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v2 wm Frequently Asked Questions | HAWAII LABOR & EMPLOYMENT LAW

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Frequently Asked Questions
Impact Of Unemployment Benefits Extensions For Hawaii

Recently, a lot of people have been asking me about the current status of the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (“EUC”) program.  The EUC originally started in 2008, and provided up to 13 weeks of federally funded EUC benefits to unemployed individuals who had exhausted their state unemployment benefits.  Since its inception, the EUC has been extended several times, and additional weeks of EUC have been provided.

In Hawaii, unemployed individuals could have received up to 47 weeks of EUC benefits, in addition to their state unemployment benefits (for a grand total of 99 weeks).  There are limitations, however, on who can receive such EUC benefits.  Most importantly, anybody who files a current claim for unemployment will not qualify for EUC benefits, unless the program is extended again.

As a bit of background, the EUC benefits were released in “tiers.”  Tier I provided for 20 weeks of EUC benefits, Tier II provided for 14 weeks of EUC benefits, and Tier III provided for 13 weeks of EUC benefits.  To have qualified for Tier I benefits, the unemployed individual must have received and exhausted state unemployment benefits back in 2008.  To qualify for Tier II benefits, the individual must have received and exhausted Tier I benefits on or before April 5, 2010.  To qualify for Tier III benefits, the individual must have exhausted Tier II benefits on or before April 5, 2010.

For those individuals who are currently receiving EUC benefits, they may continue to do so – within their current Tier level – until September 4, 2010.  They will not, however, be able to move up to the next Tier level.  After September 4, 2010, all EUC benefits will be cut off, unless the benefits are extended again.

Social Media and Social Networking in the Workplace

“What happens on Facebook doesn’t stay on Facebook…”

Currently, a very hot topic among Human Resources professionals is how to deal with social media (or social networking) in the workplace.  Social media includes the use of online services such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, and various internet chatrooms and messageboards.  Social media has been dubbed by some as the “next generation of water cooler chat.”

Social media has posed a modern day catch-22:  it provides benefits and it provides problems.  Whereas social media – and modern technology in general – has fostered productivity and increased marketing opportunities for companies, it has also created more potential for employee abuse and increased exposure for employer liability.

I have presented numerous seminars on this topic, and the two questions I get asked the most are (1) whether employers should regulate their employees’ use of social media in the workplace and (2) whether employers should use social networking sites to either conduct background checks for prospective employees or to check-up on their current employees.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to either of these questions.   Rather, just as various employers have needed to tailor-fit their email and internet policies to their workforce, employers will also have to tailor-fit their policies on social media to their work environment.  At the same time, it appears that social media is here to stay, and in fact, will become an integral part of the workforce – just as emails and the internet have become a part of our everyday worklives.  Therefore, companies need to learn to adapt to the use of social media in their workplaces and I recommend that employers seek some legal consultation on determining whether a social media policy is right, or even necessary, for your workplace.

Wage and Hour F.A.Q.

Do Hawaii or Federal law require employers to provide employees with meal breaks?
Currently, in Hawaii, meal breaks are required only for workers aged 14-15 years; workers 16 or older are not entitled to meal breaks.  Specifically, under Hawaii’s Child Labor Laws, employees are required to provide meal breaks only for minor children aged 14-15 years old.  Under this law, employees aged 14-15 who work more than five consecutive hours must be given 30 consecutive minutes for a rest or meal break.  There is no similar law, however, for workers who are 16 or older.  Therefore, employers are not required to provide meal breaks to workers 16 or older.

Federal law also does not require employees to be given meal or rest breaks.  On a related note, under Federal law, if an employee is given a break period of up to 20 minutes, that break period must generally be paid.  However, “bona fide meal breaks” which typically last 30 minutes or longer, do not need to be paid.  In order to constitute unpaid time, however, the employee must be completely relieved of his or her duties during the break time. 

At-Will Employment F.A.Q.

Is Hawaii employment at-will? If so, what does that mean?
Yes, the default employment status in Hawaii is at-will. At-will employment means either the employer or employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, without or without reason. This does not, however, mean employers can terminate an employee for illegal reasons.

Are employees in Hawaii required to give two weeks notice for a resignation?
No. This is a common misconception by both employers and employees. Unless there is a contractual obligation to give two weeks notice, it is not required.

What are protected classes?
Protected classes include a person’s race, sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, color, ancestry, disability, marital status and arrest & court record. Employers are not permitted to take any adverse employment action against any employee or prospective employee because of any protected class.

Unemployment F.A.Q.

What exactly are unemployment benefits?
It is a form of temporary compensation for individuals during a term of involuntary unemployment. Those individuals may collect unemployment benefits up to 1/21 of the individual’s highest quarter of base period wages for the 15 months leading up to the termination of employment. The maximum weekly benefit, however, is capped at 70% of the average weekly wage of employees in Hawaii. Unemployment benefits are payable for up to 26 weeks (except during periods of high unemployment rates, where the benefit period may be extended for up to an additional 13 weeks.)

Who qualifies for unemployment benefits?
Individuals who are involuntarily terminated from employment through no fault of their own. Individuals who resign from employment (without good cause) or are terminated from employment because of willful or wanton misconduct are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

If one of my former employees receives unemployment insurance, will my premiums increase?

I terminated a former employee because he was not able to perform his job. Why was he still able to collect unemployment?
Employees whose employment is involuntary terminated are generally entitled to receive unemployment benefits, unless they engaged in willful and wanton misconduct. An individual’s inability to perform his or her job does not constitute willful or wanton misconduct. However, as noted in this post, the act of playfully choking a co-worker for a period of 5 seconds would constitute willful and wanton misconduct that would disqualify an individual from receiving unemployment benefits.

Does unemployment apply to independent contractors?