Tag Archives: Minimum Wage

Are Graduate Students and Teaching Assistants Employees in Nebraska?

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On Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that teaching assistants and graduate students at private universities are employees. Though this doesn’t mean that teaching assistants and graduate students at public universities are employees, teaching assistants and graduate students at public universities may have recourse under Nebraska law to be paid wages.

Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-1203 allows student-learners enrolled in “a bona fide vocational training program” to be paid 75 percent of the state’s minimum wage. This wage rate would be $6.75 per hour. The problem with this language is that “bona fide vocational training program” and “student-learners” are not defined under the Nebraska Wage and Hour Act. The ambiguity could work to the advantage of teaching assistants and graduate students at public universities in Nebraska. Generally, wage and hour are interpreted to cover as many people as possible. Additionally, the fact that the federal government states that graduate students and teaching assistants are employees could be persuasive.

Wage and hour issues like pay for teaching assistants and the use of unpaid internships are not the only wage and hour issue facing young people. Nebraska’s minimum-wage hike has raised some other issues relevant to younger workers.

Neb. Rev. Stat 48-1203.01 allows for a 90-day training rate that is 75 percent of the federal minimum wage, or $5.44 per hour. That training period can be extended for 90 days upon approval of the Nebraska Department of Labor if the on-the-job training requires obtaining “technical, personal or other skills” necessary for employment. While the $5.44 rate appears to require approval for the second 90-day period, it is not clear that such approval is needed for the first 90-day period.

Additionally, Nebraska did not raise its tipped minimum wage of $2.13 per hour when it raised the minimum wage. An effort to raise the tipped minimum failed in 2015. Under Nebraska law, tipped employees, like servers, are supposed to be paid the state minimum-wage rate, though this does not always happen. The practice of tipping has been criticized as being based on practices under slavery and for encouraging sexual harassment of servers. However, payment through tips is still allowed. Fortunately, servers in Nebraska are entitled to be paid $9 per hour rather than the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

Nebraska also allows certain disabled workers to be paid less than the minimum wage. This is similar to the federal law that was criticized by former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin recently in a speech at the Democratic National Convention.

After thinking about Nebraska’s laws regarding youth and training subminimum wages, I have a few conclusions. First of all, the vocational training minimum wage may be another route for interns to be compensated. Second, though the Nebraska legislature appears to be against expanding Nebraska’s minimum-wage law, cities can implement their own minimum-wage laws. For example, Seattle passed a $15 per hour minimum-wage law. While Lincoln isn’t Seattle, Lincoln city councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird appeared in commercials supporting the ballot initiative that raised Nebraska’s statewide minimum wage to $9 per hour, so perhaps a Lincoln municipal ordinance addressing unpaid internships would be politically realistic.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in employment law, Nebraska, worker rights and tagged , , , , , , , .

Should You be Paid for Your Unpaid Internship?

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internColleges and universities are starting the school year already. Increasingly, internships are part of many students’ educations. Interns are also an important part of the labor force in college towns like Lincoln, Nebraska. But the use of interns raises legal and policy questions, because many internships are unpaid. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division provided a clear explanation of when they think interns should be paid. If the internship meets the following qualifications, then interns are not required to be paid. If the internship does not meet these criteria, then interns are required be paid the federal minimum wage and overtime as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

  1. “The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.”

In short, the more the internship is structured around an actual educational or classroom experience, the less likely interns will be covered by the FLSA. The more it appears that employers are using unpaid interns as substitutes for paid workers, the more likely it is that internship will be covered by the FLSA.

Unpaid internships have often been criticized for exacerbating inequality, because unpaid internships are required in many fields, and only relatively affluent students can afford to work to work for free. Some economists also believe that the rise of unpaid internships has been made possible by lack of enforcement of wage and hour laws.

So if you are working an unlawful unpaid internship, then you can file a suit under the FLSA. However, this limits you to wages paid at the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour. Many states also have state wage and hour laws that differ from federal law. One advantage of filing under the Nebraska Wage and Hour Act is that the Nebraska Wage and Hour Act has criminal penalties for employers who violate the act. Criminal penalties often give employers an incentive to settle cases to avoid the criminal penalty. Nebraska also raised its minimum wage to $9 per hour. An unanswered question is whether Nebraska courts would let unpaid interns sue under Nebraska law for the higher minimum-wage rate.

