Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, February 10, 2017

What A Broad Religious Exemption To Discrimination Laws Will Mean

While the Trump Administration announced that it would keep in place President Obama's Executive Order protecting employees of federal contractors from LGBT discrimination, there have been reports of another proposed executive order that would provide a religious exemption from all discrimination laws.
The four-page draft order, a copy of which is currently circulating among federal staff and advocacy organizations, construes religious organizations so broadly that it covers “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,” and protects “religious freedom” in every walk of life: “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”

If signed this Executive Order could conceivably be used to argue exemptions to race and sex discrimination laws as well as LGBT discrimination. While I don't think the President (who is not king or dictator, yet) can change existing laws with the stroke of a pen, this could result in years of litigation on these issues.

There are certainly many (if not most) religions that consider women to be second-class citizens. Some religions believe women should be subordinate to men, should not work outside the home, and/or should cover themselves from head to toe. Will the Administration be so intent on allowing LGBT discrimination that they forget about women's rights?

Indeed, the Bible was used for years to argue in favor of race discrimination and slavery. Such a broad exemption could be used to justify race discrimination by certain religious groups.

On the other hand, it would be conceivable that someone (maybe John Oliver, Trevor Noah or Samantha Bee) could form a religion to counter all this nonsense. A religion that says it is sinful to discriminate against LGBT, Muslim and other oppressed communities; that it is sinful to participate in oppressing the poor; that it is sinful to participate in increasing wage disparities; that it is sinful to deny excellent education to the poor and middle class; that it is sinful to employ people who would participate in such activities. Some religions already hold similar beliefs.

What would be the effect of such a religion? State and federal employees who were members could use a religious justification to refuse to enforce or participate in enforcement of any laws or policies that are against their religious beliefs. Closely-held for-profit corporations could refuse to employ anyone who held homophobic views, voted for Trump or walk around with Ayn Rand books. I'm betting that those who want to use their religion to discriminate would be the first to howl at such practices.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. A broad religious exemption to discrimination laws might not have the effect Mr. Trump and his cronies are looking for. Be careful what you wish for.

Monday, January 30, 2017

My 2017 Predictions: It Won't Be Pretty

We've now seen one week of the new Administration, and so we know Mr. Trump was not kidding about his extreme promises. This will not be a good year for employees. The only thing I'm sure of is that we really have no idea what will happen this year. But I'll do my best to predict the unpredictable:

Executive orders: Okay, this wasn't a hard one since it's already started. We'll see lots of executive orders curtailing employee rights, LGBT rights and women's rights. I've already made some predictions about what regulations Trump will scrub,  and the reversal of protections for employees of federal contractors.

Obamacare gone: I've written about what will happen with the end of Obamacare, and the resulting end of nursing breaks if Obamacare is repealed. This is already starting to happen.

Marijuana jailings: I've also written about what will happen if the Feds start to enforce marijuana laws. I stand by my predictions, despite being called a fear-mongerer.

LGBT rights curtailed: We've started to see this already. A bill to allow LGBT discrimination on religious grounds has been introduced and Trump promises to sign it. They are likely planning to overturn President Obama's order on LGBT discrimination regarding federal contractors. There will be attempts to overturn gay marriage altogether, and to at least treat it as a second class kind of marriage where clerks can refuse to perform ceremonies. We may see an attempt at a federal bathroom bill similar to the obnoxious North Carolina bill. We'll see states moving to curtail LGBT rights, but we'll also see some states moving to protect them. There will be a true red/blue dichotomy. Florida will be a state that remains unfriendly to the LGBT community, and our legislature will feel emboldened to trample on rights.

Muslim discrimination: Already, Trump has attempted to keep even permanent residents who happen to be Muslim from re-entering the country after traveling for funerals and education. This will affect employees who have to travel for work. Many Muslims will lose their jobs when they can no longer safely leave the country. The blatant acts of discrimination by the Administration will embolden racists who feel they have the right to discriminate against brown people. This will be a horrible, horrible year to be Muslim. Some states will try to step up protections for Muslim people. The blatant discrimination will also help recruiting efforts for terrorist organizations.

Sex discrimination: There will be active attempts to ban abortion rights for women. This will turn women into second-class citizens. It's only a matter of time, once abortion becomes illegal again, that sexist politicians will turn their eyes on other aspects of women's reproductive and health issues. Once women can't control their own bodies without political interference, they will be hampered in their careers. There is a whole scary element of the Trump regime that believes women shouldn't work, so don't expect any pro-female laws. We may see some attempts to reverse sexual harassment and other protections for women, but I don't think this will happen immediately. They will be too busy harassing gays and Muslims this year.

EEOC changes priorities: EEOC is already backing down on lawsuits involving transgender rights. They will stop pushing cases where they have asserted that Title VII protects against LGBT discrimination, so it will be up to employee-side employment attorneys to push the issue. Also gone will be arguments that banning hire of those with criminal records has a disparate impact on race/national origin.

