If you are like most Americans, you will likely be spending numerous hours in the kitchen over the Thanksgiving holiday. Unfortunately, that increased activity also leads to more chances of residential home fires, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association. According to reports, the Thanksgiving holiday sees three times the nation’s daily average in emergency fire accidents. Research shows that fires originating in the kitchen are the top reason for home fires and burn injuries. Last year, fire departments throughout the country replied to a median of almost 156,000 fires resulting  from cooking mishaps, which led to 390 deaths and 4,800 injuries, not to mention a whopping $771 million in property damages.

Keeping all this in mind, please follow a few simple fire prevention safety steps this Thanksgiving holiday when you and your family are in the kitchen:

  • Keep items away from the stove or oven that may catch fire, including cloth mitts, wood items, and any kind of packaging. Other potential fire hazards to watch out for are rags or towels, aprons, clothes, and even drapes.
  • Never leave the stove or oven unattended, even if you are walking away for a few seconds. Turn the heat off whenever you leave the room. Many fires start because an oven or stove is left unsupervised for a very short amount of time.
  • Use timers to stay on top of cooking schedules and to avoid burning accidents that can result in fires.
  • If you do happen to start a small fire in a pan or oven, immediately cover it with a metal or glass lid and turn the heat off. If it does not extinguish after 30 seconds, call the fire department for immediate assistance.

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A 75-year-old man trying to cross a street on a scooter recently in Brevard County died after he was struck by a vehicle.

According to reports, the Cocoa Beach man was attempting to cross Sixth Street at South Orlando Avenue in his electric mobility scooter around 6 p.m. when he was struck by a 2005 Toyota driven by an 18-year-old from Cocoa Beach.

The man was transported to an area hospital, where he later died. No charges have been filed at this time, according to police.

The investigation is ongoing.

Anyone who witnessed the crash is asked to call the Cocoa Beach Police Department at 321-868-3251.

Motorized wheelchair and scooter users in Florida have responsibilities, rights, and privileges similar to those of pedestrians. These vehicles can be legally operated on public sidewalks, park pathways, bicycle paths, rail trails, and in public buildings. While motorized scooters or mobility scooters should not be on public roads if there are any other options, they are allowed to cross at intersections just like pedestrians. They should only be operated on a roadway if there is no sidewalk, or the sidewalk is obstructed to the point that it is unsafe for use.

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An Ocala teenager was killed in a crash on Interstate 75 recently in Hernando County.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the 16-year-old was killed in the two-vehicle crash when he was ejected from his 1998 Ford Explorer.

Troopers believe the teen was driving north at 11:08 p.m. when he drove past a 2007 Hyundai Sonata and tried to move into the Sonata’s lane.

The Sonata’s driver, a 22-year-old of Tallahassee, swerved to avoid a crash and lost control of his vehicle.

The Hyundai collided with a guardrail. The 22-year-old suffered minor injuries.

The teen’s Explorer went into the center median and overturned. He was ejected and died at the scene.

The crash is still under investigation.

Car accidents are still the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States, and teens are more likely than adults to get into motor vehicle collisions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thousands of teens die in car accidents every year, and nearly 300,000 nationwide are treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to car accidents. Teenagers and young adults account for roughly 14 percent of the national population, but make up 28 to 30 percent of the costs of car crash injuries.

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The Eleventh Circuit awarded $42,000 to two Florida drivers who were improperly classified as independent contractors and denied proper minimum wages and overtime pay. This decision is one of several this year holding major companies like FedEx and Uber responsible for wrongfully treating workers as independent contractors.

The two men worked for a Miami-based company called Quick Messenger Services that delivers over-the-counter and prescription medications via couriers. They charged that it wrongly misclassified them as independent contractors instead of full-time employees. After a four-day jury trial, the two men were awarded $42,000 in unpaid back wages and damages.

The jury found that Quick Messenger Services showed a “reckless disregard” for the Fair Labor Standards Act. The owner of Quick Messenger Services plans to appeal the decision but has provided no further comments.

Employers are obviously concerned with maximizing their profits and understandably so. However, some employers are less honest than others and achieve that maximum profit goal by misclassifying their employees. Some companies may be inclined to reduce their payroll tax by deliberately misclassifying employees as independent contractors, or they may try to avoid paying legally required overtime by misclassifying regular employees as executives, administrators, or professionals.

