Website Accessibility

Contributed by Debra Mastrian, February 21, 2017

Website accessibility continues to be a hot topic. Hundreds of businesses throughout the country have been sued in the past few years for failing to have accessible websites.  Retail businesses have been the primary target; however, financial institutions and now, the healthcare industry, are receiving threatening letters from high profile law firms, alleging that the businesses’ websites are not “accessible” and in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law firms threaten to file suit if the businesses do not make their websites compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 2.0 Levels A and AA (“WCAG 2.0 AA”), created by the World Wide Web Consortium, and demand a settlement, including payment of attorneys’ fees.

The ADA does not currently have an accessibility standard that private companies must comply with regarding websites. However, the federal agency charged with ADA enforcement – the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) – has stated its position that Title II and Title III of the ADA requires public and private entities that have websites to make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities. Although no final regulation has been issued, and none is expected until 2018 at the earliest, the DOJ has initiated a number of enforcement actions against private companies and public entities.  In settling enforcement actions, the DOJ has generally required compliance with WCAG 2.0 AA. It remains to be seen if the enforcement actions will continue under President Trump’s administration, however, businesses must still take heed because of the threat of lawsuits by private law firms.

cloud-computer-tablet-phoneThere are steps businesses can take to reduce the risk of being sued or having liability, including:

  • Educate yourself and IT employees regarding WCAG 2.0 AA standard
  • Retain a website accessibility consultant/vendor to review your website using the WCAG 2.0 AA standards
  • Redesign and/or update your website to conform with WCAG 2.0 AA
  • Set up regular monitoring of your website for compliance with WCAG 2.0 AA and ensure that all new content is reviewed for accessibility before being added to the website
  • Adopt an internal website accessibility policy that includes a reporting mechanism for any complaints, issues or suggestions about accessibility to your website and online banking services
  • Distribute your website accessibility policy to technical support staff and vendors
  • Train employees on accessibility and current WCAG 2.0 AA standard
  • Put a statement on the homepage of your website (or a link to the statement) about your commitment to website accessibility, solicit feedback, and include contact information for reporting problems
  • Add alt-text, captions and other features that make your website more accessible  to individuals using screen reader or other assistive technology
  • Require vendors providing website, apps, online banking, advertising or other services, to make their products and services “accessible” in conformance with the ADA and WCAG 2.0 AA
  • Have a written agreement with vendors, who are providing website redesign, updates or monitoring, which includes compliance with WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility standards in the scope of the work being performed and request a rep and warranty regarding accessibility
  • Review indemnification provisions in vendor agreements to determine if the vendor agrees to indemnify you for claims resulting from the vendor’s negligence or failure to comply with WCAG 2.0 AA or ADA website accessibility standards

If you receive a demand letter, you should promptly report the demand letter to your insurance agent or applicable insurance companies. Employment practices liability (EPL) policies may provide coverage for website ADA claims brought by third parties. Media liability or cyber security policies may also apply, depending upon the policy coverage and exclusions.  Additionally, since the demand letter is a threat of litigation, you should implement a legal hold to preserve and protect all potentially relevant documents and information. Importantly, demand letters must be taken seriously. Failing to appropriately address may result in costly litigation. That being said, it is important to understand that settling with a private litigant does not insulate the business from litigation by the DOJ or other private litigants.

Website accessibility is an evolving area of law. Businesses should be aware of the issues and understand their potential exposure to threats of litigation.

Strike4Democracy’s National Day of Action and the Impact on the Workplace

Contributed by Jeffrey Risch, February 16, 2017

In a protest against President Trump’s immigration policies and plans, organizers around the country are coordinating a national protest day set for Friday, February 17th — encouraging workers to “walk out” or “don’t work” if they can. Some workplaces are already being impacted, and Friday could be chaotic.

11058927 - protesters crowd landscape background illustrationIn response to this activity, employers should keep in mind the following:

  1. Don’t overreact and cause more chaos (remain calm, stay cool);
  1. Turn to one’s regular attendance policies. For example, a single “no call, no show” in one instance results in what, under the standard attendance policies?  Some measure of discipline is generally appropriate / lawful under federal labor law (the National Labor Relations Act) when an employee “strikes” or “boycotts” or “walks off” for a cause that the employer has NO CONTROL over. So, obtain the reason or circumstance behind the absence — did the worker not call in at all, called in sick, or called‎ and said “I’m refusing to come in today”? Employers may treat the workers as they would on any other day of absence; and
  1. Be careful — the discipline communication should NOT reference the word “strike” or “boycott” (such language is not helpful, it is just not necessary and will escalate the problem most likely). Simply explain that the absence under the CBA, or policy, requires “X” discipline or “X” points under a points policy. ‎Speak with your trusted advisors to ensure the most appropriate decision is made. Remember, for every action there is a reaction.

EEOC To Reconsider Pay Data Collection

Contributed by Jonathon Hoag, February 14, 2017

income-savingsOn September 29, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced it finalized regulations that require employers to include employee pay data in annual EEO-1 reports. The pay data is required for 2017 reports, which are due March 31, 2018. That is, employers with 100 or more employees are now required to include aggregate W-2 income by gender, race, ethnicity, and job group on their EEO-1 reports.  The rule was harshly criticized by employers, who place hope in the Trump administration to undo the regulations.

