Category Archives: employers

Protests Planned for March 8 Are Not A Reason to Deviate from Normal Attendance Policies

Contributed by Suzanne Newcomb, March 3, 2017

11058926 - protesters crowd landscape background illustrationThe organizers of January’s Women’s March on Washington and similar “sister” marches across the country are calling for women to “take the day off from paid and unpaid labor” on March 8, 2017.  Promoted as a “Day Without A Woman” and an “International Women’s Strike,” the protests are scheduled to coincide with International Woman’s Day.

While we do not anticipate the level of participation to be on the scale of the January marches, employers will likely experience higher than normal employee absences and should plan accordingly. As a general rule:

  • Have a backup plan to ensure necessary work gets done in the event you experience an abnormally high number of call-ins on March 8.
  • Do not draw attention to the issue or address the protests in advance. Do not threaten or make generalized statements that could be construed to have a gender bias.
  • Do not highlight the reason for the absence, question motives, or engage in debate about the proprietary of engaging in this type of protest.
  • Apply your standard attendance policies for call in and vacation request procedures. If a participating employee’s absence would ordinarily result in an assessment of points or discipline, act accordingly. Similarly, if a request for time off would otherwise be granted, then it should be granted in this situation.
  • Do not include terms or references such as, “protest,” “strike,” “boycott,” or “women’s march” when issuing disciplinary action or denying requests for time off pursuant to the terms of your standard attendance policy. Such references are unnecessary and could aggravate the situation.

In short, remain calm and follow standard operating procedures.

Properly Accommodating Pregnant Employees in Hazardous Workplaces

Contributed by Steven Jados, March 2, 2017

The settlement of a recent pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against RTG Furniture Corp., provides a valuable reminder to employers that even well-intentioned limitations placed on pregnant employees are likely to violate Title VII and, where applicable, state laws that prohibit pregnancy discrimination.

pregnant-employeeAccording to the EEOC’s allegations in the lawsuit, within days of being hired, a new employee informed RTG that she was pregnant, but that she had no work restrictions and could perform all aspects of the job. The job required the employee to use certain chemicals to repair furniture. The same day the employee disclosed her pregnancy, RTG management allegedly met with her and confirmed that she was pregnant. During that same meeting, a manager allegedly showed the employee the can of a chemical used in the workplace, and discussed the warning written on the can, which essentially stated that the contents could pose a danger to pregnant women and their unborn children. At the conclusion of that discussion, RTG allegedly terminated the new employee.

Now, it is important to remember that allegations in an EEOC lawsuit are, of course, not necessarily true—and the fact that the case settled, likewise, does not mean the EEOC’s allegations are the truth. Nevertheless, this case provides the useful instruction that employers generally cannot terminate pregnant employees or refuse to hire pregnant applicants, even if the job involves exposure to hazards that are particularly dangerous with respect to pregnancy.

This case also provides the opportunity to discuss the proper approach for employers concerned about exposing pregnant employees to potentially hazardous workplace conditions. Step one, of course, is: don’t terminate employees just because they are pregnant. Instead, employers concerned about exposing pregnant employees to harmful workplace conditions should have policies in place—in employee handbooks, for example—that inform employees, upon hire or even earlier, of the potential risks of the job. And if those risks are greater for pregnant employees, the policies should make clear that pregnant employees should feel free to request accommodations or otherwise bring any questions or concerns to human resources or other appropriate members of management.  Additionally, when an employee informs the company that she is pregnant, the company should take that opportunity to reiterate, in writing, the particular risks of the work environment, and remind the employee of her right to request a pregnancy-related accommodation.

If a pregnant employee wishes to continue doing her job, despite knowing and assuming whatever risks there may be, employers generally do not have the right to take any action that would adversely affect the employee’s job. Moreover, it is especially important for employers to recognize that in addition to federal law protections, there may also be state and local laws that provide additional protections or accommodation requirements for pregnant employees and applicants.

Bearing all of that in mind, employers concerned about exposing pregnant employees to workplace hazards or their obligations to accommodate a pregnant employee should consult with experienced labor and employment counsel to evaluate the hazards in the workplace, and ensure that all policies and notices to pregnant employees are drafted appropriately, and communicated properly.

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.

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

10033780_s

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.

EEOC Quietly Updates Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2017-2021

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, January 3, 2017

The EEOC’s new Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) highlights its enforcement priorities and alerts employers to areas most likely to attract the EEOC’s investigative eye, including the types of charges the EEOC is most likely to litigate on a complainant’s behalf.

