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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Quiet Quitting: New Anti-Employee Term For Wanting To Have A Life

 There's a new term getting flung around by management types: quiet quitting. It's when employees actually want to do their job as described for the hours they were told the job would take (and for which they are being paid). Apparently, terrible bosses who have failed to hire enough staff and failed to accurately describe jobs want to vilify employees for wanting to have a life.

You heard about Elon Musk demanding that his employees commit to being "hardcore" (meaning willing to work 24/7) or leave.

And I've seen folks on social media bragging that they and their staff work until midnight. Like that's a good thing.

I remember working briefly for a large law firm. Associates would brag about sleeping there, blowing off family birthdays and funerals, and never taking vacations. And I would think to myself, what's the point? What's the point of making big bucks if you don't actually use the bucks to enjoy your life?

Gen Z gets it. They don't want to have jobs that are their whole life. They understand that having a job is for the purpose of providing the necessities you require to live and, if you're lucky, even the luxuries you want in order to enjoy your life. 

Take away the evenings and weekends, the holidays, the time with family, the vacations, and you have nothing. Because that employer that wants you to be loyal 24/7 has no loyalty to you. You likely can be fired at will, for any reason or no reason at all, unless you live in Montana or have a contract saying otherwise. It used to be that companies were loyal to their employees, but those days passed in the 70s. Now employees are treated like disposable cannon fodder.

Don't give up your actual life for corporate life. What's the point of making money if you can't enjoy it?

The U.S. needs to stop this crazy nonsense. Look at France. It has laws that protect employees from being treated like this. It's illegal to eat lunch at your desk, because it's good for your health to take a real lunch break and get out of the office. They also have a right-to-disconnect law, giving employees the right to stop answering emails and texts after hours. Overtime must be paid for work over 35 hours, and there is a weekly maximum number of hours set at 44 per week, and employees must have at least 11 consecutive hours of daily rest, and minimum rest of 35 consecutive hours at least once per week.

Employers need to hire enough employees to do the jobs needed during regular working hours instead of treating employees like indentured servants. If your employer wants you to work 24/7 and you aren't a supervisor, it's time to think about forming a union. If you are a supervisor and can't unionize, it's time to look for a workplace that understands its employees are entitled to have a life.

If you think we should be more like France and less like Elon, talk to your legislators about passing some pro-employee laws.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Try Guys: Who The Heck They Are and Why They Were Right

 Lots of folks (like me) saw the Saturday Night Live sketch about the Try Guys and said, "Huh?" I had no idea they were a thing. I assumed that they were made up. I was wrong. So I did some research. Turns out I wasn't the only one going WTH

I'll start out with who they are. They're YouTube sensations who try things. Yep. They try stuff and post videos of them trying the stuff. Women's underwear, jousting, cooking. Miscellaneous stuff. That's it. Apparently they make money doing it. About $6 million a year. Which makes me question all my life decisions.

Now the sketch. SNL made fun of the Try Guys for firing the one known as the "wife guy". He is so known as the married persona that he has published a cookbook with his wife, and did an Architectural Digest home tour with said spouse. He was caught making out with a woman who works on a Try Guys spinoff called Food Babies

SNL made fun of the firing, but I think, based on what I've read on this, that the Try Guys were probably right in firing him, looking at the employment law issues involved.

Sexual harassment: Since Food Babies is a spinoff, I'm guessing the original four Try Guys had some supervisory authority and decisionmaking power over the Food Babies. But it was consensual! some will cry. But is it really? If someone has supervisory authority, there's an imbalance of power and there's always an issue of pressure. Think Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Think about The Morning Show, which dealt with this kind of pressure pretty well in the first year's plotline. If it crossed the line (and I obviously don't know for sure whether or not it did), and if they investigated and determined that there was some wrongdoing, they are now on notice of his propensity to enter into such relationships with subordinates. They could be liable in the future for punitive damages if they do nothing and he does it again.

Damage to employer: I bet he has an employment contract. And it's not unusual for entertainers to have a morals clause saying they can be fired if they do something to damage the show or the brand, they can be fired. And since his brand was "wife guy" and he has potentially damaged the $6 million click-dependent show, they likely had the right to fire him.

So, yeah. He kissed a girl and it seems like that shouldn't get you fired. But sometimes, it's exactly what could and should get you fired.