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A former server at the Bombay Club, the elegant Indian dining room frequented by U.S. presidents and Hollywood celebrities, filed a class-action lawsuit recently claiming that the restaurant and its management company violated local and federal labor laws by not paying him overtime and other wages.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claims that “there are more than 50 past and present non-exempt employees of the Knightsbridge restaurants who are similarly” affected.

The suit alleges that time cards indicate he punched the clock for 108.71 hours in January. He asserts that he was paid, according to a submitted pay stub, for 80 hours.

The lawsuit also claims that the Bombay Club required him and other servers to pool their tips when waiting on tables with 12 or more diners; from that pool of money, he alleges, the servers were expected to pay a 4 percent manager fee based on the total tab of the table. Similarly, the lawsuit alleges that managers improperly deducted a 76-cent “administrative fee” from each server’s daily tips to cover the costs of a software system to track tips.

In a May, the server received a check for $2,022.77, minus taxes and other withholdings, for his 602 hours of unpaid overtime.

The server did not cash the check and, instead, initiated the lawsuit, claiming the Bombay Club failed not only to pay all his overtime hours but also to use the correct hourly rate.

The server believes the overtime check was based on a rate of 1.5 times the District’s minimum wage for tipped employees, which is $2.77 per hour. But according to Alvarenga of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, the hourly overtime rate for tipped employees must be 1.5 times the full minimum wage, from which the employer then subtracts its “tip allowance” (the difference between the minimum wage and the tipped minimum wage). Under this formula, the seve says he should have been paid $7.52 an hour for overtime hours he accrued after July 1, 2014, when the District’s minimum wage increased to $9.50 an hour; overtime accrued prior to that date would be paid at $6.90 an hour.

Even if all of the server’s 602 hours were paid at the lower rate, his check before taxes would have been $4,153.80.

Unpaid overtime wage and hour claims are a widespread issue among the restaurant, bartending/nightclub industry. Managers are usually ordered by their supervisors to minimize labor costs, and because of this, some managers may dock time off their servers, bartenders, cooks, baristas, waiters, and waitresses clock-ins and clock-outs to limit the amount of overtime hours. Changing an employee’s time worked or hours worked is illegal and has been the grounds for various wage and hour lawsuits.

In certain situations, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs have also been held accountable when they have forced their servers and employees to share tips with the restaurant, managers, or created a tip pool.

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The U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday it had come to an agreement with Halliburton, the oilfield giant and fracking pioneer, to pay $18 million for unpaid overtime to more than 1,000 workers in several states around the country.

The Department called it “one of the largest recoveries of overtime wages in recent years.”

The agency claims its wage and hour division investigated the company “as part of an ongoing, multi-year compliance initiative in the oil and gas industry in the Southwest and Northeast.”

The Department of Labor said investigators found Halliburton miscategorized employees in 28 job positions as exempt from overtime.

These positions included “field service representatives, pipe recovery specialists, drilling tech advisors, perforating specialists and reliability tech specialists.”

The Department also found Halliburton failed to keep accurate records of its employees’ work hours.

“The Department of Labor takes very seriously its responsibility to ensure workers receive the wages they have earned,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “This settlement will put millions of dollars where they belong — in the pockets of hardworking people and their families. Employers who don’t pay their employees the wages they have earned don’t just hurt their workers, they undercut employers who play by the rules. That’s why we work every day to help level the playing field.”

Halliburton has more than 70,000 employees, and frequently contracts with oil and gas companies to develop wells around the country.

Do you think employer is stealing from you? Let our Florida Unpaid Overtime Lawyers at Whittel & Melton help you find out if you are entitled to overtime pay. Sadly, many employers do not pay their employees overtime. This is usually because they find it cheaper to ignore the overtime laws and hope their employees fail to discover their “error” that they are entitled to overtime. In some cases, it is because the employer simply does not understand the overtime laws. Regardless of the reason for an employer failing to pay overtime, you need a Florida Employment Lawyer to help you recover the pay you are rightfully owed.
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Pactiv LLC, an Illinois-based provider of advanced packaging solutions to customers around the world, will pay $1,700,000 to conciliate a disability discrimination charge filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The agreement stems from an EEOC investigation which found reasonable cause to believe that Pactiv discriminated against individuals with disabilities by disciplining and discharging them according to its nationwide policies to issue attendance points for medical-related absences; not allowing intermittent leave as a reasonable accommodation; and not allowing leave or an extension of leave as a reasonable accommodation.

This alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Pactiv agreed to conciliate the matter with EEOC and a class of individuals, including the individual who filed a charge, rather than pursue the matter through litigation.

The settlement provides financial relief to those who have already been discriminated against, and also ensures the company will take measures to prevent discrimination from occurring in the future. According to the agreement, Pactiv will:

  1. conduct ADA training at each of its locations nationwide;
  2. revise and distribute its ADA policy and procedures, including those related to providing reasonable accommodations to employees; and
  3. revise and distribute nationwide its new attendance policy that will not assess points for disability-related absences.

The company will also provide periodic reporting to EEOC on all accommo­dation requests from employees and on all employees separated or assessed attendance points, and post an internal notification to its employees nationwide of this conciliation.

Disability discrimination is defined as treating individuals differently in regards to employment because of their disability, perceived disability, or association with an individual with a disability. The following are common examples of disability discrimination in the workplace:  

  • Harassing an employee because of his or her disability.
  • Maintaining a workplace that includes substantial physical barriers to the movement of people with physical disabilities.
  • Asking job applicants questions about their past or current medical conditions, or requiring job applicants to take medical exams.
  • Failing to reasonably accommodate employees with physical or mental disabilities that would allow them to work.

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Miami-Dade County Public Schools has settled a U.S. Department of Justice claim that the school district discriminated against job applicants who are immigrants.

The country’s fourth-largest district said the allegations were a paperwork policy error, and that they did not intend to discriminate.

Miami-Dade educates students in a community where more than half of residents are foreign-born, according to Census data.

An investigation conducted by the Civil Rights Division found that the school system asked immigrants to provide specific documents to prove their employment eligibility, however, U.S. citizens were not asked to do the same, according to a statement released by the Justice Department. Earlier this month, the school system agreed to pay a $90,000 civil citation to settle the issue without admitting any wrongdoing.

The Civil Rights began investigating the district in September 2014. Miami-Dade’s practice dates back until at least September 2012, according to the settlement agreement.

In a statement, the head of the Civil Rights Division, said: “Employers must ensure that their human resources staff understand proper hiring practices. Promoting compliance is especially important to ensure that workers are not excluded due to discriminatory treatment.”

In addition to the civil penalty, which will be paid over three years, the district must establish a $125,000 fund to compensate anyone who may have lost wages because of the alleged discrimination. Anyone eligible to be paid should receive notification from the district within the next three months.

Moreover, federal officials must be allowed to conduct trainings regarding workers’ rights in local high schools and adult education centers.

When it comes to anti-discrimination laws, protections against discrimination are available not only to current employees, but to job applicants as well. Just like an employer cannot discriminate against an employee because of her gender, that same employer cannot discriminate against a job applicant on account of his or her gender, or other prohibited reasons, as well. Employers can violate anti-discrimination laws during the hiring process by asking improper questions, including:

  • How old are you?
  • Are you married or single?
  • Are you a member of a minority group?
  • Where were you born?
  • What religious holidays will you be taking off?
  • Do you have any handicaps?
  • Do you plan to have children?

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The National Transportation Safety Board believes El Faro, the cargo ship that went missing during Hurricane Joaquin, has been found in the Atlantic Ocean about 15,000 feet below the surface.

The NTSB said the USNS Apache used sonar equipment. The technology first detected the vessel Saturday afternoon.

Specialists on the Apache will use a deep ocean remotely operated vehicle to survey and confirm the identity of the wreckage. The survey could start as early as Sunday.

NTSB said the sonar detection is consistent with a 790-foot cargo ship. The vessel appears to be upright and in one piece.

If the vessel is confirmed to be El Faro, the remote will use a video camera to document the vessel and debris field in order to locate and recover the voyage data recorder.

El Faro went missing on Oct. 1 during Hurricane Joaquin. The Coast Guard searched for the boat for many days before the NTSB contracted the U.S. Navy to take over the search.

