Monday, June 27, 2011

Florida Republicans and Governor Rick Scott Stick It To The Working Persons Again

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed into law legislation that reduces unemployment benefits in the state when the jobless rate falls to 5 percent or lower.

The new law also makes it more difficult for unemployed residents to qualify for unemployment benefits, denying them for misconduct such as chronic absenteeism or violation of an employer’s rules -- even outside of work.

Republicans in both Houses argued the bill was critical to protecting Florida’s business climate. The measure also supports Scott’s budget plan to reduce unemployment taxes for employers by $630.8 million.

Democratic representatives, and civic groups including Florida New Majority, objected to the legislation, HB 7005, saying benefit cuts would disproportionately affect black, Latino and low-income families.

The new law doesn’t affect Florida residents currently on unemployment benefits. Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, the number of available state benefit weeks is reduced from 26 to 23 and the number of available state benefit weeks is tied to the unemployment rate on a sliding scale. If unemployment rate is 5 percent or lower, for example, the number of available weeks is 12. If the unemployment rate is 10.5 percent or higher, the number of available weeks is 23.

The law also mandates an initial skills review for unemployed residents to qualify for state benefit. It also provides for registration with a one-stop career center for reemployment services and requires those receiving benefits to contact at least five prospective employers each week to continue receiving benefits.

Before the new law, Florida already had one of the strictest unemployment compensation programs in the country, said the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for the unemployed. The 75-year national standard for unemployment benefits has been 26 weeks.
Florida’s unemployment rate is also among the highest in the nation, at 10.6 percent in May.


Restaurant Chain Using Tip Sharing To Curb Payroll Costs

With the Great Recession pinching profits, restaurant chains both big and small are searching for every way possible to trim costs and boost profits.

Wait staff tips have become one target of such efforts.

While most patrons, it seems safe to assume, still view tips as a way of rewarding good service, restaurants are increasingly viewing those tips as a way of reducing payroll costs.

Darden Restaurants, one of the largest restaurant companies in the U.S., recently began rolling out a mandatory tip-sharing scheme in its Olive Garden and Red Lobster Restaurants.

Part of an initiative to reduce the company's annual wage costs by around $40 million, the plan, which was detailed in a recent article in the Orlando Sentinel, establishes percentages that servers are required to share with others. This new "tip-out" percent is, in turn, being used to justify reductions in hourly wage rates paid to busboys and bartenders.

Though Darden's official spokesman was reluctant to share details with the media, employees at locations where the plan has already been implemented complain that their earnings have been substantially curtailed by this new approach.

Such mandatory tip sharing stratagems have become easy to implement now that most guests pay with "plastic." Restaurants retain tips received as digital tender, then subsequently divide up and disburse the tip monies through their payroll systems.

Darden is also reportedly looking to reduce the number of full-time employees in its restaurants, replacing them instead with less expensive part-time associates.

Some in the industry have speculated that such cost cutting is shortsighted, since it reduces the financial incentive that otherwise encourages wait staff to deliver top quality service.

Muslim Woman Sues Abercrombie & Fitch Over Hijab

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A former stockroom worker for Abercrombie & Fitch Co. sued the clothing retailer in federal court Monday, saying she was illegally fired after refusing to remove her Muslim headscarf while on the job.

Hani Khan said a manager at the company's Hollister Co. store at the Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo hired her while she was wearing her hijab. The manager said it was OK to wear it as long as it was in company colors, Khan said.

Four months later, the 20-year-old says a district manager and human resources manager asked if she could remove the hijab while working, and she was suspended and then fired for refusing to do so.
It's the latest employment discrimination charge against the company's so-called "look policy," which critics say means images of mostly white, young, athletic-looking people. The New Albany, Ohio-based company has said it does not tolerate discrimination.

Still, Abercrombie has been the target of numerous discrimination lawsuits, including a federal class action brought by black, Hispanic and Asian employees and job applicants that was settled for $40 million in 2004. The company admitted no wrongdoing, though it was forced to implement new programs and policies to increase diversity.

"Growing up in this country where the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, I felt let down," Khan, now a college student studying political science, said at a news conference. "This case is about principles, the right to be able to express your religion freely and be able to work in this country."
Abercrombie defended its record in a comment provided to The Associated Press, saying diversity in its stores "far exceeds the diversity in the population of the United States."

"We comply with the law regarding reasonable religious accommodation, and we will continue to do so," said Rocky Robbins, the company's general counsel. "We are confident that when this matter is tried, a jury will find that we have fully complied with the law."

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco comes after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in September that Khan was fired illegally. Khan's lawsuit was filed in conjunction with the EEOC's lawsuit.

It is not the first time the company has been charged with discriminating against Muslim women over the wearing of a hijab.

In 2009, Samantha Elauf, who was 17 at the time, filed a federal lawsuit in Tulsa, Okla., alleging the company rejected her for a job because she was wearing a hijab. That case is still ongoing.
The EEOC filed another lawsuit for the same reason, saying the company denied work to a hijab-wearing woman who applied for a stocking position in 2008 at an Abercrombie Kids store at the Great Mall in Milpitas, Calif.

Khan's attorney said her client is looking to get Abercrombie to change its "look policy" to allow religious headscarves to be worn by employees, and for unspecified damages. The lawsuit alleges violations of federal and state civil rights and employment laws.

"Abercrombie prides itself on requiring what it calls a natural classic American style. But there's nothing American about discriminating against someone because of their religion," said Araceli Martinez-Olguin, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center.

"Such a look policy cannot be squared with our shared values. No worker should have to choose between their religion and their job."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Florida's New Minimum Wage June 1, 2011

Florida's new minimum wage is $7.31 an hour, up from $7.25, takes effect on Wednesday. That's the minimum amount employers must pay employees, including domestic workers.

The state's minimum wage was increased after a successful Constitutional challenge by the National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services. The worker advocacy groups sought to correct an error in the method used by the state work force agency in calculating an adjustment in the minimum wage for inflation.

For tipped workers, the increase is from $4.23 an hour to $4.29 an hour, with the remaining $3.02 to made up by tips.

If your employer is not paying you properly, contact my office at 305.358.6800.