No help with overtime: President Obama's attempt to expand overtime and update antique standards for overtime will be overturned.

Non-Christians: Religious discrimination laws protect all religions and sincerely held beliefs, but there will be a push to marginalize any protections for anyone who is not Christian. Those who believe the U.S. is a Christian nation will push to force us all into their narrow religious beliefs. It will become open season on non-Christians.

This is truly the most depressing set of predictions I've ever made. And I could go on. I think very few other than rich white males will have a good year, employment law-wise. I'm hoping the resistance will stay strong, but I still fear that, with the House, Senate, Presidency and soon the Supreme Court under the thumb of right-wing conservatives, we are in for a very bad year. I really most sincerely hope I am wrong.



Friday, January 20, 2017

Cassandra Redux? How I Did On My 2016 #Emplaw Predictions

Every year I have done predictions for what I expected to happen in employment law and I'm usually right. After 30 years of law practice, it turns out I know stuff, despite what my teenagers say. Here's what I predicted for 2016 and how it turned out:

Political firings: I predicted a rash of political firings for discussing politics at work, and of course this happened. But it was less about the actual politics and more about the undercurrents. This year, there were more blatant comments about women, gays, the disabled and other protected groups than I've seen in my 30 years of law practice, and much of that was because of the tone of the political campaigns.

LGBT discrimination: I predicted that some states and localities would pass laws against LGBT discrimination, but my home state of Florida would fail again. That's exactly what happened. What I didn't predict was the rash of anti-gay legislation that would arise. From bathroom bills to religious exemptions, some states tried everything they could to put the screws to the gay community this year.

Obama to the rescue: I predicted the President would continue to be active with his pen and squeeze in some more pro-employee executive orders before he left office and he did. The new President says he'll reverse them all on his first day.

Clear choice: I predicted that the candidates for President would make their positions on working people very clear. That was certainly true. I told you to vote very carefully. I said you could easily lose many workplace rights if you vote wrong. Well, you're about to see how bad it can get.

EEOC step up: I predicted that EEOC would step up its activities in one final burst before the new President got a chance to gut it, and they did. There were a whole bunch of new guidances issued on mental disabilities, harassment, wellness notices, national origin, federal sector discrimination, retaliation, and affirmative action for people with disabilities.

NLRB step up: I predicted that NLRB would also try to help working people as much as it can while it still could, and that employers would complain bitterly. Yep.

Do-nothing Congress: I predicted Congress would do zip to help working people. They did nothing.

Criminalization: I said we'd see more employees arrested and prosecuted for things like trade secrets violations, whereas employers who steal wages would walk. That happened.

Joint employer: I predicted that whether franchises and placement agencies are joint employers with parent companies and the companies employees are placed with would be a hot issue this year and that the Supremes wouldn't decide the issue. That indeed continued to be a hot topic, with DOL and NLRB taking a big lead on the issue.

Guns at work redux
: I predicted that employees and the NRA would push to allow employees with concealed weapons permits to carry into the workplace. We did see more of those guns-at-work parking lot laws, and Florida legislators are trying to repeal a law prohibiting guns in airports (doh!). We didn't see the push to take the guns from the parking lots to the workplace this year, but that push is coming.

So, I did pretty well, even though 2016 was a year nobody could have predicted. Next up are my predictions for 2017.  Today, I'll be busy helping protect working people while they still have rights and ignoring the festivities in D.C.

Friday, January 6, 2017

What #Employmentlaw Regulations Will Trump Scrub?

As the inauguration gets closer, the new Trump Administration is making lots of promises about what they intend to do. Apparently number one on the list is undoing as many of the Obama Administration's Regulations and Executive Orders as they can. I already talked about some Executive Orders that benefit employees of federal contractors that are at risk. So what else may disappear or change soon?

Here are some employment-related regulations to keep an eye on:


These are just some examples of the many, many executive branch regulations that could change soon. The truth is that nobody has any idea what the new administration will actually do. Both employers and employees are justifiably nervous about what may happen in the next four years. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Does Your Severance Agreement Have A Gotcha? Penn State Sues Former President For Hiding Sexual Molestation Charges

I see this kind of language in proposed severance agreements all the time. Something to the effect of, "Employee represents that he is unaware of any violations of any law, statute, ordinance or government regulation by Employer, its agents, employees, officers or directors." There are all kinds of problems with this seemingly benign language, as Penn State's former President may be about to find out.

You see, Penn State is countersuing Graham Spanier, who sued them for breach of his severance contract. Their claim is that Spanier knew of the former football coach's sexual misconduct and didn't disclose it. They say he had a duty to disclose. And if he had language in his severance agreement representing he didn't know of any legal violations by any of their employees, they may be right.

If he's in breach of his severance agreement, they may not have to pay the severance, or may get to demand he repay all or part of it.

