Labor & Employment News Digest - July 2008


Ninth Circuit Affirms "Emotional Distress Damages" Caused by Denial of FMLA Leave

Plaintiffs suing their employers under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") may recover lost wages, but they may not recover emotional distress damages. What if an employee misses work because of emotional distress that is caused by a wrongful denial of FMLA leave? The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that such damages are a form of lost wages and therefore may be recovered under FMLA. For more on this case, check out this article on the World of Work Law Blog.

Hang Up and Drive! Washington and California Ban Cell Phone Use While Driving

Effective July 1, 2008, new laws in California and Washington prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Drivers may, however, use a cell phone if the communication is made using a hands-free device such as a Bluetooth headset or wired headset. Earlier this year, another Washington law went into effect banning text messaging while driving. For more details and guidance, check out this report on the World of Work Law Blog.

EEOC Updates Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") updated its compliance manual on religious discrimination. This update is timely: according to EEOC statistics, there were 2,880 religious discrimination charges filed with the EEOC in 2007, up nearly 12 percent from 2006. Want more guidance? The EEOC also has this handy Q&A sheet on religious discrimination laws.

NLRB Issues New Guidelines on Employee Political Activity

According to new guidelines from the National Labor Relations Board, some employee political activities in the workplace may be protected by section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. In essence, if there is a direct nexus between employment-related concerns and the specific issues that are the subject of the political speech, then the speech is protected. Of course, you can still counsel employees to confine political activities to appropriate places and times, if it is interfering with work.

Federal Minimum Wage Increases to $6.55 per hour

Effective July 24, 2008, the federal minimum wage increased to $6.55 per hour. This is the second of three increases provided for by the enactment of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. The third minimum wage increase, to $7.25 per hour, becomes effective on July 24, 2009.

This increase does not affect most western states, which have higher state minimum wages. Employers in Utah and Idaho, however, are affected by the increase and should make sure they comply. Need to verify your state's minimum wage? The Department of Labor has this great chart—just click on your state for current minimum wage information.

New Laws Aim to Prevent Employers from Banning Firearms

By now, we've all read about the U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that the Second Amendment guarantees a private right to possess firearms. But here's an interesting trend in firearms law that directly impacts employers: four southern states have passed laws preventing employers from prohibiting employees from keeping firearms in their cars on company property, and under pressure from pro-firearms groups, several other states are considering such laws. More details on this trend are available here on the World of Work Law Blog.

Oregon: Leave for Olympic Athletes?

Oregon athletes did remarkably well at the 2008 Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, which raises an interesting leave issue. It's an obscure law, but Oregon requires employers to give Olympic athletes leave to compete. Under ORS 659.865, it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to infringe on an employee's right to participate in any athletic event sanctioned by the national governing body for that sport as recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee. It's similarly unlawful to discriminate against employees who compete in Olympic sports. Unfortunately for this author, the law does not extend to beer pong.

AFTRA Ratifies Three-Year Contract

Good news for us consumers of entertainment: Earlier this month, members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists ("AFTRA") ratified a new three-year prime-time television agreement with major Hollywood studios and networks. AFTRA represents about 70,000 radio and television performers. However, negotiations between the studios and the Screen Actors Guild continue, threatening the continued production of such fine fare as Lipstick Jungle. Come to think of it, that might also be good news.

More World of Work Available Online

Can't get enough World of Work? Don't worry, we've got you covered. Last month, Stoel Rives launched the World of Work Law Blog with in-depth stories, funnier jokes, more pictures and frequent updates. Point your browser there, add a bookmark and be sure to check back regularly.

Contact your Stoel Rives Labor and Employment attorney if you have questions about this or other workplace issues. For a list of attorneys in the Labor and Employment group, click here.

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