On the Basis of Personal Appearance

As you know, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is one of the principal federal statutes prohibiting employment discrimination.  It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, and sex (including gender and pregnancy).  shutterstock_Washington DCOther federal statutes that prohibit employment discrimination include Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).  But, employers must also be aware of state and local laws that extend protection beyond these federally protected classes.  In the District of Columbia, for example, it is a violation of the law to discriminate on the basis of personal appearance, a category of protected class that has caused employers significant confusion with respect to what kinds of dress and grooming policies they may lawfully enforce.  So what does personal appearance discrimination mean?  And what should employers do to minimize their legal risk and ensure they do not run afoul of such laws?

Under the D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA), personal appearance is one of 20 protected traits for people that live, visit or work in D.C.  Personal appearance is defined as the outward appearance of any person, irrespective of sex, with regard to bodily condition or characteristics, manner or style of dress, and manner or style of personal grooming, including, but not limited to, hair style and beards.  To flesh this out, the D.C. Office of Human Rights, which administers Continue reading

Eleventh Circuit Announces New “Similarly Situated” Standard for Workplace Discrimination Claims

In employment discrimination cases, employees often seek to prove their claims by presenting indirect evidence of discrimination.  Employees will seek to present evidence that they were treated differently than similarly situated employees outside of their protected class.  On March 21, 2019, the Eleventh Circuit adopted a new test for analyzing these “comparators” by issuing its decision in Lewis v. City of Union City, Ga..  In doing so, the Court rejected its previous standards for analyzing comparators.  shutterstock_judge rulingBefore Lewis, courts in the Eleventh Circuit evaluated “similarly situated” comparators under either the “nearly identical” or “same or similar” standard, and sometimes even used both standards simultaneously.  The fact that two standards had emerged, and at times, were even used together, without any clear guidance on their proper use, caused the Court to call the entire situation “a mess.”  Accordingly, in an effort to clean up and clarify the proper standard for comparator evidence, a full panel of the Court took on Lewis so that it could address whether “similarly situated” should be interpreted as “same or similar,” “nearly identical,” or something else.  Ultimately, the Court decided to depart from its previous standards, and went with something else.  Now, in order to prove intentional discrimination by indirect evidence, a plaintiff must show that employees “similarly situated in all material aspects” received preferential treatment.  The Court also reiterated that this burden remains with the plaintiff as part of plaintiff’s prima facie case.  So, what was the case about, and what does it mean for employers?

After the announcement of a new policy requiring all police officers to carry Tasers and receive a five-second shock, Jacqueline Lewis, an African-American detective with the Union City Police Department in Union City, Georgia, was scheduled to receive such training.  She had also been scheduled to receive pepper spray training.  But, before receiving either of these, Ms. Lewis submitted a doctor’s note Continue reading

NLRB Returns to Common-Law Test for Independent Contractors

Last Friday, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) returned to its long-standing independent-contractor standard, reaffirming its adherence to the traditional common-law test.  In deciding SuperShuttle DFW, Inc. on January 25, 2019, shutterstock_424794466the Board voted 3-1 along party lines to overturn the 2014 Obama-era ruling in FedEx Home Delivery.  In that case, the Board modified the applicable test for determining independent-contractor status by “significantly limit[ing] the importance of [a worker’s] entrepreneurial opportunity.”  Specifically, the Board in FedEx created a new factor – “rendering services as part of an independent business” – and made entrepreneurial opportunity merely one aspect of that factor.  However, in its Friday decision, the Board found that FedEx impermissibly altered the common-law test, and clarified the essential role entrepreneurial opportunity plays in its determination of independent-contractor status.

In SuperShuttle, the Board analyzed the issue of whether franchisees who operate shared-ride vans for SuperShuttle Dallas-Fort Worth are employees covered under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) or independent contractors.  Shuttle van drivers for SuperShuttle sought to unionize at Dallas-Forth Worth airport, but the protections of the NLRA do not extend to independent contractors.  The Acting Regional Director, in making her decision before the 2014 FedEx case, applied the traditional common-law test and found that SuperShuttle met its burden in establishing that the franchisees are independent contractors and not employees.  After overturning FedEx and applying the common-law test, the Board affirmed the Acting Regional Director’s decision.

To start, the Board explained that the inquiry into whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor has traditionally depended on the common-law agency test, which involves the application of Continue reading

California Employment Law Update for 2019 

By: Andrew J. Sommershutterstock_150165167

In the final days of California’s 2018 legislative session, and the end of his term, Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law a variety of employment bills, including a flurry of new legislation seeking to bolster the state’s workplace harassment laws in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement.  Conn Maciel Carey LLP provides this summary of key new employment laws impacting California private sector employers.  Unless otherwise indicated, these new laws just took effect on January 1, 2019.

#MeToo Legislation

Expanded Anti-Harassment Training Requirements

Existing law requires that employers with 50 or more employees provide at least two hours of sexual harassment training to all supervisory employees within six months of the individuals becoming supervisors, and at least once every two years thereafter.  Covered employers must provide classroom or other effective interactive training that incorporates the topics of sexual harassment and abusive conduct as well as harassment based on gender identity and expression and sexual orientation.

Senate Bill (SB) 1343 broadly expands the harassment training requirements to small employers and for the first time requires training of non-supervisory employees.

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DOL Says Goodbye to the 80/20 Rule for Tip Credits

On November 8, 2018, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued an opinion letter retracting the controversial “80/20 rule” for tipped employees.  shutterstock_losing moneyUnder this rule, if a tipped employee spent more than 20% of his or her working time performing “non-tipped” duties, his or her employer could not take a tip credit for time spent performing those non-tipped duties.  The rule caused years of confusion, especially among employers.  After all, what duties exactly qualified as “non-tipped”?   Would folding napkins in between waiting tables count?  And were employers expected to track every second of an employee’s day to determine if those non-tipped duties exceeded 20% of the total workday?

