What Employers Need to Know About the Monkeypox Virus [Webinar Recording]

On September 6, 2022, Kara M. MacielEric J. Conn and Ashley D. Mitchell presented a webinar regarding What Employers Need to Know About the Monkeypox Virus.

On July 23rd, the World Health Organization declared Monkeypox a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. By late July, the U.S. surpassed 10,000 total cases, and the Biden Administration declared it a public health emergency. While the Monkeypox Virus is less transmissible than COVID-19 and rarely fatal in its current form, there are still workplace safety and health considerations employers will have to address.

Participants in this webinar learned: Continue reading

What Does the EEOC’s Updated COVID-19 Testing Guidance Mean for Employers

By Kara M. Maciel and Ashley D. Mitchell

As COVID-19 infections continue to climb, the EEOC rolled back its guidance that COVID-19 viral screening tests conducted by employers is always permissive under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The updated guidance requires employers to weigh a host of factors and determine whether COVID-19 viral screening is “job-related and consistent with business necessity,” the traditional standard for determining compliance with the ADA.

The Factors Employers Should Consider:

Under the EEOC’s updated FAQs, an employer may, as a mandatory screening measure, administer a COVID-19 viral test, if the employer can show it is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” In making this determination, employers should assess these factors:

  • The level of community transmission
  • The vaccination status of employees
  • The accuracy and speed of processing different types of COVID-19 viral tests
  • The degree to which breakthrough infections are possible for employees who are “up to date” on vaccinations
  • The ease of transmissibility of the current variant(s)
  • The possible severity of illness from the current variant
  • What types of contact employees may have with others in the workplace or elsewhere that they are required to work
  • The potential effect on operations of an employee enters the workplace with COVID-19

It is worth noting, that employers still cannot require antibody testing before permitting employees to re-enter the workplace.

The State of the Pandemic:

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[Webinar] Appearance Discrimination Issues, the CROWN Act, and Unconscious Bias

On Wednesday, July 20th at 1 p.m. EST, join Aaron R. Gelb and Ashley D. Mitchell for a webinar regarding Appearance Discrimination Issues, the CROWN Act, and Unconscious Bias.

Appearance-based discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently based on how they look. Although there is no federal law that prohibits “appearance discrimination” in employment, claims involving such issues are typically brought in the context of prohibited race, sex, or disability discrimination allegations. While there was a case several years ago that garnered a good deal of media attention involving a female bank employee who claimed she was told she was “too sexy” for her position, it is more common to encounter claims by women (and men) that they were treated less favorably than a coworker whom the boss found attractive. Obese workers have alleged that they were perceived as disabled because of their weight and employees who wear certain garments and/or jewelry as part of their religion have also filed claims of discrimination. Meanwhile, hairstyles and types are now on the cutting edge of fair employment law compliance.

For years, savvy employers recognized that there may be a need to accommodate certain religious beliefs pertaining to hairstyles, but a growing number of jurisdictions have passed or are considering laws that prohibit race-based hair discrimination such as the CROWN Act (“Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) which is focused on ending the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists or bantu knots.

Participants in this webinar will learn: Continue reading

After the Supreme Court’s Ruling in Dobbs, Employers Explore Options in Providing Travel-for-Care Benefits

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department of Health v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, et. al., employers across the country have faced uncertainty in how to navigate the various federal and state laws regarding health-related services for their employees.  This is particularly challenging for employers in states that have laws that provide for criminal liability.  The Dobbs decision may impact how employers modify their employee benefit plans or create new plans to cover the cost of travel and lodging for medical care, including abortion, that require travel out of state. 

Texas’ bounty law is likely the most novel and we have received many questions on whether a company could face criminal liability under that statute for providing benefits to travel of state.  Texas Senate Bill 8 prohibits physicians from performing or inducing abortions if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat or failed to perform a test to detect a fetal heartbeat. Notably, this law authorized a private civil right of action – allowing any individual in the state of Texas to bring a civil action against any person [which while undefined in the Bill, in other contexts in the Texas code, does include corporations] who:

(1) performs or induces an abortion in violation of this subchapter;

(2) knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion through insurance or otherwise, if the abortion is performed or induced in violation of this subchapter, regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion would be performed or induced in violation of this subchapter; or

(3) intends to engage in the conduct described in subdivision (1) or (2).

