Stop the Madness? Even though sports wagering is illegal in most states, a recent survey found that almost half of all Americans bet on sporting events each year. That includes March Madness office pools, which seem harmless, but are technically illegal bookmaking operations. While law enforcement probably won’t arrest your company’s bracketologists, employers can discipline employees for organizing or participating in office pools while on company time. Of course, March Madness is big business and some employees may still choose to place their bets – especially since Warren Buffet recently offered $1 billion to anyone who fills out a perfect bracket. Unfortunately, the odds of picking a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion (that’s 18 zeroes), so employees may want to choose a more reliable retirement strategy.

Who-Dey! Who Dey! Who Dey Gonna Pay Dem Ben-Gals? March is usually the time when the Cincinnati Bengals prepare for the college draft and free agent contract negotiations. But this March, the Bengals are defending a lawsuit filed by a Ben-Gal cheerleader. The cheerleader sued the team, claiming the Bengals violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and state law by failing to pay her a minimum wage. She claims that she, and the other Ben-Gals, only received $90 for working each of the 10 home games, but did not get paid for 300-plus hours spent at mandatory practices and public functions. Up to 50 cheerleaders could join the lawsuit if the judge certifies the class action. It’s unclear whether the cheerleader can win her lawsuit, but the Bengals can’t be happy she filed it. While the Bengals have recently spent more on players’ salaries than almost every team in the NFL, the lawsuit feeds into the familiar narrative that Mike Brown is really, really cheap.

The NLRB Proposes Faster Union Elections. The NLRB recently proposed rules that will make it easier for unions to take root. Now, it usually takes about eight weeks from the time an organizer files an election petition to the time the union election can be held. The NLRB’s proposed rules could shorten this time by more than half. The new rules also require that employers provide a voter list with employees’ phone numbers and email addresses, so that parties to the election can more easily communicate with potential voters. These rules are still only proposals at the moment. The public has until April 7, 2014, to comment on the proposed rules.

Say Yes to the Dress. While 2013 saw a slight decline in the total number of discrimination claims filed with the EEOC, the number of religious discrimination charges has more than doubled in the past 15 years. To combat this trend, the EEOC released guidance that reminds employers to accommodate applicants and employees who follow religiously mandated dress and grooming practices, unless the attire and grooming practices pose an undue hardship on the employer’s operations. Naturally, the fight will be over what does (or does not) establish an undue hardship. Luckily, the EEOC’s guidance includes a question-and-answer guide and an accompanying fact sheet that should help employers address this difficult question.

Immigration

Guidance on Internal Form I-9 Audits. The Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices recently explained that, when conducting an internal Form I-9 audit, an employer may not request the employment eligibility documentation presented at the time the Form I-9 was completed, simply because the photocopies are unclear or because the documents were not photocopied at all. Employers must accept Form I-9 documentation that appears to be genuine. Employers may not apply different levels of scrutiny based on the type of documentation presented, the employee’s citizenship status, or the employee’s national origin, because that could violate the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act. 

Workplace Health and Safety

Lies, Damned Lies and the Ohio BWC. We’ve all heard that truth can be stranger than fiction, but some true stories are simply too bizarre to believe. For instance, the Ohio BWC recently discovered that a claimant’s attorney committed workers’ compensation fraud when she hired an injured claimant as an office assistant while simultaneously arguing that the injured claimant could not work. The two conspired to hide the claimant’s work activity and earnings, so that the claimant could collect temporary total disability benefits. The BWC will investigate the extent of the alleged fraud, but two things are certain. The claimant shouldn’t expect any more disability payments and his lawyer should expect to hear from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Employee Benefits

The Government Penalizes…The Government. You might think that governmental entities are immune from paying fines for HIPAA privacy and security rules violations. They aren’t. Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights announced a settlement agreement, which imposed a $215,000 penalty on the small county government of Skagit County, Washington. The settlement stemmed from the County’s notification to HHS of a security breach, where for 14 days Medicaid information of over 1,500 people could be accessed on the County’s public web server. While this penalty should be a wake-up call to state and local governments that maintain Protected Health Information, it serves as another warning to private health plans and health care providers.