Monday
Sep012014

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week -- Aug. 31 – Sept. 6, 2014

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

The post on Sunday 8/31/14 mentioned how a 5-foot stuffed gorilla was insufficient to fine an employer in a race discrimination case by an African-American employee. After trial, the decision was in favor of the employer (the state), but the judge still fined the employer $1000/day for the 21 days the gorilla was there. On appeal, the court said that the case was about denial of promotions and training because of race and not the gorilla having been placed at the employee’s cubicle (which would have been relevant had hostile environment been part of the case).  

TAKEAWAY:  Most obvious things will put the employer in hot water, but sometimes it can be saved by a procedural issue. Don’t hope for procedure – do it the right way from the start.

          The post on Monday 9/1/14 was about how a stressed-out commute led to a lawsuit (and how far the duty of accommodation really goes). The employee went out on disability leave due to depression; when she returned, she said that traffic causes her too much stress and asked that her work schedule be changed so she didn’t have to travel in rush hour. The employer accommodated at first; later, it changed her responsibilities without telling her. That is what she claims is discrimination on the basis of disability.

TAKEAWAY: If a granted accommodation needs to be changed, or if the job itself will change, let the employee know; don’t just do it and let the employee find out or bad inferences might be drawn by the employee and a court.

On Tuesday 9/2/14 the post talked about estate planning documents every (young) professional should have. So you have a job/career and a family (whether parents, siblings, spouse, significant other, and/or child(ren). You have begun building equity in assets. Protect the equity for the people.  The post mentioned documents you should have in place, including a durable power of attorney and a health care power of attorney (or living will). Go back to the post for the others.

TAKEAWAY:  Now, while you can, designate in writing what will happen with your assets and who will take care of your dependents; if there is no legally-sufficient writing in place, the state will decide for you.

The post on Wednesday 9/3/14 asked if you ever thank your employees. Both research and common sense say that appreciation is important to employees. And that generally they feel they don’t get enough. Employers should give appreciation four times more often than constructive comments. An example of a four-step process to accomplish that is in the post.

TAKEAWAY: While it is nice to reward employees who are doing a good job with money or other tangibles, they also – and perhaps even more so - value being appreciated and told of that appreciation.

On Thursday 9/4/14 the post confirmed that with the ADA, it’s gotta pass the smell test too. What does that mean? In the profiled case, the employee had been discharged for a positive drug test (which is excepted from the ADA). Regardless, the court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the case. Why? Smell. The employee alleged he was picked on and held to a different standard, including increasing scrutiny after complaining about racial remarks (which remarks led to depression which led to drug use). The employee asked that the discipline for the drug test be waived or that he be given counseling (especially since Caucasian ono-disabled employees were not treated similarly). Go to the post for more of the facts leading the court to conclude that the employer’s proffered reason did not smell right.

TAKEAWAY: Even if you have a legitimate reason for an adverse action, make sure it and its context look and smell right or you might find yourself in hot water anyway.

Friday 9/5/14’s post was about whether English can be discriminatory. The EEOC says yes. It is suing a company for firing a group of Hispanic and Asian employees over their inability to speak English at work, claiming that the English-language requirement in a U.S. business constitutes “discrimination.” The EEOC claims that national origin discrimination includes the “linguistic characteristics of a national origin group.” How does the EEOC support its claims? “When speaking English fluently is not, in fact, required for the safe and effective performance of a job, nor for the successful operation of the employer’s business, requiring employees to be fluent in English usually constitutes employment discrimination on the basis of national origin — and thus violates federal law.”

TAKEAWAY:  If proficiency in a particular language is a legitimate business requirement, a policy requiring that employees speak that language might pass muster. But before you require it of all employees, check with an employment law attorney to make sure the policy will not be overreaching.

Finally, the post yesterday 9/6/14 was off-topic. It reminded us that in Central PA, people can and do scuba dive year-round. Still, the warmer months are preferable to many to learn to scuba dive.

TAKEAWAY: You are never too old to learn to scuba dive – make the time and start on a journey that will last you a lifetime.

Monday
Aug252014

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week -- Aug. 24 - 30, 2014

Below is a review of our posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

The post on Sunday 8/24/14 confirmed that being hit by a flying hot dog is not an inherent risk of watching baseball (at least in Missouri). A baseball fan was hit in the eye with a hot dog thrown by the team mascot and suffered a detached retina. Jurors found no liability based on that being an inherent risk of baseball. On appeal, the court said there was no inherent risk of being hit with a flying hot dog and sent the case back to the trial court.

TAKEAWAY:  While you might think attendance at a baseball game results in assumption of all risks, that is apparently not true as to things that may be related to but not a part of the game.

