Category Archives: employers

The Importance of Documenting the Failure to Document

Contributed by Suzannah Wilson Overholt, February 20, 2019

Doctor, medical charts

One of the biggest challenges faced by health care providers is ensuring proper documentation in patient charts. Shortcomings in charting can result in lost revenue due to third party payers’ assigning a lower CPT code or refusing to pay a claim. Even worse, poor charting may prompt an equally poor survey result. 

Convincing employees to stay on top of charting can be difficult and frustrating but taking appropriate action against those who fail to do so and documenting that action is critical. A recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin illustrates the manner in which an employee’s failure to chart should be properly documented through the disciplinary process, and how such effective documentation may be used to defend against claims for discrimination and/or wrongful termination.

In Blumentritt v. Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare, Inc. (W.D. Wis. Feb. 6, 2019), the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Mayo Clinic due, in part, to its well-documented history of disciplinary action against Mr. Blumentritt for his failure to complete charting in a timely manner. The following best practices were used by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Charts were audited for completeness;
  • When an audit revealed an employee with a significant number of incomplete charts, the supervisor had a coaching session with the employee and established clear, achievable goals for the employee;
  • The supervisor monitored the employee and, when he failed to meet the goals, gave him a performance counseling;
  • The supervisor took the employee off of performance counseling and provided positive feedback for his accomplishment when he improved;
  • When the employee backslid, the supervisor gave him an improvement plan with specific objectives and due dates for achieving those objectives, as well as a warning that failure to complete documentation according to established policies or adhere to the timeline would result in termination;
  • The supervisor revised the timeline for the improvement plan when the supervisor’s schedule interfered with the deadlines;
  • When another audit revealed the employee again failed to complete patient charts, the supervisor gave the employee a last chance warning; and
  • When a follow up audit revealed that the employee’s charting was incomplete and the employee failed to correct the problem after being given an opportunity to do so, he was terminated.

The one weakness in the process appears to have been the Mayo Clinic’s failure to take action against Mr. Blumentritt when he did not meet the deadlines set in the performance improvement plan.  On the flip side, a real strength is that the Mayo Clinic did not restart the disciplinary process when the employee backslid, and instead resumed at an appropriate level given the prior infractions. The well-documented disciplinary measures against Mr. Blumentritt were critical to the Mayo Clinic’s ability to defend against his claim that he was terminated because he was a gay male. 

The takeaways from this decision are to act on audit results, document action taken, follow through, and keep the pressure on the employee to perform. (Also worth noting is that the court did not question the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech Comm. Coll. that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)

Job Posting and Ban the Box

Contributed by Mike Wong, February 18, 2019

job application on a laptop screen

Over 33 states and 150 cities, counties and municipalities have enacted Ban-the Box laws that prohibit employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record or criminal history prior to the applicant being selected for an interview or, if there is no interview, prior to a conditional offer of employment.

But did you know that Ban-the-Box laws can also impact your job posting or advertisement?

Yes, these laws can, and much like the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Ban the Box laws are being used by “professional plaintiffs” to go after employers for technical violations.

For example, New Jersey, New York City, Washington and Wisconsin’s Ban the Box laws specifically prohibit employers from asking applicants about their criminal history before making a job offer – including in job postings.  In those jurisdictions, having job postings or advertisements that state: “background check is required,” “clean criminal history,” “no felons,” “no criminal background,” or any other language that expresses any limitation in the hiring of an individual, directly or indirectly, based on his or her arrest or criminal background violate the law.

While the majority of Ban the Box laws do not expressly include prohibitions of such language in job postings and advertisements, employers now have potential exposure if they decide to include language of that kind. For example, an applicant could argue that while a state or local law does not expressly prohibit using language regarding criminal history in a job positing or advertisement, by doing so the employer is, in essence, unlawfully seeking criminal history information from job candidates. Additionally, if the state or local law prohibits discrimination against individuals with arrest records, the same legal argument the EEOC uses for Title VII discrimination claims based on arrests or convictions could be used – i.e., that the use of arrest records has a disparate impact on individuals of certain protected classes by eliminating, for example, more African American or Hispanic applicants as compared to applicants outside those groups.

