The Inbox: January 10, 2014
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night – and certainly not a batch of freezing rain and ice that’s currently paralyzing the greater Baltimore-Washington area right now – stays your trusty editors from the swift completion of their appointed rounds; namely, bringing you the weekly roundup of Suits by Suits:
- It may not make the headlines on cable news channels, but next Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in United States v. Quality Stores, Inc. to determine whether severance payments made by employers to involuntarily-terminated employees are subject to FICA taxes. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit says such payments are not “wages” and thus not subject to FICA tax; a prior IRS ruling disagrees. The Human Resource Executive Online estimates that businesses may qualify for $1 billion or more in refunds if the 6th Circuit opinion is upheld.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a ruling requiring a trucking company, Oak Harbor Freight Lines, Inc., to compensate a driver who refused to work while taking a prescribed narcotic cough suppressant while sick in violation of OSHA regulations. The order also requires the company to cease retaliating against workers who refuse to operate vehicles while ill or fatigued in derogation of safety regulations.
- Speaking of which, the Wall Street Journal describes a series of new whistleblower protection laws that just went into effect in California, creating an entirely different legal regime. As the story notes: “Instead of establishing a specific program for individuals to submit tips, like the Securities and Exchange Commission’s whistleblower program, these laws broaden an individual’s right to pursue action if retaliated against for reporting suspected wrongdoing. The potential civil fine is up to $10,000 per violation, among other potential sanctions. (We’ve writen extensively about whistleblowers, usually in the federal context.)
- Of course, no issue of the Inbox would be complete without the usual roundup of complaints over golden parachutes. This week, we learned that Paterson, NJ was continuing to study the legality of a $74,000 payment to former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres in connection with accrued but unused sick days and vacation time; and that a U.S. trustee has objected to a proposed $650,000 in severance payments to two outgoing executives of discount fashion retailer Loehmann’s, currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Despite the public controversy that often surrounds such payments, it hasn’t affected the boardroom: a study reveals that shareholders have approved a higher percentage of so-called golden parachutes in 2013 (86%) than they did in 2012 (82%), even as third-party advisers are increasingly advising shareholders to vote no.
- And finally: there’s been much coverage of Colorado’s law legalizing recreational use of marijuana – my personal favorite story is “I just bought pot for the first time with my boss’s money!” – but, as those killjoys at the Wall Street Journal note, Colorado employers remain free to prohibit marijuana use by their employees and back up such prohibitions with regular, mandatory drug tests. (The same story does note that drug use at the workplace has been on the decline for a decade, and that marijuana use accounted for just 2% of positive tests in 2012.)