          The post on Monday 8/25/14 talked about the cost for a noose and saying the “N” word, “monkey” and “boy”. About $250,000 after the EEOC’s suit against a trucking company and a favorable jury verdict. Who used those words? The company’s general manager (who was the employees’ boss), dispatcher, several mechanics and other truck drivers (all of whom are Caucasian). The employees complained but nothing changed.

TAKEAWAY: Even if someone says they are joking, employers cannot allow any type of derogation, slur or discrimination in the workplace.

On Tuesday 8/26/14 the post was about a current hot spot for EEOC enforcement, pregnancy discrimination, and how it cost an employer $15,000. For 2 days’ work. The employee worked at a retail store for 2 days and was discharged after telling her manager she was pregnant.

TAKEAWAY:  Taking adverse action against an employee because of pregnancy is illegal – just don’t do it. NOTE: taking action against a pregnant employee based on another reason is ok.

The post on Wednesday 8/27/14 reminded us not to address an employee’s FMLA request as was done by this employer. Why? It hits the pocketbook HARD. In this case, a former employee of a supermarket chain got a jury award of about $536,000 when he was discharged after taking time off for back surgery. When the employee requested time off for surgery for something he claimed was work-related, the company denied it was job-related and so denied the workers’ comp request (telling him to switch to a request to use his own insurance). The employee filed the comp claim anyway and took an unpaid FMLA leave for surgery. When his doctor released him to light-duty work, the employer refused the accommodation. He was discharged shortly after (he refused the severance package and decided to sue). What was the sword to the employer’s throat? During trial, the company's owner admitted that had the employee not gone out on leave for back surgery, he never would have been discharged!

TAKEAWAY: Don’t just refuse an FMLA leave request out of hand – and when you do refuse a request, don’t retaliate against the employee for having made the request.

On Thursday 8/28/14 the post confirmed that name-calling can get quite expensive for an employer. There, the employer, a car dealer, agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a national origin and religious discrimination suit. What happened? The employer’s managers allegedly addressed Arab Muslim employees using offensive slurs like “terrorist” and “Hezbollah” and made mocking and insulting references to the Qur’an and how Muslims pray.

TAKEAWAY: Employers must make sure to respect all religions, even those different from their own; if they don’t, they will pay.

Friday 8/29/14’s post reminded that even though Ramadan is over for this year, employees may still need religious accommodation at other times of the year. While the employer should attempt to grant accommodation requests based upon religious issues, it need not if there will be undue hardship. Employers should consult with an employment attorney as to what may or might be considered an undue hardship for their business.

TAKEAWAY: Remember that as with other areas, accommodation for religion is an interactive process and there is not necessarily just one right answer.

Finally, the post yesterday 8/30/14 was a reminder that a request for FMLA leave can be a hidden request for ADA accommodation. Many employers deny an FMLA leave request (for an employee’s own serious health condition) but then do not look at it under the ADA – this can lead to a lawsuit. Who found this out? Sears (to the tune of $6.2M for 235 plaintiffs), SuperValu ($3.2M for 110 plaintiffs) and Verizon ($20M). Yes, those are millions.

TAKEAWAY: When an FMLA leave request for an individual’s serious health condition is denied, automatically consider it under the ADA – don’t wait for the employee to make a request for ADA consideration.

Monday
Aug182014

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week -- Aug. 17 - 23, 2014

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

The post on Sunday 8/17/14 talked about discharge after a reasonable accommodation request NOT being the way for an employer to go. In the profiled case, the EEOC sued an Atlanta hair salon for firing a disabled veteran. When she requested accommodation for scoliosis and a herniated disc (to allow her to stand for extended periods without pain), she was discharged.

TAKEAWAY:  Covered employers must engage in the interactive process after a request for accommodation – making the request go away through discharge does NOT satisfy that burden.

          On Monday 8/18/14 we talked about whether you have appropriate non-compete agreements in place. Courts will look at whether the employer has a legally-protected interest, whether the geographic scope and duration are overbroad, whether there is an undue hardship on the employee, and if public policy is violated. Any one of these can result in the non-compete being deemed invalid.

TAKEAWAY: Non-compete agreements are legal documents; make sure they will withstand judicial scrutiny by having an employment attorney prepare and review them before you have employees sign them.

The post on Tuesday 8/19/14 was about how just 2 statements can provide enough evidence for an age discrimination suit. In short, a 71-year-old security guard at a retirement home sued his former employer and introduced evidence of two statements made by the person who effected his termination. The first statement was from a meeting with all of the residents about abolishing the employee program, at which the COO stated, “you didn’t come here to work, you came here to retire.” The other statement is in the post. Together, they were sufficient for the court to deny summary judgment and send the matter on for trial.

TAKEAWAY:  Employers must train their employees on what to say and what not to say – loose lips can sink employment ships.