Thus, while Ban the Box seems pretty straightforward, it is important to understand the details of each state and local law that may apply to your business. Moreover, it is important to review you job postings, advertisements and recruiting materials to make sure that they are up to date and not creating potential liability for you.

Flu Season: Common Questions From Employers

Contributed by Debra Mastrian, February 13, 2019

sick man lying in bed and thinking about all the work that piles up on his desk

The flu virus circulates all year round, although according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu activity historically peaks in February. Here are a couple of flu-related questions frequently asked by employers:

Is an employee entitled to FMLA for absences due to the flu?

Maybe. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides covered employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12 month period if the employee has a “serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform” his or her job.  A serious health condition is an illness that involves either inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider.  Inpatient care is typically an overnight stay in a health care facility.  Continuing treatment is more complex but is generally a period of incapacity of more than three consecutive full calendar days and any subsequent treatment or period of incapacity that also involves either (1) treatment or consultation with a health care provider two or more times within 30 days of the initial incapacitation or (2) treatment or consultation with a health care provider at least once and a regimen of continuing treatment under the supervision of the healthcare provider. A “regimen of continuing treatment” includes prescription medication, even without a follow-up medical appointment.  29 C.F.R. § 825.115.  Over the counter medications (aspirin, flu medicine), bed rest and fluids or other treatment that may be initiated without the direction of a health care provider, do not qualify as a “regimen of continuing treatment.” 

So, while an employee with a typical case of the flu who recovers with only self-care generally does not qualify for FMLA leave, extenuating circumstances can trigger coverage. It is important to focus not on the name of the illness—flu—but rather on the facts of the particular situation to determine whether an illness is a “serious health condition” as defined by the FMLA. When an employee calls in sick with the flu and is absent more than three consecutive days, the cautious approach is to send the employee an FMLA medical certification form.  It is risky to deny FMLA leave without first taking steps to determine whether the absence qualifies for FMLA protection.  If the employee returns the completed medical certification, the employer can then assess whether the condition is a “serious health condition.”  (Note:  Even if FMLA does not apply, an employee may be entitled to leave under state or local sick leave laws, or the employer’s sick leave or paid time off policies. Depending on the circumstance, an employer may also need to examine whether the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended (ADA), applies.) 

Can an employee who is exhibiting flu symptoms at work be sent home?

Yes, an employee who is exhibiting flu-like symptoms at work (e.g., fever, excessive coughing, vomiting, chills, etc.) can be sent home (or instructed not to come to work). Employers have the right to manage their workforce.  This includes excluding potentially infectious employees, even if they want to work. Preventing the spread of contagious illness is a legitimate concern for employers. Employers can send sick employees home in an effort to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. (Note: OSHA requires all employers to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.) 

Employers should, however, be consistent and fair in how they handle each situation. This is important for employee morale and to avoid legal claims (e.g., allegations of discrimination). Adopting an infectious disease policy will give employees and managers guidance on how to handle these situations.

The Government is Back For Now… Employers Should Address E-Verify Compliance Over the Shutdown Period

Contributed by Sara Zorich, January 29, 2019 

The US Government was shut down for over a month, and the government’s E-Verify system was down from December 22, 2018, to January 27, 2019. During the shutdown, employers who are E-Verify users were unable to enter any of their newly hired employees into the E-Verify system.  But E-Verify users shouldn’t fret.  USCIS is giving you a grace period to catch up.  The Department of Homeland Security and USCIS have updated the E-Verify website to address the shutdown.

