March Update on How Employers Can Respond to COVID-19 with FAQs

By:  Kara M. Maciel and Beeta B. Lashkari

COVID

 

 

 

Since publishing our previous post last month, there have been a number of significant developments related to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus – now officially called “COVID-19.”  Notably, during the week of February 23, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) reported community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 in California, Oregon, and Washington.  Community spread in Washington resulted in the first death in the U.S. from COVID-19, as well as the first reported case of COVID-19 in a health care worker, and the first potential outbreak in a long-term care facility.

Recent Developments and Federal Guidance

  • CDC has published an Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers, cautioning employers to use the guidance to determine the risk of the Coronavirus, and not to use race or country of origin to make a determination. The guidance covers recommended strategies for employers to use, including: (1) actively encouraging sick employees to stay home; (2) separating sick employees; (3) emphasizing staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees; (4) performing routine environmental cleaning; and (5) advising employees before traveling to consult CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices and other CDC guidance.  Additionally, the guidance states that if an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

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Time’s Up:  Illinois Employers Are On The Clock To Provide Sexual Harassment Training

Late last year, we summarized the many new employment laws with which Illinois employers would have to comply in 2020, including the requirement to provide sexual harassment training by the end of the year.  Now that 2020 is not so new anymore, employers should begin preparations to comply, so they are not left scrambling later this year.  This article will summarize the key points you need to know to stay compliant.

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  • Does this law apply to me—what is the threshold for coverage?

One and done—in other words, if you have at least one employee, the law applies to your company and you must train that employee… presumably in a one-on-one session.

  • What must we cover in the training session(s)?

Presently, we know that employer-provided training must cover, at a minimum, the following topics:

  1. an explanation of sexual harassment consistent with the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA);
  2. examples of conduct that constitutes unlawful sexual harassment;
  3. a summary of relevant federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, including remedies available to victims of sexual harassment; and
  4. a summary of responsibilities of employers in the prevention, investigation, and corrective measures of sexual harassment.
  • Who must be trained and when?

The law went into effect on January 1, 2020, but employers have until the end of the year—December 31, 2020—to provide the required training to both employees and managers.  There is no exception Continue reading

2019 Year in Review and 2020 Forecast: Employment Law Updates in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia

Over the past year, there were a number of changes in the employment law landscape throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.  To keep employers apprised of the latest developments in these jurisdictions, below is a recap some of the key laws that took effect or were enacted in 2019 and a forecast of potential changes on the horizon in 2020.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

shutterstock_DCTipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act of 2018 Not Fully Funded: The D.C. City Council enacted the Tipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act in October 2018, which had the immediate impact of repealing Ballot Initiative 77 – a voter-approved ballot that eliminated the use of the tip credit in D.C.  Thus, employers with tipped employees are still permitted to take a tip credit toward meeting minimum hourly wage requirements.  But the Act also imposes certain training, reporting, and notice requirements for all employers of tipped employees – many of which have yet to take effect due to the lack of funding.

As explained in our previous blog article, the Act imposes certain training and notice requirements on all employers of tipped employees.  The date on which employers must implement sexual harassment prevention training and provide the requisite notice to tipped employees, however, has not yet been determined, as a majority of the Act’s requirements have not been approved through budget funding.  To date, the only provisions of the Act that are in effect, besides the repeal of Ballot Initiative 77, are related to employee and manager training on D.C.’s Minimum Wage Act Revision Act, certain notices to employees regarding their tips, and third-party payroll and wage reporting requirements (beginning Jan. 1, 2020).  Employers should monitor this law throughout 2020, as it will likely be funded sometime next year.

Employees Can Claim D.C. Paid Leave Act Benefits Beginning July 1, 2020: D.C.’s Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016 (“Paid Leave Act”) provides up to eight weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child, six weeks of family leave to care for an ill family member with a serious health condition, and two weeks of medical leave to care for one’s own serious health condition.  D.C. employees who take paid leave will be eligible to receive up to $1,000 per week, depending on their wage level.  The leave program is funded by a quarterly 0.62% payroll tax on businesses that  expected to generate a total of $250 million each year.

