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2011 Labor and Employment Law in Review: EEOC's Verizon Settlement, Suitable Seating, Employee Misclassification

January 17, 2012

In our previous Irvine employment lawyers blog, Howard Law attorney Vincent Howard discussed important California and federal labor and employment law cases from 2011.

In this Costa Mesa employment blog issue, Mr. Howard will continue in his labor and employment discussion, highlighting other key 2011 developments, including the EEOC's largest disability discrimination settlement with Verizon, the topic of suitable seating in the workplace, and the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) continuing crusade to curb wage and hour violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), among other high-profile cases from last year.

Verizon Pays Record $20M in EEOC's Largest Disability Discrimination Settlement
Last year, in the largest disability discrimination settlement in a single lawsuit in the EEOC's history, Verizon, the telecommunications giant, agreed to pay $20 million to resolve the EEOC's nationwide class disability discrimination lawsuit. Verizon Communications was accused in the lawsuit of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to accommodate disabled employees and make exceptions to the company's "no fault" attendance plans--which reprimands employees if they accumulate a certain amount of "chargeable absences." The EEOC accused Verizon of denying reasonable accommodations to hundreds of disabled employees by either disciplining them or firing them when they needed more time off than Verizon's leave policy allowed--especially when the "chargeable absences" were caused by disabilities.

Wage and Hour Violations Hit All Time Highs
In 2011 the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) continued on its crusade to reduce workplace labor violations and wage and hour issues. According to the DOL, overtime payment is the largest wage and hour violation issue in the country, with thousands of complaints reported every year. In 2010, nearly 6,800 wage and hour lawsuits were filed, totaling about 700 more than the previous year, and the DOL forced employers to pay an estimated $176 million in back wages to employees. In the past five years, employers have also paid nearly $925 million in back pay and overtime wages to 1.2 million workers.

In May of last year, in order to eliminate wage and hour violations in the workplace, the DOL launched the first ever smartphone app that allows employees to track their own working hours and self-determine the wages that they are owed. The DOL application is available in English and Spanish, for iPod Touch and iPhones, and the DOL is reportedly exploring other versions for the Blackberry and Android smartphones.

Employee Misclassification in 2011
Employee misclassification was also a hot topic in 2011 in state and federal legislation, with the introduction of the Payroll Fraud Prevention Act, by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in April--requiring employers to keep accurate records of employee classification and worker status within the company. In October, as Vincent Howard reported in a Santa Ana employment lawyers blog, California Representative Lynn Woosley (D-CA) introduced the Employee Misclassification Prevention Act of 2011 (EMPA) to put a stop to employee misclassification and help stimulate the national economy. In California, Senate Bill 459 was approved by Governor Jerry Brown--a bill that aims to harshly penalize employers who willfully engage in the misclassification of employees. The IRS also combined departmental efforts with the DOL last year, in order to eliminate employment misclassification in workplaces across the nation.

California Suitable Seating Lawsuits on the Rise
Last year, California retail chains like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target were sued for failing to provide suitable seating for employees with positions where they are required to stand on their feet all day throughout their work shifts. The lawsuits were brought under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), which claims that retail stores violated an IWC Wage Order (Wage Order 7-2001, Section 14) containing provisions that regulate minimum wage, work hours, and other issues, including suitable seating--stating that employers in the retail industry must provide suitable seats to employees, when the nature of their work reasonably permits the use of seats.

EEOC Sets Record Highs in 2011
In November, the EEOC's annual Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) stated that in fiscal year 2011, the commission received 99,847 discrimination charges----the highest number of discrimination charges in the 46-year history of the EEOC. The PAR also showed that the EEOC staff brought the highest amount of monetary relief ever obtained by the EEOC administrative enforcement in the commission's history--with $364.6 million in benefits for victims of workplace discrimination.

In Santa Ana, Lake Forest, and Mission Viejo, California, contact our Howard Law labor and employment attorneys, headed by managing partner Vincent Howard today.

Howard Law, PC Newsletter, January 2012

Related Web Resources:

U.S. Department of Labor: Wage and Hour Division (WHD), Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

California Department of Industrial Relations, (DIR)

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (EEOC)

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, (EEOC)

Department of Labor (DOL): Wage and Hour Division (WHD)

Related Blog Posts:

Verizon's Class Action Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Settles for $20 Million, California Employment Lawyers Blog, July 11, 2011

DOL Continues to Track Down Federal Wage and Hour Law Violations in the Workplace, California Employment Lawyers Blog, September 8, 2011

DOL and IRS Combine Forces to Combat Employee Misclassification, California Employment Lawyers Blog, September 26, 2011

California Retail Stores Hit with Flurry of Suitable Seating Lawsuits, California Employment Lawyers Blog, June 20, 2011

EEOC Sets Record Highs in Monetary Relief, Intake, and Charge Resolution in 2011, California Employment Lawyers Blog, November 28, 2011