Players of the World, Unite! College football players get a lot of perks – free tuition, individual tutors, and if their lucky, all-expense paid trips to Birmingham, Alabama for the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Now the NLRB wants to add union membership to that list. The NLRB regional director recently ruled that the Northwestern University football players who receive grant-in-aid scholarships are employees of the University under federal labor law. As employees, the players now have the right to decide whether they want to unionize. The players voted on unionization last Friday, April 25th, but because the NLRB will review the regional director’s decision, the ballots will remain uncounted and only opened if the NLRB ultimately sides with the players. While this decision only applies to Northwestern University, the NLRB’s decision could apply to all private universities.

President Obama Pushes for Overtime Reforms. President Obama flexed his executive muscle last month when he instructed the Secretary of Labor to modernize the nation’s overtime laws. Currently, employees earning at least $455 each week and performing certain executive, administrative, or professional duties are considered “non-exempt” and are not entitled to overtime pay. President Obama wants to narrow the scope of nonexempt duties and raise the $455 minimum weekly salary needed to qualify for the exemption. Since the President’s directive could dramatically increase the number of employees who are entitled to overtime pay, it’s a good bet that Congress will weigh in on this important issue.

Cure for the Summer Intern Blues. While the unemployment rate has improved in recent months, some workers still can’t find good paying positions. Some people have accepted unpaid internships as a way to gain valuable work experience while looking for work. Recently, a few unpaid interns have filed wage and hour lawsuits because they believe their internships violate the Fair Labor Standards Act. Unpaid interns aren’t typically covered by the FLSA if the internship resembles an academic experience where diverse skills are taught. But interns can receive FLSA protections if they perform work that is typically performed by regular employees, are taught employer-specific skills, and the employer depends on the interns’ work. That means employers should carefully define their interns’ job duties and consider both state and federal law when developing summer internship programs.

Pay Attention to that ODJFS Notice. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is cracking down on the improper unemployment compensation payments it makes to people who aren’t actually entitled to those benefits. The ODJFS typically sends a letter to employers asking that they confirm whether certain employees are eligible for unemployment benefits. Don’t disregard this letter. The ODJFS may charge employers, who repeatedly fail to provide this information, for any benefits paid to individuals who are later determined ineligible. These charges can lead to an increase in the employer’s tax rate. Keep that in mind the next time you receive a letter from the ODJFS.

Workplace Health and Safety

Revamping Ohio’s Wage Loss Rules. Injured workers can receive wage loss compensation when they face a post-injury reduction in earnings (or the injured worker can’t find work within their medical restrictions). Unfortunately, the wage loss rules can be confusing. The Ohio Industrial Commission and Bureau of Workers’ Compensation wants to change that by eliminating the rules’ cumbersome wording, including new guidelines for online job searches and verification, and better explaining certain case law exemptions to supplemental job searches. The new rules are designed to create a more fluid and clearer understanding of how and when an injured worker is entitle to receive wage loss benefits.

Employee Benefits

Is Protection Constitutionally Protected? The Affordable Care Act requires health plans to provide participants with no-cost contraception coverage as part of the plan’s required preventive services. The contraception mandate includes an exemption for churches and an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious objections to contraception. However, for-profit businesses, whose owners have religious objections to the mandate, are not provided any exemption or accommodation. The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in cases filed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, two for-profit businesses challenging the contraception mandate on religious grounds. Those employers risk incurring penalties of up to $100 per-day, per-employee for failing to comply with the mandate. The government argues that for-profit companies aren’t afforded the same rights as religious organizations under federal law. Stay tuned. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide this hotly contested issue later this summer.