The EEOC recognizes that employment law is continuously developing and that related practices are continuously evolving.  As a result, this SEP is intended to reflect current issues. This new four year SEP (which remains in effect until superseded, modified or withdrawn by vote of a majority of members of the Commission) emphasizes:

  1. 41191023_sEliminating Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring.  As with the prior SEP, this priority includes exclusionary policies and practices such as “channeling or steering” persons into particular positions due to a protected trait, restrictive application processes, and screening tools for employment.
  1. Protecting Vulnerable Workers – Including Immigrant or Migrant Workers, and Underserved Communities from Discrimination. The focus is on discriminatory policies including job segregation, unequal pay, and harassment. The shift here is to underserved communities.
  1. Addressing Emerging and Developing Issues. Despite many courts’ attempts to rein in the EEOC, the agency recognizes the following developing issues worthy of particular scrutiny: age and religious discrimination; coverage of LGBT persons under Title VII; disability discrimination, including qualification standards, inflexible leave policies, and temporary workers; accommodating pregnancy-related limitations; issues related to workers engaged on-demand (gig economy), including through staffing agencies, and  independent contractor relationships; and “backlash discrimination” against Muslim/Sikh/Arab/Middle Eastern/South Asian communities.
  1. Enforcing Equal Pay Laws.  Previously focused on gender-based discrimination, the EEOC expanded this priority to all protected classes.  In light of this, employers may see claims of willful protected class discrimination added to wage and hour disputes.
  1. Preserving the Exercise of Rights under the Law. The EEOC is targeting policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights or disrupt investigative or enforcement efforts. This includes vague and overbroad waivers and provisions in settlement agreements that prohibit filing EEOC charges or assisting in the investigation or prosecution of claims. Unlike the prior SEP, this SEP removes “retaliatory actions” due to the EEOC’s inconsistent application, shifting the focus to “Significant Retaliatory Practices” that effectively dissuade others from exercising rights (e.g., terminating the HR Manager for investigating a complaint to send a message to other employees to not complain in the first place).
  1. Preventing Systemic Harassment. The EEOC’s focus includes prevention programs (training and outreach) to deter future violations.

Starting 2017 on the Right Foot

Because state and local administrative agencies (e.g., city and county civil rights departments) often follow the EEOC’s lead, all employers, regardless of size, should take note of the EEOC’s stated priorities. An audit of human resources practices and policies should be part of your 2017 New Year’s (legal) resolutions.

Are Mandatory Arbitration Agreements Headed for the Supreme Court?

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, October 25, 2016

This past June, our blog reported on the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Lewis v. Epic Sys. Corp., 823 F.3d 1147 (7th Cir. 2016), which found that the Federal Arbitration Act does not require enforcement of an arbitration agreement based on the employee’s right under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to engage in protected concerted activity. Specifically, in Lewis the Seventh Circuit held that employment arbitration agreements that include class action waivers violate the NLRA and cannot be enforced. This was the first time that a circuit court had adopted the NLRB’s position in D.R. Horton, Inc., 357 NLRB 184 (January 3, 2012).

Gavel2A couple of months later, the Ninth Circuit, in Morris v. Ernst & Young, LLP, (9th Cir. (Cal.) August 22, 2016), followed suit and also found that an arbitration agreement that required employees to bring claims in “separate proceedings,” thereby prohibiting class and collective actions, violated the employees’ right to engage in concerted activity under the NLRAJust like in Lewis, the employees in Morris had to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. Stephen Morris subsequently filed a class and collective action against the company, alleging he and others had been misclassified as employees exempt from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act and California state law. In response, the employer filed a motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the agreements the employees had signed. The district court ordered individual arbitration for each and dismissed the complaint. The Ninth Circuit, however, reversed and held that such agreements interfere with the employees’ rights under Sections 7 and 8 of the NLRA regarding concerted activity.

Back in 2013, three circuit courts ruled that the NLRA does not prohibit class waivers. First, the Eighth Circuit ruled that class waivers were appropriate in Owen v. Bristol Care, Inc., 702 F.3d 1050 (8th Cir. 2013). The Second Circuit did likewise in Sutherland v. Ernst & Young, 726 F.3d 290 (2nd Cir. 2013).  Finally, the Fifth Circuit reversed the NLRB’s decision that such agreements were unenforceable in D.R. Horton, Inc. v. NLRB, 737 F.3d 344 (5th Cir. 2013). Then, in 2014 the Eleventh Circuit arrived at the same conclusion and upheld class waivers in Walthour v. Chipio Windshield Repair, LLC, 745 F.3d 1326 (11th Cir. 2014).

Certainly, this split among circuits makes it more likely that the Supreme Court will soon address whether employees will be able to waive their right to participate in collective actions if they choose to sign arbitration agreements. Indeed, petitions for writs of certiorari seeking review by the Supreme Court were filed in Lewis on September 2nd and in Morris on September 8th. How this issue is ultimately resolved, of course, depends largely on the outcome of the 2016 election.

Irrespective of who fills the vacancy left as a result of Justice Scalia’s passing, employers should still seek labor and employment counsel’s guidance with respect to arbitration agreements to determine if they are enforceable and/or if necessary revisions and amendments are required. Similarly, employers, with counsel’s assistance, should develop new strategies in light of potential changes that may be in the offing.