On January 25, 2017, President Trump designated Victoria Lipnic as the EEOC’s acting chair. Commissioner Lipnic voted against the pay data collection rule and recently indicated this is the type of government action President Trump wants to halt. Changes to the rule would require a vote from the Commission. Prior to the March 31, 2018 deadline for first collection of pay data, President Trump will have the opportunity to nominate two EEOC Commissioners. The nominations require Senate confirmation, so it is uncertain when new EEOC Commissioners will be in place. However, once the EEOC has a Republican majority, it is widely anticipated that the pay data rule will be rolled back, if not eliminated.

Aside from the pay data regulations, employers should note that Commissioner Lipnic announced that the EEOC’s core strategic enforcement plan is not expected to change significantly under the Trump administration. The EEOC’s systemic program will remain a priority as will its focus on workplace harassment charges. The EEOC may reign in broad attacks on the employer community, but it will likely remain an active agency under the Trump administration.

Stay tuned for updates on any changes to the pay data rule and how the EEOC is operating and enforcing rules under the new administration.

Missouri Has Become the 28th Right-to-Work State

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, February 10, 2017

On February 6, 2017, the newly elected GOP Governor Eric Greitens, signed into law a right-to-work (RTW) bill that passed the state’s Republican-controlled state legislature.

Nuts and Bolts of the Missouri RTW law

  • Effective date:  August 28, 2017
  • Who it applies to:  Both private and public sector employers (except those in the airline and railroad industries, as well as certain federal employers).
  • What it prohibits:
    • No employee can be required to become or remain a union member as a condition of employment.
    • No employee can be required to pay dues, fees or assessments of any kind to a union (or any equivalent of a dues payment to any charitable organization).
  • Penalties for violations:  Criminal sanctions – a violation is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $750 and up to 15 days in jail. Civil sanctions – private parties may obtain injunctive relief, damages and an award of attorneys’ fees.
  • Effect on collective bargaining agreements:  For collective bargaining agreements (CBA’s) entered into before August 28, 2017, the law has no effect. However, the law will apply to any CBA renewal, extension, amendment or modification after August 28, 2017. This will likely jolt Missouri unions to seek contract extensions of existing CBA’s in order to delay the impact of the law.

Unions Continue to Battle

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Flag of Missouri

The Missouri AFL-CIO has submitted different versions of a proposed initiative petition to the secretary of state’s office that is aimed at reversing the RTW law. Basically, with enough signatures, it would present the opportunity for Missouri voters to decide in 2018 whether to adopt a constitutional amendment that would protect contracts that require employees to pay union representation fees.

Perspective

Seven of eight states that surround Missouri have existing right-to-work laws, including Kentucky, which passed a right-to-work law last month. The current tally of RTW states includes: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina,  North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming. Just last week, the New Hampshire senate passed a RTW bill, which is awaiting passage by the state House.

On a federal level, two Republican Congressmen re-introduced the National Right to Work Act last week. The bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act and the Railway Labor Act to prohibit the use of union security clauses which require union membership and payment of dues and fees.

If there was any doubt, this flurry of activity confirms that the right-to-work movement is recharged.

Salary History — Time to Update Job Applications, Again

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, February 6, 2017

By now, employers should well know that they may not make unlawful inquiries of applicants based on protected classes (e.g., age, religion), as well as arrest history. In the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in legislation (and litigation) that impact employers’ ability to gather information and check an applicant or employees’ background, such as state and local “ban the box” laws, which generally prohibit employers from asking about criminal convictions until an applicant is made a conditional offer of employment. And, even when and where checking an applicant or employee’s background is permissible, employers are required to comply with the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and other applicable federal, state and local laws which limit and set strict requirements that must be complied with when doing background checks.

wageWhat’s New?

On January 23, 2017, Philadelphia’s newest restriction was signed into law, restricting an employer’s ability to ask applicants about their wage and salary history, effective May 23, 2017.  Philadelphia Bill No. 160840, amending Chapter 9-1100 of the Philadelphia Code. Except as specifically authorized by another law permitting disclosure or verification of wage history or “knowingly and willingly” disclosed by an applicant, this ordinance makes it unlawful for an employer to: inquire into or require disclosure of an applicant’s wage history, condition employment or an interview based on such disclosure, or even use information gained from the former employer at any stage of the employment process, including negotiating an employment agreement!!

This Is Significant!

First, Philadelphia has been on the forefront of employment regulations, and is often followed by other cities, so employers should be prepared for the possibility that their state, county, or city may adopt or implement similar rules.

Second, laws precluding inquiry into salary and wage history substantially inhibits salary negotiation, and may even encourage applicant dishonesty. An employer would be unable to verify an applicant or employee’s statement of their prior wages (for example, by reviewing a recent W2 or paystub from a prior employer) in reviewing and determining what salary or wage should be offered in order to meet-or-beat an applicant’s current compensation.

