Last week, a federal jury ordered Wal-Mart to pay Marlo Spaeth, an employee with Down syndrome, $125 million in punitive damages and $150,000 in compensatory damages for failing to accommodate her disability and terminating her employment. While it would be easy to write-off this verdict as a runaway jury trying to send a message to a company which is, by far, the largest private employer in the United States, there are still lessons to be learned here that apply to employers of all sizes. Whether you employ 150; 1,500 or 1.5 million people, failing to handle employee requests for accommodation (a plea for help, really) in a thoughtful, humane matter has the potential to blow up in your face in a spectacular fashion.Continue reading
By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force
Last week, Conn Maciel Carey posted a blog article about How to Navigate the Thorny Legal Landscape Around Employee Vaccination Status. One of the observation in that article was that we were all on the edge of our seats waiting for the EEOC to issue promised guidance about employer incentives and mandates about the COVID-19 vaccination. On Friday, the EEOC finally issued much-anticipated updated FAQs about the legal landscape of various employer vaccinations policies.
May employers ask employees about vaccination status under federal law? See FAQs K9, K5, K15, K16, K18, K19
- Yes – does not violate ADA or GINA.
- However, employer should not ask “why” an employee is unvaccinated, as this could compel the employee to reveal disability information that is protected under the ADA and/or GINA.
- Recommended practice: If employer requires documentation or other confirmation of vaccination, “notify all employees that the employer will consider requests for reasonable accommodation based on disability on an individualized basis.”
Is vaccination information “confidential” under the ADA? See FAQ K4
- Yes, this includes documentation (i.e., the white vaccination card) or “other confirmation” of vaccination, which we presume means any self-attestation form or email from the employee, as well as any record, matrix, spreadsheet, or checklist created by the employer after viewing employees’ vaccination cards or receiving a verbal confirmations from employees.
- The records or information must be kept confidential and stored separately from employee personnel files.
How may employers encourage employees and family members to get vaccinated? See FAQ K3 Continue reading
As states across the country begin to loosen or lift stay-at-home and shutdown orders, many workplaces that had been idled, have just begun to or will soon resume operations. Many states and localities are setting as a precondition for reopening, a requirement that they develop and implement a written, site-specific COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan.
Regardless of any state or local requirement to develop such a plan, any business that operates without an Exposure Control Plan will be potentially exposed to a number of legal or business risks, such as an OSHA citation, being shutdown by a state or local health department, and/or becoming a target for a wrongful death action brought by families of employees, temporary workers, customers, vendors and/or guests. They should also plan to deal with a workforce that is scared and anxious about the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which may result in employees refusing to work (which would disrupt and complicate scheduling) and/or making regular and frequent complaints to OSHA about the purported unchecked hazard in your workplace. Responding to these complaints will take time and cost money, distracting your business from its mission. Retaliation claims under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act is another foreseeable consequence of a scared workforce. Without an Exposure Control Plan in place, the legal vulnerabilities will be real and are potentially significant.
We focus below on five key reasons employers must develop a written COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan. But first, what is an exposure control plan?
What is an Exposure Control and Response Plan?
When OSHA identifies a serious safety or health hazard, it usually requires employers to develop a written program including the measures employers will take to counteract the hazard. For example, OSHA requires written lockout/tagout programs to protect against hazardous energy; respiratory protection programs and process safety management programs to protect against hazardous chemical exposures; and emergency action plans to protect against the risk of fires in the workpalce. Simply put, a COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan is a written safety plan outlining how your workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19, covering issues such as:
- How you will facilitate social distancing in your workplace;
- What engineering or administrative controls you will implement when workers cannot remain at least 6′ apart;
- The steps that you will take to ensure employees comply with personal hygiene practices;
- What types of protective equipment you will provide for various tasks and operations;
- What enhanced housekeeping protocols will be implemented for frequently touched surfaces, tools, and machines;
- What you are doing to prevent/screen sick workers from entering the workplace;
- How you will respond to confirmed or suspected cases among your workforce; and
- How you will communicate with and train your workforce on these mitigation measures.
Five Reasons to Develop a Written COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan
First, whether you have remained open because you are an essential business or plan to reopen soon, you may soon find yourself required to Continue reading
Late last year, we summarized the many new employment laws with which Illinois employers would have to comply in 2020, including the requirement to provide sexual harassment training by the end of the year. Now that 2020 is not so new anymore, employers should begin preparations to comply, so they are not left scrambling later this year. This article will summarize the key points you need to know to stay compliant.
- Does this law apply to me—what is the threshold for coverage?
One and done—in other words, if you have at least one employee, the law applies to your company and you must train that employee… presumably in a one-on-one session.
- What must we cover in the training session(s)?
Presently, we know that employer-provided training must cover, at a minimum, the following topics:
- an explanation of sexual harassment consistent with the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA);
- examples of conduct that constitutes unlawful sexual harassment;
- a summary of relevant federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, including remedies available to victims of sexual harassment; and
- a summary of responsibilities of employers in the prevention, investigation, and corrective measures of sexual harassment.
- Who must be trained and when?
