(Adapted from a February 23, 2019 presentation by Steve Modica for an educational program sponsored by the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations of Cornell University)
You probably know someone who has been touched by the opioid crisis. I do.
I participated in a program for Union leaders sponsored by the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Here’s some of what I discussed.
CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS
Laws that prohibit unlawful discrimination—and laws that guarantee job-protected leave—can help members affected by the opioid crisis.
Employers may not discriminate against an employee if they are motivated by the employee’s membership in a protected class. Disability is a protected class and can apply to members who are addicted to opioids.
Disability discrimination laws protect members who: (1) have successfully completed a supervised drug rehabilitation program OR otherwise have been successfully rehabilitated AND are NOT currently using illegal drugs; and (2) are in a supervised drug rehabilitation program AND are NOT currently using illegal drugs.
Members whose rights have been violated can file a charge of discrimination with the New York State Division of Human Rights for FREE.
Family & Medical Leave Act [“FMLA”]
Members may be protected by the FMLA if they need time off from work due to their opioid addiction or the addiction of a loved one. Opioid abuse is a “serious health condition” (a reason entitling the member to FMLA) if it involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. An eligible member gets up to 12 weeks of job-protected (but unpaid) leave.
Members whose rights have been violated can file a complaint with the United States Department of Labor for FREE. Alternatively, members can sue in federal court.
EMPLOYEE BENEFIT PROGRAMS
Employee benefit programs can help members affected by the opioid crisis.
New York Paid Family Leave Law [“NYPFL”]
Members may be protected by the NYPFL if they need time off from work due to the opioid addiction of a loved one (but NOT for themselves). In 2019, an eligible member gets up to 10 weeks of job-protected leave paid at 55% of their average weekly wage but NOT more than $746.41/week.
Members whose rights have been violated can file a complaint with the New York Workers’ Compensation Board for FREE.
Short Term Disability [“STD”]
Most employers in New York are required to provide STD insurance benefits to members. Members who are unable to work due to an injury or sickness that does NOT arise out of employment are entitled to up to 26 weeks of STD benefits (paid at 50% of their average weekly wage but NOT more than $170/week).
Opioid abuse should qualify for STD so long as the member is under the care of a duly licensed physician or a duly registered and licensed psychologist
Workers’ Compensation [“WC”]
Members who are injured at work are entitled to lost income benefits (paid at two-thirds of their average weekly wage up to a maximum benefit amount) and medical treatment through the WC system. Some members who have suffered serious workplace injuries have become addicted to opioids.
Opioid abuse resulting from treatment of a workplace accident can be a covered “consequential condition” and, if so, treatment is free to the member. If a member is injured solely from using drugs or alcohol, however, they are NOT entitled to WC benefits.
Social Security Disability [“SSD”]
Members who have been (or who expect to be) unable to work due to opioid addiction for one year or more may be eligible for SSD benefits. A person who could work but for their opioid addition is NOT entitled to SSD. In my experience, however, most people who abuse drugs/alcohol have an underlying disability (most often a mental impairment).
HOW UNIONS CAN HELP
- Negotiate language that mandates treatment for a member addicted to opioids instead of immediate termination or other harsh disciplinary action.
- Negotiate for employee assistance programs that help members impacted by opioid abuse.
- Partner with employers, other unions and the community to educate and provide services to members and apprentices impacted by opioid abuse. This could include union led addiction programs, peer advocacy training for addiction recovery, courses about substance abuse, etc.
- Get trained on how to use Narcan and secure it for use in the workplace and at union meetings. The Monroe County Department of Public Health provides Opioid Overdose Prevention Training, typically on the 4th Wednesday of the month, in the morning and evening. Training is open to all who are interested and there is no cost. Learn more at https://www.monroecounty.gov/opioids/narcan.php
Thank you for all that you are doing to stem this awful crisis.
Tis the season of thanks. Modica Law Firm and I have MANY reasons to be thankful. Before I explain why, here are my two favorite quotes about appreciation (a close relative of thankful):
“We are so often caught up in our destination that we forget to appreciate the journey, especially the goodness of the people we meet on the way. Appreciation is a wonderful feeling, don’t overlook it.”
