HR Hero Line

Feds to employers: Do as I say, not as I do

by Kylie Crawford TenBrook

I’m no longer allowed to cuss in my house. It was a tough habit to break ― as the only girl in a family of seven children, I grew up with a lot of profanity. But I realized that I had to change my family’s behavior after a recent trip during which my three-year-old “impressed” her grandparents with her incredibly vast four-letter-word vocabulary. So now when I cuss at home, my daughter puts me in time-out until I apologize and promise not to do it again. (Although, admittedly, this has led to the occasional cussing, followed by a refusal to apologize, just so I can have some alone time.) 

I think it’s a pretty simple concept. If I’m going to set and enforce rules, everyone, including me, has to follow them. Otherwise, the rules won’t be taken seriously.

In recent months, we’ve seen some instances in which the federal government has asked employers to do things contrary to the government’s own policies and practices. Now I’m not suggesting that the “I’m rubber, you’re glue” defense will hold up in court. I’m simply pointing out these discrepancies to show that even those who set and enforce the rules sometimes have a hard time following them.

Interns, shminterns
To legally operate an unpaid internship program, an employer must meet all of the six criteria set forth by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). That is, the internship must:

  1. Be similar to training given in an educational environment;
  2. Be for the benefit of the intern;
  3. Not displace regular employees;
  4. Provide no benefit to the employer;
  5. Not entitle the intern to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. Be clear that the intern is not entitled to wages.

(For the details, see DOL Fact Sheet #71.)

An unpaid White House internship is one of the most prestigious internship positions any political hopeful or junkie can obtain. Having watched The West Wing and followed the Monica Lewinski story, I’m 100 percent certain that the White House isn’t operating a legit unpaid internship program. Grassroots organizations have called on President Barack Obama to set an example for the nation and pay the numerous interns that flock to the White House each year. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Payday, shmayday
In case you missed it (because you were in a coma), the federal government shut down late last year. During the shutdown, “excepted” federal employees were required to work without pay until the government was up and running again. Many of those employees have signed on to a lawsuit alleging that the government’s withholding of their pay violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The FLSA requires that wages owed be paid to an employee on the regular payday for the pay period covered. If the regular payday of the excepted federal employees fell during the period the government was shut down, I’d say the employees have a good case.

Personally, I think the feds could use a time-out.

Kylie Crawford TenBrook serves as corporate counsel for Best Western International, Inc., in Arizona. Previously, she practiced labor and employment law exclusively. In her spare time, she enjoys reading about the misdeeds of celebrities, politicians, and professional athletes and making the tenuous connection between those missteps and what she does for a living.