Could he have some defenses? Sure. It depends on how his contract is written. But SNL got this wrong. It was not a laughing matter.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Ian Alert: You Don't Have To Work In Dangerous Post-Hurricane Conditions

After a storm, I usually get lots of calls and emails about employers making employees work in conditions they deem unsafe so I thought I'd repost this for those affected by Ian. In general, you don't have to work in unsafe conditions. Here's what OSHA says about workplace safety:

You have the right to a safe workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) was passed to prevent workers from being killed or seriously harmed at work. The law requires that employers provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. OSHA sets and enforces protective workplace safety and health standards. OSHA also provides information, training and assistance to workers and employers. Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) if you have questions or want to file a complaint. We will keep your information confidential. We are here to help you.
OSHA also has a flyer about safety during disaster cleanup here. Some basic safety rules:
  • Keep an adequate amount of clean water for drinking.
  • Make sure workers are trained to do any complex or hazardous tasks.
  • Provide the proper equipment such as gloves, respirators, boots, lifting equipment and eye protection.
A host of other specific fact sheets are here. Some particularly useful ones for hurricanes are:
Bottom line for employers is: don't be stupid. Don't have employees in business attire climbing ladders and removing debris. Make sure employees are properly dressed. Don't cheap out and try to use your clerical employees to move downed trees or work around downed power lines. The lawsuit you will face when someone is seriously injured or killed will cost you way more than hiring the correct folks for the job.

The worker's page for reporting problems and with more resources is here.

By the way, if your "exempt" employees are doing debris removal or other scut work, they probably aren't exempt from overtime for that work. But that's another issue for another day.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Ian Alert: If My Office Is Closed Due to a Hurricane, Am I Entitled To Be Paid?

It's that most awful time of the year, that is, time to re-run this popular and necessary column. I hope you make out okay in Hurricane Ian and suffer no damage. However, you may be wondering if you're getting paid.

Whether you’re entitled to be paid when the office is closed depends on whether you are “exempt” salaried or not. Just being salaried doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t entitled to overtime. It’s possible to be salaried and still non-exempt from the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Many employers misclassify employees as exempt to avoid paying overtime. If you work more than forty hours per week, it’s better to be non-exempt. But in the case of weather and emergency closings, it’s probably better to be exempt.

Exempt employees: If you’re exempt and you worked any portion of the work week, you have to be paid your entire salary, whether or not the office is closed for a natural disaster such as hurricane, snow, tornado, or flood. Further, Department of Labor regulations state, “If the employee is ready, willing and able to work, deductions may not be made for time when work is not available.” This would include natural disasters, so if you are able to work after a storm then you must be paid even if you didn’t work any portion of the week. If you can’t get there on time or have to leave early due to the flooding but the office is open, they can’t deduct for any partial days you worked.

Vacation time and PTO: Your employer can deduct from your vacation time or PTO for the time taken. However, if you have no accrued vacation or PTO time available, they still can’t deduct from your pay if you’re exempt.

Non-exempt employees: If you are non-exempt, then your employer doesn’t have to pay for the time the office is closed. However, if your company takes deductions and you’re a non-exempt salaried employee it may affect the way overtime is calculated.

Who Is Exempt?: You’re not exempt unless you fall into very specific categories, such as executives, administrative employees, or learned professionals. Plus, your job duties must fall within those categories, not just your title. In addition, your employer must treat you as exempt by not docking your pay when you miss work. This is one of those rare times when it's better to be exempt, so it's the one time you can be glad that President Obama's overtime expansion was gutted.

Pay For Reporting To Work: If you report to work after a natural disaster, only to find out that the workplace is closed (assuming they didn’t notify you), many states have laws that require your employer to pay you a set minimum amount of time if you show up as scheduled. Florida has no such requirement (so maybe it’s a good time to start complaining to your legislators). If it veers nortn, South Carolina has some protections for state employees but none that I've found for private sector employees.  North Carolina does have a law regarding employer adverse weather policies (they aren't required to have them though):
If an employer does establish an adverse weather condition policy, then pursuant to N.C.G.S. §95-25.13(2), the employer must: "Make available to its employees, in writing or through a posted notice maintained in a place accessible to its employees, employment practices and policies with regard to promised wages." The employer must comply with its own adverse weather policy until such time as the employer changes its policy in writing, notifies its employees of such changes prior to the effective date, and does not take away retroactively any benefits already earned, pursuant to N.C.G.S. §95-25.13(3).
Disaster Unemployment Benefits: If your state is declared a disaster, you may qualify for disaster unemployment assistance. If your state gets hit, here's where to start searching to see if you can get disaster unemployment assistance. It may take a couple days to update, so keep checking. I checked before posting and the Ian-affected areas weren't there yet.