El Faro had 28 crew members from the United States and five from Poland. The ship was heading to Puerto Rico on Sept. 29 from Jacksonville on a regularly scheduled cargo supply run.

Reports indicate that the ship had lost power, had taken on water and was listing 15 degrees but that the situation was “manageable,” in their last communication, according to ship owner TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico.

Joaquin was a Category 4 hurricane when El Faro got caught in the storm. According to reports, the ship had 391 shipping
containers on board, making it quite top-heavy as it tried to navigate through Joaquin’s 50-foot waves.

Anyone who has spent time earning a living on the ocean knows that this is a risky trade. The unpredictability of the ocean places even the most experienced of sailors and the strongest of ships in constant danger. These conditions demand professionalism from all of the crew members of any sea vessel, whether it is a cruise ship, cargo ship, fishing boat, tugboat, or anything else. Any lack of competence places all the lives on board at risk.

Despite the fact that working on the ocean is inherently dangerous, this fact alone does not absolve the shipowner, captain or crew members from being at fault if one of their employees or fellow workers suffers an injury or death due to negligence.

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The owner and chief executive of Prime Healthcare Services Inc., a fast-growing Ontario-based hospital chain, has found himself in the middle of a sex scandal that has resulted in management changes at an Encino hospital and a $1-million wrongful-termination verdict.

A Los Angeles jury awarded the money Wednesday to the former chief nursing officer of Encino Hospital Medical Center after concluding that she was laid off in 2012 because she had complained about an affair between the hospital’s chief medical officer and a female supervisor.

Prime Healthcare maintains the nursing officer was let go because of poor performance and said it intends to appeal.

However, testimony during the Los Angeles County Superior Court trial in Van Nuys paints a rather controversial picture.

The dispute began in 2011, when the nursing officer complained that the hospital’s director of respiratory services bragged to co-workers that she was having an affair the chief medical officer. She told them she had the power to get them fired, according to the lawsuit filed in 2013.

The nursing officer said she complained to about the comments but they did not stop. So she and other nurses took their concerns to the hospital’s chief executive.

According to a transcript of the chief executive’s testimony reviewed by The Times, the man said that he cautioned the hospital’s director of respiratory services about the inappropriate comments and what he said was her unprofessional work attire, which included low-cut tops, short skirts and 6- to 8-inch heels.

In a hospital, the chief executive and chief medical officer oversee different functions and typically are at parallel levels of management.

The chief executive claims that the chief medical officer repeatedly advised him to fire the nursing officer, which he refused to do.

The chief executive said he eventually notified Prime Healthcare executives of the situation, suggesting that both the hospital’s director of respiratory service and chief medical officer needed to be counseled about their conduct.

But instead of disciplining, Prime Healthcare promoted the hospital’s director of respiratory service to corporate director of respiratory services at all of its hospitals, a position she holds today at the company’s corporate offices in Ontario.

The chief medical officer left his position at the Encino hospital in June 2012, and now has privileges to practice pulmonary medicine at several hospitals, both inside and outside of Prime Healthcare’s network.

Shortly after moving the hospital’s director of respiratory service to corporate director of respiratory services, Prime Healthcare fired the chief executive in the summer of 2012. He did not sue Prime Healthcare, and testified that he collected his full salary for about six months after leaving the job.

In September 2012, the company terminated the nursing officer during a round of layoffs.

The former nursing officer, 72, who had worked at the hospital since 2007, earned about $175,000 in salary, bonuses and benefits annually. The jury based the award on the woman’s lost earnings and past emotional distress.

Prime Healthcare is one of the largest hospital companies in the country, with 38 hospitals in 11 states.

Sometimes people are terminated from their place of employment because they are not qualified for the job or just cannot effectively perform the required duties. Being fired for those reasons is not illegal. However, there are numerous circumstances when a terminated employee can seek compensation under the law as a result of a wrongful termination.

Obviously, not many employers will admit that an employee was fired due to wrongful termination. That is why proving wrongful termination claims can be very difficult. These types of cases require an experienced Florida Employment Lawyer at Whittel & Melton who can review the facts of your case, gather information, and help you determine how to best proceed.

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