Attention interns: You may be entitled to pay for the work you performed this summer!

unpaid intern

Many employers have found themselves in hot water when they learn that one of their interns is suing them for wages and overtime. In some cases, employees are misclassified as interns and denied wages they should receive. Some employers intentionally misclassify employees as interns to get free labor and pay less taxes. However, other employers simply don’t know the law.

Do employers have to pay interns?

It depends on the type of work they do. Employers don’t have to pay interns minimum wage like regular employees. However, an intern must receive some type of educational benefit to truly be an intern rather than an employee. The U.S. Department of Labor considers various factors to determine if a worker is an intern:

  • Did the employer hire the intern through a school program?
  • Did the intern actually receive educational or real-world training?
  • Did the intern displace regular employees?
  • Did the intern work under close supervision?
  • Did the intern provide an immediate advantage to the employer, or did he/she actually slow down or impede the employer’s work?
  • Did the intern or the employer benefit more from the arrangement?
  • Is the intern entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship?
  • Do the employer and intern agree that the employer does not have to pay the intern?

Did my employer misclassify me?

Depending on the circumstances, you may have been misclassified as an intern if you provided an immediate advantage to the employer, if you displaced regular employees, or if you did not receive educational or real-world training. For example, in one case, a hospital misclassified students as radiology technician interns. Instead of placing students with employed radiology technicians, the program often assigned students to areas of the hospital staffed by other students. Students frequently performed X-rays by themselves.

If your employer misclassified you as an intern, you may have a right to minimum wage and overtime. DC employers must pay their employees at least $12.50 per hour.

Do you need legal assistance?

If you believe your employer misclassified you as an intern, you may be entitled to pay for the hours you worked. Contact Alan Lescht and Associates, PC, today. Call us at (202) 463-6036, or email us. We represent private employees in DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia, and federal employees around the world.

Navigating the EEO process for congressional employees

The Capitol

Federal government employees have to follow a specific procedure to file an EEO complaint of discrimination or retaliation.  The EEO process for employees within the legislative branch of government is unique from the process for other government employees.

Where do I file my EEO complaint?   

The Office of Compliance (OOC) is charged with processing EEO complaints for most legislative employees, including those employed by:

  • S. House of Representatives
  • S. Senate
  • S. Capitol Police
  • Congressional Budget Office
  • Office of the Architect of the Capitol
  • Office of the Attending Physician
  • Office of Compliance and
  • Office of Congressional Accessibility Services.[1]

What do I do first?

You must file a request for counseling with OOC within 180 days of the act of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.  Identifying your claims is critical because only claims specifically listed in the request for counseling may proceed through the EEO process.

The counseling period lasts for 30 days.

What happens after counseling?

After the counseling period, you have 15 days to file a request for mediation with the OOC.   Mediation is a mandatory settlement conference between you and your employer.  During mediation, a mediator will attempt to resolve the complaint.

What do I do if my case doesn’t settle at mediation?  

If you do not reach a settlement at mediation, you may file a lawsuit in federal district court.  You must file a lawsuit no earlier than 30-days after the end of mediation, but no later than 90-days after mediation concludes.  Alternatively, you may file a request for a hearing before a hearing officer at the OOC.

Should I request a hearing or file a lawsuit?

This is an important decision that depends on a variety of factors including the facts of your case, the defense arguments raised at mediation, and general case strategy.  Making this decision requires the expertise of a lawyer who has argued before both hearing officers at the OOC and federal district court judges.

The legislative branch process is very technical and separate from how EEO complaints are processed in the executive branch.  Contact Alan Lescht and Associates today if you are a legislative employee who has been subjected to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

 

[1] Library of Congress (LOC) employees follow a different process.

Employees have rights when facing proposed discipline

Federal employees have rights when they receive a notice of proposed discipline, such as proposed removal, proposed demotion, or proposed suspension of more than 14 days.

Except in certain circumstances, most federal employees are entitled to certain protections before they can be removed, demoted, or suspended for more than 14 days. Most federal workers have the following rights when they are facing one of these disciplinary actions:  (1) the right to written notice; (2) the right to review the evidence; (3) the right to representation; and (4) the right to respond.  5 U.S.C. § 7513; 5 C.F.R. § 752.404.