July 1, 2019 marked the date on which the District began collecting taxes from employers in preparation to administer paid leave benefits beginning on July 1, 2020.  Employers should ensure that they have the Paid Family Leave Notice posted in their workplace, along with other labor law posters, by February 1, 2020, and ensure that all new employees hired after February 1, 2020 are provided with an electronic or hard copy of the notice.  The proposed benefits regulations that contain instructions on how employees file for benefits are being finalized by the D.C. Department of Employment Services (“DOES”) and are expected to be rolled out in the next few months.  Employers should familiarize themselves with this rule and the anticipated regulations, especially if they have not paid the quarterly taxes that DOES began collecting six months ago.

For further details on the D.C. Paid Leave Act and employer obligations, please check out our prior blog post.

Minimum Wage Increase in 2020: Under D.C.’s Fair Shot Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2016, the minimum wage in the District of Columbia increased from $13.25 per hour to $14.00 per hour on July 1, 2019, and the base minimum wage for tipped employees increased from $3.89 per hour to $4.45 per hour.  The law also provides for a progressive increase to $15.00 per hour on July 1, 2020, and a base increase of $5.00 per hour for tipped employees.

Drug Testing/Marijuana Updates Expected in 2020: The D.C. City Council is considering two bills that would eliminate drug testing employees for marijuana.  Possession of marijuana and its recreational use is legal in D.C., and many employees have a valid prescription for medicinal marijuana.  However, under current law, employees can still be disciplined at work if they test positive for marijuana.

The Prohibition of Marijuana Testing Act of 2019 proposes to eliminate marijuana testing as a condition of employment unless required by law.  The second bill, the Medical Marijuana Program Patient Protection Amendment Act of 2019, would prohibit discriminating against D.C. government employees who are enrolled in the medical marijuana program, and would do away with marijuana testing on such employees who have a valid prescription under the program.  This rule was already rolled out as emergency legislation in June 2019 but only went into effect for 90 days.  Although neither of these laws are final, and private sector employers have not been impacted by these proposals yet, it is certainly something to keep a close eye on.  Many states across the country have already, or are beginning to, incorporate employee protections in marijuana legislation, which significantly alters traditional employer policies, procedures, and practices related to drugs and drug testing policies.

MARYLAND

shutterstock_MarylandLaw Regarding Noncompete and Conflict of Interest Clauses Imposed Restrictions on Employment Agreements: A new Maryland law that went into effect on October 1, 2019 prohibits employers from including noncompete or conflict of interest clauses in any employment contract with an employee earning $15 or less per hour or $31,200 or less annually.  Such provisions are considered void as against public policy.  However, the bill specifically provides that employers may still prohibit such employees from taking client lists or other proprietary client-related information.  Employers should carefully review their employment agreements with employees who are considered lower wage earners and revise them, as necessary, to ensure that company interests are protected while still complying with the law.

Workplace Harassment Amendment Expanded Scope of Liability for Employers: On October 1, 2019, under HB 679/SB 872, several changes to Maryland’s anti-discrimination law went into effect, which vastly expanded the scope of liability for employers under State law.  For instance, the definition of “employee” was expanded to include independent contractors; the definition of “employer” was revised to increase the scope of liability for cases of harassment from any employer with 15 or more employee to any employer with a single employee; and a definition of harassment was specifically provided in the statute.  Additionally, the time period for filing a complaint of harassment with the local human rights commission was expanded from six months to two (2) years, and the time period for filing a lawsuit alleging harassment in violation of the state anti-discrimination law was expanded from two (2) years to three (3) years.  Employers should be wary of these changes to Maryland’s discrimination laws, as it certainly expands the risk of employer liability in Maryland and makes Maryland courts a more attractive forum to pursue such claims.

Equal Pay Law Penalties Increased: Penalties for Maryland’s Equal Pay for Equal Work law increased on October 1, 2019.  Employers found to have violated the law two (2) or more than three (3) times within a three-year period may be assessed a penalty equal to 10% of the damages owed by the employers, which are paid into the General Fund of the State of Maryland.

Organ Donation Leave: Under the HB 1284, which took effect on Oct. 1, 2019, employers with 15 or more employees are required to provide eligible employees (employed for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months) up to 60 business days of unpaid leave in any 12-month period to serve as an organ donor, and up to 30 business days of unpaid leave in any 12-month period to serve as a bone marrow donor.  Employers should consider adding a new provision to their leave policies in their Employee Handbooks and pay particularly close attention to any requests from employees for time off to donate an organ or bone marrow.  Notably, such organ donor leave does not run concurrently with leave taken pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Ban the Box Legislation Vetoed by Governor Hogan: Legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly prohibiting employers with 15 or more employees from asking about an applicant’s criminal record prior to the first in-person interview was vetoed by Governor Larry Hogan in May 2019.  Note, however, that there are several local ban-the-box laws throughout Maryland, including those enacted by Baltimore City, Prince George’s County, and Montgomery County – all of which provide greater restrictions on employers than what was proposed under the proposed bill.