On Wednesday 8/20/14 the post confirmed that seeing your job posted on social media is a good sign you’re about to be fired – whether legally or not. The backstory here revolves around soft drink maker Faygo. A 70-year-old employee alleged in his lawsuit that he was his job posted on Careerbuilder.com in November 2011 and was discharged in July 2012 after being asked to train his replacement (someone half his age).

TAKEAWAY: Social media is omnipresent; don’t post something you don’t want someone else to see because it will probably come back to bite – hard.

On Thursday 8/21/14 the post was about questions for an employer to ask in hiring, promotion or transferring an employee. What is an example? In what type of work position do you see yourself in 5 years? Others are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Employers want to know if a (potential) employee will be a good fit, but asking certain questions can elicit information resulting in the employer’s obligation to discuss the person’s need for a possible accommodation. Be careful what you ask.

Friday 8/22/14 brought a post about thinking twice about flying solo before the EEOC. Yes it is an administrative charge. But often it is a precursor to a lawsuit and you don’t want to say something that might prejudice you in any later suit.

                                                                                                                                                

TAKEAWAY:   EEOC charges are still legal matters and employers served with a charge should consult an employment attorney when they receive it. Together, the course of action can be decided upon.

Finally, the post yesterday 8/23/14 was a bit off-track: it was about the family that scuba dives together.  Scuba is sport that keeps divers of all ages interested and continually learning. Further, it is a sport that families can do together, whether locally or travelling to other places far and wide.

TAKEAWAY: Everyone needs time away from the workplace – one good way to relax is to scuba dive. The workplace cannot interfere for the time you are under water.

Wednesday
Aug132014

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week -- Aug. 10 - 16, 2014

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

The post on Sunday 8/10/14 listed things an attorney can do for a small business that the owner (probably) can't. What 5 items made the list? (1) Represent and externalize. (2) Size up injury suits. (3) Defend the business from harassment and discrimination claims. Go to the post for the other two.

TAKEAWAY: Owners can and should concentrate on their business, but when it comes to legal matters they should consult legal counsel.

          On Monday 8/11/14 we posted about FMLA and pregnancy and the duty to accommodate. The post highlighted a company that did it wrong, discharging the employee one day - ONE DAY - prior to her work anniversary and entitlement to FMLA  leave.  Learn from its mistake. The court found for the employee on both FMLA interference and retaliation claims.

TAKEAWAY: Try to accommodate pregnant women. It will be easier than having to fend off a lawsuit if your company doesn't act properly and legally.

The post on Tuesday 8/12/14 was about how people really don't know the law. Here we highlighted a Best Western location that refused the reservation of a family with a service dog. And to make matters worse, the family included an attorney! 

TAKEAWAY:  Know when animals are allowed regardless of other policies.

The post on Wednesday 8/13/14 reiterated (in case there was confusion) that making an employee wear a nametag with "Gaytard" on it is discriminatory. Lest you think I made this up, read the post. This actually happened at a Taco John’s location in South Dakota.

TAKEAWAY: Employers should train their managerial employees in how to properly treat those under them. Further, if the managers step over the line, they should be disciplined and, if necessary, discharged. It should NEVER be treated as a joke - or the joke will be on the employer when it is forced to write out a hefty check.

On Thursday 8/14/14 the post included 5 legal tips for employees to bring their own devices to work. If you haven't thought about it, then you are already behind the 8 ball. So what are the tips? Don't let them work outside of normal work hours. Enact a policy that allows you to remotely wipe all company data from the device and make sure the employee knows of the policy (in case other data belonging to the employee is also erased). The other tips are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Employers should not permit employees to use their own devices without having in place a policy describing each party's rights and obligations.

Friday 8/15/14 the post was about 3 ways to help your lawyer help you win a collection suit. Of course you want to win the suit (whether you are trying to collect or someone has sued you). So how best to do that?  First, don't wait until the last minute to contact an attorney. Next, communicate with your attorney. The third tip was in the post.

TAKEAWAY:  Lawsuits are daunting to begin with. Make it a bit easier on yourself by having and using a good attorney.

Finally, the post yesterday 8/16/14 was about the new supervisory "broom" sweeping away ADA accommodation. What does this mean? New management is not necessarily entitled to retract an accommodation that has been granted to an employee.

TAKEAWAY: While it is often appropriate for new management to make changes, they must be legal. Absent valid business reason - and without engaging in the interactive process - no change should be made to an accommodation previously granted to an employee.

Monday
Aug042014

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week -- Aug. 3 - 9, 2014

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

The post on Sunday 8/3/14 talked about proper classification of employees and contractors (and how costly errors can be). In the case profiled, the owners of residential treatment centers for elderly, disabled and mentally ill persons hired independent contractors to care for the residents. DOL investigated and determined that the contractors had been misclassified and were really employees (and that the owners were employers) under the FLSA. DOL ended up with a judgment against the facilities and the owners to the tune of $260,000 for wage and hour violations. And this involved only 10 persons.

