Are employment discrimination awards taxable?

Yes, much of the awards are taxable. Employees must pay taxes on any type of damages for lost wages and also for any type of noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. Section 104(a)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code provides an exclusion from gross income for damage awards received on account of physical injury or physical sickness. Any awards that do not fit under this exclusion are included in taxable income, which means that the employee or former employee must pay taxes on the award.

This also means that sometimes damages for emotional distress are taxable if they are not connected to a physical injury or sickness. You want to make sure to discuss this issue carefully with your attorney, because a lot of the time awards from employment discrimination cases are taxable and that factor needs to be taken into account carefully.

Must employers give employees time off for lunch and for rest periods?

Yes, states have different laws that provide that employers must provide time for lunch and a couple rest periods for employees who work a full day. For example, Nevada provides that employers must provide its eight-hour-a-day workers with a 30-minute lunch period and at least two 10-minute rest periods.

Must an employer do anything to accommodate employees who wish to breast feed their children?

Many states have laws regarding rest or break time for employees who wish to breast feed or express breast milk for supplying their children later in the day. For example, an Oklahoma law provides: "An employer may provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to breast-feed or express breast milk for her child to maintain milk supply and comfort. The break time, if possible, shall run concurrently with any break time, paid or unpaid, already provided to the employee. An employer is not required to provide break time under this section if to do so would create an undue hardship on the operations of the employer." Mississippi's law is more blunt: "No employer shall prohibit an employee from expressing breast milk during any meal period or other break period provided by the employer."

If you are fired from your job can you obtain unemployment benefits coverage?

It depends. In many jurisdictions, workers who lose their job can apply for—and often receive—unemployment benefits coverage for a certain period of time. However, there is usually an exception for workers who engaged in so-called "willful misconduct." There are also exceptions for those who willingly leave jobs and for those who are principally self-employed (own their own business). Thus, if you are fired from your job due to a typical reduction-in-force or because of a general layoff, you likely can receive unemployment benefit coverage for a period of time. However, if you were fired for stealing employer property, then you are unlikely to receive unemployment benefit coverage.

How does the unemployment benefits process work?

If a worker is involuntarily let go from employment, he or she is eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. If you willingly leave a job, then you are not entitled to such benefits. The worker then applies with the state department of labor. That administrative entity then makes a determination as to whether the employee is entitled to unemployment benefits. The employer is given an opportunity to contest the employee's application for benefits.

Many Americans choose to work through their lunch breaks, but the law stipulates that employers cannot require them to do so (iStock).

Many Americans choose to work through their lunch breaks, but the law stipulates that employers cannot require them to do so (iStock).

After the administrative decision approving or denying benefits, then either the employee or the employer can appeal that finding to a court of law for a determination.

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