Locked in a Freezer for Retaliation: Chipotle Must Pay

This from the National Law Review website (sounds pretty bizarre):

Austin Melton, a manager at a San Jose Chipotle store who was 22 years old at the time, was forced to endure pervasive verbal and physical harassment by his female supervisor. His supervisor propositioned Melton and his then-girlfriend for sex, touched him inappropriately, and posted a “scoreboard” in the main office to track the staff’s sexual activities.

chipolte-workers-sue-to-get-overtime-payWhen young Melton reported the harassment, he was locked in a freezer in retaliation. He eventually quit (after being released from the icebox), and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took up his case and filed suit.

Yes, Chipolte lost and was dinged $95,000 to Melton for lost wages and damages. It was also assigned, along with 27 other Chipoltes in the area, a anti-sexual harassment training regimen.

“This was my first job after high school, and it was hard to speak up about the harassment to management and then to the EEOC. But it was the right thing to do,” said Melton. “I hope this settlement will help to make the restaurants a better and safer workplace for everyone. I am thankful to the EEOC for standing up for me and seeing this through.”


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Issues Holiday Warnings to Employers

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the Department of Labor (DOL) remind employers to protect worker safety and pay during the holiday season.

dol-promotes-safe-holiday-shopping“During the busy holiday season, employers must focus on protecting their workers by anticipating and preventing potential hazards in the workplace,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “All workers deserve a safe workplace whether they are stocking shelves, packing boxes, delivering products or selling merchandise.”

OSHA offers holiday workplace safety resources on warehousing, tractor trailer drivers, forklift safety, winter weather and crowd management. General safety guides are also available, providing information on workers’ rights, the protection of temporary and seasonal workers, as well as safety for young workers.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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OSHA Increases Enforcement Activity in Fiscal Year 2019

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the Department of Labor (DOL) today released fiscal year (FY) 2019 final statistics showing a significant increase in the number of inspections and a record amount of compliance assistance to “further the mission of ensuring that employers provide workplaces free of hazards,” according to the agency’s announement.

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Loren Sweatt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor

OSHA officials say its accelerating enforcement activities reflect the department’s continued focus on worker safety. Federal OSHA conducted 33,401 inspections — more inspections than the previous three years – addressing violations related to trenching, falls, chemical exposure, silica and other hazards.

In FY19, OSHA provided a record 1,392,611 workers with training on safety and health requirements through the agency’s various education programs, including the OSHA Training Institute Education Centers, Outreach Training Program and Susan Harwood Training Grant Program. OSHA’s compliance assistance programs have helped small businesses address safety and health hazards in their workplaces. In FY19, OSHA’s no-cost On-Site Consultation Program identified 137,885 workplace hazards and protected 3.2 million workers from potential harm.

“OSHA’s efforts – rulemaking, enforcement, compliance assistance and training – are tools to accomplish our mission of safety and health for every worker,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “I am proud of the diligent, hard work of all OSHA personnel who contributed to a memorable year of protecting our nation’s workers.”


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Agencies Propose Health Insurance Price-Transparency Rules

The Departments of Labor (DOL) and Health and Human Services (HHS), together with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), have proposed rules that would require employer-sponsored health plans to provide enrollees with out-of-pocket expense estimates.

health-care-spending-to-rise-5.5%-annuallyThe rules work in tandem to achieve what the DOL describes as requiring “group health plans and health insurance issuers in the individual and group markets to disclose cost-sharing information upon request, to a participant, beneficiary, or enrollee (or his or her authorized representative), including an estimate of such individual’s cost-sharing liability for covered items or services furnished by a particular provider.”

The information would need to be posted on a website and, if requested, made available through non-Internet means. The online data would need to be machine-readable, “allowing the public to have access to health insurance coverage information that can be used to understand health care pricing and potentially dampen the rise in health care spending.”

These proposed rules also include proposals to require plans and issuers to disclose in-network provider negotiated rates, and historical out-of-network allowed amounts.

The agencies will be accepting public commentary through 5 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2020.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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IRS Extends Deadline for Employers to Provide Health Care Coverage Forms

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) today extended the deadline for employers and others to provide health care coverage information to their employees. The deadline is now March 2, 2020, up from Jan. 31.

IRS-sends-out-Obamacare-tax-penalty-noticesThe IRS routinely extends the deadline each year since supplying the forms became a requirement under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, usually referred to as the Affordable Care Act, ACA, or Obamacare) in 2010 (effective 2014).