The website states: “Now that E-Verify operations have resumed, employers who participate in E-Verify must create an E-Verify case by February 11, 2019 for each employee hired while E-Verify was not available. You must use the hire date from the employee’s Form I-9 when creating the E-Verify case. If the case creation date is more than three days following the date the employee began working for pay, select “Other” from the drop-down list and enter “E-Verify Not Available” as the specific reason.”

If you have an employee who received a Tentative Non-Confirmation (TNC) during the shutdown (or just before) and informs the employer no later than February 11, 2019 that they want to contest, USCIS has indicated that employers should add 10 federal business days to the date on the employee’s “Referral Date Confirmation” notice, and give the employee the revised notice. Federal business days are Monday through Friday and do not include federal holidays. As written, this statement could be interpreted to mean, for instance, that an employee who received a TNC on December 21, 2018, would originally have had until January 4th (8 federal business days) to visit SSA or DHS.  Adding ten more federal business days would only give a new deadline of January 18th (which is still in the past—and during the shutdown). 

With this in mind, we suggest employers watch the USCIS website for further updates because we expect USCIS to correct this instruction. In the interim, if an employee has chosen to contest the TNC and the employee’s deadline to visit SSA or DHS has passed due to the government shutdown, make sure you inform the employee that they should visit SSA or DHS as soon as possible. Do not terminate the employee until you receive a final non-confirmation from E-Verify.

All of the normal E-Verify deadlines apply to employees hired on or after January 28, 2019.

Must Employees Be Paid For Extreme Weather & Emergency Closings?

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, January 28, 2019

Bad weather caution sign

In light of the current winter storm pounding the U.S. with snow and extreme subzero temperatures, this is a short reminder of when employees must be paid for emergency closures due to inclement weather.

Nonexempt Employees – Generally, hourly workers must only be paid for time they actually work.  They do not need to be paid when the business is closed or closes early due to a weather emergency.  As a side note, when paying a nonexempt employee on a salary basis, state laws may suggest treating compensation more like that paid to a salary exempt employee.

Exempt Employees – When the business is closed and salary exempt employees are willing and able to work, they must still be paid their full salary for the week if they perform any work during the week.  However, if the business is open (or employees can work remotely), and employees choose not to work, they do not need to be paid for full-day absences, and the business may require use of vacation/PTO benefits.  Salary may not, however, be reduced for partial day absences.

There Are Always Exceptions in Employment Law

Handbooks may provide for paid leave in the face of extreme weather.  In particular, “cookie cutter” handbooks may contain hidden traps (which is our reminder that businesses should have their handbooks reviewed by employment counsel!).  Similarly, union collective bargaining agreements or other inclement weather policies might create a requirement to pay for missed time.

In a developing national trend, even when the employer is open for business, state and local paid sick leave ordinances may require that employees be permitted to use available paid sick leave with little notice when, for example, a child’s school is closed due to a weather emergency.  Employers should be sensitive to this issue, especially if they have not previously implemented written policies or complied with the requirements of these local ordinances.

Some state and local laws also require reporting pay when employees either report to work and are sent home before working their full shift, or when their schedule is changed or cancelled with insufficient notice.  Such laws may apply to weather closures.

Finally, employee morale and goodwill might dictate that an employer err on the side of paying for missed time. 

Employers should review their employment policies in light of these developing laws and trends to make the determination of whether employees should be paid for a business closure or other weather-related absence.  Experienced employment counsel should also be consulted to make sure the business is operating in a way that avoids needless wage and hour exposure.

Illinois Supreme Court Rules Actual Damages, Injury or Harm Not Necessary in Biometric Privacy Case

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo and Molly Arranz

As reported last November, the Illinois Supreme Court has had in front of it perhaps the seminal case, Rosenbach v. Six Flags Entertainment Corp., regarding Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). Prior to landing before the Supreme Court, the lower (appellate) court had ruled that simply claiming a violation of the notice and consent requirements of BIPA was not tantamount to alleging a compensable injury. Branding such claims only “technical” in nature, the lower court found these were not cases or controversies. If that was all you had, said the appellate court, your BIPA case should be dismissed at the outset. 

