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

Memorial Day Reminder: Remember Your Obligations to Employees Currently Serving and Those Returning From Service

As we pashutterstock_1371695303used 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

U.S. Department of Labor Receives Close to 60,000 Comments to its Proposed Overtime Rule Raising the Minimum Salary Threshold for Exempt Workers

Increasing Money GraphOn March 22, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its proposed rule to raise the annual salary threshold for a worker to qualify as exempt under its “white collar” regulations from $23,660.00 to $35,308.00.  The public comment period closed yesterday, May 21, 2019, with almost 60,000 comments from the business and worker communities.

History of the Proposed Rule

The road to a final rule over the salary threshold has been long and bumpy for the DOL.  In 2014, President Obama directed the DOL to “update and modernize” the existing Fair Labor Standards Act’s (“FLSA”) white collar exemptions.  Two years later, the DOL released its final rule revising the regulations by doubling the salary threshold to $47,476.00.

The final rule dramatically increased the number of workers who would qualify for overtime pay, forcing every employer in the country to carefully assess how to handle the additional financial burden. Continue reading

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