Cratchit v. Scrooge - Further Holiday Adventures in Employment Law

| Marcus, Ellen

"Cratchit v. Scrooge"

Yesterday, we had good news for Bob Cratchit:  he has a right under the FLSA to more compensation than Scrooge pays him, and could take legal action to protect that right.  But what about the other unfairness and indignities that Bob suffers as Scrooge’s employee – such as the cold office and Bob’s inability to secure Tiny Tim proper medical care?  Would any federal laws protect him?  That’s the subject of today’s post, and the news is not good for Bob.

While we office workers may wish for a window with a view or ergonomic desk chairs, Bob’s concerns about his working conditions are more fundamental.   His fire at work is so small “that it look[s] like one coal.”  To cope, he “put[s] on his white comforter” and “trie[s] to warm himself at the candle.”  Relief for Bob will not come through our federal laws.  While it is true that, generally speaking, the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace, no federal law or regulation requires employers to ensure that their offices are not too hot or too cold for their employees.  OSHA (the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Act) recommends temperatures in the range of 68 to 76 degrees.  But Bob has no cause of action against Scrooge for ignoring OSHA’s recommendation.

And, what if Bob wanted to take a few weeks to care for Tiny Tim and find him medical care?  Scrooge would not be violating any federal law if he fired Bob for doing so.   The Family Medical Leave Act protects some employees from being fired for taking up to 12 weeks leave from work in a 12-month period to care for a child who has a serious health condition.  But the Act only covers private-sector employers who have employed 50 or more employees and Scrooge’s one and only employee is Bob.  Even if Scrooge’s business were large enough that Bob had FMLA rights, Bob would only be entitled to unpaid leave to care for Tiny Tim, which may seem small comfort to a family barely eking out an existence.  California and New Jersey have laws requiring paid leave under certain circumstances.

Ultimately, Bob was spared unfairness and indignities in the workplace thanks to the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.  Others like him may not be so lucky and may have to consider their legal options.