Much Ado About Something: Recent Appellate Court Decisions Limiting Leave as an Accommodation Are Indeed Significant but Employers Should Still Tread Carefully

By: Aaron Gelb

1 (3)Last fall, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) handed down two decisions restricting the amount of leave employers must offer as an accommodation.   (Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc. and Golden v. IHA).  Management-side employment lawyers celebrated.  Employers breathed a sigh of relief.  The Seventh Circuit had finally given employers some much-needed certainty; a bright line, if you will.  Relying on these decisions, employers in the Seventh Circuit saw little risk rejecting requests for leave extending beyond 4 weeks.  Many employers, though, adopted a wait-and-see approach.  The US Supreme Court might take up the issue and reverse the Seventh Circuit.  To the surprise of many, the Supreme Court declined in April 2018 to weigh in on the issue.  Severson (and Golden) thus remain the law of the land—in the Seventh Circuit.  While these decisions are significant, employers must remain diligent when dealing with employees temporarily unable to do their jobs.

Leave as a Reasonable Accommodation

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has long held that an employer must offer leave as a reasonable accommodation.   Typically, the EEOC recommends that employers first explore whether a modification of the workplace, duties or policies will enable the employee to continue doing their job.  If no such accommodation is available, the EEOC expects employers to offer a leave of absence for a definite amount of time so the employee can return to her position at the end of the leave.  When neither option is feasible, the EEOC maintains the employer should reassign the disabled employee to a vacant position for which she is qualified.  Continue reading

Kara Maciel to Speak at HR in Hospitality Conference on Marijuana Laws

marijuana pictureOn March 6, 2018, Kara Maciel, Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s Labor & Employment Practice Group will present at the HR in Hospitality Conference on the recent trend of medical and recreational marijuana laws.

As we have written about in the past, to date, 26 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and eight states (plus D.C.) permit its recreational use.  As marijuana laws become more liberal and usage becomes more pervasive, employers must address the emergent issue of marijuana in the workplace and the legal implications of employee use. For example, must employers make accommodations for employees with valid marijuana prescriptions, allowing them to use the drug on the job?  At this session, Ms. Maciel will discuss solutions to these and other accommodation issues, with a look at recent court opinions.

The HR in Hospitality conference is a unique event where hundreds of human resources and labor relations professionals from hotels, resorts, restaurants, casinos, cruise lines come together to learn legal and practical guidance on issues specifically tailored to the hospitality industry!  To learn more about the conference and to register, click here.

 

 

Conn Maciel Carey Opens Chicago Office with Prominent OSHA and Labor Lawyers Aaron Gelb and Mark Trapp

Washington, D.C.-based OSHA and Labor & Employment law firm Conn Maciel Carey LLP is pleased to announce the launch of a Midwest Office in Chicago, IL and the addition of two prominent Chicago attorneys – Aaron R. Gelb and Mark M. Trapp.

“We are thrilled not only to expand the Firm’s national footprint to the Midwest, but especially to be doing so with such great lawyers as Aaron and Mark,” said Bryan Carey, the firm’s managing partner.  “This move will enable us to better serve our existing national platform of clients, and will strengthen the firm’s specialty focus on Labor & Employment and Workplace Safety Law.  We look forward to bringing Aaron and Mark on board, as they will add depth to all areas of the firm’s practice, including OSHA, litigation and labor counseling on behalf of our management clients.”

Mr. Gelb, former Labor & Employment Shareholder and head of the OSHA Practice at Vedder Price PC, in its Chicago office, represents employers in all aspects of the employer-employee relationship.  Aaron GelbAaron’s practice has a particular emphasis on advising and representing clients in relation to inspections, investigations, and enforcement actions involving federal OSHA and state OSH programs, and managing the full range of litigation against OSHA.

“Aaron and I share the same vision of how we want to practice law and do business, thus entrusting him with the keys to our new Chicago office, and combining our expertise, talent, and resources together made so much sense,” said Eric J. Conn, Chair of the firm’s national OSHA practice“We look forward to partnering with Aaron to build a solid brand for our Midwest practice among our client base and doing what we know best, providing top-notch service and excellent value to clients.”

Aaron also has extensive experience litigating equal employment opportunity matters in federal and state courts having tried a number of cases to verdict and defending employers before the EEOC as well as fair employment agencies across the country.  In the past 5 years alone, Aaron has successfully handled more than 250 discrimination charges.

Mr. Gelb said “I am incredibly excited to join what I believe to be the country’s leading OSHA practice as the experience and expertise of the Conn Maciel team will enable me to enhance the workplace safety legal support I currently provide to my clients in the Midwest and beyond.  I’ve known Eric for years and have great respect for what he and his colleagues have accomplished in the OSH field.  At the same time, Kara’s employment defense group fits perfectly with my practice as we share a common client-focused philosophy and deep experience in many of the same industries.  While leaving Vedder Price after nearly 20 years was not an easy decision, I simply could not pass up the opportunity to partner with two dynamic attorneys that so perfectly complement the dual aspects of my practice.”

Mr. Trapp joins the firm with seventeen years of experience, during which he has represented employers in all types of labor disputes, from union campaigns and collective bargaining to grievances and arbitrations. Mark M. Trapp (3)Mr. Trapp has defended employers before administrative agencies and in litigation brought under the ADA, ADEA, Title VII and other federal anti-discrimination laws.