The more common problem I see with language like this is that the severance agreement was presented after the employee raised issues of discrimination or blew the whistle on some illegal activity. My cure for that is to add to the clause, "that he hasn't already disclosed." That way, if he's disclosed race discrimination, unpaid wages or any other issues, he isn't lying that there were no such issues.

However, if you have any such language in your agreement, you'd better make sure you have disclosed every single legal violation you know of. Otherwise, you could be in trouble.

I'm not sure if Spanier's contract has this language. They seem to be alleging that he defrauded them by not disclosing material information, and that had they known he covered up Sandusky's misdeeds, they wouldn't have entered into the agreement. That's a whole 'nuther kettle of fish. Fraud is tough to prove. If they're trying to negate his contract based on fraud or some duty to disclose, I think they'll have a difficult time.

This case is a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about signing a severance agreement. Read it carefully and make sure you comply. If you can't, or it says something that isn't true, ask that it be changed before you sign.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Bye Bye Nursing Breaks: Preparing For The Trumpocalypse Part IV

If you are chomping at the bit to see the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, you probably don't know all that you are giving up. For instance, I bet you didn't realize that it was ObamaCare that brought us nursing breaks for moms.


That's right. It's the Fair Labor Standards Act which requires workplaces to give nursing moms reasonable breaks to express breast milk for a year after they give birth. The law also requires employers to provide a place, other than a restroom, shielded from view, free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.

However, the amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act that requires employers to do what basic human decency would provide anyhow was part of the Affordable Care Act.

Will Trump's repeal of the Affordable Care Act result in a repeal of this law? Right now Republicans are talking about wholesale repeal, and then maybe a grace period to find alternatives (although some want a repeal with no grace period).

In all the discussions about this repeal and what needs to be preserved, I have heard zero discussion about protecting nursing moms. Considering that Mr. Trump has called pregnancy an inconvenience to employers (then denied saying it, but he did say it), it seems unlikely that he gives one flying hoot about nursing moms in the workplace.

If you think this is an important part of the Affordable Care Act to preserve, it's time to write and call your members of Congress and Senators to tell them family values includes basic decency for new moms.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Federal Contractors, You Don't Know What You've Got 'Til It's Gone: Preparing for the Trumpocalypse Part III

President-elect Trump has promised to undo all of President Obama's executive orders on day one of his presidency. If you are one of those middle class folks who voted for him, you may not realize what you voted for until he does it. If you work for a federal contractor, you will lose a whole heck of a lot if he keeps this promise.

Here's what you've got that may be gone soon:
  • Paid sick leave: You will be entitled to one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, starting in 2017. Since this is just a few days before the President leaves office, this order will not have much chance to actually go into effect.
  • LGBT discrimination: Gender identity discrimination by contractors is now illegal, along with sexual orientation discrimination. There is no federal law prohibiting this type of discrimination, although EEOC has argued with mixed success that the laws against sex discrimination protect against sexual orientation and sexual identity discrimination. I'm guessing the new president will tell them to stop that as well.
  • $10.10 minimum wage: Starting January 1, 2016, contractors have had to pay $10.10/hour as a minimum wage, and $5.85/hour to tipped employees. If you've been counting on this extra pay, you may lose it soon, so start adjusting your budget.
  • Right to work for a successor company: For service contracts of $150,000 and up, if a new company displaces an existing company, the employees of the predecessor must be offered first shot at jobs under the new contract. Service employees have to be told of their right of first refusal by either posting a notice or giving individual notice to the predecessor contractor’s employees. The predecessor contractor has to provide its successor an employee list by 30 days before the end of the contract. Now, you may have no right to retain your job when a new company takes over.
  • Blacklisting for employment/labor law violations: Anyone applying or bidding for a federal contract of $500,000 or more must currently disclose any employment or labor law violation. They must disclose any administrative merit determination, arbitral award or decision, or civil judgment rendered against them within the preceding three-year period for a violation of any of a list of labor and employment laws, plus they have to update their violation information every six months and, for some contracts, obtain the same violation information from their covered subcontractors. This means that federal contractors need to be very afraid of things like a "cause" finding from EEOC as the law currently stands. Punishment for repeat offenders can be up to cancellation or denial of a contract. But I'm guessing they are fearing much less these days, as this law will go poof soon.
  • No mandatory arbitration: The same order that bans blacklisting also bans agreements that require mandatory arbitration for discrimination and sexual harassment claims. Specifically, "for all contracts where the estimated value of the supplies acquired and services required exceeds $1 million, provisions in solicitations and clauses in contracts shall provide that contractors agree that the decision to arbitrate claims arising under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment may only be made with the voluntary consent of employees or independent contractors after such disputes arise." This also applies to subcontractors providing services or supplies over $1 million. Starting in January, your employer may be able to require arbitration again.

As with many protections President Obama helped create for employees, you won't know what you've got 'til it's gone. The middle class is up for some rude surprises very soon. Next time, vote better.