The law went into effect on January 1, 2020, but employers have until the end of the year—December 31, 2020—to provide the required training to both employees and managers. There is no exception Continue reading
As Illinois prepares to join the growing ranks of states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana, employers in the Land of Lincoln may find it difficult—if not impossible—to legally maintain a drug-free workplace. Signed into law on June 25, 2019 by Governor J.B. Pritzker, the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (“CRTA”) goes into effect on January 1, 2020. If you employ workers in Illinois, you now have less than six months to decide whether and how you will continue testing for marijuana. You will also need to lay the groundwork so that you can reduce the risks associated with disciplining and/or discharging employees who appear to be impaired—due to cannabis consumption/use—while at work. While the CRTA lists a number of indicia of impairment that may be used to determine if someone is under the influence, proving that an employee is impaired will likely be easier said than done. Even then, the CRTA requires that you give the allegedly impaired employee an opportunity to respond. When and how you do that, though, remains to be seen.
What the Law Does and Does Not Require
Beginning January 1, 2020, Illinois residents over the age of 21 can legally buy (in licensed stores), possess or use cannabis and cannabis products. Possession is limited to: (1) 30 grams of raw cannabis; (2) cannabis-infused products containing no more than 500 mg of THC; or (3) 5 grams of cannabis product in concentrated form. Non-residents may purchase half those amounts (i.e., 15 grams of cannabis, 250 mg of THC in a cannabis-infused product, or 2.5 grams of concentrated cannabis product). Patients using cannabis for medical reasons, meanwhile, will be allowed to purchase cannabis seeds and grow up to five plants at their residence. The CRTA, however, limits home growth to five plants per household, regardless of the number of residents who are 21 or over. These plants must be secured and out of view by the public. While medical cannabis patients may keep what they grow, the CRTA possession limits apply when they leave their residence. Furthermore, they cannot sell what they grow unless they do so as part of a licensed cannabis business.
As we paused on Memorial Day to remember those who gave their lives in active military service, employers should not forget that employees who are currently serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard (collectively, the “uniformed services”) are afforded a broad range of rights and protections by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”). USERRA is a federal law that protects civilian job rights and benefits for veterans and members of the Guard and Reserves. USERRA, like the Family and Medical Leave Act, includes both substantive job restoration rights—at the conclusion of one’s service—as well as non-discrimination and non-retaliation provisions. The job restoration rights provided by USERRA, however, impose heightened obligations on employers in an effort to ensure the returning service member is not disadvantaged when reentering the workforce because of his or her service. Many employers also do not realize that returning service members—those that return to the same employer from which they took leave to serve—may only be terminated for just cause for certain periods of time depending on the length of their service.
No discrimination or retaliation. Let’s start with the easy part. As you might expect, employers must not deny initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, promotion or any benefit of employment to an individual on the basis of his or her military service. Additionally, an employer cannot retaliate against an individual by taking any adverse employment action against him or her because the individual has acted to enforce protections under USERRA, testified or otherwise Continue reading
On Monday, March 25, 2019, I had the privilege to co-present on reasonable accommodations and the interactive process under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) at the HR in Hospitality Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. One of the issues covered during our presentation involved the fact that the ADA does not require that employers provide the specific accommodation requested by an employee as long as the employer offers a reasonable accommodation to the employee who made the request. While employers can use their business judgment when deciding how best to reasonably accommodate an employee, a settlement recently announced by the EEOC underscores that many employers would be well-advised to develop internal procedures or guidelines to help ensure that those involved in the accommodation process understand what is expected of them and the company when responding to accommodation requests. According to a lawsuit filed by EEOC in Minnesota, a Bath and Body Works store failed to reasonably accommodation a sales associate with type-1 diabetes suffering retinopathy who asked that a larger monitor screen be placed at the cash register. Instead, a store manager purchased what the EEOC described as “a cheap, hand-held magnifying glass” to be used by the sales associate when working the register.
What happens when the religious beliefs of an applicant conflict with your grooming and appearance policy? What if the applicant is seeking a public-facing position in which they will be the first (and only) representative of your organization with whom most members of the public interact? While some employers may believe that “image is everything” when it comes to the appearance of their public-facing employees, a 4.9 million-dollar settlement of a religious discrimination lawsuit announced recently by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) serves as a stark reminder to employers that even your most straightforward policies may need to be modified in certain situations. As detailed in our June 7, 2018 blog post, the EEOC has been aggressively making good on the promise made in the agency’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for Fiscal Years 2017 – 2021 to focus on “class-based recruitment and hiring practices” that discriminate against people with disabilities by filing a series of lawsuits accusing employers of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by inquiring about prior medical histories, subjecting applicants to physical capacity tests and refusing to hire individuals who disclosed certain conditions. The agency’s Strategic Enforcement Plan similarly committed to rooting out religious barriers to employment. This is important because while many employers readily understand the need to reasonably accommodate disabled applicants and employees, it seems that some employers fail to grasp that they may also have to accommodate religious beliefs and practices of applicants and employees.
What the Law Requires
Title VII requires that employers, once informed that a religious accommodation is needed, accommodate an employee whose sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicts with a work requirement, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. If an employer’s dress and grooming policy conflicts with an employee’s known religious beliefs or practices, the EEOC expects Continue reading