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Meet Jorge!

 

Satter Ruhlen Law Firm is pleased to introduce this year’s Peggy Browning Fellow, Jorge Salles Diaz. Jorge’s career in public interest started in the immigrants’ rights movement six years ago. After spending some time supporting immigrant workers at poultry packing plants in Mississippi in the aftermath of a large immigration enforcement raid in 2019, he decided to join the labor movement. Since, he has been involved in a number of labor advocacy groups including Global Labor Justice, Workers’ Dignity Project, and the Farmworker Team at Virginia Legal Aid Justice Center.

Jorge says: “I strongly believe that a militant labor movement is the answer to many of today’s global challenges. As such, I am very excited to have the opportunity to work closely with unions and employees in their fight for their rights. I could not think of a better place to learn how to be a union lawyer than Satter Ruhlen. So far, I have had the opportunity to work on briefs, arbitrations, memos, client consultations, and many other important tasks which will serve as invaluable experience in my preparation to become an attorney. I am incredibly grateful to Sarah, Mimi, Sue, and McKenzie for hosting me this Summer!”

Welcome, Jorge!

 

Meet McKenzie!

Satter Ruhlen Law Firm welcomes Office Manager McKenzie Coufal to the team! McKenzie runs the office, keeps track of attorneys, and keeps us organized. When you call our office you’ll realize why we’re so lucky she’s joined us – she’s empathetic, easy to get along with, and very focused on finding the right information for the caller. Welcome, McKenzie!  #WorkersRights #syracuse #LawFirm #LawFirmNearMe

Sticky: About this Blog, Disclaimer

Please note that the information contained in this blog is for informational purposes and is not to be considered legal advice. This blog does not create or imply an attorney-client relationship. Satter Ruhlen Law Firm makes no representation that the information herein reflects the most current state of the law.  This blog is not a substitute for consultation with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.  If you would like to discuss your particular circumstances with us, please set up a consultation by contacting the Satter Ruhlen Law Firm at 315-471-0405 or through our website (https://www.satterlaw.com/contact-us/). We look forward to walking you through your workplace rights.

There’s some sketchy stuff going on at work. What can I do?

This is a guest post by our summer Peggy Browning Fellow, Jorge Salles Díaz. Jorge joins us from Vanderbilt University Law School. Stay tuned for more on Jorge – coming soon!

At-will employment has long been the default in the United States. What this generally means is that, unless you have a union or an employment contract, your employer can fire you or demote you for almost any reason. But there are exceptions.

If your boss asks you to do something you believe is illegal:

In the state of New York, your boss can’t fire you, threaten you, or penalize you because you won’t do something that you believe breaks a law or regulation, as long as your belief is reasonable. See NY Labor Law § 740(2). In this context, reasonable means that an ordinary reasonable person in your position could also believe that the activity you are being asked to do is illegal.

The law that protects workers in these situations covers both employees and independent contractors and is applicable to employers of all sizes. See NY Labor Law §740(1).

If you are retaliated against by your supervisor because you refused to do something you reasonably believed to be illegal, a judge may, when applicable, order your employer to stop the behavior, impose a $10,000.00 fine, grant you back pay, reinstatement, and may also ask your employer to pay for your lawyer. The employer may also be liable for punitive damages if the violation is willful. See NY Labor Law § 740(4).

Fair warning:  Employees who bring frivolous claims may be ordered to pay the employer’s attorneys’ fees and costs – which often amount to six figures.  So before you file a big court claim, it’s a good idea to speak to a workers’ rights attorney in your jurisdiction.

If you witness something illegal and you want to report it:

If you witness something that you reasonably believe breaks a law or regulation at work, you generally must report it to a supervisor before going to the authorities to be protected by the worker protections available in New York. See NY Labor Law § 740(3). The employer, in turn, cannot retaliate against you if you come forward to report activity you reasonably believe to be illegal. This requirement doesn’t apply in some special cases, such as when:

  • there is an imminent and serious danger to public safety
  • the employee reasonably believes that reporting to a supervisor would lead to the destruction of evidence
  • the activity could endanger the welfare of a minor
  • the employee reasonably believes that reporting to a supervisor could lead to physical harm to the employee or someone else
  • the employee reasonably believes that the supervisor is already aware of the illegal activity and will not stop or correct it.

See NY Labor Law § 740(3).

New York labor law protects workers who report illegal activity to the government or to the employer, but not to the media or other third parties. See NY Labor Law § 740(2)(a). If you tell the media about illegal activity going on at your workplace, you can possibly be fired or retaliated against by your employer unless you are protected by another statute.