The right to written notice of proposed discipline

Before removing, demoting, or suspending an employee for more than 14 days, the agency must give the employee a written notice of the proposed discipline.  The notice of proposed discipline must describe the allegations against the employee (i.e., what type of misconduct or performance issue the employee is accused of) and what penalty the agency proposes to impose.

The right to review the evidence

The employee has the right to review any documents and any other evidence the agency relied upon in proposing the disciplinary action.  This evidence is frequently called “the documents relied upon” or “the record.”  Sometimes the proposing official or HR will automatically give the employee the documents relied upon.  However, the employee should ask for the documents and ask the agency to confirm that he/she received all of the documents relied upon.

The right to representation

The notice of proposed discipline should also state that the employee has the right to representation.  This means that the employee may enlist or retain a representative to aid him/her in responding to the notice of proposed discipline.  The representative may be a union representative, a private attorney, or any other person.  The employee should notify the agency that he/she has a representative connected to the proposed discipline.

The right to respond to the notice of proposed discipline

employee discipline

An employee has the right to respond in writing and orally to a notice of proposed removal, demotion, or suspension for more than 14 days.  The agency must give the employee a “reasonable” amount of time (i.e., not less than 7 days) to respond.  The notice of proposed discipline should state when the employee’s response is due.  An employee may ask the deciding official for an extension of time to submit his/her response.  The employee may submit his/her own evidence, including but not limited to statements or declarations from witnesses, with the written or oral response.

Contact Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C., today if you are a federal employee who received a notice of proposed removal, proposed demotion, or proposed suspension for more than 14 days.  We offer strategic and results-driven legal services to federal government employees around the world.

Whistleblower protections under the Follow the Rules Act

On June 14, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Follow the Rules Act, an important extension of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).

Background of the Follow the Rules Act

The WPA protects federal government employees from retaliation for complaining about the government’s dishonest or illegal activities. In 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit made a decision interpreting the WPA in Rainey v. Merit Systems Protection Board. The court held that the WPA protects employees who refuse to obey orders that would require violation of statutes. However, the WPA does not protect employees who refuse to obey orders that would require violation of rules or regulations.

Additional whistleblower protections

The Follow the Rules Act overturns the Rainey decision and gives employees more protections. Agency can’t take personnel actions against employees who refuse orders that would require violations of laws, rules, or regulations.

In introducing the bill last year, Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI) gave the following example:

Congress directed the President to promulgate rules and regulations regarding sanctions against North Korea. Without the Follow the Rules Act, employees who refused to follow orders to violate North Korea sanctions would have no whistleblower protections.

Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) said, “[W]e need to do all we can to ensure that federal employees are allowed to perform their jobs free from political pressure to violate laws, rules, and regulations.”

If your employer took an adverse personnel action against you for complaining about illegal or improper activity, contact Alan Lescht and Associates today. We offer results-driven legal services to federal employees around the world.

Alexandria employee sues city for violating FMLA

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eastern District reinstated a former employee’s case against the City of Alexandria for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Quintana v. City of Alexandria, No. 16-1630 (4th Cir. filed June 6, 2017).

City of Alexandria fired employee for taking FMLA leave

Monica Quintana was hired by the City of Alexandria in 2011. After one year, the City outsourced its payroll and other duties to Randstad USA, a staffing agency. However, Quintana’s job functions remained the same, and she continued to report to a supervisor who was a City employee.

On or about January 9, 2014, the City granted Quintana’s request for FMLA leave to care for her comatose husband. Quintana told Randstad that she was approved to take three months of FMLA leave. However, on January 17, 2014, the City terminated Quintana’s employment for failing to report to work without notice.

Employee filed lawsuit against City of Alexandria for denying FMLA leave

Quintana filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, naming both Randstad and the City of Alexandria as defendants. In response, the City argued that it was not Quintana’s primary employer, and thus, was not liable for denying Quintana FMLA leave or for retaliating against her for requesting leave. The court accepted this argument and, as a result, dismissed Quintana’s claims against the City.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the decision. The Fourth Circuit ruled that Quintana alleged enough facts to show that the City of Alexandria and Randstad were her employers. Consequently, the court reinstated Quintana’s lawsuit.