The Nebraska Wage and Hour Act provides some exemptions for religious, nonprofit, educational, and charitable organizations, as well as for volunteers of those organizations. I would anticipate that exemption could very well be made to be a legal defense in wage and hour actions involving interns in Nebraska. The issue of pay within the nonprofit sector has become a hot topic among some voices in the nonprofit sector. I agree with voices within the nonprofit sector that expansion of the overtime exemption and the increase of the minimum wage in some states is good for the nonprofit sector, because it helps the people who nonprofits serve.

Nebraska’s minimum wage hike has also raised some questions about youth and training wages that will be addressed in another post.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in employment law, U.S. Department of Labor and tagged , , , , , .

Stolen Money: Wage Theft by Employers Common

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stealingWe all know that money is stolen from hard-working people every day in the form of robberies, burglaries and other thefts, but you might be surprised to learn that employers steal more money from hard-working people than robberies, burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts combined.

Although these numbers are based on 2012 data, the same probably holds true still today. The most unfortunate part of these statistics is that the victims of wage theft are usually the people who can afford the theft the least.

What is wage theft?

“Wage theft covers a variety of infractions that occur when workers do not receive their legally or contractually promised wages,” according to wagetheft.org.

“Common forms of wage theft are non-payment of overtime, not giving workers their last paycheck after a worker leaves a job, not paying for all the hours worked, not paying minimum wage, and even not paying a worker at all.”

What is even more sobering is to think based on these statistics: they get the numbers regarding traditional theft from what is reported to police, whether it is recovered or not. They get the data for wage theft based on what is: reported, looked into, taken to court, and won back for employees. So, I would be willing to assume that the numbers of wage theft are actually much larger, in reality.

Fortunately, there are remedies under state and federal laws to recover from those thieving employers engaging in wage theft. Even if it is something that seems small, like employers keeping a percentage of tips, it is still wage theft and is actionable in civil court. Contact a lawyer if you suspect your employer of engaging in the activities described above.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Corporate fraud, employer fraud, Employment, Wage Theft, Withholding Pay and tagged , , , .

Youth Minimum-wage Law Not Only Wage Law Affecting Young Nebraskans

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Nebraska appears to be on the verge of repealing part of last year’s successful ballot measure – to raise the state minimum wage from the federal rate of $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour by 2016 – by creating a lower youth minimum wage. I agree with arguments against a youth minimum wage stated by opponents such as state Sen. Adam Morfeld. But this attack on Nebraska’s wage and hour laws concerns me for other reasons.

Many young people work in home health or as salespeople. Federal-wage law exempts home health aides and so-called outside salespeople from minimum wage and overtime laws. Nebraska law has no such exemptions, so home health aides and salespeople are covered by Nebraska’s minimum-wage law, while they are not covered by federal law. If Nebraska legislators can roll back wage rates in our wage and hour laws, it is possible that they might also create more exceptions to our minimum-wage laws.

Besides minimum-wage concerns, young people, especially students, may be working in unpaid internships that violate both state and federal minimum-wage laws. I recommend students (and employers of interns) read an excellent blog post by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division about when interns should be paid. Students (and their employers) should also remember that unpaid internships may violate Nebraska wage and hour laws as well.

Though the Nebraska Wage and Hour Act does not allow punitive damages like the Fair Labor Standards Act, Nebraska law does allow for attorney fees and has a criminal penalty for wage violations not found in federal law. This criminal penalty can force quick settlements from employers if the liability for unpaid wages is clear. If an employee can clearly show they are owed an amount of wages, the employer may be forced to pay a penalty under the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act. This penalty is also an incentive for employers to settle wage claims when liability for unpaid wages is clear.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in employment law, Government, Legislation and tagged , , , , .

Low Wage Jobs are on the Rise

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Today’s blog post was written by respected colleague Thomas Domer of Domer Law Offices in Milwaukee. Although the blog post was originally in reference to Wisconsin, as he writes, “the findings in Wisconsin mirror nationwide findings of the National Law Employment Project,” so I think they can be reasonably applied to Nebraska and Iowa. One thing that I found especially interesting in the article is that even when the quantity of jobs is increasing, the quality of pay for those jobs isn’t quite there yet. But it also turns out that employers may not have to pay the higher wages as people are still hoping to find jobs. As an example from the original Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is telling: an entire category went from “middle-wage” to “low-wage” because the hourly rate of pay was that much lower.