TAKEAWAY:  Proper classification of workers remains important; if not done properly, DOL will ding you hard.

On Monday 8/4/14 we posted 10 tips for creating an effective social media policy. For the tips, go to the post. NOTE: we added tip #11: have an employment lawyer review your policy for legal compliance.

TAKEAWAY: Social media is ingrained in both home sand the workplace; employers should have a policy about permitted uses by employees (and that policy should be legally compliant).

The post on Tuesday 8/5/14 was about gender and reverse discrimination in the workplace. Yes, Virginia, it still happens. IN this case out of OH, a male and female employee were taking a smoke break off premises. After, the female employee reported that the male employee had touched her inappropriately; he disputed it and said the incident was consensual (and that she had even initiated it). He further said she reported it only after he refused a further relationship. So what did the employer do? It discharged him and took no action against her. He brought suit alleging reverse gender discrimination. The court denied summary judgment to the employer (such that the case would proceed to trial if it doesn’t settle).

TAKEAWAY:  Make sure that any reports or complaints are investigated and that all parties are treated equally.

On Wednesday 8/6/14 the post confirmed that while work can be limited to 40 hours, confidentiality is 24/7, such that a court found possible ADA liability for an employee’s Facebook comments re another employee’s medical condition. Yes, an employer could be liable for what an employee says on social media. Why? Because it related to a private medical condition and the employee violated the employer’s confidentiality obligation to the other employee. Here, employee George Shoun was injured at work and took a few weeks off work to recover. Jane Stewart, another employee, processed his worker’s comp claim and monitored his medical treatment for the employer so she learned the nature and extent of George’s injury. All good so far. But then she posted on her personal Facebook page: “Isn’t [it] amazing how Jimmy experienced a 5 way heart bypass just one month ago and is back to work, especially when you consider George Shoun’s shoulder injury kept him away from work for 11 months and now he is trying to sue us.” The post stayed up for 76 days and, according to Shoun, was viewable by surrounding business communities; he sued the employer under the ADA. Based on the facts, the court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss and the case is moving forward.

TAKEAWAY: Employers must have in place a legally-compliant social media policy and ensure that employees are trained on how to use (and not use) social media also, employees with access to medical and other confidential information should be properly trained as to their obligations of confidentiality.

On the post Thursday 8/7/14 we talked about whether Cabela’s discriminated against a transgender employee. This case was close to home, involving the store in Hamburg, PA.  The EEOC issued a determination that Cabela’s most likely discriminated against the transgender employee; the PHRC had issued a similar ruling in 2010. Some background facts: the employee was hired while in the process of transgendering from male to female. She fought to wear a female uniform and for a nametag properly spelling her name. Even after being given a court order as to her name and gender, Cabela’s refused to allow her to use the female restroom until she provided medical documentation as to “anatomically appropriate gender”; until then, she had to use a unisex restroom on a different floor far away. She intends to file suit based on the EEOC’s finding.

TAKEAWAY: While PA does not (yet) have any law barring discrimination against LGBT workers, there is still federal law – and state law on gender discrimination. However it fits, employers must ensure that all employees are protected, no matter their gender (or gender identity).

Friday 8/8/14 the post was about what IS a hostile work environment. It is a legal term that, according to the EEOC, Involves "unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information" and occurs when "enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment" or the conduct creates an environment "that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive." Examples include slurs, epithets, or name calling and physical assaults or threats. The post included more examples too. The post also points out that the conduct can be by supervisors, coworkers, agents of the employer, and even non-employees and that it doesn't have to be offensive to the person it's directed toward, but can be offensive to employees who observe it.

TAKEAWAY:  Employee complaints should not be dismissed out of hand, but investigated. If substantiated, action should be taken in an attempt to remedy the problem. Don’t let the mole hill become a legal mountain that may cost you in more ways than one.

Finally, the post yesterday 8/9/14 was about what is keeping you from filing for bankruptcy protection. It included some of the usual reasons people don’t file: denial about their current financial situation; depression about their current financial situation leading to an inability to act; and a determination to make it work. These can be talked through with a bankruptcy attorney so you get the relief you need.

TAKEAWAY: Bankruptcy may or may not be the right path for you, but at least talk to a bankruptcy lawyer about your current situation. Don’t stick your head in the sand and do nothing.

Monday
Jul282014

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week -- July 27 – Aug. 2, 2014

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

The post on Sunday 7/27/14 was about whether older employees are welcome in the Mouse House (aka Disney). The 22-year employee and head of the story department filed suit against Disney, alleging age discrimination. His complaint says that he was replaced with his former assistant, a younger female. Also, he says that soon after he was fired, another older employee was also discharged.

TAKEAWAY:  Disney may be there to make kids feel good, but lawsuits certainly don’t make employers feel good. To avoid suits (or have a good defense if one is filed), ensure that there is a legitimate non-discriminatory reason when an employee is discharged.