Under the DOL’s latest opinion letter on this issue, it has made clear that the it “do[es] not intend to place a limitation on the amount of duties related to a tip-producing occupation that may be performed, so long as they are performed contemporaneously with direct customer-service duties and all other requirements of the [Fair Labor Standards] Act are met.”  Accordingly, employers should be able to breathe at least a sigh of relief.  So how did we get here, and what should employers be able to expect in the new year?

By way of background, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), “tipped employees” are defined as Continue reading

Fall 2018 Unified Agenda Forecasts Several Significant Employment-Related Regulatory & Deregulatory Actions

By: Mark M. Trapp and Aaron R. Gelb

On October 17, 2018, the Trump Administration released its Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (“Agenda”). Reports such as these, usually issued twice a year, set forth each federal agency’s forecast of its anticipated actions and rulemaking priorities for the next six-month period. It also provides estimated timelines for completion. This regulatory to-do list provides insight into the administration’s upcoming priorities. The current Agenda emphasizes the Trump Administration’s efforts to deregulate industry, but also includes several regulatory items of importance to employers.

Here is a summary, broken down by department, of the most significant employment-related items addressed in the Agenda.

Department of LaborFall 2018 Agenda_DOL_3

Wage and Hour Division

Joint Employment. The Obama administration took a much broader view of “joint employment” – situations in which a worker may be considered an employee of two or more separate employers. Following the lead of the NLRB, which last month issued its own proposed rule re-tightening the standard for joint employment, the DOL announced its intention to “clarify the contours of the joint employment relationship to assist the regulated community in complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act.” A notice of proposed rulemaking is scheduled to issue as early as December 2018 and will hopefully modernize the method for determining joint employment in today’s workplace.

White Collar Overtime Exemption. The DOL has listed as a priority its long-awaited rule to update the salary level for the exemption of executive, administrative and professional employees under the FLSA (the so-called white-collar exemption). It is expected to raise the threshold exemption for such employees from the historical level under the FLSA ($23,660 annually), but not as high as the former rule adopted by the Obama administration, which would have more than doubled the minimum salary level but was enjoined by a court. The timeframe is somewhat unclear and has been pushed back twice already. The Agenda states it is now expected in March 2019.

Regular Rate. Under the FLSA, employers must pay covered employees time and a half their regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours in a workweek. The DOL has stated its intent to amend its regulations “to clarify, update and define the regular rate requirements under the FLSA.” The new proposal is expected in December 2018.

Tip Regulations. In March of 2018, the omnibus budget bill amended the FLSA and addressed rules affecting tipped employees and so-called “tip pooling.” The DOL is expected to issue a proposed rule this month to clarify and address the impact of the 2018 FLSA amendments.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses. OSHA proposed to amend its recordkeeping regulation to remove the requirement to electronically submit to OSHA information from OSHA Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses) and OSHA Form 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report) for establishments with 250 or more employees which are required to routinely keep injury and illness records. Under the proposed rule, these establishments would be required to electronically submit only information from the OSHA Form 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses). OSHA also proposed to add the Employer Identification Number (EIN) to the data collection to increase the likelihood that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) would be able to match OSHA-collected data to BLS Survey of Occupational Injury and Illness (SOII) data and potentially reduce the burden on employers who are required to report injury and illness data both to OSHA (for the electronic recordkeeping requirement) and to BLS. OSHA is reviewing comments and is expected to publish a final rule in June 2019. Many entities submitted comments regarding the anti-retaliation provisions of the rule, but it is not known whether OSHA will make further changes to that aspect of the rule. Meanwhile, OSHA issued a memorandum on October 11, 2018 with the stated intent of clarifying that the rule does not prohibit workplace safety incentive programs or post-incident drug testing. Action taken under a safety incentive program or post-incident drug testing policy would only violate 29 C.F.R. § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv) if the employer took the action to penalize an employee for reporting a work-related injury or illness rather than for the legitimate purpose of promoting workplace safety and health. This rulemaking has been moved from the Proposed Rule Stage to the Final Rule Stage. Continue reading

Lasting Effects of the #MeToo Movement

It has been about a year since the #MeToo movement went viral, spreading greater awareness about sexual misconduct and harassment, and, more generally, the role of women, in the workplace.  So, where are we now, and has anything changed?  Was it just an awareness movement?  Or, have things actually started to shift in the legal landscape with respect to the way employers are required to handle sexual misconduct and harassment?  And what about with the way women are represented at work?  Even if #MeToo may have started out as an awareness movement, states like New York and California are implementing changes in the law that are now imposing, orshutterstock_me too will soon impose, new requirements on employers, in hopes of giving #MeToo a significant, lasting effect.  So, what should employers in New York and California do now?  And, given that these states are often at the forefront of labor and employment issues, how should employers outside New York and California prepare in case new laws are passed in their states?

New York’s New Anti-Sexual Harassment Laws

On April 12, 2018, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the 2019 New York State Budget, updating the state’s sexual harassment laws.  Among other changes, there are two key components under these laws.  First, every employer in New York must establish a sexual harassment prevention policy.  These policies should have already been adopted and provided to all employees by October 9, 2018.  The New York Department of Labor and New York Division of Human Rights have established a model sexual harassment prevention policy for employers to adopt.  But employers are not required to use this model, so long as their policy meets or exceeds the minimum standards of the model and set forth in the laws.  Employers must distribute the policy to all employees in writing or electronically, and must ensure that all future employees receive the policy before they start work.  Additionally, employers are encouraged to post a copy where employees can easily access it.

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