Employer lawyer Palm Beach

Hurricane Irma did a number on South Florida and the Keys and while many people have no power and damage (myself included), we are all getting back to work.  Over the next few days I’m going to focus my posts on post-Irma employment law issues.

Before and during the storm, I noticed some companies were getting bad press for requiring their employees (mostly low paid non-exempt [hourly] service workers) to come into work when Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott, was imposing mandatory evacuations in many areas.

First, requiring employees to work during mandatory evacuations means bad press on social media and in the news.  These days, news stories can quickly become viral and can negatively impact your company brand and your business.

Second, while there is no Florida state law that prevents termination of at-will employees who fail to report to work (even during an emergency) there are other protections for employees.

Specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) provides guidance to employers and employees regarding hurricane preparations and post-storm response.  Also, under the OSHA Act, it is against the law for an employer to retaliate against an employee who demands a safe and healthful workplace.  Obviously there are exceptions to the OSHA rules for first responders and some government workers.

While the OSHA anti-retaliation provision may not protect an employee who evacuates, if you are demanding that your employees work in an area where there is a mandatory evacuation your employees could certainly claim that the workplace was not safe at that time.  Employers in this situation may want to consider closing their operations so employees can evacuate or prepare for the impending storm.  Alternatively, companies may want to ask for volunteers to work during an emergency situation and/or not impose harsh penalties on employees who are no-shows.

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Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

See my post over on Fox’s In the Weeds, regarding the Florida Legislature’s failure to pass regulations implementing Amendment 2 (medical marijuana).

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Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

See my post over on Fox’s In the Weeds, regarding the Florida Senate passing its version of regulations for Amendment 2 (medical marijuana).

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Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

See my post over on Fox’s In the Weeds regarding the Florida House of Representatives passing HB 1397 which is a bill to legislate Amendment 2 (medical marijuana).

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Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

See my post, over on Fox’s “In the Weeds” blog, regarding Florida fraudsters taking advantage of the delay in Florida’s implementation of Amendment 2 (medical marijuana).

Also, if you are interested in cannabis business in Florida and nationally, follow Fox’s In the Weeds.

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Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

Last month, I posted about one Florida House proposal to implement Amendment 2 (which legalized medical marijuana this past November).

Thereafter, several other bills have been put forward and one in the House, HB 1397, has now passed the House Health Quality Subcommittee.  HB 1397, written by House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, is quite restrictive and basically the opposite of SB 614 (the topic of my last post).  Specifically it provides the following:

  • A requirement that non-terminal patients must have a doctor at least 90 days before they can get a cannabis recommendation.
  • Bans the smoking of medical marijuana.
  • Also bans edibles like brownies and “vaping.”
  • Slow expansion of the number of licensed growers and dispensaries.  HB 1397 grants licenses to the seven existing growers (previously licensed under Haleigh’s Hope law).  In addition, five applicants denied last year by the Department of Health would obtain licenses after 150,000 patients have registered.  New licenses would be allowed once there are 200,000 patients registered.

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Heading back to the Florida Senate, Rob Bradley, has proposed SB 406 which has also made it past a key committee (the Senate Health Policy Commitee).  SB 406 is a more “in the middle” bill and proposes the following:

  • The proposal does not include any language that would restrict doctors’ ability to decide for themselves if patients qualify for marijuana treatment.
  • Nonresidents would be allowed to apply to receive medical marijuana in Florida as long as they are able to get medical marijuana in their home state and qualify in Florida.
  •  The Department of Health would be required to have computer software system to track marijuana from “seed to sale”.
  • Patients would also be allowed to increase their supply from 45 to 90 days or even more than 90 days with a doctor’s approval.
  • The Bill would increase the number of marijuana dispensaries, expanding the number of businesses by five more when the state has 250,000 patients, 350,000 patients, 400,000 patients and then every 100,000 thereafter.
  • At least one of the five dispensaries would have to be a black-owned company.
  • The Bill also proposes a new medical marijuana research group at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

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Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

How do you respond when someone tells you they practice voodoo?  How about Santeria or Rastafari?   Do you laugh or scoff in response, do you start singing Sublime??  Here in South Florida, a multicultural and multi-ethnic area, there are a plethora of minor religions being practiced by thousands of people.  As a result, laughing or kidding about someone’s religion, even if seems like a joke to you, is the wrong move in an employment setting.

As an example, news of a recent employment lawsuit filed by a follower of the Yoruba religion, the African ancestor to voodoo and Santeria, who claims discrimination because her employer was making fun of her religion and allegedly restricting her ability to wear her religious garb.  Specifically, Jenessys Gomez, alleges that her bosses and co-workers made fun of her after she started wearing Yoruba-mandated white from head to toe, including a white cover over her shaved head.

