The Internet’s vast resources provide employees with access to information about employment laws and regulations – which may be inaccurate or taken out of proper context. This is becoming increasingly true in response to employers’ handling of COVID-19 restrictions, vaccination mandates, and work from home policies. Below is the truth about some common myths new and old:
Myth: Employers are required to provide lunch and rest breaks.
Lunch and rest breaks are not required, but common sense dictates that nature does call and most employers provide them.
However, Michigan law requires that employees under 18 be provided a documented 30-minute uninterrupted break for every 5 hours of work.
Myth: Lunch breaks are “time worked” for purposes of calculating overtime.
Unless required by contract or collective bargaining agreement, bona fide meal periods (30 minutes or more) are not counted as hours worked provided employees are completely relieved from their duties.
Myth: Employers must pay their employees overtime pay if they work on weekends or holidays.
Unless required by contract or collective bargaining agreement, overtime pay is not required for weekend or holiday work unless an employee works more than 40 hours in the same workweek and is a non-exempt employee. Michigan law does not require employers to pay overtime if an employee works more than 8 hours a day, provided the employee still does not work more than 40 hours a week.
Myth: All salaried employees are exempt from overtime.
In order to be exempt from the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, employees must be paid on a salary basis (currently not less than $684 per week) and be employed in one or more of the exempt job titles: executive, professional or administrative, computer professional or outside sales.
Myth: Employer can dock exempt employee salary.
Exempt employees must receive a predetermined amount of compensation each pay period, which cannot be reduced except for:
• absence from work for one or more full days for personal reasons other than sickness or disability;
• for absences of one or more full days due to sickness or disability if the deduction is made in accordance with a bona fide plan, policy or practice of providing compensation for salary lost due to illness;
• to offset amounts employees receive as jury or witness fees, or for military pay;
• for penalties imposed in good faith for infractions of safety rules of major significance; or
• for unpaid disciplinary suspensions of one or more full days imposed in good faith for workplace conduct rule infractions.
Myth: Employers may make deductions to hourly employee wages.
Under Michigan law, except for those deductions required or expressly permitted by law or by a collective bargaining agreement, an employer shall not deduct from the wages of an employee, directly or indirectly, any amount without the written consent of the employee.
Myth: Employers may prohibit employees from discussing wages – Shhhh!
Employees are free to discuss wages among themselves under the Michigan Wages and Fringe Benefits Act and under the National Labor Relations Act.
Myth: All employers must offer COBRA coverage.
Generally, an employer is exempt from COBRA requirements if it had fewer than 20 employees on at least 50% of its typical business days in the entire previous calendar year.
Myth: All employers are covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
Title VII and the ADA only cover employers that employ 15 or more individuals.
Myth: Title VII and the ADA only cover employers that employ 15 or more individuals.
Unlawful harassment does not include personality conflicts, bad behavior, or quirky conduct not directed at a protected class of persons.
Myth: An employer may designate an individual as an “independent contractor” by using those magic words (or via an express contract).
Generally, whether an individual is an employee or independent contractor is determined by applying the economic-realty test which includes factors such as whether the employer controls the individual’s duties or performance.
Myth: Generally, whether an individual is an employee or independent contractor is determined by applying the economic-realty test which includes factors such as whether the employer controls the individual’s duties or performance.
Private employers may lawfully impose vaccination mandates as a condition of hire or continued employment, so long as it provides employees limited medical or religious exemptions. Medical and religious exemptions do not include mere medical or political philosophies and preferences. If an exemption is claimed, an employer may inquire into an employee’s past medical history and evidence of religious-based denial of vaccinations or other medicine.
Myth: Employers have to provide paid sick leave for employees who contract COVID-19.
Absent terms in an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement, employers are not required by law to provide paid sick leave to employees who are sick with COVID-19. For a limited period of time the Families First Coronavirus Response Act applied to certain employers and required paid leave; however, this Act was only temporary and has no effect now.
Myth: Employers have to let me work from home if I feel unsafe returning to the office.
Employees may feel unsafe returning to in-person work, but employees cannot demand to work from home because they claim to feel unsafe. A request to continue working from home may be appropriate though if an employee has a medical condition which puts them at risk for severe illness or complications from COVID-19. Even then, employers are only required to provide reasonable accommodations to that employee. If working from home is not a reasonable accommodation, an employee’s request may be legally denied.
Employers should, however, be careful to comply with all governmental safety regulations for in-person work as it relates to COVID-19.
Myth: It’s illegal for employers to ask employees for proof of vaccination.
Employers may ask for proof of vaccination from employees. Documentation of this information should be kept separate from personnel files.
As demonstrated above, common sense and common “knowledge” are not often accurate barometers of what the law actually permits or prohibits. Many legal questions are not as straight forward as they seem and cannot always be answered by a simple Internet search. Don’t let employment law myths expose your business to liability. For experienced and thorough guidance in labor and employment matters, contact attorneys from Berry Moorman’s Labor and Employment Group.