Architectural Columns

Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!

 

Can the boss require you to be screened?

@workplacelawyer Can the boss require you to be screened? #syracuseworkersrights #workplacelawyer #workplaceprivacy ♬ original sound – WorkplaceLawyer

Meet Frank!

 

Satter Ruhlen Law Firm was pleased to have Peggy Browning Fellow Frank Harrison join us as our summer law clerk this year.  Frank came to us from the Michigan State University College of Law, where he will receive his JD in May 2023.  Frank previously interned with Region 7 of the NLRB, where he learned to take witness affidavits and draft other legal documents.  These skills came in handy, as we needed over a dozen witness affidavits for a matter in a very short time period.

Frank helped us prep for arbitration and agency hearings, and did some serious legal research for a couple of federal filings.  He sat in on consultations with potential clients, and offered valuable insights at office meetings.  Plus, he joined us for an extremely loud office outing at Local 315 one Friday evening.

Frank says:  “I knew from the first few minutes of the interview that I wanted to work at Satter Ruhlen. I felt a real connection with Sarah and Sue even before officially being hired on. And I loved working with all three attorneys (Sarah, Sue, and Mimi) and support staff (Mary Jo and Brittany) while in Syracuse. Each has their own unique personality which really added to the overall charm of the experience. I got to enjoy a new city and work with attorneys who clearly care about labor law. It was a great experience, and I would recommend them to anyone — prospective clients and law students alike. It’s a fantastic and dedicated team at Satter Ruhlen.”

Thanks Frank! We enjoyed working with you, too!

Cannabis in the New York Workplace

Cannabis in the New York workplace? New York State has a law about that. satterlaw.com/blog (Picture of a man smoking)

In July 2022, Senator Schumer’s Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act bill was introduced, seeking to decriminalize marijuana federally. There are a variety of reasons the bill may not have the votes to pass, but many states – including New York – have laws that prohibit discrimination against employees who use cannabis… sort of.

So, what are the rules about cannabis in the New York workplace? In New York, employees’ lawful off-duty conduct is technically protected.  And in March 2021, New York Labor Law was amended to specify that lawful off-duty conduct includes recreational use of marijuana.

Does this mean you can smoke up at work with impunity? NOPE. Please don’t do it – you’ll get fired.  (See our previous blog posts here  and here for more information about how marijuana can still get you fired.)  But it does mean that a New York employee who works in a non-safety sensitive position shouldn’t be getting tested for cannabis, and shouldn’t be getting into trouble for off-duty use unless the employee “manifests specific articulable symptoms of cannabis impairment” that interfere with job performance or safety. What are “articulable symptoms of cannabis impairment?” Very good question. Nobody knows. Bottom line, don’t be high at work.

Also, if there are state or federal regulations (for example Department of Transportation rules) that require testing, the employer can still test and take disciplinary action on the basis of a positive test. If you have specific questions about cannabis in the New York workplace, make sure you consult with a New York workplace attorney!

So, the workplace is not going to become a magical mystery tour any time soon.  But what you do after work is starting look a little more like your own business.

Welcome, Brittany!

Satter Ruhlen Law Firm welcomes our new office manager, Brittany Alvarez! Brittany comes to us from Maryland with great qualifications, a sunny disposition, and a lot of energy. When you call the office, you’ll get to talk to her – whether you want to set up a consultation, speak with your representative, or get directions to the office, Brittany is here and ready to help. We’re so excited she’s joined us. Welcome, Brittany!

 

Congratulations, Mary Jo! We’ll miss you!

Congratulations to our amazing and multi-talented Office Manager, Mary Jo Beamish, who retires this week after 34 (that’s not a typo!)  years of service. Mary Jo (or, “the boss,” as we like to call her) has been the glue holding the firm together since its inception. From keeping track of files to knowing where every cent is spent to tracking down attorneys in airports three states away, Mary Jo has performed the unenviable task of corralling multiple attorneys with grace, aplomb, and a healthy dose of humor.

 

The secret to Mary Jo’s long success?  “I can’t imagine a better group of people to work with,” she says. “In a business this size, you become friends with your co-workers.” We can’t imagine a better person to befriend us, Mary Jo.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

New York Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act

Información adicional en español aquí y aquí.