If you’re hit with a big storm, get in touch with your supervisor or manager as soon as possible to find out whether or not you’re expected to be at work. If you can’t get in touch with anyone, then only go in if it’s safe for you to do so.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Judge Blocks Private Employer Portions of Florida's Idiotic Stop WOKE Act

 I wrote a few weeks ago about the truly idiotic Stop WOKE Act that was passed in, you guessed it, Florida. Well, a federal judge just issued an injunction blocking its enforcement against private employers. The federal judge from the Northern District of Florida was duly irked:

In the popular television series Stranger Things, the “upside down” describes a parallel dimension containing a distorted version of our world. See Stranger Things (Netflix 2022). Recently, Florida has seemed like a First Amendment upside down. Normally, the First Amendment bars the state from burdening speech, while private actors may burden speech freely. But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently bars private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely. . . . Now, like the heroine in Stranger Things, this Court is once again asked to pull Florida back from the upside down.

The law, among other things, prevented private employers from certain diversity and anti-discrimination training. 

The Court gives a detailed example, and the judge's frustration is palpable:

In the end, Defendants suggest that there is nothing to see here. They say the IFA does nothing more than ban race discrimination in employment. But to compare the diversity trainings Plaintiffs wish to hold to true hostile work environments rings hollow. Worse still, “it trivializes the freedom protected” by Title VII and the FCRA “to suggest that” the two are the same. FAIR, 547 U.S. at 62.

Just imagine two scenarios. In the first scenario, a Black employee complains about a mandatory safety training scheduled on Juneteenth. Then, at a mandatory training the day before Juneteenth, “to the surprise of the employees in attendance, a white woman in a black gorilla suit enter[s] the meeting.” Henry v. CorpCar Servs. Hous., Ltd., 625 F. App’x 607, 608 (5th Cir. 2015).* As one of the managers blocks the only exit, the woman does “Tarzan yells and repeatedly refer[s] in a suggestive manner to ‘big black lips,’ ‘big black butt,’ and bananas.” Id. As the woman dances suggestively on one of the Black employees who had complained, another manager leans in and says: “Here’s your Juneteenth.” Id. In the second scenario, a company directs a White employee to attend a mandatory training in which employees watch “a video about violence committed against Black people in the United States over the centuries.” ECF No. 18-3 at 4. After the video, the presenter defines “Black rage”—“resistance towards oppressive people, practices, structures, and systems”—and “White Humility”—“a reflective practice that helps white people develop [the]capacity to interrupt white supremacy”—and asks Black and White participants to discuss them. Id. at 4, 12, 14. 

These two scenarios, under Defendants’theory, are indistinguishable. Indeed, Defendants say, to hold that the state may not ban the latter scenario is to hold that it may not ban the former. ECF No. 49 at 27 (arguing that a ruling for Plaintiffs would doom “a vast range of routine employment discrimination claims”). “If the law supposes that, the law is an ass, an idiot.” Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist 463 (3d ed. The New American Library 1961). But the law is neither an ass nor an idiot. It can tell the difference. Telling your employees that concepts such as “normal” or “professional” are imbued with historically based racial biases is not—and it pains this Court to have to say this—the same as trapping Black employees in a room while a woman in a gorilla suit puts on a retaliatory, racially inflammatory performance the day before a holiday celebrating the end of slavery. Rather, it is speech protected by the First Amendment. (emphasis added)

Things you didn't think you had to say when you became a federal judge, but apparently did.

The state is, of course, appealing. And because the injunction applies only to private employers, state employees are being terrorized by this ridiculous law, especially since schools and colleges are resuming.

I'm sure this isn't the last we'll hear on this law. As I wrote before, the law is badly written and I believe it actually means the opposite of what the legislature intended. SMH. 

* The fact that the judge doesn't have to make this bizarre scenario up explains why I have had a busy law practice for 36 years.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Yes, It's Illegal To Retaliate If HR Managers Or Management Oppose Discrimination

Management-side lawyers are always trying to come up with new ways to make discrimination and retaliation legal. So it's no surprise that they argued in a recent case that there is a "management exception" to retaliation. The theory was that, if an HR manager or other management opposes discrimination as part of their regular job duties, they aren't covered by anti-retaliation laws.