On Monday 7/28/14 the post was about the NLRB’s continual targeting of employee handbooks. Employees must remember that Section 7 of the NLRA gives both union and non-union employees the right to “self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. . . .” Also, under Section 8 of the Act, it is an “unfair labor practice” for an employer to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7.” These apply even to non-union employers such that Handbook policies must be crafted with the Act in mind. Employers keep getting tagged for violations. The post talked about a few examples, including language prohibiting “discourteous or inappropriate attitude or behavior” as being over-broad and possibly construed as to preclude discussion of employment in violation of Section 7.  Other examples are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: ALL employers must ensure that their Handbook policies comply with the NLRA or they might get embroiled in a legal dispute that could prove costly in many ways.

The post on Tuesday 7/29/14 talked about 3 things to know when retaining a lawyer for your business. The post talked about the different types of retainers and why and when you might want the various types of relationship indicated by the different retainers.

TAKEAWAY:  Understand for what and how you are engaging an attorney, along with how any retainer will be applied.

On Wednesday 7/30/14 we posted about what you can do about bad employees. The first thing is to know the law. PA is a strong at-will state, so you should know what that means and what rights or obligations are given to or required of both employers and employees. Make sure everything is documented, then decide what, if any, action to take relative to bad employees.

TAKEAWAY:  Employers need not be stuck with bad employees in perpetuity – they just need to know how to legally discharge those persons. Consulting an employment attorney is always a good idea.

On Thursday 7/31/14 the post served as a reminder that anything can turn into a labor violation (and how Starbucks found out the hard way). This was another case involving a decision of the NLRB in a non-Union workplace (Starbucks). What happened? An employee who was a known union supporter was in a profanity-laced argument with a manager in front of customers (on premises but off-shift). The manager also used profanity, but was not disciplined. In the long and winding saga of the case, in 2010 the NLRB decided the discharge was based on the employee being a known union supporter (and therefore illegal). Starbucks appealed the decision and the appeals court (in 2012) sent the case back to the Board to decide if it made a difference since the conduct had taken place in front of customers (therefore being so outrageous as to remove any protections under the NLRA). On 6/16/14, the Board again said the discharge violated the Act since other employees had been treated more leniently for similar conduct and the manager had not been disciplined at all, such that it seemed likely to have been based (at least in part) on the employee’s union support.

TAKEAWAY: Depending on the whole of the circumstances, what seems like a simple discharge for mass profanity can turn into a big deal – and a finding of a labor law violation. Employers must be careful!

Friday 8/1/14 the post was about keeping your hands (and sexual thoughts) to yourself. Yep, even in today’s workplaces, many individuals never learned a basic lesson from kindergarten: keep your hands to yourself. And then there are those who feel the need to tell others at work what they would like to be doing with their hands (or other body parts). One case involved detailed and overwhelming evidence of disturbing sexual harassment, culminating in a violent sexual assault by a coworker, along with evidence that the manager laughed along with the harassers – needless to say, the court entered judgment in favor of the employees against the employer and the manager individually. In another case, a dental assistant felt compelled to quit after the dentist’s sexual advances culminated in him forcibly grabbing and fondling her breasts. Go to the post for more, including situations where it is not just sexual touching or might even just be words or images.

TAKEAWAY:  Employers must ensure that no sexual harassment occurs in the workplace and, if discovered or even alleged, must investigate and take appropriate action.

Finally, yesterday 8/2/14 the post was about a case where revocation of a job offer after knowledge of age resulted in a lawsuit (settlement). Here the EEOC brought suit against the Bobby Dodd Institute. Why? Two women over age 70 applied for a shared mail clerk position and were given job offers. After the CEO found out their ages, the offers were revoked (a mere 1 day before they were scheduled to start). Then, to make matters worse, the company hired 2 younger people for the position. While denying liability, the company settled for $40,000.

TAKEAWAY: Even if a decision is made for legitimate non-discriminatory business reasons, you should be prepared to prove that basis – especially if the circumstances looks funny.

Monday
Jul212014

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week -- July 20 - 26, 2014

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

We started the week with the post on Sunday 7/20/14 that dealt with whether or not a fancy title makes someone exempt. The short answer: no. Titles do not always tell what an employee’s  duties are or on what the employee spends the majority of his/her working time, such that further analysis must be done as to whether or not the person is exempt from overtime pay.

TAKEAWAY: Employees like titles, but they really like getting paid properly – it is the employer’s obligation to know if the person is or is not exempt from overtime pay.

On Monday 7/21/14, the post showcased a violation of the Equal Pay Act – and a trucking company that learned the hard way. A company based in MD settled its case with the EEOC for $42,000 (and other relief). What were the allegations? That a female truck driver was paid less than male drivers and that she was fired after complaining in writing. The settlement is for back pay and liquidated damages.