“Appreciation is like an insurance policy. It has to be renewed every now and then.”
We are blessed by MANY good people who are part of our daily journey. Thanksgiving is an excellent opportunity to renew our appreciation for them. Here are ten of them:
Thanks to Labor News readers. We don’t communicate often, however, I feel your love. I sincerely hope that you read these columns and that they are helpful.
Thanks to Labor News editor Matt Hynes and his staff. You are an important voice for labor in Rochester. I am glad to support you as an advertiser. I thank you for the opportunity to write this column and share our expertise.
Thanks to Union leaders who trust us to serve their members. For more than 23 years, union leaders have trusted Modica Law Firm to serve people they care about deeply—their union brothers and sisters. They hold us to a very high standard. They want us to treat their union brothers and sisters like they are our siblings. We have done that consistently since we opened our doors on November 1, 1995.
Thanks to Union Members who trust us to represent them. We are nothing without you. My family, and the families of all on our team, owe you a great debt of gratitude for allowing us to serve you. We have fed our families and educated our children because of your labor and because you trusted us to help you.
Thanks to our team at Modica Law Firm. We are blessed with a compassionate, empathetic, dedicated and a highly professional team who believes in the Golden Rule (we treat our clients like we would want to be treated). We are thrilled each time we lessen the burden of a union member troubled by an accident, injury, illness or employment problem.
Thanks to the family members of the Modica Law Firm team. Your loved ones work very hard. Thank you for supporting them in this important work.
Thanks to Union leaders who are considering recommending us to their members. Talk to your fellow union leaders about us. They will tell you that they refer union members to us because they know that they will be served professionally and honestly.
Thanks to our Judges. The men and women who decide Workers’ Compensation, Social Security Disability, personal injury and employment cases are honest, work hard and do their best to “get it right.” I wish that they agreed with us 100% of the time, however, I respect them greatly.
Thanks to lawyers on the other side of our cases. We know you have a job to do. Thank you for understanding that we too have a job to do. Thank you respecting us and our clients. Thanks too for referring folks to us that you cannot serve.
Thanks to my family and Brad Kammholz. I am blessed to have a wonderful wife and daughter who do more for me than I can express. My wife Lorrie runs the “day to day” operations of Modica Law Firm, freeing me up to practice law. My close friend and colleague (Brad Kammholz) partners with us in personal injury cases and has produced tremendous results for our clients. I am proud to work with him.
Take a moment to appreciate the many blessings in your life. I hope that you are as fortunate as me.
Is Your Intern an Employee Who Must be Paid (and afforded mandatory benefits)?
Fair Labor Standards Act [“FLSA”] is the federal law that applies to employers with gross annual revenues of $500K. The New York Labor Law [“NYLL”] applies to all employers.
These laws require that employees be paid not less than the current minimum wage for all hours worked. Currently, the minimum hourly wage in NY is $10.40. Effective December 31, 2018, the minimum hourly wage is $11.10.
Non-exempt employees who work more than forty (40) hours in a given week must be paid overtime, i.e., one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked above forty (40).
Some employees are exempt from the right to receive overtime pay. To be exempt, the following three must be true:
EMPLOYEE MUST BE PAID A WEEKLY SALARY OF A SPECIFIED AMOUNT. IF PAID LESS, THEY ARE NON-EXEMPT (AND ENTITLED TO OVERTIME PAY) AS A MATTER OF LAW. Currently, the minimum weekly salary for an exempt employee in NY is $780.00 ($40,560/year). Effective December 31, 2018, the minimum weekly salary is $832.00.
THERE MUST BE NO UNLAWFUL DEDUCTIONS FROM THE SALARY PAID. In simple terms, absent five recognized circumstances, you cannot make any deductions from the salary paid. The five circumstances are: (1) absenteeism; (2) certain sick leave/Family & Medical Leave Act protected leave; (3) penalties imposed in good faith for infractions of safety rules; (4) unpaid disciplinary suspensions; and (5) certain mistaken overpayments.