The 11th Circuit has clearly rejected this argument:

The manager exception would carve out of Title VII protection the actions of management employees who have in the course of their normal job performance opposed an unlawful employment action of an employer. That carveout does not fit within the ordinary meaning of the word "opposed," and it is contrary to how Title VII uses the word. For one thing, the statute does not put any qualification on the word "opposed." It does not say an employee has engaged in protected activity unless her opposition came as part of her duties in the normal course of her employment.

Because it's not explicit in the text, to limit the plain meaning of "opposed," the manager exception would have to be implicit in how a person speaking "in ordinary discourse . . . would naturally use the word" opposed. Crawford, 555 U.S. at 277. But the limitations imposed on the word "opposed" by the manager exception would be neither "ordinary" nor "natural" to someone using that word. A person speaking "in ordinary discourse" would think an HR manager has opposed her employer's unlawful employment practices even if it's part of her job to do so. Opposition is opposition, whether the opposer is drawing a manager's salary or not.

It is too big a stretch to think that Congress silently and implicitly wrote into the opposition clause a significant exclusion of an entire category of employees, HR managers. We "assume that Congress does not generally hide elephants in mouseholes." CSX Transp., Inc. v. Ala. Dep't of Rev., 888 F.3d 1163, 1176 (11th Cir. 2018) (quotation marks omitted). That assumption is especially true here where the elephant would have to trample the ordinary and plain meaning of the words Congress did choose.

Whew! Thank goodness. Another attempt to make retaliation legal is rejected. If you're an HR person or other management employee who has opposed discrimination, it's illegal for your employer to retaliate against you. If you think illegal retaliation happened to you, contact an employee-side employment lawyer in your state to discuss your rights. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

New Employer's Retaliation For Opposing Discrimination By A Former Employer Is Illegal

 One of the biggest worries I hear from clients and potential clients is the fear that filing a lawsuit for discrimination will follow them to a new employer. And it's a legitimate concern. A lawsuit is a public record. It will turn up in a background check. Plus, you'll have to testify and appear at hearings in your case, and your new employer will likely find out about your case. Even if it's not your case, what if you're subpoenaed to testify in a former coworker's case?

So, can a new employer retaliate against you for opposing discrimination by a former employer? The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals says such retaliation is illegal.

There is nothing in the anti-retaliation provision's opposition clause that permits an employer to retaliate against one of its employees for opposing an unlawful employment practice of a former employer. The clause forbids retaliation by "an employer" against "any individual" for having "opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by [Title VII]." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) (emphasis added). It doesn't say "opposed any practice of a current employer made an unlawful employment practice by [Title VII]." A former employer's unlawful employment practice is just as much an unlawful employment practice as one of a current employer. The statutory text makes no distinction between the two. Opposition is opposition, and any unlawful employment practice is any unlawful employment practice.

And the entity that the statutory provision forbids from retaliating is "an employer," not just the employer whose unlawful employment practice the employee opposed. In this context, as is usually the case, the indefinite article "an" means "any." See Alabama, 778 F.3d at 933. Georgia Pacific is unquestionably "an employer," and at the time it allegedly retaliated by firing Patterson it was her employer.

We hold that under the opposition clause's plain language, a current employer may not retaliate for opposition clause conduct even if it is directed at or involves only a former employer. See McMenemy v. City of Rochester, 241 F.3d 279, 284 (2d Cir. 2001) ("We think that Title VII protects an employee from any employer, present or future, who retaliates against him because of his prior or ongoing opposition to an unlawful employment practice or participation in Title VII proceedings.").

This case only refers to an employer, and not a potential employer. A discrimination lawsuit can turn up in a background check and there could be little way to prove that it was the reason you were denied a position. Still, Title VII makes such discrimination illegal:

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees or applicants for employment, for an employment agency, or joint labor-­management committee controlling apprenticeship or other training or retraining, including on—the-job training programs, to discriminate against any individual, or for a labor organization to discriminate against any member thereof or applicant for membership, because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that employers provide you with a copy of any background check that caused them to turn down your employment, so it's wise to ask for a copy of any background check to see if a discrimination lawsuit is mentioned.

Bottom line: employers and potential employers can't legally discriminate against you for opposing discriminaiton by a former employer. It's your burden to prove that was the reason, but if you think this is what happened, talk to an employee-side employment lawyer in your state about your rights. 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Employer Asking About Family Members' COVID Test Results Is Illegal

EEOC recently settled a case where an employer was deemed to have violated the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act by collecting COVID testing data about employee family members. If your employer is making you provide information about your family's COVID test results, they may be breaking the law.