TAKEAWAY: Gender usually has nothing to do with job performance, so all comparable employees doing the same job should be paid the same.

On Tuesday 7/22/14 we posted about 5 things not to do after a sexual harassment complaint. Seems like something that would need no post, right? Wrong! The tips include: do not fire the employee, do not ignore the complaint, and do not wait to handle it in court. The other tips are in the post.

TAKEAWAY:  If a sexual harassment complaint is filed, act. Don’t wait. Contact your employment attorney now.  

The post on Wednesday 7/23/14 was about sexual discrimination and settlements: how NOT to act at work. SunTrust bank (yep, that large employer), is paying $300,000 (and other relief) to settle a sexual harassment suit brought by the EEOC. What were some of the alleged acts by SunTrust’s branch manager? That he repeatedly trapped a female behind the teller counter with his body, told a woman she should wear a bathing suit to work, and regularly staring at women’s breasts. More of the alleged actions are in the post. And if that weren’t bad enough, apparently the employee’s complaints were ignored and after the branch manager quit when the investigation began, SunTrust rehired him!

TAKEAWAY:  While it makes good fodder for law school classes, this type of thing should not happen in the real world. Employers should make sure no harassment occurs in the place of employment and when a complaint comes in, it should be investigated immediately.

On Thursday 7/24/14 the post was off the normal topics and about how scuba diving is a good workout for your body. How, you ask. It provides head-to-toe toning, has crazy calorie burns, helps with better breathing (which can increase lung capacity and decrease the risk of lung disease), slashes stress (under water + endorphins + deep breathing + pretty fish = aaaaahhhh!), and leads to higher self-esteem (yes, you can handle whatever comes at you on the surface as well as under water!).

TAKEAWAY: Help yourself stay refreshed and ready to work by keeping your body and mind fresh – one way is to scuba dive.

Friday 7/25/14 the post was about nose rings, hair color, beards, and head scarves – all things that can get an employer in trouble. What do they all have in common? They appear in dress or grooming standards or policies. An employer can tell its employees how to dress for work (including grooming), right? Well, maybe. Religious beliefs can trump those dress or grooming standards. So too race can come into the picture, usually relative to hairstyles.

TAKEAWAY:  As in most other areas, an employee can dictate how it wants its employees to dress or look, but must be prepared to accommodate religious beliefs or racial differences.

Finally, yesterday 7/26/14 the post touched on 7 laws every employer should know about. Do you? What are a few of them? Title VII, Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The others are listed in the post. And not only should you know about them, you should have a general understanding of what they require of the employer and what rights they provide to employees (or others).

TAKEAWAY: Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to (potential) violations of employment laws. Know which obligations and rights are covered by each law and whether it applies to your business. Also, keep your employment attorney on speed dial to ensure legal compliance.

Monday
Jul142014

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week -- July 13 - 19, 2014

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

To start the week, the post on Sunday 7/13/14 was a reminder that the ADA requires AN accommodation, not necessarily the employee-requested one. It is good to get input from the employee on what s/he might want as an accommodation, but that is not the end of the process.

TAKEAWAY: The employer remains in charge, even in determining what accommodation it will provide (or that to provide one would be an undue hardship under the law).

On Monday 7/14/14, the post was about the fact that an unlawful policy does not always make for an unlawful termination.  In a (seemingly rare) win for employers at the NLRB, it was held that just because a policy was overbroad (and therefore unlawful), the termination based on that policy was not unlawful. On the facts here, the employee was terminated not for protected activity (discussing wages), but for sharing confidential customer information. Since that was NOT protected activity, termination based on that was legal.

TAKEAWAY: as I’ve stressed over and over, all employers, unionized or not, must be aware of the potential implications of all policies and whether or not they comply with the NLRA. It is best to run all Handbooks by an employment attorney to ensure compliance.

On Tuesday 7/15/14 we talked about “Not enough of a male chauvinist pig”. Yep. This came up in a same-sex harassment situation when a male fitness instructor sued the employer because he “didn’t fit the stereotype of being ‘sexually loose, promiscuous and predatory’ like his harassing male supervisor.”  The employer argued, unsuccessfully, that the case should be dismissed because the employee did not allege he was harassed for being effeminate. Here, the employee was found to have stated a sufficient claim of same-sex harassment and the case would proceed.

TAKEAWAY: Same-sex harassment is becoming more common; it can encompass non-conformity with many sexual stereotypes, even not being enough of a male chauvinist pig.

On Wednesday 7/16/14 the post was about an NLRB decision finding a non-solicitation policy to be unlawful. There, the employer was a food service distributor that sells food, paper products, and cleaning supplies, among other items, to institutions throughout the western US.  The alleged violations included that the employer had several overly-broad policies. The Board agreed the employer had an overly-broad non-solicitation policy. The policy at issue was short and sweet: “Solicitation discussions of a non-commercial nature, by Associates, are limited to the non-working hours of the solicitor as well as the person being solicited and in non-work areas. (Working hours do not include meal breaks or designated break periods.)” So what was the problem? The policy prohibits even union solicitation in work areas during non-working hours.