Today, in a unanimous decision, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected that approach and ruled that alleging a violation of statutory rights under BIPA is enough. An individual does not have to allege an actual injury in order to qualify as an “aggrieved” person entitled to seek liquidated damages and injunctive relief. “To require individuals to wait until they have sustained some compensable injury beyond violation of their statutory rights… would be completely antithetical to [BIPA’s] preventative and deterrent purposes.”

Under BIPA, entities may not “collect, capture, purchase, receive through trade or otherwise obtain” or store a person’s biometric information without informing an individual in writing about the collection or storage of said information. Further, entities collecting biometric information must specify the purpose for its collection and storage and how long it will be kept. Finally, entities must obtain a written release signed by the individual whose information has been collected. A failure to comply with these requirements gives an aggrieved individual a “private right of action” and allows the recovery of a minimum of $1,000 in liquidated damages, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs and injunctive relief to anyone who successfully shows a violation. BIPA cases are—almost without exception—brought as class actions, whereby hundreds or thousands of “aggrieved persons” and their alleged damages are lumped together.

With today’s ruling, BIPA’s requirements alone empower private citizens to serve as watchdogs over company policy. The Court explained: “[i]t is clear that the legislature intended for [BIPA] to have substantial force” and “[w]hen private entities face liability for failure to [simply] comply with the law’s requirements … those entities have the strongest possible incentive to conform to the law…” Rosenbach is not an employment case (it concerns a patron’s access to Six Flags); but, it impacts employers’ practices for collecting and maintaining biometric data for time tracking or security purposes. All companies—with any presence in Illinois—should be reviewing policies and protocols because simply failing to comply with the statute’s requirements could result in a firestorm of litigation from affected employees, consumers and patrons.

What should you ensure you are doing today?

  1. Establish and make public (for example, post on the company’s website) a written policy that addresses the purpose(s) of biometric data use, how it will be collected, and how it will be stored.
  2. Be prepared to address any requests for reasonable accommodations based on disability, religious, or other reasons.
  3. If biometric data might leave a closed system, ensure that proper safeguards are in place, including contractual liability shifting.
  4. Ensure that employees whose biometric data is used acknowledge the policy, and authorize its use and collection in writing.
  5. Train supervisors on the company’s policies and practices to ensure consistency.
  6. Have biometric data systems audited to ensure that data is not open to the public or a systems breach.
  7. Finally, consult with competent counsel to ensure that policies and practices comply with relevant law.

Tech Industry Employees Protest for End to Mandatory Arbitration

Contributed by Michael Faley, January 24, 2019

Arbitration title on legal documents

In November, thousands of Google employees walked out of work in protest against the company’s practice of compelling mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment claims. Frequently referred to as “forced arbitration” in the context of the current debate, Google responded by modifying its new hire letters to make mandatory arbitration optional for sexual harassment and assault claims. Several other big-name tech companies followed suit and ended the practice for sexual harassment claims.   

Now on the heels of that initial success, tech industry employees are pushing for an end to all mandatory arbitrations for employee-related claims. Last week, protestors, organized under a group called Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration, conducted a massive social media campaign pressing Google and other tech companies to eliminate their mandatory arbitration schemes for employee claims. Members of Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration argue that mandatory arbitration schemes lack transparency and enable misconduct against employees. They view going to court as the solution, and demand that arbitration always be optional. In addition, they seek elimination of onerous confidentiality requirements and want an end to class-action waivers so employees can file similar claims together. 

So far, neither Google nor the other targeted tech giants have signaled a willingness to change their current mandatory arbitration schemes beyond the recent modification for sexual harassment claims. However, groups such as Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration do not appear to be letting up either. Undoubtedly, the scope and general use of mandatory arbitration clauses will continue to be a hot topic of debate in 2019.