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This latest lawsuit is a good reminder to employers that Title VII covers all kinds of religions and even non-theistic beliefs.  The EEOC guidance on religious observance provides the following:

Title VII protects all aspects of religious observance and practice as well as belief and defines religion very broadly for purposes of determining what the law covers.  For purposes of Title VII, religion includes not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others.  An employee’s belief or practice can be “religious” under Title VII even if the employee is affiliated with a religious group that does not espouse or recognize that individual’s belief or practice, or if few – or no – other people adhere to it.  Title VII’s protections also extend to those who are discriminated against or need accommodation because they profess no religious beliefs.

When it comes to religious garb or grooming, employers should tread carefully and only limit an employee’s right to wear their religions garb or abide by their religions grooming requirements if, and only if, it creates a real workplace safety, security, or health concerns.

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Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

In November 2016, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved, with more than 70% voting yes, expanded medical marijuana by passing Amendment 2.

Now comes the tough work of implementing Amendment 2.  One bill, SB 614, proposes to throw out the current medical marijuana system in Florida (which was set up in 2015 to grow, process and distribute low-THC cannabis oil) which strictly capped the number of businesses allowed to participate in medical marijuana.

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St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, the proponent of SB 614, calls the current system “state sanctioned cartel” that limits competition and results in higher prices.  At present, the Florida medical marijuana system is limited to only seven vertical license holders.  A “vertical license” means that the license holder must do it all and grow, process and distribute the product.  And, by maintaining the current system it will obviously severely restrict businesses who want to be involved in what will be big business under Amendment 2.

Senator Brandes’ plan would get rid of the vertical license system and instead create four types of licenses:  one to grow marijuana, one to process marijuana, one to transport marijuana, and one for retail centers.  Each county, and Florida is a large state with 67 counties, could have one retail center per 25,000 residents, or nearly 800 statewide.  But, the bill still permits local governments to outright ban retail dispensaries.

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Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

Who could have ever guessed that post same-sex marriage legalization, litigation would focus on the issues of wedding cakes and wedding florists.  But, now comes recent news that the case pending in Washington State involving the florist who declined to provide flowers for her friend’s gay wedding has lost her case at the state level.

As Barronelle Stutzman explained, in her own words to The Seattle Times, because she is a Christian weddings have a particular significance to her and despite her long friendship with this particular gay customer, even knowing that he was gay for many years, she simply could not provide a special arrangement of flowers for his wedding due to her religious beliefs.

I just couldn’t see a way clear in my heart to honor God with the talents He has given me by going against the word He has given us.

The Washington Supreme Court held, in unanimous decision, that her floral arrangement talents did not constitute protected free speech, and that providing flowers to a same-sex wedding would not serve as an endorsement of same-sex marriage.

As Stutzman acknowledged at deposition, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism.

Ms. Stutzman indicates that she will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States.

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As I explained back in 2015, Palm Beach County’s public accommodation law was amended to greatly broaden the types of businesses covered as public accommodations.  As a result, cake bakers and florists are covered by the law which means that turning away customers based on a religious basis is asking for trouble and litigation.  To avoid litigation, businesses including small businesses, should serve all customers unless there is a safety or security reason not to.

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Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

Florida, dating back to its early years, has always been a hot bed of scams and fraud.  These days, Florida leads the nation in IRS tax return fraud.  And, that is because Florida has a large transient population, no state income tax (so no state review of tax returns which provide a second layer of scrutiny), elderly population with low income but valid Social Security number, etc.

Doctor’s offices and hospitals have been ripe for the collection of Social Security numbers, so have schools.  Accordingly, most data experts advise against providing Social Security numbers at hospitals, doctor’s offices and schools.  Remember, just because they ask for your Social Security number does not mean you need to fill in that information since most providers really have no reason to collect this information.  I, personally, long ago stopped giving that information out on behalf of myself and I’ve never provided it for my daughter.  If you are a senior or you are caring for a senior, unfortunately the  Medicare system, for many years, utilized seniors’ Social Security numbers on their Medicare cards so that information has been collected for thousands of seniors.  Thankfully, in 2015, President Obama signed legislation requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to send out new Medicare cards without seniors’ Social Security numbers.

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Now, comes news on the latest scam.  The scammers have decided to go directly to Human Resources and payroll departments to collect this data in bulk.  Large companies, mid-size companies and small companies are all being targeted with phishing scams designed to get employees to send W-2s and W-2 data directly to these scam artists.  Please see this important blog post from Fox’s Privacy and Data Security blog for more information.

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Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.