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? While 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
On October 31, 2018, roughly one year after the beginning of the #MeToo movement, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held a public meeting at agency headquarters in Washington, D.C. entitled “Revamping Workplace Culture to Prevent Harassment.” The purpose of this meeting was to hear various approaches that different industries are implementing to prevent harassment and provide employers the skills, resources, and knowledge to respond workplace harassment.
Acting Chair Victoria Lipnic began the meeting by noting that the nation is at the apex of a cultural awakening that the EEOC has been tracking for years. Since the #MeToo movement went viral, hits on the EEOC website Continue reading
On Thursday, October 25, 2018, at 1 pm EDT, join Kara M. Maciel and Andrew J. Sommer of Conn Maciel Carey’s national Labor & Employment Practice Group for a complimentary webinar: “A Business Primer on Disability Access Laws: Preventive Tools and Defense Strategies“
Businesses continue to be plagued by litigation under the Americans with Disabilities, Title III (ADA) over alleged access barriers. Lawsuits against hotels and retailers, among other public accommodations, appear to be on the rise with a disproportionate share in California.
This webinar will provide an overview of ADA, Title III standards as they apply to construction existing before the enactment of the ADA in 1992 as well as to subsequent new construction and alterations. The webinar will also address Continue reading
It has been about a year since the #MeToo movement went viral, spreading greater awareness about sexual misconduct and harassment, and, more generally, the role of women, in the workplace. So, where are we now, and has anything changed? Was it just an awareness movement? Or, have things actually started to shift in the legal landscape with respect to the way employers are required to handle sexual misconduct and harassment? And what about with the way women are represented at work? Even if #MeToo may have started out as an awareness movement, states like New York and California are implementing changes in the law that are now imposing, or will soon impose, new requirements on employers, in hopes of giving #MeToo a significant, lasting effect. So, what should employers in New York and California do now? And, given that these states are often at the forefront of labor and employment issues, how should employers outside New York and California prepare in case new laws are passed in their states?
New York’s New Anti-Sexual Harassment Laws
On April 12, 2018, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the 2019 New York State Budget, updating the state’s sexual harassment laws. Among other changes, there are two key components under these laws. First, every employer in New York must establish a sexual harassment prevention policy. These policies should have already been adopted and provided to all employees by October 9, 2018. The New York Department of Labor and New York Division of Human Rights have established a model sexual harassment prevention policy for employers to adopt. But employers are not required to use this model, so long as their policy meets or exceeds the minimum standards of the model and set forth in the laws. Employers must distribute the policy to all employees in writing or electronically, and must ensure that all future employees receive the policy before they start work. Additionally, employers are encouraged to post a copy where employees can easily access it.
With the rise of the #MeToo movement, there have been a number of responses from both employers and state legislatures to address workplace harassment. As discussed during the EEOC Special Task Force Meeting on June 11, 2018, several state legislatures are taking proactive steps to combat workplace sexual harassment. For example, on May 15, 2018, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed and ratified the Maryland Disclosing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Act of 2018 – which passed the Maryland House (46-0) and Senate (136-1) with almost unanimous support.
The Act, which goes into effect on Continue reading
Recently, there have been a slew of lawsuits filed across the country alleging that owners and operators of hotels and other places of lodging are using websites that violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). These lawsuits are different than the wave of lawsuits and demand letters sent to so many hotels and other places of public accommodation the last few years alleging that those companies failed to make their websites accessible for users with visual, hearing and physical impairments by not adhering to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). (For more information about the WCAG issue, check out our prior posts on that issue here and here.)
ADA regulations require hotels to make reasonable modifications in their policies and practices when necessary to afford goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to individuals with disabilities. Because the purpose of a hotel’s website is, in large part, to allow members of the public to review information pertaining to the goods and services available at the hotel and then reserve appropriate guest accommodations, such websites have been found to be subject to the requirements of ADA regulations. According to these regulations, a hotel must identify and describe accessible features in the facilities and guest rooms offered through its reservations service in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given facility or guest room meets his or her accessibility needs. Thus, rather than alleging that the website itself is inaccessible to users with disabilities, these “new” website accessibility lawsuits claim that a hotel’s website violates the ADA by failing to sufficiently identify and describe the physical “brick and mortar” accessibility features of the hotel.
By Andrew J. Sommer
The #MeToo movement, formed in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against high profile public figures, has dramatically changed the discourse over harassment. Various politicians, celebrities and business leaders have been implicated in varying degrees, from engaging in sexual misconduct to tolerating a workplace with a pervasive culture of harassment and bias. With this social movement gaining traction, the California legislature has introduced a flurry of bills seeking to change the perceived culture of workplace harassment but also revamp a host of existing general employment laws to add tools to the arsenal for employees and their attorneys. As an example, the legislature has introduced the following bills since January 2018
SB 820 – Non-Disclosure Clauses in Settlement Agreements
In the #MeToo movement, the use of non-disclosure agreements to keep harassment allegations from coming to light has drawn significant public criticism. The California legislature has recently stepped into the fray, by introducing Senate Bill (SB) 820 to generally ban non-disclosure provisions in settlement agreements resolving claims of sexual assault or harassment, sex discrimination, or harassment and retaliation for reporting such claims. Specifically, the bill prohibits settlement agreements from containing any provision preventing the “disclosure of factual information” related to these types of lawsuits, except where the provision was included at the request of the claimant. Continue reading