Third, as the ordinance makes it unlawful to “condition employment” on such wage history, the discovery of falsified information later on may not be a valid basis to protest unemployment or cut off damages in a civil matter – unlike in states where falsification of application and employment documents may be considered misconduct that could subject the employee to discipline up to and including termination (like Illinois).

What To Do About This

The new Philadelphia ordinance will require that Philadelphia employers make changes to their job applications and other onboarding materials and practices to limit inquiries into wage/salary history. Additionally, it serves as a reminder to all employers, no matter where they are located, of the importance in regularly reviewing their job applications and other onboarding materials and practices to ensure that they comply with the most current labor and employment laws on a federal, state, and local level, including but not limited to laws limiting employer inquiries into statuses protected by law such as wage/salary history, age, marital, housing status, military statuses, and credit/criminal conviction history. Competent employment counsel should be consulted for an audit of employment forms, policies and practices to ensure that the company is doing “it” right.

Seventh Circuit Makes Several Points Very Clear Regarding Illinois Vacation Pay

Contributed by Steven Jados, January 31, 2017

vacation-timeThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a recent decision that made several pronouncements regarding Illinois vacation pay—many of which seem straightforward—but they were pursued to a final decision by a federal appellate court, so a brief refresher course appears to be in order.

First, as the decision makes clear, the law does not require employers in Illinois to provide paid vacation benefits to employees.  However, when an employer in Illinois provides paid vacation benefits to employees, Illinois law requires the employer to pay an employee the value of earned-but-unused vacation time when the employee’s employment ends.  And that payment is generally required to be made on the next regular pay date following the employee’s termination.

Second, if an Illinois employer provides vacation benefits to full-time employees, Illinois does not require the employer to give vacation benefits to part-time employees, too.  Instead, Illinois law gives employers substantial freedom to determine the eligibility requirements for any vacation benefits an employer may decide to provide.

Lastly, the seventh circuit addressed the issue of vacation benefit forfeiture, and stated that if a vacation policy exists under which employees earn vacation based upon length of service, employees must be paid, pro rata, for the amount of vacation earned as of the employee’s termination date.  The court gave the following example:  “if a full-time employee ceases work in the middle of the year, he receives vacation pay in proportion to how long he was worked that year.”  In other words, if an employee works for half of a year, she must be paid half the value of vacation pay she would have earned working a full year.  If the employee works 20% of the year, she must be paid 20% of the value of vacation pay she would have earned working a full year.

The bottom line is that Illinois is quite permissive with respect to employers establishing the terms and eligibility requirements of a vacation policy, so long as that policy provides for the payment of earned-but-unused vacation to employees at the time of termination.  That said, in order to avoid potential legal pitfalls, we recommend that all employers, no matter where their workforce is located, consult with experienced labor and employment attorneys prior to instituting or altering any vacation policy.

President Trump Orders Immediate Freeze on Pending Regulations

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, January 26, 2017

18108277_sOn January 20, 2017 shortly after taking office, newly sworn in President Donald Trump directed White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to issue a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies directing them not to send any regulations to the Federal Registry until further notice, to withdraw any proposed regulations that have not been published and to postpone for 60 days the effective dates of regulations that have been published by the Officer of the Federal Register. As stated in Priebus’ memorandum, the purpose is to ensure the President’s appointees or designees “have the opportunity to review any new or pending regulations” and to consider “questions of fact, law, and policy that [such regulations] raise.”

With the change in administrations, this is not a surprising action. In fact, former President Barack Obama took a similar action in January 2009, at the beginning of his first term, by effectively freezing regulations that were pending from the former President George W. Bush’s administration.

What Does This Mean for Employers?

This means that any proposed or pending regulations are now facing uncertainty as to whether they will go forward, be overhauled or discarded. The most prominent pending regulations that this could impact is the Department of Labor (DOL) Final Overtime Rule. While the Final Overtime Rule was set to go into effect December 1, 2016, it was blocked from taking effect by United States District Court Judge Amos Mazzant in his November 22, 2016 ruling. Since the Final Overtime Rule did not go into effect the freeze on regulations could impact the Final Overtime Rule. However, it is likely that in order to repeal or reverse the Final Overtime Rule or any other regulations that have been finalized, President Trump would need an act of Congress or have the federal department or agency propose and enact a new regulation to replace the current one. Alternatively, since the DOL has appealed Judge Mazzant’s decision and pursued an expedited briefing schedule on December 1, 2016, President Trump could direct the DOL to abandon or withdraw the appeal. Thus, until the Fifth Circuit Appellate Court issues a decision on the appeal, or until such time as the President or DOL take action on the Final Overtime Rule, our recommendation, just as we suggested last November 2016 in response to the District Court granting an injunction on the DOL Final Overtime Rule, is that no action be taken until the issue is resolved.

With respect to other regulations, just like we stated with respect to President Trump’s executive order regarding the Affordable Care Act, it is too early to tell how or when employers will be impacted and what the new administration will ultimately do with respect to different regulations enacted during President Obama’s administration and regulations that impact businesses.

For our part, we will continue to monitor developments and provide additional information as it becomes available.