The same protections that exist for workers who refuse to do illegal activity exist for workers who report illegal activity to a supervisor or to the government. The law covers both employees and independent contractors and is applicable to employers of all sizes. See NY Labor Law §740(1). Under the law, a judge may, when applicable, order your employer to stop the behavior, impose a $10,000.00 fine, grant you back pay, reinstatement, and may also ask your employer to pay for your lawyer. The employer may also be liable for punitive damages if the violation was willful. See NY Labor Law § 740(4).

If you have witnessed something that you believe might be illegal at work and you want to come forward, it is a good idea to talk to a workers rights lawyer first, especially as this law includes penalties for bringing frivolous claims!

Meet Conor!

Conor Murphy interned with Satter Ruhlen Law Firm the 2023 spring semester through his Political Science Internship Course at Syracuse University, taught by Political Science Professor and Campbell Public Affairs Institute Director Grant Reeher.

Conor is from Sarasota, Florida, and is completing his freshman year at Syracuse University, majoring in Policy Studies. He has a special interest in non-profit and government work; he sits on the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity South Sarasota and oversees political strategy as the political liaison. Conor has worked for a number of politicians in Florida as a speechwriter. His interest in law began his sophomore year of high school, when he worked at the State Attorney’s Office of Florida’s Twelfth Judicial Circuit as a Support Associate. At the State Attorney’s Office, he saw the opportunities attorneys have to get justice for victims, and how impactful a resource they can be in peoples’ darkest moments. Conor says, “I was instantly addicted and quickly decided I’d like to make a career of helping people navigate the legal system.”

Conor wanted to intern at Satter Ruhlen because, while he had already explored the world of criminal prosecution, he hadn’t yet had a chance to work in the private sector. Conor had no previous experience with labor law, but found it both appealing and consequential to help clients navigate times when their livelihood is being threatened. He has loved his experience. Conor says, “I felt honored to work closely with such skilled attorneys.”

Something Conor has particularly enjoyed is the opportunity to hear from clients face to face through consults. “I feel that sometimes the all-important ‘human element’ can be alienated from legal proceedings when all your information is coming from piles of discovery. Seeing clients and hearing about the hardships they’ve endured face to face really inspires your work and helps you gain a more complete understanding of the issues at hand; namely, their real impact.”

It’s been a pleasure hosting Conor at Satter Ruhlen Law Firm!

So, my manager just called me into the office…

Ever wonder what your rights are when you get the dreaded call to appear at a meeting with your manager or someone from the human resources department? The answer is…well, it depends, so read on!

If you are a union member, you have the right to union representation during an “investigatory interview” if you reasonably believe the meeting might lead to discipline. These are your Weingarten rights, named after a U.S. Supreme Court decision that created this protection for union members. Employers violate a union member’s Weingarten rights if they proceed with an investigatory interview while refusing to honor the member’s request for union representation.

Most any meeting may be an “investigatory interview” that triggers Weingarten rights, provided the following occurs:

  • A manager, representative of management, or supervisor wants to question an employee;
  • The questioning requires the member to defend, explain, or admit misconduct or work performance issues, including absenteeism and tardiness;
  • The employee reasonably believes that the investigation may result in discharge, discipline, demotion, or other adverse consequence to their job status or working conditions; AND
  • The employee requests a union representative.

Not every meeting triggers Weingarten rights, and it can be tricky to determine if the meeting checks all the boxes to amount to an “investigatory interview.” If you are a union member, it is a good idea to ask for union representation. If you are denied union representation, keep track of everything that happens during the meeting and, as soon as the meeting is over, write detailed notes of everything that happened and contact your union representative and share what happened.

As of this writing (March 6, 2023), Weingarten rights only apply to union employees, but that has changed in the past, and whenever the presidential administration changes, there is a chance that the scope of Weingarten rights may change. For example, the NLRB recently held that strike replacement employees are entitled to Weingarten protections.

So, definitely speak with a lawyer to find out if you have Weingarten rights today. Meanwhile, the benefit of Weingarten rights is one of many reasons to remain #UnionStrong!

Meet Tashakee!

Tashakee sitting in front of law books

Tashakee Ledgister is interning with Satter Ruhlen Law Firm this semester through her Political Science Internship Course at Syracuse University, taught by Political Science Professor and Campbell Public Affairs Institute Director Grant Reeher.

Tashakee migrated to the US from Jamaica at the age of 13.  She has lived in NYC and Long Island, and attended high school in Manhattan.  She is now a Junior at SU, majoring in Political Science and Political Philosophy, with a minor in Public Policy.  Tashakee is a Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship Scholar, and a recipient of the Our Time Has Come and Invest in Success scholarships.  She is a South Campus Community Ambassador and a peer mentor for Dimensions and Orange Success.  In her free time, Tashakee is a member of the Caribbean Students Association and is part of the Kalabash Dance Troup, which performs at local SU games and engages in community service projects.  Recent projects include raising over $2000 for underserved families, and running a supply drive for women affected by the NYCHA fire in Harlem. Tashakee plans to go to law school when she graduates.