See TX SB8 Sec. 171.208

If a company wanted to offer coverage for procuring abortions in other states through its health benefit plans, there are several legal considerations that the company should be aware of.  First, under TX SB8 Sec. 171.208 (2), it is unlawful for any individual to aid or abet an individual in procuring an abortion. The Texas statute specifically prohibits “abortion[s] of unborn child[ren] with detectable fetal heartbeat[s]” and outlaws the conduct of physicians that “knowingly perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman if the physical detected a fetal heartbeat.” The statute itself defines a physician as “an individual licensed to practice medicine in this state.” So, the violations referenced in the statute arguably are limited only to those abortions conducted contrary to the statute by Texas physicians. If an organization’s health plan allows, as a benefit, costs to be recovered for traveling to procure an abortion in another state – then that would not be an action that would incur civil liability by a Texas physician. The statute legislates that abortions performed by Texas physicians are unlawful; it does not refer to travel to other states, and no court has yet opined on the scope of the statute in that context.  But, even if a lawsuit was brought under that theory, the company could raise the general presumption against extraterritorial application of state law.   

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D.C. Circuit Lessens Burden of Proof for Title VII Job Transfer Claims

On June 3, 2022, the full court of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned long-standing precedent regarding the burden of proof a plaintiff must carry in pursuing a Title VII Claim.  In Chambers v. District of Columbia (D.C. Cir. 2022), the D. C. Circuit held in a 9-3 en banc decision that when an employer transfers an employee or denies an employee’s request for a transfer because of the employee’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, the employer violates Title VII by discriminating against the employee in his or her “terms, conditions, or privileges” of employment. The court’s opinion overruled a nearly 24-year old precedent that held the denial or forced acceptance of a job transfer is actionable only if an employee suffers “objectively tangible harm.”  See Brown v. Brody (D.C. Cir. 1999).  The court’s decision could have sweeping effects on Title VII litigation throughout the country, as the diminished burden of proof is significantly more plaintiff-friendly and causes concern for employers when evaluating job transfers and potentially other employment actions.

Background

The plaintiff worked in the Attorney General’s office in the District of Columbia for more than two decades as a clerk, Support Enforcement Specialist, and investigator.  She requested several transfers to other units in the Attorney General’s office after complaining that she had a much larger caseload than her comparators.  All of her transfer requests were denied, and she ultimately filed an EEOC charge and a lawsuit in 2014 alleging sex discrimination and retaliation. 

The district court relied on Brown in granting the District of Columbia’s motion for summary judgement.  On appeal, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit upheld the district court’ ruling.  However, two of the three judges highlighted that Title VII does not make any reference to “objectively tangible harm” and requested the full court to further review the matter. 

The D.C. Circuit, in common with many other federal courts, has long imposed this tangible harm requirement articulated in Brown because of the view that Title VII is not a general “civility code” and that employees challenging discriminatory decisions should show more than de minimis harm lest courts be involved in supervising myriad routine business decisions. However, the en banc panel overruled Brown – holding that the refusal of a transfer request for one employee while granting similar requests to a similarly situated co-worker on the basis of a protected trait is discriminatory because it “deprives the employee of a job opportunity.”

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California Supreme Court Adds Fuels to Meal and Rest Break Litigation by Adopting Cumulative Penalties

By Andrew J. Sommer and Samuel S. Rose

For the last couple of years, we have been keeping an eye on Naranjo v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc. as it’s made its way through the California state courts. Now, the California Supreme Court has issued its unanimous decision with wide-ranging ramifications over meal and rest break violations. As a result of the Court concluding that premium pay for meal and rest break violations is “wages,” it has paved the way to award as well waiting time and wage statement penalties based on meal/rest period violations. The practical impact of this decision is to encourage class action and PAGA (Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act) litigation within the state, providing plaintiffs’ attorneys further remedies in meal and rest period litigation and inflating the settlement value of these cases.

Meal and Rest Break Premiums Are Considered “Wages”

The first issue that the Court considered in Naranjo was whether premium pay available pursuant to Labor Code section 226.7 for meal/rest period violations is considered “wages.” Section 226.7 provides that an “employer shall pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each work day that [a] meal or rest period is not provided.”

The Supreme Court found that “[a]lthough the extra pay is designed to compensate for the unlawful deprivation of a guaranteed break, it also compensates for the work the employee performed during the break period.” Therefore, the Court concluded, “[t]he extra pay…constitutes wages subject to the same timing and reporting rules as other forms of compensation for work.”

In reversing the Court of Appeal, which held that meal/rest period premium pay did not constitute wages, the Supreme Court noted that the reasoning rested on a “false dichotomy,” namely that the payment must be either a legal remedy or wages. The Court held, for purposes of Section 226.7, premium pay is both a legal remedy and wages, which leads us to the next holding in the case.

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Employment Law Update in D.C., MD, VA and Illinois

On Thursday, May 19, 2022 at 1 p.m. EST, join Daniel C. Deacon and Ashley D. Mitchell for a webinar regarding Employment Law Updates in D.C., MD, VA and Illinois.