Historically, farm workers have few protections under federal labor statutes, making it difficult for them to unionize, earn fair wages, assert workers’ compensation claims, or enjoy adequate rest periods. At the beginning of 2020, the New York State Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act implemented the following provisions to improve working conditions for farm laborers:

  • Farm workers have the right to unionize. Section 701 of the New York Labor Law has been amended to include farmworkers as “employees” and farm owners as “employers,” and other sections of the law have been amended to give farmworkers some of the same unionization rights as other private sector workers.  Note, however, that farmworkers cannot legally strike.
  • Maximum 60-hour workweeks and overtime: NYLL 163-a limits the workweek to 60 hours for farm workers, and requires employers to pay time and a half for overtime hours. Additionally, section 161 now states that farm laborers are allowed 24 consecutive hours of rest per calendar week.
  • Section 225 of the Public Health Law allows code officers to inspect premises inhabited by fewer than five persons, and to enforce sanitary code requirements for living quarters.
  • Workers’ Compensation: Workers’ Compensation coverage has been expanded to more employees, and notices must be posted in both Spanish and English. Supervisors are required to report injuries to the employer, and employers are prohibited from retaliating against workers who file for Workers’ Compensation benefits.
  • Farm Laborers’ Wage Board: A wage board is empowered to make recommendations regarding overtime rates for farm workers to the governor and legislature.
  • Employers must get a permit to operate housing for farm laborers, which improves the chances that living quarters will be safe and sanitary.

Notwithstanding early legal challenges and the pandemic, farmworkers are starting to unionize and assert their rights.  Recently, vineyard workers on Long Island became the first unionized farmworkers in the state, joining Local 338 RWDSU/UFSW.  This is an enormous stride in the long history of farmworker rights, and it is only the beginning.

In January 2022, the New York Farm Laborer’s Wage Board voted require overtime pay for farmworkers after 40 hours of work in a week–but the Wage Board has not adopted the official report, which would trigger the timeline for the New Yok Labor Commissioner to approve or overturn the vote.  Watch this space.

If you have questions about how your rights might be affected by the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act, contact a workers’ rights attorney today.

 

Four Things To Know About Your Hairstyle At Work

Is a workplace grooming policy cramping your style?  If you work in New York, you may have some protections: 

  • A grooming policy cannot directly target hairstyles traditionally associated with persons of color or have a disparate impact on certain races. For example, a grooming policy that limits hair length or height, thus limiting Afros, could violate the law.  
  • An employer cannot maintain a wholesale ban of particular hairstyles, such as dreadlocks, twists, braids, cornrows, Afros or fades.   
  • An employer cannot require only employees with hairstyles associated with their race to cut or conceal their hair or prevent these employees from serving in customer-facing roles.  
  • An employer cannot require employees to alter the natural state of their hair to conform to company appearance standards, for example, mandating hair straightening with chemicals or heat. 

On July 11, 2019, the definition of race under the New York State Human Rights Law [“NYSHRL”] was amended to include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles,” such as braids and dreadlocks. NYSHRL §§292(37) and (38). The amendment broadens the definition of race so that an employer who makes an adverse employment decision, such as denying an individual a job or promotion, based on an individual’s hair texture or style that is associated with their racial identity, may have violated the NYSHRL.  [Note: If you work in New York City, this protection has been in place since February 2019. At that time, the New York City Commission on Human Rights [“NYCCHR”] issued guidance https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/cchr/downloads/pdf/Hair-Guidance.pdfadvising that workplace grooming or appearance policies that ban, limit, or restrict natural hairstyles associated with race, ethnicity and culture violate the City’s anti-discrimination law. As detailed in the NYCCHR guidance, the New York City provision is broader and more detailed than the state-wide amendment.]   

While the amendment acknowledges the inextricable link between hair and race it does not prevent an employer from maintaining a neutral “grooming policy” seeking to establish a workforce with a “professional” appearance. Herein lies the challenge. While a grooming policy appears to be neutral, the impact can reinforce racial stereotypes and perpetuate race discrimination. The objective of the amendment is to protect people from race discrimination hiding behind a neutral grooming policy.  

