, and some of these companies have agreed to further increases to $10 an hour within the next year. These labor victories have followed on the heels of similar wage hike successes during Election Day 2014.

Many McDonald’s employees remain unhappy, though. They say that the $1 an hour pay increase isn’t sufficient to cover basic expenses, and the wage hike fails to address other urgent employee issues. A $1 an hour pay increase won’t get a worker in New York City off of Food Stamps or a worker in Los Angeles out of public housing.

Moreover, only those who work in restaurants that McDonald’s owns and operates will see a pay increase. The other 750,000 employees who work in franchised restaurants — 90 percent of the company’s labor force — will not see a pay increase. McDonald’s argues that it cannot control the practices at its franchise stores; however, the National Labor Relations Board disagrees. The NLRB found that “through its franchise relationship and its use of tools, resources and technology, [McDonald’s] engages in sufficient control over its franchisees’ operations, beyond protection of the brand, to make it a putative joint employer with its franchisees.”

It appears clear that McDonald’s workers have no plans to simply accept the $1 an hour raise they — or more accurately some of them — have been offered. Rallies scheduled for April 15th in over 200 cities nationwide suggest that the fight for better pay and fairer treatment for restaurant workers is just getting started.

If you need assistance with a harassment, discrimination or wage and hour case from a qualified and experienced New York employment law firm, call Joseph & Kirschenbaum, LLP today at 1 (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com.