Mr. Trapp said “I am thrilled to again have the opportunity to work with the top-notch legal professionals at Conn Maciel Carey.” According to Mr. Trapp, the expertise of a boutique firm focused on OSHA and other labor and employment matters “complements my experience handling labor and employment issues. I look forward to helping strengthen the team’s ability to provide exceptional knowledge and insights to labor and employment clients, and expanding the firm’s presence in the Midwest.”

Mr. Trapp is perhaps best known as a leading authority on multi-employer pension withdrawal liability.  His articles on withdrawal liability and other labor and employment issues have been published in respected legal publications.

“I have worked with Mark for over a decade at various law firms, so I am excited that he has joined our boutique practice that focuses on positive client solutions and effective client service.  His unique knowledge of traditional labor issues and multi-employer pension disputes is unparalleled and he has proven to be a creative and out-of-the-box adviser when counseling clients,” Kara M. Maciel, Chair of the Labor & Employment Practice reported.

Employers Must Consider the ADA before Requiring Medical Examinations

Depending on your industry, it may be commonplace for you as an employer to require medical examinations of employees for a specific purpose in order to ensure the safety and health of those employees.  This often occurs, for example, in situations where employees have been exposed to a dangerous chemical and relevant laws, such as OSHA regulations, require medical examinations/testing for purposes of assessing and monitoring the impact of the exposure.  From an employer’s perspective, however, the question sometimes arises as to whether, as a reasonably prudent measure, it can also require those employees to submit to medical examinations for other purposes, even if the examinations are not absolutely necessary or required at the time — such as whether there was exposure to any other chemicals or exposure below levels at which medical evaluation is mandated by OSHA.

Medical ExamTo answer that question, an analysis of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is required.  Of course, other federal laws, such as the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (“GINA”), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) and OSHA, also may be implicated in this analysis, as could state disability-related laws and/or privacy laws, but for purposes of this blog post, our analysis is limited to the ADA.

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#MeToo and Workplace Harassment: A Letter to my Daughter

Dearest Daughter,

In October 2017, more than four dozen women stood up against workplace harassment by a man of power in the entertainment industry.  Then, the #MeToo Movement was born where people of all races, ages, backgrounds, and geographic regions, working in different industries, stood up and voiced that they too have been sexually harassed and/or sexually assaulted.  Unfortunately, these are not the first national headlines related to workplace harassment in the past several months and major companies have found themselves on the front page for not taking stronger steps to prevent and address complaints of harassment.

That this behavior is still occurring in the workplace in 2017 and has not prior garnered a national outcry is astonishing.  Just last year, the EEOC received a record level of 91,503 charges of discrimination filed with the agency.  My hope for you – my three year old daughter – is that you never will be someone who needs to say #MeToo.  However, if you do, and it happens in the workplace, let me give you some advice: Continue reading

Accommodating Pregnancy Under State and Federal Law

shutterstock_pregnant employeeLaws requiring both public and private employers to accommodate their pregnant employees have become a trend over the past several years.  Indeed, this past July, Massachusetts became the 22nd state, along with the District of Columbia, to pass a law that requires an employer to engage in the interactive process and provide an accommodation to a pregnant employee, where that accommodation would not put an undue burden on the employer.  It joins the states of Nevada, Vermont, and Washington, all of which passed similar laws in 2017.  Additionally, many of these state laws provide clear protections against discrimination based on pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions.  Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) does cover some impairments related to pregnancy and the birth of a child, state laws regulating pregnancy accommodation generally expand that coverage to pregnancy, child birth and related conditions that may not rise to the level of a disability under the ADA.

Pregnancy Accommodation Under Federal Law

Title I of the ADA prohibits discrimination against employees or applicants due to their disability or perceived disability, and requires employers to accommodate disabled employees if they can still perform the essential functions of their job.  The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees and mandates that those employers accommodate a disabled employee’s condition as long as the accommodation would not cause undue hardship on the company.  Under the ADA, pregnancy itself is not a disability; however, the ADA does cover impairments related to pregnancy and birth that would qualify as disabilities under the ADA.

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Federal Court in Florida Rules that a Grocery Store Must Make its Website Accessible

Our retail and hospitality clients often ask whether the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires their websites to be accessible for individuals with disabilities.  Unfortunately, as we have previously explained, there are numerous reasons why there is no clear answer to this question:  Website Accessiblity

  • While Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of disability with regard to their participation and equal enjoyment in places of public accommodation, the statute does not explicitly define whether a place of public accommodation must be a physical place or facility;
  • These types of issues historically have arisen in brick-and-mortar buildings such as lack of accessible parking stalls, insufficient ramps, and inaccessible bathrooms;
  • No regulations on the issue of website accessibility currently exist, and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has pushed back the date on which it is supposed to issue such regulations until 2018 at the earliest;
  • The DOJ has emphasized that businesses should make websites accessible to disabled individuals by relying on a set of private industry standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”);
  • Very few cases have reached a resolution on the merits.

As a result, the state of the law regarding the applicability of the ADA to company websites has been in flux the last several years.  However, we now are starting to see some guidance from the courts, although there have been contrasting decisions that have not exactly clarified matters.

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