“By 2013 the occupation had added about 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin, and stood at 55,520. Meanwhile, median pay had fallen to $12.16 an hour, so all 55,000 jobs — the 13,000 new ones and the 42,000 that were ‘middle-wage’ three years earlier — were classified as low-wage in 2013,” according to the Journal Sentinel article.

As we move into the holiday season and past the election where Nebraska voters resoundingly voted to raise the minimum wage over two years, I would challenge both employers and consumers to consider what their hourly wage would be and into what category they would fit within the information in this article. Most people in the middle and low-wage categories are very aware of where they land for a category. But it is something important to think about as wage inequality continues to be discussed: in addition to thinking about the minimum wage, what is an appropriate living wage for the place in which we live? And are we as consumers prepared to maybe pay a bit more for services and products if businesses provide that living wage to workers? On the other side of the coin, businesses should also be willing to sacrifice a small part of their profits to provide employees a living wage so people don’t have to work two or more low-wage jobs like the ones below, just to make ends meet. Because in the end, it is the whole of society that benefits.

Those of us representing injured workers have recognized a trend in recent years affirmed by a new study by University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Professor Mark Levine. His study indicates jobs in low wage occupations have increased substantially since 2000, with that growth accelerating since 2010.

Levine’s study found that in 2000, low wage occupations accounted for about one quarter of Wisconsin’s jobs with middle wage occupations accounting for more than half. But by 2013, low wage occupations made up over 30% of the State’s employment. 

The study indicated low wage occupations with a median wage of $12.50 per hour or less, middle wage occupations with a median of $12.50 to $25.00 per hour, and high wage occupations with a median above $25.00 per hour. Jobs in the high wage occupations increased substantially through 2007, then fell during the recession and recovery.

The findings in Wisconsin mirror nationwide findings of the National Law Employment Project, an advocacy group for low wage workers and the unemployed. Commentators also noted the findings in the Wisconsin study confirm findings for the U. S. national economy, which indicates job growth has been mostly in low skill, low wage areas.

Those of us that practice in the worker’s compensation arena have noted the number of workers earning maximum wages in Wisconsin (over $1,320 weekly) are much more rare since the Great Recession. Worker’s compensation benefits for Loss of Earning Capacity, for example, is obviously much greater for a maximum earnings worker than for a worker earning $8.00 or $9.00 per hour. The loss of high paying manufacturing jobs that used to exist in Milwaukee and throughout the Midwest Rust Belt has had a substantial impact on worker’s compensation claims and recoveries.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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Wal-Mart & McDonald’s: Passing the Buck to Taxpayers

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Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm in Wisconsin. I think the issue of fair wages is huge for workers. It’s right up there with the 20 states (all with Republican governors, according to NPR’s Morning Edition) that are refusing Medicaid expansion. Just because it might go with your politics or increase business profits, does not helping those who struggle make those other choices right? As the United Nations celebrated Human Rights Day earlier this week, injustices like huge corporations not paying their workers enough to live on come into even better focus. I hope that consumers who use these stores can become aware and fight against the reality that the people who are helping them, as retail workers, might not even be able to afford to get daily necessities without help from the taxpayer, thanks to business choosing profits over paying reasonable wages.

Came across this post today: “How McDonald’s and Wal-Mart Became Welfare Queens.”  News like this has become so commonplace that you almost accept it with a shrug.   Yeah, big box stores and fast food chains are paying their workers cruddy wages, forcing them to go on state health insurance and food stamp assistance.  Oh well.  Move along.  Nothing to see here.

But the outrage should exist.  These stories make my blood boil.  Many of these companies are making massive profits.  You’re telling me you can’t pay a living wage?  All of us, as taxpayers, are helping pad the the coffers of these companies.  By not providing sufficient wages or health care, the actual taxpayers serve as the necessary social safety net for these workers.  Is that really how we want our society and country structured?

Admittedly my experience is anectodal, but I see a number of these workers in my practice–from the greeters at Wal-Mart to those flipping burgers at McDonald’s.  Many are making a minimum hourly wage of $7.25.  No matter how hard they work (and, in my experience, some of these fast food and retail workers are the hardest workers out there, in light of their work condition), they cannot get ahead or make enough to avoid the necessity of seeking food stamp assistance or of searching for the local food pantry.  

Corporations simply should not be able to get rich on the public’s back.  As taxpayers, we continue to allow this grossly one-sided equation to continue.

 

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Corporate Welfare, Food Stamps and tagged , , .