Minimum Wage Increase in 2020: Beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, the minimum wage in Maryland will increase from $10.10 per hour to $11.00 per hour.  Please note, however, that employers in Montgomery County, MD and Prince George’s County, MD are subject to separate, higher minimum wage rates, which may also vary depending on the size of the employer.

Maryland OSHA Still Has Not Adopted the E-Recordkeeping Rule: Maryland OSHA (“MOSH”) is the only state-plan safety and health agency in the country that has not adopted federal OSHA’s e-Recordkeeping Rule, which was promulgated back in May 2016.  Under the revised federal rule issued in January 2019, which MOSH is required to adopt, establishments with 250 or more employees and establishments with 20 or more employees in high hazard industries are required to submit their 300A data by March 2nd of every year through federal OSHA’s Injury Tracking Application.  Covered establishments should closely monitor this rule and be prepared to submit their 300A data, as it is will likely be finalized prior to the upcoming March 2, 2020 data submission deadline.

VIRGINIA

shutterstock_Virginia (1)Repeal of Jim Crow-era Minimum Wage Exemptions: HB 2473 was enacted in March 2019 in an effort to modernize Virginia’s minimum wage law and to repeal certain Jim Crow-era provisions that endorsed wage discrimination against African Americans.  The legislation rescinded exemptions that allowed employers to pay less than the minimum wage to newsboys, shoeshine boys, ushers, doormen, concession stand attendants, cashiers in theaters, and babysitters who work 10 hours or more per week.

Written Wage Statements Now Required in Virginia: Beginning on January 1, 2020, Virginia employers (with the exception of agricultural employers) must provide paystubs to employees on each regularly scheduled payday.  Virginia Code § 40.1-20 was amended in April 2019 to require employers to provide a written statement by pay stub or online, which must include the following:

  1. The name and address of the employer;
  2. The number of hours the employee worked during the pay period;
  3. The employee’s rate of pay;
  4. The gross wages earned by the employee during the pay period; and
  5. The amount and purpose of any deductions.

Given that the current law only requires employers to provide a written statement of employees’ gross wages and any deductions upon request, this may be a significant change for many employers.  It is prudent to take steps to ensure that accurate pay stubs are provided beginning on January 1, 2020.  Employers that already issue pay stubs should review their current payroll systems to verify that all of the code’s requirements, as listed above, are included in employee pay stubs.

Bi-Partisan Bill Limiting Non-Compete Agreements Not Put Up for Vote: A proposed bill that prohibits employers from entering into, enforcing, or threatening to enforce non-compete agreements with low-wage workers passed the Senate and House Commerce and Labor Committee.  But the General Assembly did not put this bill up for a vote in the House during the last legislative session.  Virginia employers should pay close attention to this bill moving forward, as it has bi-partisan support and other states have have continued to enact similar provisions, including Maryland.

Efforts to Increase Minimum Wage Fall Short: At least four bills were introduced in the General Assembly in 2019 to raise Virginia’s minimum wage, which is currently set at the federal floor of $7.25 an hour.  Most of these bills were left in committee.  One bill that did pass the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee would have mandated annual increases to the hourly minimum wage, raising it to $8 this year and reaching a final rate of $11.25 in 2022.  Another bill that would have increased the minimum wage to $10 this year, $13 next year, and $15 by 2021 made it through committee but was then struck down by a Senate vote of 21-19.  While none of these bills managed to increase the state minimum wage, efforts to increase the state minimum wage will certainly be an agenda item during the next legislative session.  Given the narrow split on the issue, it is only a matter of time before Virginia’s minimum wage increases.

Marijuana Legislation at the Forefront of Issues for 2020: Currently, marijuana is strictly prohibited in Virginia and previous marijuana legislation efforts in the General Assembly have failed.  However, with the advent of the November 2019 elections and democrats now controlling both the House of Delegates and the Senate, it appears that marijuana legislation is on the horizon.

