Friday, May 18, 2012

Ocean State Friday Fun Facts

We missed last week's Ocean State Friday Fun Facts, so here's a bonus "three-pack."  Enjoy the weekend!

  • Consistent with its small size, Rhode Island's State Motto, "Hope," is the shortest of any of the states.

  • Most Americans know that Rhode Island is the smallest state in the Union (OK, maybe the good folks in Delaware don't know that).  However, do you know just how small Rhode Island is in comparison to Alaska?  Believe it or not, you could fit 424 Rhode Islands within the state of Alaska.

  • Did you know that The Industrial Revolution started in Rhode Island?  It all began with the development and construction in 1790 of Samuel Slater's water-powered cotton mill in Pawtucket.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What's DOMA Got To Do With It?

At the Rhode Island Employment Law Blog we LOVE feedback from our readers.  Typically, we receive feedback through our LinkedIn connection to the Blog.  In addition, you can write your questions or comments right at the bottom of each Blog post.  

Today's great feedback question comes from Bill Klocek (thanks Bill!) who wanted to know why DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) did not trump Rhode Island Governor Chafee's executive order recognizing same-sex marriages from other states.  GREAT QUESTION!

First, a little background.  D.O.M.A. is a federal law, enacted in 1996, that denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and authorizes states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages licensed in other states.  

Under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section 1), states are expected to recognize the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.  Congress was alarmed at the prospect of a lesbian or gay couple being married in one state and then going to another state and expecting that state to recognize them as legally married.  Congress did not want to grant same-sex couples the same federal benefits that are given to heterosexual couples who are legally married.

In order to prevent this from happening, Congress passed DOMA.

The kinds of federal laws in which marital status is a factor include: 

  • Social Security and Related Programs, Housing, and Food Stamps
  • Veterans' Benefits
  • Taxation
  • Federal Civilian and Military Service Benefits
  • Employment Benefits and Related Laws
  • Immigration, Naturalization, and Aliens
  • Native Americans
  • Trade, Commerce, and Intellectual Property
  • Financial Disclosure and Conflict of Interest
  • Crimes and Family Violence
  • Loans, Guarantees, and Payments in Agriculture
  • Federal Natural Resources and Related Laws

The text of DOMA is very brief and contains only two provisions: (1) No state, territory, or Indian tribe shall be required to legally recognize a "relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of another state, territory or Indian tribe."  In other words, the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution has no application to same-sex marriages. (2) The federal government is to follow a definition of the word "marriage" that means only "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."

So, to answer Bill's question, DOMA bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages.  DOMA permits states to ignore same-sex marriage recognition from other states, but it does not prevent a state from recognizing same-sex marriages in other states.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rhode Island Governor Chafee Signs an Executive Order Recognizing Out-of-State Gay Marriages.

On Monday, May 14, 2012, Rhode Island Governor Chafee signed an executive order recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.  Governor Chafee claimed that his executive order came in response to confusion and inconsistency within the Rhode Island State Department and Rhode Island agencies on how to treat out-of-state gay marriages.

The executive order requires state departments and agencies under the executive branch to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages

The Executive order covers:

  • Insurance.  Insurance companies conducting business in Rhode Island must extend insurance to same-sex couples on the same terms as to married couples.  This includes automobile, life and health insurance policies.
  • Parental Rights.  When a child is born to a same-sex couple, birth certificate will list mother and spouse.
  • Property and Other Rights.  Surviving spouse will be listed on death certificate of a married decedent.  Same-sex spouse will be exempt from sales tax for transfers of property between the.

The Executive Order Does Not Cover:
  • Divorce.  Rhode Island Family Court will not conduct divorce proceedings for same-sex couples.
  • Income Tax.  Same-sex married couples will not be eligible to file state taxes jointly.
  • Estate Tax.  In gay marriages, the surviving spouse will not be eligible for the marital deduction under the Rhode Island estate tax.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Trends in Rhode Island Employer-Provided Health Care Benefits

Consistent with the declining economy, the trends of employer-provided health care benefits have been in decline.  According to the results from the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training's Benefits Survey, employer provided access to health care benefits for Rhode Island full-time workers has decreased from 79% in 2005 and 2007 to 73% in 2009 and 2011.  Moreover, the percentage of employers offering health benefits to part-time workers has decreased from 18% in 2005 to 13% in 2011.

According to the Survey, smaller companies (employers with less than 20 employees) are less likely to to offer health insurance to their full-time employees than larger companies.  The share of small employers who offer health insurance has declined from 75% in 2007 to 65% in 2011.

The percentage of employers who pay 100% of their employees' health insurance premiums has declined as well.  As recently as 2009, 25% of Rhode Island employers paid the full cost of health care premiums for the family plans offered to their full-time workers.  However, in 2011 the survey revealed that less than 15% of employers now pay full costs associated with a family plan.

Monthly premiums for health insurance in Rhode Island have increased for both family and individual plans.  Employers reported the monthly costs associated with the individual plan offered to their workers increased from $424 in 2007 to $520 in 2011.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Rhode Island "Homeless Bill of Rights" passed by the Senate

By an overwhelming margin (33 - 2), the State Senate of Rhode Island approved legislation that would give greater protections against discrimination to homeless people.  If the Senate's legislation eventually becomes law, Rhode Island would be the first state in the United States to provide protections against discrimination of homeless people.

According to a report by, the bill would include at least eight fundamental rights for homeless people including:

  • The right to emergency medical care
  • The right to be free from searches and detention
  • The right to reasonable expectation of privacy of personal property
  • The right to protection from disclosure to law enforcement agencies
  • The right not to face discrimination while seeking or maintaining employment due to lack of a permanent mailing address
  • The right to confidentiality of personal records and information
  • The right not to be criminally sanctioned for unobtrusively sleeping in a public place
The Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless reported that approximately 4,400 people in Rhode Island experienced homelessness at some point in 2010.

So, what do you think?  Do the Homeless in Rhode Island need their own Bill of Rights?  Do you agree that the Homeless should be entitled to the proposed "rights" set forth above?  If you do not agree with some or all of the proposed rights, what suggestions do you have to modify the proposed legislation? 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rhode Island & Religion: Origins, Demographics and Discrimination

From its origin to the present, religion has been an important part of Rhode Island.  Clergyman, Roger Williams founded the present state capital, Providence, after being exiled by the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans in 1636.  Other religious exiles founded Pocasset (now known as Portsmouth) in 1638 and Newport in 1639.

Despite its religious origins, or perhaps because of its rebellious, authority-defying nature, Rhode Island is one of the least religious states in the country.  According to a recent Gallup survey, only 32% of Rhode Islanders are "very religious," which places Rhode Island tied with New York as the 10th least religious state in the union.  Nonreligious residents comprise 37% of Rhode Island population and 31% are moderately religious.  With 63% of its residents either very or moderately religious, Rhode Island is lower than 68% of all Americans who are religious.  Nevertheless, Rhode Islanders are more religious than the residents of other New England states (CT 57%, MA 53%, ME 52%, NH 48%, and VT 43%).

In such a mix of religious and non-religious beliefs, employers should be mindful of religious discrimination in the workplace.  For example, employers must face the somewhat paradoxical decision of taking into account an employee's religion when making certain workplace decisions (accommodations) while at other times ignoring an employee's religion (e.g. hiring decisions).

With only a few exceptions, an employer may not fire, demote, terminate, or otherwise take actions against an employee because of her religion.  The rare exception to this general rule is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ), such as hiring a Catholic man to be a priest in a Catholic church.