FINALLY, THE DUTIES PERFORMED BY THE EMPLOYEE MUST MEET ONE OF SEVERALTESTS IN THE FLSA. The most common “white collar” exemptions are: (i) Administrative, (ii) Executive and (iii) Professional.
On January 5, 2018, the United States Department of Labor [“USDOL”]—the agency that enforces the FLSA—announced it would no longer apply the six-factor test in USDOL Fact Sheet #71 (https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf) to determine whether an intern was an employee for purposes of wage and hour laws. Instead, it will apply the “primary beneficiary” test used by several federal circuit courts (including the Second Circuit in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 791 F.3d 376 ).
The primary beneficiary test considers the extent to which:
- Both parties understand that the intern is not entitled to compensation.
- The internship provides training that would be given in an educational environment.
- The intern’s completion of the program entitles him or her to academic credit.
- The internship corresponds with the academic calendar.
- The internship’s duration is limited to the period when the internship educates the intern
- The intern’s work complements rather than displaces the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits.
- The intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the internship’s end.
None of these seven factors are addressed with a simple yes or no answer. Rather, they are addressed by the extent to which each factor is met.
The factors are used to determine which party—the intern or the lawyer/other entity—is the primary beneficiary of the relationship. If at least 51 percent of the benefits go to the intern, the intern arguably is the main beneficiary and does not have to be paid.
Will New York Apply the Primary Beneficiary Test?: Historically, the NYS Department of Labor [“NYSDOL”]– the agency that enforces the NYLL—has required consideration of 11 factors, the six factors in USDOL Fact Sheet #71 PLUS five more of its own.
The NYSDOL Fact Sheet P725 (https://www.labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/factsheets/pdfs/p725.pdf ) was published in July of 2016 (before USDOL announced that it would apply only the primary beneficiary test going forward).
The additional factors requiring consideration under NY law are:
- Any clinical training is performed under the supervision and direction of people who are knowledgeable and experienced.
- The trainees or students do not receive employee benefits.
- The training is general and qualifies trainees or students to work in any similar business. It is not designed specifically for a job with the employer that offers the program.
- The screening process for the internship program is not the same as for employment. The screening only uses criteria relevant for admission to an independent educational program.
- Advertisements, postings, or solicitations for the program clearly discuss education or training, rather than employment, although employers may indicate that qualified graduates may be considered for employment.
Practical Advice: What can you do to limit your liability if you engage an intern and do not want the legal obligation to pay them?
- Have a written policy and address as many of the factors above in writing with the intern BEFORE he or she begins the experience. Have the intern sign a document indicating that he or she understands and accepts your policy and description of the factors.
- Train those who will interact with the interns to be sure that they respect each of the factors above and acts consistently with your direction.
- Keep accurate records of the work done by interns.
- Schedule internships to accommodate interns’ academic schedules, preferably permitting them to work after class hours, on weekends, or during vacations.
- Limit the duration of internships to the time needed to impart specifically identifiable educational or training benefits to interns.
- Liaise formally or informally with interns’ schools or instructors and document how the internship complements the interns’ academic program, preferably resulting in the intern receiving academic credit for the internship.
- Assign individual mentors/supervisors to each intern to ensure that the intern receives some structured instruction and is not relegated only to performing menial tasks.
Regardless of Any Obligation to Pay, You may NOT Unlawfully Discriminate
Since 2014, interns in NY have been protected from unlawful discrimination like most employees. For example, an intern may not be subjected to harassment or other adverse action on account of their membership in a protected class (see Section 296-c of the NY Executive Law and https://dhr.ny.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/intern-rights.pdf).
Classes protected in NY include, but are NOT limited to, race, religion, sex, national origin, age, sexual orientation, disability and marital status.
Interns who complain in good faith of unlawful discrimination are protected from retaliation.
Interns who believe that their rights have been violated may file a charge of discrimination with the New York State Division of Human Rights [“DHR”], the agency that enforces Section 296-c. The deadline to file such a charge is 365 days from the date of the action they wish to challenge. Interns do NOT have to hire a lawyer to prosecute a charge of discrimination with the DHR.
Alternatively, an intern may file a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court within three years from the date of the action they wish to challenge.