Work & Money briefs

State employees can sue for family leave

The Supreme Court last week upheld the rights of state workers under a federal law guaranteeing time off to care for children or ailing relatives.

By a 6-3 vote, the court ruled that state employees can sue in federal court to enforce their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The ruling was a departure from a line of recent court rulings that expanded state rights and their immunity to be free from certain lawsuits while cutting back on the federal government's power.

The ruling upheld the reach of the 1993 law, which granted 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family emergencies or the birth or adoption of children. The rights of private-sector workers were not at issue in last week's decision.

The case revolved around William Hibbs, a Nevada state worker who sought time off to care for his ailing wife in 1997. After Mr. Hibbs was fired, he attempted to sue the state to enforce his right to family leave. But Nevada claimed it was immune from the lawsuit under the Constitution's guarantee of state sovereignty.

The Supreme Court disagreed, concluding that Congress was within its rights to mandate that states give their workers the same benefits that the federal government grants private-sector employees.

Interest for student loans keeps dipping

Homeowners and consumers are not the only ones benefiting from plummeting interest rates. Add students to the list. The US Department of Education announced last week that interest rates on federal education loans will soon drop to their lowest level ever.

Effective July 1, the new rate on Stafford loans for current students and new graduates will drop to 2.82 percent, while the rate for students already repaying their loans will fall to 3.42 percent. The Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) interest rate will drop to a new low of 4.22 percent.

Falling interest rates and rising tuitions have resulted in more college loans nationwide. Families took out $32.7 billion in federal college loans in fiscal year 2002, 16 percent higher than the previous year, according to the US Department of Education.

Three years ago, interest rates for both Stafford and PLUS loans were nearing the maximum amount - 8.25 percent and 9 percent, respectively. Rates on federal education loans are adjusted annually.

The Department of Education and many student-loan providers have announced that they will hold off processing current consolidation applications until the new lower rates take effect in July.

Top executives looking longer for work

The amount of time that upper echelon executives are taking to find new jobs has jumped by 20 percent, according to a survey released last week by outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

Upper-level executives, including chief executive officers, took an average of 4.6 months to find new positions, the survey said. That's 20 percent longer than it took them to find new jobs during the same period last year. Lower-level executives and managers are currently taking an average of four months to find new employment.

In addition, the average severance-pay period for senior executives was 24 weeks, more than double the 10 weeks granted lower-level executives. The survey also found 85 percent of top executives won equivalent or better salaries, compared with 81 percent of lower level job seekers.

The longer job-search times for top executives are due in part to increased scrutiny by executive boards' attempts to avoid another wave of corporate scandals, says John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger.

The survey was based on interviews during a six-month period ending March 31 with discharged executives who had earned at least $100,000 in their previous positions.

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