Tashakee wanted to intern at Satter Ruhlen Law Firm because, while she had worked on political campaigns and interned in a big law firm, she wanted to learn more about working in a small firm. “When I started working at Satter Law, I didn’t know that I was interested in labor law.  It wasn’t an area that I knew anything about previously, but I find it fascinating.” In fact, Tashakee wrote her midterm paper on how her interested in labor law has developed over the semester.  “One of my favorite activities at Satter Law has been sitting in on client consultations.  It has taught me a lot about putting people at their ease when they are under stress and facing emotional situations that drive them to seek legal help.”

We are impressed with Tashakee’s experience on political campaigns and working with underserved populations.  Tashakee is terrific to work with – she’s curious, engaged, and committed to defending workers’ rights.  Also, she’s a ton of fun!  Thanks for joining us, Tashakee!

 

Vote on Nov. 8! Paid Voting Leave in NY!

Voting Box

If you are a New York Worker, you may be entitled to paid voting leave on November 8.  In New York, if you don’t have four consecutive hours while the polls are open, then you are entitled to up to 2 hours of paid leave to go vote.

Polls are open from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm. Here’s how it works:

  1. If your shift begins before 10:00 am and ends after 5:00 pm, you don’t have four consecutive hours to get to the polls. That means you are entitled to up to two hours of paid leave to vote.
  2. You must give your employer 2-10 working days’ notice of your intention to take paid time off. “Working day” means a day that your employer is open for business.  Don’t give fewer than 2 day’s notice, and don’t give more than 10.
  3. The employer is allowed to require that voting leave must occur at the beginning or end of your shift.
  4. Your employer may not require you to use earned leave (such as vacation, PTO, etc.) as your voting leave.

Please note:  If your shift begins after 10:00 am or ends before 5:00 pm, then you have four consecutive hours in which to get to the polls, and you are not entitled to paid voting leave. 

The New York State Board of Elections has a handy FAQ available for details.  If you feel that your employer is violating this law, you can contact the New York State Division of Labor Standards (888-4-NSYDOL) or the New York State Attorney General’s Office Labor Bureau (212-416-8700).

Still have questions about New York paid voting leave? Contact a workplace attorney near you!

$3000 Bonuses for New York Health Care Workers

This year the New York State legislature voted to provide up to $3000 bonuses to New York health care workers. Eligible [“qualifying”] workers are front line health care and mental hygiene practitioners, technicians, assistants and aides who make $125,000 or less annually. They must work for a qualified employer, e.g., a provider, facility, pharmacy, or school health center licensed under the New York State Public Health Law. The bonuses are W-2 wages for federal tax purposes, but they will not be taxed by the state.

If you are a qualifying health care worker, you can get a bonus if you work the requisite number of hours during designated six month periods between October 2021 and May 2024.  Bonus amounts range from $500 to a maximum of $3,000 depending on how many hours you worked. You can only get a bonus for two 6-month time periods per employer, and you max out at $3,000.

Qualifying employers are required to claim the bonuses on behalf of their workers.  The employer will require you to sign an attestation of eligibility. Once the employer has the money, they have 30 days to pay you. They are not allowed to use the bonus to offset your regular wages.

See the New York State Department of Health’s guidance for more detailed information on these bonuses.  If you are a qualifying employee and you have questions or concerns about how your boss is handling the bonuses, speak to your union immediately! And if you’re not unionized, contact the nearest reputable worker’s rights lawyer.

Salary History is History in New York

Google “salary history” and you’ll see that nobody loves the question: “What were you making in your previous position?” The good news is that a question about salary history is history in New York State. At the beginning of 2020, New York State Labor Law was amended to prohibit employers from asking the question.

Specifically, employers in New York State may not ask in any manner, during a job interview or otherwise, (viz., in writing, face-to-face, or through an agent) any information about previous compensation and benefits. If the job applicant or employee voluntarily offers the information, the employer is prohibited from relying on that information to determine whether to offer the job or what salary to offer. Current employees who are up for promotion are also protected from the salary history question, although a current employer is allowed to rely on information already in its possession.

Additionally, applicants are encouraged to contact the New York State Department of Labor’s Division of Labor Standards if they believe they have been retaliated against for refusing to provide salary history information in response to a request for it. (From a practical standpoint, if you want the job, it’s wise to have a tactful response ready for salary history inquiries. There are lots of articles online with ideas about how to navigate that situation.)

If you’re faced with a salary history conundrum, speak to an attorney in your jurisdiction to ensure you get the most up-to-date and relevant information.

There are a lot of things to be nervous about in a job application, but in the State of New York, the Salary History Question is not one of them.

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