TAKEAWAY:  ALL EMPLOYERS MUSDT VIEW ALL POLICIES IN LIGHT OF THE DICTATES OF THE NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS ACT. Period.

On Thursday 7/17/14 the post was about 5 ways to deal with pregnant employees without getting sued. It is NOT recommended that employers merely bury their heads in the sand, but rather that they address the issues. So what are some of the suggested actions relative to pregnancy? (1) Know which laws apply to your company. (2) Have a written policy. (3) Disregard your policy [yes, you read that correctly]. Go to the post for more on this item and the other two.

TAKEAWAY: Liability avoidance is high on every employer’s list, as it should be; having in place the steps to ensure legal compliance relative to pregnant employees is imperative.

Friday 7/18/14's post covered 3 employment law trends HR managers need to know about. So what are they? 3) The NLRB and the EEOC are keeping watch. And, if you haven’t already figured it out from all of our posts, they are being more and more aggressive. 2) Workers want their time off. Be it the ADA, FMLA, or other applicable laws, employees have rights. For the #1 trend, go to the post.

TAKEAWAY:  Employers cannot operate their businesses in a vacuum: they must be conscious of and in compliance with applicable laws and employee rights. Ignorance will not be a defense to a lawsuit.

Finally, yesterday 7/19/14 we posted about no harm, no foul equaling no liability under the FMLA. The court said that technical violations of the FMLA will not result in liability for the employer unless the employee can show that the non-compliance affected the decisions regarding leave. Here, the employer did not timely provide FMLA notices; the court said that was not a violation, but could be if the employee could show that s/he would have scheduled FMLA leave differently. A win for employers? Sort of.

TAKEAWAY: While employers (at least in the geographic area governed by that court decision) can rest a bit easier, they should not just do nothing; employers should still aim for full compliance so as to avoid matters going to court.

Monday
Jul072014

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week -- July 6 - 12, 2014

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

First up, the post on Sunday 7/6/14 was about sex and sleepovers and betrayal adding up to an $11.6M discrimination verdict. Against whom? None other than Microsoft! Short story: senior sales exec was hounded for 2 years by his boss (also his ex-girlfriend) who had help from the Marketing Director, a Regional Sales Director, the National Sales Director, and the VP of US OEM Windows, Office & Servicer sales. No, this is not a soap opera but real life and the TX jury made Microsoft pay. The steamy details are in the article.

TAKEAWAY: Employers must make sure there is no discrimination, harassment or retaliation in the workplace and that those involved in any of those acts be taken to task (before a jury does the same to the employer).

On Monday 7/7/14 we talked about the fact that following a document destruction policy can result in sanctions – and making sure you understand why. It is acceptable – and usually recommended – that companies have in place a document destruction policy – including electronic communications. But when litigation occurs, or is even threatened, the policy must be put on hold and other actions taken to preserve what might be relevant. In the spotlighted case, the employer didn’t do what it should have and the court slapped its wrist – monetarily.

TAKEAWAY: Follow your policies, even on document destruction, until it becomes important to deviate. Consult an employment law attorney to be sure which is which.

Next, on Tuesday 7/8/14 we posted about how an employer should handle stupid discrimination complaints. Complaints are made because the employee feels she has been wronged somehow – do not let that molehill grown into a mountain before action is taken (talking to the complaining employee to get to the root of the issue and understand from where it comes, find out what the employee expects the employer to do about it, thank the employee for speaking with the employer and let him/her know any resolution (if possible), and document everything for the file(s).  

TAKEAWAY: There is rarely a stupid complaint about anything – employers should investigate each and every employee complaint and take action where warranted.

On Wednesday 7/9/14 the post was about 5 on-site investigations with 5 unhappy endings (and how you can learn from them). This post covered 5 situations that occur in the FMLA arena: asking for too much information; moving a full-time employee to part-time; not notifying the employee of his/her FMLA rights (and penalizing him/her for something that would have been covered); not telling the employee of certification rules; and remembering that the FMLA applies to those acting “in loco parentis” as well as actual parents.

TAKEAWAY:  Employers must know the law – be it FMLA or other – or be reminded of what they did wrong when hit with an administrative charge or lawsuit and, possibly, large monetary settlement or verdict.

On Thursday 7/10/14 we talked about how history + pretext can = trial. Huh? In short, and as the author says, a history of workplace racial imbalance might undermine your legitimate non-discriminatory reason for a promotion (or other) decision.

TAKEAWAY:  Hiring, promotion and termination decisions should be based on legitimate non-discriminatory reasons – make sure they are the REAL reasons before a court tells you otherwise.

