With another Valentine’s Day passed, this is a good time of the year to review some tips for employers to deal with romantic relationships in the workplace.


The importance of employee morale cannot be overstated.  Employers often mistakenly expect employees to be satisfied by simply being paid for doing their work.  It’s an easy trap to fall into but unhappy employees are a serious concern for companies.  Low morale causes lower productivity, poor customer service, high turnover, excessive absenteeism and less time productively working.


If you employ an emergency responder (firefighter/ambulance worker) and a formal state of emergency is declared, you must grant the employee's request to perform his or her emergency responder duties during the emergency.  The leave need not be paid, but the employee may use his or her PTO.


As all New York employers are aware, New York’s minimum wage increased to $8.75 per hour as of December 31, 2014 and is scheduled to increase to $9.00 per hour on December 31, 2015.


On December 29, 2014, Governor Cuomo signed a bill amending laws that directly impact New York employers.  Effective immediately, the New York Wage Theft Prevention Act is amended to eliminate the requirement that all New York employers annually notify and receive acknowledgment from every worker regarding their rate of pay and pay date prior to February 1 each year.  Employers should note that the required notice must still be provided for all new hires, and damages for failure to do so are hefty at $50 per day, capped at $5,000. 


The NLRB recently overturned previous precedent that provided that employees had no statutory right to use employer provided email for activities covered by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Employer Purple Communications, Inc. provided email accounts for its employees but prohibited employees from using the email system to engage in activities “on behalf of organizations or persons with no professional or business affiliation” with the employer, as well as sending “uninvited” emails of a personal nature. 


The United States Supreme Court weighed in this week under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regarding the increasingly complex issue of what activities towards the beginning and end of workdays constitute “work”, thereby requiring employers to pay employees for the time spent on them.  The Court unanimously ruled that warehouse workers for a staffing company who serviced customers and underwent security screening upon exiting the plant each day were not entitled to be paid for that time going through security. 


Social media remains in the forefront at the NLRB, and to reiterate, the National Labor Relations Act applies to union and non-union workforces alike.  As such, employees can discuss their pay, benefits, work conditions, etc. on social media and it will be considered protected activity. 


Last week, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and National Labor Relations Board officials cautioned employers who check prospective employees’ social media during the hiring process.  Any personal details or opinions discovered on a prospective employees’ social media should not be considered in a hiring decision, though a hiring manager cannot be prevented from discovering those personal details or opinions.


In several places in the country, creative plaintiffs' attorneys have brought civil assault claims on behalf of their employee clients who alleged they have been harassed in the workplace.  Civil assault claims do not require evidence of membership in any protected category or a showing of physical injury; rather, the plaintiff only must show that a threat was made by a member of management and that the employee was subjectively in fear of physical injury.