CaptureThe District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia have enacted or are considering a host of changes that employers need to keep track of in 2022, including increases to the minimum wage and amendments to anti-discrimination laws. Maryland revised its Fair Employment Practices Act to extend the time period for filing a charge of discrimination alleging an unlawful employment practice other than harassment, introduced new requirements for employers to comply with when conducting mass layoffs, amended its leave laws to account for paid bereavement leave, and passed a law permitting employers to file for peace orders on behalf of an employee facing threats or acts of violence in the workplace. The District of Columbia passed a law banning non-compete agreements for almost all employees. Virginia amended its Overtime Wage Act, which now provides overtime protections for employees under state law and establishes a three-year statute of limitations. Virginia also added “disability” to the list of characteristics protected from discrimination under the Virginia Human Rights Act (VHRA), which came shortly after the VHRA was expanded last year to cover most Virginia employers.

Participants in this webinar will learn about: Continue reading

Maryland Joins a Number of States by Enacting a Paid Family and Medical Leave Law

Maryland recently became the tenth state to enact a paid family leave law – joining California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia and San Francisco.  Although the legislature passed the Maryland Time to Care Act of 2022 by a supermajority vote on March 31, 2022, Governor Hogan opposed the bill and vetoed it on April 8, 2022.  Just one day later, however, the legislature voted to override Governor Hogan’s veto by an overwhelming majority.  

Although the bill will be phased in over the course of the next two-and-a-half years, Maryland employers should pay close attention to the law and the regulations that the Maryland Department of Labor will be implementing within the next year.  To get ahead, employers should proactively make plans to revise their current leave policies and reach out to their HR and payroll providers to ensure that they are prepared to handle the necessary payroll tax contributions.

Effective Dates and Roll-Out of the Act

Similar to how the District of Columbia and other jurisdictions implemented their paid family leave laws, the law will be phased in over the course of several years.  Specifically, the Act establishes a Family and Medical Leave Insurance Fund that will require all employers with 15 or more employees, all employees, and all self-employed individuals that elect to participate in the program to make contributions a fund beginning October 1, 2023.  Notably, employers with less than 15 employees are not required to contribute to the fund, but employees of those small employers will still be required to contribute to the insurance fund.

The contribution rates will be set by the Maryland Secretary of Labor by June 1, 2023.  Covered employees will be eligible to claim and receive benefits approximately a year-and-a-half later on January 1, 2025.   The funding requirements and employer/employee contribution rates will also be periodically reviewed and subject to change based on bi-annual studies and recommendations by the Maryland Secretary of Labor.

Coverage and Qualifying Events under the Act

The Act defines “covered employer” broadly to any person or governmental authority that employs at least one individual in the state of Maryland.  However, there are certain limitations on who is eligible to claim benefits.  Covered individuals – i.e. employees eligible to claim benefits under the Act – are defined as employees who have worked at least 680 hours over the 12-month period immediately before the date that leave is to begin.

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Natural Hairstyles in the Workplace: The CROWN Act

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me.” More than half a century after Aretha Franklin first sang those lyrics, state legislatures, local municipalities, and Congress are passing the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair legislation (“CROWN Act”). Before the flurry of legislation aimed at protecting natural hair, some appellate courts already applied the protections of Title VII liberally. In Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mut. Hosp. Ins., the 7th Circuit held a plaintiff’s EEOC charge sufficiently alleged race discrimination where plaintiff’s EEOC charge stated plaintiff’s boss denied plaintiff a promotion because plaintiff “could never represent [defendant] with [an] Afro.” 538 F.2d 164, 168 (7th Cir. 1976). Other courts, however, took a narrower approach. In EEOC v. Catastrophe Mgmt. Solutions, the 11th Circuit reasoned “Title VII protects persons in covered categories with respect to their immutable characteristics, but not their cultural practice[,]” thereby upholding a race neutral grooming policy that prohibited dreadlocks. 852 F.3d 1018, 1028-34 (11th Cir. 2016). Indeed, as recently as 2018, the U.S. Armed Forces maintained grooming policies that prohibited natural or protective hairstyles commonly worn by Black servicemembers because the hairstyles were “unkempt.”

The CROWN Act

More than a dozen state legislatures already passed a variation of the CROWN Act Continue reading

Challenges to California’s Corporate Board Diversity Laws Continue

A number of lawsuits challenging California’s corporate board diversity laws are still working their way through litigation, even years after the legislation went into effect.

Senate Bill 826

In 2018, California enacted Senate Bill 826, requiring California-based publicly held companies to have a minimum number of women on their boards of directors.  Such boards needed to have at least one female director by the end of 2019.  By the end of 2021, boards needed to have two female directors if the corporation has five directors and three female directors if the corporation has six or more directors.  A corporation out of compliance faces a $100,000 fine for the first violation and a $300,000 fine for a violation in any subsequent year. 

Assembly Bill 979

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