Good Faith Goes a Long Way: The Benefits of Fully Engaging in the Interactive Process Mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act

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 Picture1covered 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.

Under a consent decree settling the suit (EEOC v. Bath and Body Works), Bath and Body Works agreed to pay Continue reading

N.J. Court Opens Door for Employees to File Disability Discrimination Claims for Adverse Employment Actions Related to Medical Marijuana Use

Several states have taken steps toward legalizing marijuana in some form.  However, these laws differ in many respects and raise interesting questions for employers, especially as they relate to off-duty conduct.

While some states such as Arizona, Delaware, and Minnesota provide specific statutory protections for employees that have a valid prescription for medical marijuana, there has been an increase in litigation under state disability discrimination laws for failure to accommodate an employee’s use of marijuana to treat a disability. The lingering question remains whether an employer’s decision to take an adverse action against an employee for using medical marijuana outside the workplace is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) or a state’s disability Continue reading

D.C. Paid Family Leave Law Advances Towards Implementation

D.C. is moving forward with proposed final regulations to implement its Paid Family Leave law, the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016, effective April 7, 2017 (D.C. Official Code 32-541.02(b)(2)).  The Rules are intended to create a regulatory framework for employers to register, opt-in, and opt-out for D.C.’s Paid Family Leave program.

As discussed in a prior blog post, all D.C. employers need to begin to prepare for the implementation of the program because starting July 1, 2019, the District will begin to collect quarterly taxes to fund the Paid Family Leave benefit, in the amount of .62 percent of the wages of its covered employees, based on wages beginning April 1, 2019.  The payroll tax will apply even if employers already provide paid leave benefits to its workers.

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Our firm has received several questions about the new rules, and below are some frequently asked questions about the Paid Family Leave law:

  1. Does the law apply to all employers in D.C.?

Yes.  Any sized employer doing business in D.C. is covered by this law, including small businesses, non-profit organizations, and self-employed individuals who opt into the program.

  1. I have employees who work in D.C. and other states outside of D.C., which employees are covered by this law?

Any employee who spends more than 50% of their work time in D.C. will be covered, and the employer must count their wages as subject to the payroll tax.

  1. Do wages include tips, commissions and other types of pay?

Wages will have the same meaning as provided for in D.C.’s unemployment compensation act, so all income will be counted as wages.

  1. Is there a minimum number of hours an employee must work before they are eligible for paid leave?

An employee is eligible for paid leave benefits as soon as they are hired, regardless of the number of hours worked for the employer, subject to a one week waiting period before benefits are paid.

  1. How much of paid leave is an employee entitled?

Starting on July 1, 2020, employees are entitled to paid leave benefits in the amount of eight (8) weeks for parental leave, six (6) weeks for those taking care of sick family members; and two (2) weeks for medical leave.  An employee can receive benefits under any one or a combination of paid leave provided under the Act.  However, employees are only entitled to receive payment for a maximum of 8 workweeks in a 52-workweek period, regardless of the number of qualifying leave events that occurred during that period.

For example, if an employee receives parental leave following the birth of twins, the employee is only entitled to 8 weeks of paid leave, not 16.  Also, if an employee receives 4 weeks of paid medical leave to care for a sick family member, and then takes parental leave a few months later, the employee is only entitled to an additional 4 weeks of paid leave within the 52-workweek period.

  1. Are there notice and record-keeping requirements?

Yes, employers are required to provide employees a notice (1) at the time of hiring; (2) annually; and (3) at the time the employer is aware that the leave is needed.  The notice must explain the employees’ right to paid leave benefits under the Act and the terms under which such leave may be used; that retaliation for requesting, applying for, or using paid leave benefits is prohibited; that an employee who works for an employer with under 20 employees shall not be entitled to job protection if he or she decides to take paid leave pursuant to the Act; and that the covered employee has a right to file a complaint and the complaint procedures established by the Mayor for filing a complaint.

Covered employers are also required to develop and maintain records pertaining to their obligations under the Act for no less then three years.

An employer that violates the notice requirement may be subject to a $100 civil penalty for each covered employee to whom individual notice is not delivered and $100 for each day that the covered employer fails to post notice in a conspicuous place.

  1. How does the Paid Family Leave law interact with the DCFMLA and existing employer paid leave policies?

The DC Family Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA), which provides for 16 weeks of unpaid leave, remains unchanged under the Act.  Therefore, employees are still eligible to take unpaid leave under DCFMLA.  When paid leave taken pursuant to the Act also qualifies for leave under the DCFMLA, the paid leave taken under the Act will run concurrently with, not in addition to, leave taken under other acts such as DCFMLA.  Nothing in the act provides job protection to any eligible individual beyond that to which an individual is entitled to under DCFMLA.