If you think your employer’s grooming policy violates the amendments, or if you think you have suffered other race-based discrimination at work, consult with a workers’ rights attorney to discuss your situation.   

 

New York State Minimum Wage Increasing 12/31/21

Money changing hands

Hello, fellow Upstaters!  You probably know by now that New York State private sector minimum wages are going up on December 31, 2021. This is pursuant to amendments to New York State minimum wage orders, which since 2016 have set a goal that the rate, eventually, will reach $15.00/hour for private sector workers statewide. As of December 31, 2021, minimum wage for private sector, non-hospitality or building trade employees in Upstate New York will increase to $13.20/hour.

 

But be careful before you take this opportunity to go on a shopping spree.  First, you might not be in a sector governed by the minimum wage orders (sorry, public employees).  Second, if you’re in New York City, the rules are different for you.  Third, hello food service workers!  You have to deal with stuff like tip credits, tip pooling, and other complications (hint: your wages are still far below everyone else’s because, allegedly, tips are supposed to make up the rest.)

 

Luckily, the New York State Department of Labor has created a wage calculator that will help you figure out whether, and how much, you benefit from this new increase. (Go try it out, it’s fun!)  Additionally, there’s a handy flyer that can give you some background information on where the strive for $15 has taken us so far.

 

As always, if you have questions about your wages, contact a workers’ rights attorney today!

Most New York Employers Can No Longer Drug Test Employees For Cannabis

Most New York Employers Can No Longer Drug Test Employees For Cannabis

On July 1, 2021, I blogged about the intersection of legalization of recreational cannabis use and an employee’s workplace rights in New York. At that time, the New York State Department of Labor [“NYS DOL”] had not yet weighed in on whether employers may continue to test employees for cannabis now that recreational use is legal in New York or addressed other issues created by cannabis legalization.  On October 8, 2021, however, NYS DOL released guidance clarifying workplace rights in the post legalization era.  Adult Use Cannabis And The Workplace – New York Labor Law 201-D (October 8, 2021).

Review of NYS DOL guidance tells us the following:

  • Drug testing for cannabis is now permitted only when federal, or state, law requires drug testing or makes it a mandatory requirement of the position. For example, when federal or state law mandates drug testing for drivers of commercial vehicles or other safety sensitive positions, cannabis drug screening, be it pre-employment, randomized, or in response to an accident or injury, is permissible.
  • To impose discipline against an employee suspected of being under the influence of cannabis at work, an employer must show that the employee manifests “specific articulable symptoms of impairment” that decrease the performance of their duties or interfere with an employer’s obligation to provide a safe workplace as required by state and federal occupational safety and health laws.

So, what exactly are “articulable symptoms of impairment?” The guidance does not provide a list of specific symptoms but explains that the symptoms must be “objectively observable indications that the employee’s performance of the duties of the position are decreased or lessened.” This appears to mean that neither a positive drug test for cannabis nor the smell of cannabis on one’s clothing can serve as the sole basis for an employer’s conclusion that an employee was impaired by marijuana at work and therefore subject to discipline.

Keep in mind that cannabis legalization does not prevent an employer from prohibiting cannabis use during “work hours,” which includes unpaid breaks and mealtimes, even if the employee leaves the worksite. Employers can also prohibit the use of cannabis during periods when an employee is “on call.” In addition, employers can also prohibit cannabis possession while at work and prohibit cannabis use, and possession, in company vehicles or on company property, even after regular business hours or shifts.  When a remote employee works from the confines of a private residence, however, an employer cannot prohibit possession of cannabis at the remote location because the term “worksite” does not include a remote employee’s private residence. N.Y. Lab L. §201-D. As such, an employer can only impose discipline of a remote employee if s/he exhibited articulable symptoms of impairment during work hours, not for possession of cannabis.

If you believe you have been improperly disciplined by your employer for legal use of cannabis, contact a workers’ rights attorney.

217 S. Salina St., 6th Fl.,
Syracuse, NY 13202

T: 315-471-0405
F: 315-471-7849

Attorney Advertising. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. This site is published for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  This site neither creates nor implies an attorney-client relationship.

Find us on Mastodon: @WorkplaceLawyer@union.place