Tennessee Legal Blog

Sprint Corp. accused of wage theft

Despite the old saying, time is not always money. A Tennessee worker may put in more than 40 hours on the job, but if the employer refuses to pay overtime, that worker has essentially given away that time. Forcing employees who qualify for overtime pay to work beyond their scheduled time without compensating them is against the law, and despite numerous lawsuits, one national corporation doesn't seem to be getting the message.

Last summer, Sprint Corp. faced accusations from 153 employees alleging they had been required to work beyond their 40 hours but were not paid for those extra hours. The employees' lawsuit claimed that management required them to report 40 hours on their time sheets despite the employees regularly working up to 60 hours. If the employees did not report 40 hours, the management reported it for them.

Mesothelioma claims are not decreasing

The report, “Asbestos Losses Continue to Rise; Environmental Losses Remain Stable,” makes plain that the number of cases reported are not declining, as most people expected and hoped.

Settlements for 2016 stood at $3.2 billion – that’s a 9 percent increase from 2015.

Airline faces ERISA lawsuit for poorly managed 401(k)

For the past six years, participants in American Airlines' 401(k) plan have potentially lost about $88 million in returns they might have expected. This is the opinion of a U.S. District Court judge who rejected a settlement the airline proposed to bring to an end a dispute with those participants. American offered $8.8 million to settle the case in which the participants accuse the company of failing in the fiduciary duties outlined by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Those in Tennessee may know this better as ERISA.

ERISA places strict standards on benefits offered by private companies, such as pensions and health plans. When those who manage the benefits fail in their fiduciary duties, the participants have the right to seek redress and potentially compensation for the returns they may have made had the plan been handled properly. In the case of American Airlines, the participants say the 401(k) plan contained a credit union mutual fund instead of more stable offerings typical for the conservative product.

Wage theft is often misunderstood

When people in Tennessee apply for jobs, it is typically because they expect those jobs to help them pay for the things they need, such as rent, clothing and transportation. Certain jobs carry legal minimum wages, and others carry contractually agreed upon pay. Wage and hour disputes arise when workers believe their employers have not paid the amount of money owed for the work they have done. Wage theft may take many forms and is not always easy to identify.

Many think an employer commits wage theft by not paying an employee overtime. However, the employer may also neglect to give a worker a final check, and sometimes, a worker is not paid for the entire time he or she worked. While hourly employees may be more susceptible to wage theft, such thievery occurs in every industry. Those most vulnerable to having an employer take advantage of them are workers in restaurants, home health care, retail and agriculture.

Mass torts bring relief to mesothelioma victims

Asbestos exposure has long been blamed for causing deadly cancers such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. Business owners and others who knowingly subjected workers to asbestos have been the subjects of mass torts for decades, winning victims in Tennessee and other states compensation for their pain and suffering. Recently, officials in another state were indicted for allowing the presence of asbestos to go unchecked, exposing many people to its harmful particles.

Since asbestos is used in many construction materials, older buildings may have many components that must be monitored and carefully removed if they begin to break down. The city's fire department building had asbestos floor tiles that presented no danger because they were intact. However, following the flooding from a recent hurricane, the floor tiles became damaged and had to be removed.

Asbestos exposure linked to many cases of mesothelioma

For many people headed to the doctor, the biggest fear the potential of hearing the "c" word, cancer. Cancer in any form typically requires aggressive and expensive treatments, which can include radiation therapy, chemotherapy and even surgery. Thanks to advances in modern medicine, survival and remission rates for many kinds of cancer have gone up substantially in the last two decades. Early detection, advances in surgical technology and improved drugs give most people with a cancer diagnosis a fighting chance at a long life.

If you worked in a field where you have regular exposure to asbestos at work, the word you may most dread hearing from your doctor is likely mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that most medical professionals consider incredibly aggressive and deadly. While there are treatments that can reduce symptoms and increase life expectancy, there is no cure for mesothelioma at this time. That means that a mesothelioma diagnosis can result in major changes ahead for you and your family.

New sick leave bill will amend ERISA requirements

Getting sick is one of the great fears of workers in Tennessee. Missing work means losing pay for many whose employers do not offer paid sick days. Because of this, employees may show up for work with fevers, coughs or stomach flus that they pass along to their colleagues. Many employers would like to offer paid sick leave, but if their companies cross state lines, the employers may be stymied by the lack of uniformity in state leave laws. Lawmakers are considering a plan to fix this, and it involves amending the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, otherwise known as the ERISA laws.

A controversial bill is currently before Congress. It seeks to address the confusing patchwork of state laws regarding paid leave. The bill grants employers the option of offering workers federal paid leave along with a flexible work schedule. Depending on the number of years an employee has been on the job and the number of employees a business has, the worker may be eligible for up to 20 paid sick days each year. Choosing the federal sick leave plan exempts the employer from any state laws regarding paid leave.

Many servers consider tip pooling a form of wage theft

Serving patrons in a restaurant is a demanding job. It may be one of the few jobs where people's pay depends on how personable and pleasant they are. This is because many Tennessee servers are paid less than minimum wage under the assumption that their tips will equal the minimum. A good server may make considerably more than standard wages, making the job attractive to those with outgoing personalities. However, the Department of Labor may be proposing a change to the rules, which some consider a form of wage theft.

In many cases, servers who have great people skills and who strive to make their customers happy can take home a pocketful of tips in addition to gaining loyalty among restaurant patrons. In the past, some restaurant owners have instituted tip pools, which forced servers to surrender their tips to be redistributed among the wait staff and back-of-house workers, like bus staff. The problem many restaurant workers had with tip pooling is that establishment owners used server tips to avoid paying minimum wage to cooks, dishwashers and bus staff.

Limits on asbestos investigation may increase mass torts

For decades, advocates for health and safety have worked to gain the agreement of the federal government to enact legislation to protect many employees and the general public from toxins like asbestos. The steady stream of mass torts against companies using asbestos has brought its dangers to the public's attention. The U.S. Congress has been debating the testing of millions of tons of the toxic substance, and many hoped the review would result in a national ban of asbestos. However, President Donald Trump recently announced a limit to the scope of that investigation.

Instead of examining some 8.9 million tons of products containing asbestos that are currently in use in Tennessee and across the country, the government will review only those products that are currently entering the marketplace or still being manufactured. This means those dangerous and toxic materials in people's homes, schools and workplaces may not be included in the study, and some feel this undermines the goal of the research, which is to move toward regulating the use of asbestos. Some firefighters and construction workers, who regularly come in contact with asbestos, feel especially betrayed by the new ruling.

What qualifies as working off the clock?

Has your employer ever required you to do work after you had already “clocked out” for the day? While some employers can require employees to work late, these workers have a right to receive compensation for their time. Working without pay is illegal under the FLSA and workers may be able to recover back pay if they were forced to work off the clock. We will go over what qualifies as working off the clock and what protections workers receive as part of the FLSA.

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