The ACA requires health insurance issuers, self-insuring employers, government agencies, and other providers of minimum essential coverage to file and furnish annual information returns and statements regarding coverage provided. Section 6056 requires applicable large employers (generally those with 50 or more full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, in the previous year) to file and furnish annual information returns and statements relating to the health insurance, if any, that the employer offers to its full-time employees.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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EEOC Pay Data of No Use, Says Federal Contractor Watchdog Agency

In a notice published today in the Federal Register, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) deems the two years of pay data being collected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) of no use because “it does not expect to find significant utility in the data.”

ofccp-not-using-eeoc-pay-data-collectedThe pay data collection was instituted in 2016 by the Obama EEOC as a vehicle to enforce gender and race pay equity, but the incoming Trump administration promptly canceled the initiative, saying that the agency hadn’t provided enough time for public commentary.

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) then sued, and a federal judge in the District of Columbia reinstated the data collection for two years. The EEOC keeps trying to wrap up the currently ongoing collection of Component 2 pay data — broken down by job category, race, sex and ethnicity — for 2017 and 2018, but the judge has ordered the agency to keep collecting until at least Jan. 31, 2020. (The original deadline was Sept. 30, 2019.)

In light of the EEOC’s recent announcement that it would not collect data beyond the court-ordered period, coupled with the OFCCP’s dismissal of the data as not useful, Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace Justice at the NWLC, said that decision “makes it clear that its priority is protecting employers from scrutiny rather than enforcing pay discrimination laws.”


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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EBSA Restores $2.5 Billion to Pension Plans, Participants

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) of the Department of Labor (DOL) has released its program results for Fiscal Year 2019, saying that EBSA’s enforcement and benefit adviser programs recovered over $2.5 billion in payments to plans, participants and beneficiaries.

ebsa-restores-$2.5billion-in-pension-fundsEBSA’s enforcement program reported over $2 billion in recoveries from its investigations. Under its Terminated Vested Participant Project, EBSA helped participants collect nearly $1.5 billion in retirement benefits owed to them in the form of lump sum payments, present value of lifetime annuity payments and interest. EBSA’s criminal investigations led to the indictment of 76 individuals — including plan officials, corporate officers and service providers – for offenses related to employee benefit plans.

The Office of Outreach, Education and Assistance’s benefit advisers returned $510 million to workers and their families through its informal complaint resolution process. The agency’s benefits advisers provided informal assistance to more than 166,000 individuals, many of whom were seeking assistance relating to benefits from retirement, health, and other employee benefit plans. EBSA benefits advisers also take questions from and provide assistance to employers, plan sponsors, service providers and others to help them understand their duties and obligations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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EEOC Joins the Joint Employer Fray

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is set to issue a rule next month defining a “joint employer” relationship, according to the federal government’s fall regulatory agenda released today.

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The joint employer issue rose to prominence when McDonald’s Corp. was sued by franchisee employees

The Department of Labor (DOL) and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are already working on their own joint employer definitions. The EEOC says its upcoming rule “would, among other things, update and consolidate the EEOC’s position on the topic to regulatory locations that are easier for stakeholders to find….”

In other words, the agency wants a consolidated definition that can be easily located and understood.

The issue of what defines a joint employer relationship came into focus under the Obama administration when the NLRB cast off the longstanding “direct control” interpretation in favor of an “indirect control” definition.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Dollar General Settles Race Discrimination Suit for $6M

Major retail chain Dollar General will pay $6 million and furnish other relief to settle a class race discrimination lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

dollar-general-settles-race-discrimination-lawsuitAccording to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Dollar General, the largest small-box discount retailer in the United States, violated federal law by denying employment to African Americans at a significantly higher rate than white applicants for failing the company’s broad criminal background check.

Employment screens that have a disparate impact on the basis of race violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, unless an employer can show the screen is job-related and is a business necessity. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago (EEOC v. Dolgencorp LLC d/b/a Dollar General, Civil Action No. 13 C 4307), after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through its conciliation process.

The three-year consent decree settling the suit, signed by U.S. District Court Judge Andrea Wood, requires that Dollar General pay $6 million into a settlement fund which will be distributed through a claims process at the direction of the EEOC to African Americans who lost their chance at employment at the company between 2004 and 2019.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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IRS Increases 401(k) Contribution Limit to $19,500 for 2020

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service announced that employees in 401(k) plans will be able to contribute up to $19,500 next year.

IRS-announces-401k-limits for 2020The IRS announced this and other changes in Notice 2019-59 (PDF), posted recently on IRS.gov. This guidance provides cost‑of‑living adjustments affecting dollar limitations for pension plans and other retirement-related items for tax year 2020.

Summary of Changes

The contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $19,000 to $19,500.

The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in these plans is increased from $6,000 to $6,500.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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