If you believe your employer interfered with your rights to take FMLA leave or retaliated against you for requesting FMLA leave, contact us today. Alan Lescht and Associates, offers strategic, results-driven legal services to clients in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and northern Virginia, and to federal employees around the world.

National origin discrimination common against immigrant workers

If you moved to the United States for work, or are considering immigrating here, you may have an array of uncertainties, stressors, and concerns. In Washington, DC, and all over the country, there are many opportunities that can help immigrants further their lives. Unfortunately, many immigrants experience national origin discrimination or other types of discrimination in the workplace. It is vital for you to recognize and take action if you ever experience discrimination yourself.

There are many types of national origin discrimination.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employment immigrants may be discriminated against at work in many different ways. For example, an employer may discriminate against a person because of his national origin or his association with people from a certain country. National origin discrimination includes treating employees unfairly because of their citizenship status, ancestry, the way they dress or look, or their accents.

Discrimination rears its head in diverse ways in work spaces all over the nation. Strugging to find a job or losing the job you have throws your life into chaos. If you think your employer treated you differently because of your national origin, you may want to contact an attorney. Employers who discriminate should be held accountable for their actions.

This article was put together for general informational purposes and is not legal advice. Contact Alan Lescht and Associates today if you believe you have been subjected to national origin discrimination.

Tip sharing: Minimum wage still required for tipped employees

Many workers rely on tips to make a living. Wait staff, bartenders, baristas, hair stylists, and cleaning staff are just some examples of employees who rely on tips.

One common practice in industries where tipping is the norm is tip sharing. Tip sharing involves pooling tipped employees’ earnings and dividing them among employees. The tips may be divided among tip-receiving employees and other employees such as dishwashers, bussers, cooks, and others who don’t commonly receive tips themselves.

Most states allow for tip sharing, but there are certain rules and limitations that apply. Here are two important things to remember:

  • Minimum wage requirements: Tip-earning employees are only required to place tips in a pool that exceed minimum wage. Employees are not required to share tips if their total earnings equal less than minimum wage.
  • Employers excluded: Employers cannot take part in tip sharing. Tip sharing is only for employees who receive tips – not those who employ them.

When an employer takes tips from a tip pool, or when a tipped employee is earning less than minimum wage, it may be time to speak to an employment law attorney about what is happening.

Although tip pooling is legal in many states, employers must follow the law. When they don’t, they can be held accountable.

Talk to an attorney today: Call Alan Lescht & Associates, P.C., at 202-463-6036 for answers to your questions about tip sharing – and to learn what to do if your employer is violating the law.

RIFs in the Trump Era: Reemployment rights after a RIF

Welcome back to our series on RIFs in the Trump era. If you missed Parts One and Two of the series, click here. Today is our final installment of the series, where we will discuss reemployment rights after a RIF.

What are reemployment rights?

Employees who are separated due to a RIF have reemployment priority rights. Agencies use a reemployment priority list (“RPL”) to rehire employees separated as part of a RIF. In filling any vacancies that arise after a RIF, an agency must give priority to certain former employees on the RPL over certain outside job applicants. Agencies are also permitted to consider RPL registrants before considering internal candidates.

Establishing an RPL

An agency must establish and maintain an RPL for each area in which it separates eligible competitive service employees by RIF. Employees are not required to participate in this list and will not automatically be placed on the list. An agency must give employees information about the list when it issues a notice of separation. The former employee must complete and submit the RPL application on or before the RIF separation date to register for the program.

Reemployment and appeals

To be appointed to a vacant position through an RPL, an employee must meet all requirements for the vacant position. The agency will use a numerical scoring system to rank applicants.

What if the agency does not follow the RPL? An employee can appeal to the MSPB if he believes his reemployment rights were violated.

Questions about RIFs?

Do you feel that your agency improperly failed to consider your reemployment rights? Protecting your job is our job. Contact Alan Lescht and Associates today. Call us at (202) 536-3315 or email Alan.

Security clearance determinations

What factors are considered?