The post on Friday 7/11/14 talked about 5 important questions for your business after the recent Hobby Lobby decision. Yes Virginia, religion CAN affect business more than you think. Given that the Supreme Court just gave closely-held corporations the right to act like persons in some cases, it is important for corporate entities to think about these 5 questions. 1) Should you declare your religion in the hiring process? 2) Should you declare your religion to existing employees and customers/clients? 3) Might your group insurance rates increase if you decide to deprive your female employees of comprehensive reproductive health care? 4 and 5 are in the post.

TAKEAWAY:  Supreme Court decisions can touch you every day in ways you might not even think of. Make sure you have an employment attorney who knows these things and helps you work in your business’ best interests.

Finally, the post yesterday 7/12/14 was about how not to get caught in an EEOC discrimination nightmare.  What is one of the areas in which an employer must be especially careful (given the EEOC’s renewed push)? Religious discrimination. It can touch many facets of an employee’s job. But remember that any accommodation must still be reasonable – and that can differ as do the circumstances. Reasonableness also comes into play in accommodating for a disability (so does undue hardship). The post also touches on age discrimination and a short overview of the EEOC process.

TAKEAWAY: The easiest course for an employer to follow is one that bases decisions on legitimate business needs and looks at how it can accommodate reasonable requests from employees. Those who don’t take this path find (EEOC) thorns strewn along the way.

Sunday
Jul062014

ICYMI: Our Social Media Posts This Week -- June 29 – July 5, 2014

Below is a review of the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

First up, the post on Sunday 6/29/14 was about the fourth disability discrimination suit filed against Auto Zone.  Yes count ‘em, 4! This suit accused Auto Zone of having an attendance policy that did not take into account disability-related absences.  The post also notes that earlier in 2014 a federal appeals court upheld a $415,000 verdict against Auto Zone in another disability discrimination and retaliation suit. Some employers never learn.

TAKEAWAY: The law is there for a reason – employers must abide by it or be dogged by agencies charged with enforcement of those laws.

On Monday 6/30/14 the post was a reminder about ethnic discrimination. The suit there was against Hispanics United. What happened in this case where both sides are Hispanic? A Cuban employee asked for and was denied a promotion and that she and her husband were paid less than other employees because they are not Puerto Rican; suit resulted.

TAKEAWAY: Employers must keep in mind that it is discrimination can take many forms and often there is a thin line separating what is legal from what is not.

Next, on Tuesday 7/1/14 we posted about the fact that an inability to sit for prolonged periods can be a disability under the ADA. In this case it had an easy fix – get the employee an ergonomic chair – but the employer never did that.  

TAKEAWAY: Remember that the definition of disability is broad so the easiest and best thing for employer to do is jump straight to the accommodation process.

On Wednesday 7/2/14 the post was an employee versus contractor redux. Why do government agencies care if people are properly classified? Because erroneously classifying someone as a contractor can affect their benefits and protections, including family and medical leave, overtime, minimum wage and unemployment insurance; further, it generates substantial losses to the federal Treasury and the Social Security and Medicare funds, as well as state unemployment insurance and workers compensation funds. Classification can also affect the employer’s liability for the person’s action and the employee’s protection from employment discrimination. The post lists common factors used in making the classification determination. It is also a good idea to talk to an employment attorney since this has legal ramifications.

TAKEAWAY: It is SO important that those working for you be classified properly – it can be very expensive for you as the employer if they are misclassified so just get it right from the start.

On Thursday 7/3/14 we posted about whether a CNN employee was fired for flamboyant attire or another reason. Coincidentally (?) the employee’s discharge came right on the heels of his supervisor finding out he was gay. The employee claims in his suit that his supervisor told him “he should not wear his black or yellow mariachi suits in the newsroom, ‘because it was too flamboyant for a male in our department.’” The supervisor also allegedly said that the employee’s attire “might make him a better fit in the ‘entertainment or makeup department.’” The lawsuit asserts that the “flamboyant” comment was rooted in a gay stereotype and seeks $60 million.

TAKEAWAY:  If your workplace has a dress code, make sure it is based on job necessity. If there is no dress code, don’t let managers make one up based on stereotypes or personal biases.

The post on Friday 7/4/14 was short but sweet: enjoy the Independence Day holiday!

Finally, the post yesterday 7/5/14 was about whether travel time is compensable. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act comes into play here and provides for when travel time is or is not covered. Some situations discussed in the post are travel from home to work (including who owns the vehicle in which the employee is travelling), travel time when in a carpool, out-of-town travel, and overseas travel. For all of these and other common scenarios, read the post.

TAKEAWAY: Employers should not assume that all travel by employees is either compensable or not compensable – there may be some of both. Rather than short-changing the employee (and possibly being subject to fine/penalty), you should know the rules of this road.