Delegate Lee Carter pre-filed a bill (HB 87) for the 2020 legislative session that would decriminalize marijuana and allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers.  Additionally, the bill would impose a 10 percent tax to fund veteran initiatives, transportation, and local municipalities.  The bill also contains specific prohibited employment practices, which appear to limit an employer’s ability to discipline employees for use of marijuana outside of the workplace.  Finally, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring recently held a “Cannabis Summit” in Richmond to discuss decriminalizing marijuana and comprehensive marijuana reform, which includes recreational legalization.  This topic is gaining significant attention heading into 2020, so employers should pay close attention to the bill pre-filed with Virginia General Assembly.

2020 Legislative Update for California Employers

California flagBy Andrew J. Sommer and Megan S. Shaked

Following the 2018 legislative session, which was dominated by laws responding to the #MeToo movement, 2019 has produced a long list of new employment laws on a myriad of topics.  From a new test for determining independent contractor status to a ban on no rehire agreements and revamped reporting standard for serious workplace injuries and illnesses, 2020 brings significant changes for California employers.  Though many of these laws will add items to the HR to-do list, employers have at least secured a one-year reprieve for completing mandatory harassment prevention training introduced last year.

Key changes affecting private sector employers are summarized below.  Unless otherwise indicated, these new laws take effect January 1, 2020.

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Supreme Court Invites DOJ to Weigh In on Scope of Title VII

shutterstock_litigationOn October 15, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the U.S. Solicitor General of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to weigh in on a petition to revive the discrimination case of Peterson v. Linear Controls Inc.  David Peterson, a former offshore electrician at Linear Controls, petitioned for a writ of certiorari on May 7, 2019, asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Fifth Circuit’s holding that more difficult working conditions alone are not enough to be considered an “adverse employment action” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The petition is currently pending, with the most recent action being the Supreme Court’s invitation to the DOJ’s Solicitor General to file a brief in the case to express the views of the United States.  So what is the case about, and what might the implications be for employers? 

Under Section 703(a)(1) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual” with respect to “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” because of the individual’s race, religion, sex, or other protected status.  In this case, Peterson alleged Continue reading

Waitress Fired for Failing to Serve Transphobic Customers

shutterstock_transgenderLast month, a waitress, Brittany Spencer, was fired after refusing to serve transphobic customers at a Fat Joe’s Bar and Grill in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, raising questions as to whether the restaurant engaged in impermissible discrimination by doing so.  During her shift, Spencer was asked by a couple of patrons sitting at one of her tables what she thought of a transgender customer sitting at the bar.  According to Spencer, the couple asked her if she thought it was “disgusting and wrong,” and asked why the restaurant would “let someone like that into the establishment,” to which Spencer answered that she did not agree and walked away.  When Spencer asked her manager if another employee could serve the table because she was uncomfortable, her manager said no, and Spencer decided to leave.  That night, Spencer shared what had happened on Facebook, stating that she was sent home for refusing to serve the customers, and the following day, Spencer was alerted by restaurant management that she had been fired.  The restaurant claims that it fired Spencer for “refusing to do the duty [it] hired her for.”  Spencer has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Before diving into the analysis of Spencer’s potential discrimination claim, it is important to understand what she would be required to show.  As we have previously posted, as with almost all claims of discrimination, Spencer will likely seek to prove her case through the use of indirect evidence under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, requiring her to show that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) the unfavorable action gave rise to an inference of discrimination.  The question, however, will likely turn on Continue reading

U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Rule on Website Accessibility Issue

In a blog post from February of this year, we discussed the case of Robles v. Domino’s Pizzain which a blind man sued Domino’s in 2016 for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) shutterstock_pizzaafter he was unable to order food from the pizza chain’s website using screen reading technology because the website lacked sufficient software compatibility capabilities.  Because the ADA guarantees people with a disability “full and equal enjoyment of the goods and services … of any place of public accommodations,” the plaintiff claimed that he had been the victim of unlawful disability discrimination.  Domino’s, on the other hand, argued that while the ADA applies to its brick-and-mortar locations, it does not apply to its website because a website is not defined in the ADA as a place of public accommodation.

In its decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with the plaintiff, finding that the ADA protects not just restaurants, hotels, stores, and other physical “brick and mortar” locations, but also the “services of a public accommodation,” notably websites and apps.  The Court then found that Domino’s violated Title III of the ADA because its website’s incompatibility with screen reader software impeded access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises.  Notably, this decision was the first by any U.S. Court of Appeals Continue reading