To be eligible to access classified information, the agency will consider a number of factors including:

  • Allegiance to the United States;
  • Foreign influence;
  • Foreign preference;
  • Sexual behavior;
  • Personal conduct;
  • Financial considerations, including falling behind on bills or loans;
  • Alcohol consumption;
  • Drug involvement;
  • Emotional, mental, and personality disorders;
  • Criminal conduct;
  • Security violations;
  • Outside activities; and
  • Misuse of Information Technology systems

Can my security clearance be challenged after I am hired?

Yes, a security clearance can be challenged or revoked at any time during employment. The agency will consider whether the employee voluntarily reported the information, was truthful in responding to questions, sought assistance and followed professional guidance, and has demonstrated positive changes in behavior and employment.

What if my security clearance is revoked?

We have had success in assisting our clients with security clearance issues. These are just a few.

  • Department of Energy- Our client, a contract electrician, received a denial of access to classified information based on his submission of an EQIP improperly referencing an arrest from 23 years prior. We submitted a written response and then conducted a hearing before the Department of Energy Office of Hearings and Appeals. At the hearing, we demonstrated that our client never intended to deceive the government regarding his arrest and that his conduct did not create a danger or threat to national security. After receiving an unfavorable ruling from the Administrative Judge, we appealed and filed for review to the Appeal Panel at the Department of Energy Office of Departmental Personnel Security, and we persuaded the Appeal Panel to overturn the unfavorable ruling, find in our client’s favor, and held that our client’s behavior did not constitute a threat to national security. As a result, our client was granted access to classified information, and was able to keep his job which required the security clearance.
  • Department of the Navy- Our client received a letter of intent to revoke his security clearance based on allegations that he had mishandled sensitive information and had a disqualifying psychological condition because he suffered from anxiety and depression. We contested the proposal and filed a response demonstrating that the alleged mishandling of sensitive information occurred under unusual circumstances when the employee was tasked with an unfair workload by a hostile supervisor. We also established that the allegations regarding the employee’s psychological condition did not amount to a security concern. The Department of Defense Central Adjudication Facility agreed and restored the employee’s clearance.
  • USCIS- We represented a client whose security clearance (access to classified and Sensitive Compartmented Information) was suspended and then revoked due to his personal use of a government laptop in ways that violated policy and resulted in malware invading the laptop. We appealed the revocation, arguing that most of the client’s personal use of the computer did not violate policy, that he did not intend to violate policy or cause harm to the government, and that his understanding of the seriousness of his actions combined with his long history of exemplary government service indicated that he would never allow such a mistake to reoccur. The Deciding Official agreed that the violation was minimal, most of the violation was unintentional, and that the client was unlikely to ever allow recurrence. Thus, the Deciding Official reversed the revocation of our client’s security clearance and restored his access.

For assistance with security clearance matters, contact Alan Lescht and Associates today. Call us at (202) 463-6036, or email alan.lescht@leschtlaw.com.

Age discrimination: Recognizing signs in the workplace

Age discrimination lawyers

In a perfect world, employees would be hired and evaluated based on their knowledge, skills, and work ethic. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen. Discrimination in its many forms can make for a toxic work environment – affecting the victim of discrimination as well as other employees and the workplace as a whole. Age discrimination is one type of workplace discrimination that is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), as well as under many state and local laws. This type of discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee unfairly because of the employee’s age. Unfortunately, age discrimination can be hard to prove, and sometimes it can be hard to recognize.

Common examples of age discrimination

Here are some common examples of age discrimination in the workplace:

  • Promoting a younger, less experienced or less qualified employee
  • Paying older employees less than younger employees for the same job
  • Making jokes or comments about an employee’s age
  • Excluding an employee from certain meetings or activities because of his or her age
  • Suddenly giving an older employee a bad review or scrutinizing his or her work
  • Pressuring an employee to retire (or questioning an employee about retirement plans)
  • Using age-specific words in a job description (for example, “join our young and dynamic team”)

If you suspect that you are experiencing age discrimination, you should speak to an attorney. An attorney from our firm can initiate a full investigation of your case and help you determine a course of legal action.

Remember: Age discrimination is wrong and it is illegal – and victims may be eligible for monetary compensation.

Contact Alan Lescht and Associates today if you have experienced age discrimination at work. For a free phone consultation, please call 202-463-6036.