Eligible employers are not prohibited from providing individuals with leave benefits in addition to those provided under the Act but employers are still required to provide the paid leave benefits under the Act.  The provision of supplemental or greater paid leave benefits does not exempt the covered employer from providing or prevent an eligible employee from receiving benefits under the Act.

 

If your company employs workers in the District of Columbia, you should begin preparing for the tax collection now.  If you have any questions about this new law, contact one of our labor & employment attorneys in D.C.

 

Pay Equity and EEO-1 Reporting Remain a Priority of Federal Regulators

Pay inequity, particularly compensation disparity based on sex, has become a very prominent political issue in the last decade and it looks like some additional changes could be on the horizon at the federal level.  Demshutterstock_532208329ocrats expressed that pay equity would be a priority in their labor agenda during the 2018 Congressional election cycle and, in February 2019, a proposal intended to further promote fair pay practices was reintroduced in Congress.   In addition, just last week, a federal judge lifted the stay on the changes to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) EEO-1 Report.  The revised EEO-1 report would require certain employers to provide pay data by sex, race, and ethnicity to the EEOC, allowing it to more easily detect and track impermissible pay differentials.  Though at very different stages in their respective lawmaking processes, the proposed law and final regulation are very clearly intended to address pay inequality and provide additional enforcement tools.

Stay Lifted on EEO-1 Report

In August 2017, ahead of the 2018 submission deadline, the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) stayed collection of pay data based on race, ethnicity, and sex to allow it to review the regulation related to the lack of public opportunity to comment on the format of submission of the additional data and burden estimates related to the specific data file format provided.  However, on March 4, 2019, a Washington, D.C. federal judge ordered the stay be lifted because she determined that OMB’s decision was arbitrary and capricious – citing unexplained inconsistencies based on its prior approval of the rule and failure to adequately support its decision.  Continue reading

Have Faith: 4.9 Million Dollar Settlement Underscores Importance of Accommodating Religious Beliefs During Hiring Process

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?  shutterstock_EEOCWhile 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

Digital Threats Continue to Confront the Hospitality Industry

shutterstock_217014265Cybersecurity and digital threats were a hot topic at ALIS Law, a conference for hotel owners and operators, in Los Angeles last month.  I had a pleasure of moderating a session on “threats in a digital world” with senior executives from national hotel management and ownership groups.  In our session, we discussed what were some of the pressing and most concerning digital threats that kept the hospitality industry up at night.  Here are some highlights and take-aways from the session:

  • Cybersecurity and hacks from foreign and domestic threats remain a top concern. Many hotels have been engaging in surveillance as one method of cyber protection.  It was noted how much the investment in technology to prevent, address, and respond to cybersecurity issues has increased for both owners and operators.  While owners may bear the cost on their profit & loss statement, and management companies are putting in policies, owners are adding property specific monitoring.  It was discussed that one global hotel company, Hyatt Hotels, recently announced a bug bounty program whereby they will be paying ethical hackers to monitor their systems, including mobile applications, for potential risks and where credible risks or threats are found – the hackers will be compensated – which is a novel approach in the hospitality industry.
  • While cybersecurity threats have been a focus, one repeated concern is the threat of harm to a hotel’s reputation due to guests and third parties spreading false information on social media sites, such as LinkedIn, Yelp, and Trip Advisor. To address these concerns, hotel operators talk with their teams daily about the consequences of false information or a bad review and take steps to remove false reviews if possible.  Others noted that removing a false review from a site like Trip Advisor can be challenging unless the company is able to prove that the review was posted for criminal reasons or demonstratively false.
  • One consequence of a cybersecurity hack beyond the disclosure of guest information is if a hacker was able to secure personal identifiable information of a hotel company’s investors and borrowers. If investors are concerned that a hotel company is not protecting their highly confidential and personal financial information, that would have a significant impact on the reputational harm to the company.
  • Some of the best practices that owner and operators have put into place is an incident response plan to respond to a threat. In doing so, a key question is who you need at the table to decide how to move forward (IT / GC / PR / Owner) and what elements do you need to put into place.  In addition, implementing policies and procedures on the front end is critical.  For example, from an accounting perspective, having controls in place that can protect where the money is going and where it is coming from and ensuring that there are multiple approvals before money is sent out electronically.  Finally, training staff on the policies and procedures so that the right people are getting the right information.  Managers need to judge and reward staff for compliance with the policies because while a company continue to monitor and audit, training is only effective if compliance is monitored.  For example, one company reported conducting more secret shoppers to determine whether someone can drop a flash drive into a front desk computer to tap into the network.

Unfortunately, cybersecurity risks and threats are not going away anytime soon, but with planning and focus on this important issue, hotel owners and operators can get ahead of some of the threats and take control and strong action if a risk materializes.

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.

Continue reading