So what does COVID testing have to do with genetic information? EEOC provided some guidance on What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws. They provide this information:

May an employer ask an employee who is physically coming into the workplace whether they have family members who have COVID-19 or symptoms associated with COVID-19?

No. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits employers from asking employees medical questions about family members. GINA, however, does not prohibit an employer from asking employees whether they have had contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 or who may have symptoms associated with the disease. Moreover, from a public health perspective, only asking about an employee’s contact with family members would unnecessarily limit the information obtained about an employee’s potential exposure to COVID-19.

GINA generally protects employees from discrimination relating to their family medical histories, so asking for family medical information is a big no-no.

In sum, your employer can ask you if you have had contact with anyone who has COVID or COVID symptoms. They cannot specifically demand your family member's test results or whether family members have COVID or COVID symptoms. 

If you think your employer is violating GINA, contact an employee-side employment attorney in your state about your rights.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Did A Computer Reject Your Job Application? You May Have A Disability Discrimination Claim

 Some large employers have left their hiring, promotion, and firing decisions up to computers instead of real humans. And while that may be more efficient, it may also be causing them to reject disabled applicants. EEOC has issued a guidance on The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Use of Software, Algorithms, and Artificial Intelligence to Assess Job Applicants and Employees. The guidance provides examples of when computers can cause disability discrimination.

EEOC lists some types of employment screening tools that employer use which could cause disability discrimination. These include "resume scanners that prioritize applications using certain keywords; employee monitoring software that rates employees on the basis of their keystrokes or other factors; “virtual assistants” or “chatbots” that ask job candidates about their qualifications and reject those who do not meet pre-defined requirements; video interviewing software that evaluates candidates based on their facial expressions and speech patterns; and testing software that provides “job fit” scores for applicants or employees regarding their personalities, aptitudes, cognitive skills, or perceived “cultural fit” based on their performance on a game or on a more traditional test."

Per EEOC, the most common ways that an employer’s use of these decision-making tools could violate the ADA are:
The employer does not provide a “reasonable accommodation” that is necessary for a job applicant or employee to be rated fairly and accurately by the algorithm. 
The employer relies on an algorithmic decision-making tool that intentionally or unintentionally “screens out” an individual with a disability, even though that individual is able to do the job with a reasonable accommodation. “Screen out” occurs when a disability prevents a job applicant or employee from meeting—or lowers their performance on—a selection criterion, and the applicant or employee loses a job opportunity as a result. A disability could have this effect by, for example, reducing the accuracy of the assessment, creating special circumstances that have not been taken into account, or preventing the individual from participating in the assessment altogether.
The employer adopts an algorithmic decision-making tool for use with its job applicants or employees that violates the ADA’s restrictions on disability-related inquiries and medical examinations.

EEOC provides multiple examples of how these violations might occur:

  • [A] job applicant who has limited manual dexterity because of a disability may report that they would have difficulty taking a knowledge test that requires the use of a keyboard, trackpad, or other manual input device. Especially if the responses are timed, this kind of test will not accurately measure this particular applicant’s knowledge. In this situation, the employer would need to provide an accessible version of the test (for example, one in which the applicant is able to provide responses orally, rather than manually) as a reasonable accommodation, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. If it is not possible to make the test accessible, the ADA requires the employer to consider providing an alternative test of the applicant’s knowledge as a reasonable accommodation, barring undue hardship.
  • An example of screen out might involve a chatbot, which is software designed to engage in communications online and through texts and emails. A chatbot might be programmed with a simple algorithm that rejects all applicants who, during the course of their “conversation” with the chatbot, indicate that they have significant gaps in their employment history. If a particular applicant had a gap in employment, and if the gap had been caused by a disability (for example, if the individual needed to stop working to undergo treatment), then the chatbot may function to screen out that person because of the disability.
  • Another kind of screen out may occur if a person’s disability prevents the algorithmic decision-making tool from measuring what it is intended to measure. For example, video interviewing software that analyzes applicants’ speech patterns in order to reach conclusions about their ability to solve problems is not likely to score an applicant fairly if the applicant has a speech impediment that causes significant differences in speech patterns. If such an applicant is rejected because the applicant’s speech impediment resulted in a low or unacceptable rating, the applicant may effectively have been screened out because of the speech impediment.
  • [S]ome employers rely on “gamified” tests, which use video games to measure abilities, personality traits, and other qualities, to assess applicants and employees. If a business requires a 90 percent score on a gamified assessment of memory, an applicant who is blind and therefore cannot play these particular games would not be able to score 90 percent on the assessment and would be rejected. But the applicant still might have a very good memory and be perfectly able to perform the essential functions of a job that requires a good memory.
  • [S]ome pre-employment personality tests are designed to look for candidates who are similar to the employer’s most successful employees—employees who most likely work under conditions that are typical for that employer. Someone who has Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) might be rated poorly by one of these tests if the test measures a trait that may be affected by that particular individual’s PTSD, such as the ability to ignore distractions. Even if the test is generally valid and accurately predicts that this individual would have difficulty handling distractions under typical working conditions, it might not accurately predict whether the individual still would experience those same difficulties under modified working conditions—specifically, conditions in which the employer provides required on-the-job reasonable accommodations such as a quiet workstation or permission to use noise-cancelling headphones. If such a person were to apply for the job and be screened out because of a low score on the distraction test, the screen out may be unlawful under the ADA. Some individuals who may test poorly in certain areas due to a medical condition may not even need a reasonable accommodation to perform a job successfully.
  • [S]uppose that an employer uses an algorithm to evaluate its employees’ productivity, and the algorithm takes into account the employee’s average number of keystrokes per minute. If the employer does not inform its employees that it is using this algorithm, an employee who is blind or has a visual impairment and who uses voice recognition software instead of a keyboard may be rated poorly and lose out on a promotion or other job opportunity as a result. If the employer informs its employees that they will be assessed partly on the basis of keyboard usage, however, that same employee would know to request an alternative means of measuring productivity—perhaps one that takes into account the use of voice recognition software rather than keystrokes—as a reasonable accommodation.
  • [I]f a personality test asks questions about optimism, and if someone with Major Depressive Disorder (“MDD”) answers those questions negatively and loses an employment opportunity as a result, the test may “screen out” the applicant because of MDD.

EEOC has some specific suggestions to help you assure you're being assessed fairly:
If you have a medical condition that you think might qualify as an ADA disability and that could negatively affect the results of an evaluation performed by algorithmic decision-making tools, you may want to begin by asking for details about the employer’s use of such tools to determine if it might pose any problems related to your disability. If so, you may want to ask for a reasonable accommodation that allows you to compete on equal footing with other applicants or employees.

For example, if an employer’s hiring process includes a test, you may wish to ask for an accessible format or an alternative test that measures your ability to do the job in a way that is not affected by your disability. To request a reasonable accommodation, you need to notify an employer representative or official (for example, someone in Human Resources) or, if the employer is contracting with a software vendor, the vendor’s representative or the employer, that you have a medical condition, and that you need something changed because of the medical condition to ensure that your abilities are evaluated accurately.

Note that if your disability and need for accommodation are not obvious or already known, you may be asked to submit some medical documentation in support of your request for accommodation. To find out more about asking for reasonable accommodations, see Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA, available at https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/enforcement-guidance-reasonable-accommodation-and-undue-hardship-under-ada.

If you only discover that an algorithmic decision-making tool poses a problem due to your disability after the evaluation process is underway, you should notify the employer or software vendor as soon as you are aware of the problem and ask to be evaluated in a way that accurately reflects your ability to do the job, with a reasonable accommodation if one is legally required.

If you have already received a poor rating generated by an employer’s use of an algorithmic decision-making tool, you should think about whether your health condition might have prevented you from achieving a higher rating. For example, might a disability have negatively affected the results of an assessment, or made it impossible for you to complete an assessment? If so, you could contact the employer or software vendor immediately, explain the disability-related problem, and ask to be reassessed using a different format or test, or to explain how you could perform at a high level despite your performance on the test.

If you have a disability and are getting rejected by computers, or if you are  being assessed by means that include computer algorithms, then you might consider contacting an employee-side employment attorney to find out about your rights.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Some Cool New Laws Pending In Congress That Will Help Employees If Passed

 It isn't all bad news out there. Some bills pending in Congress look hopeful for employees. Of course, they probably won't get through the deadlocked Senate, but hey, let's be optimistic. If you think these bills should become law, call your Senators and members of Congress.

Here are some of the pro-worker bills pending and the descriptions their sponsors have given them:

S.505 - Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act - This bill prohibits a predispute arbitration agreement from being valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of an employment, consumer, antitrust, or civil rights dispute.

S.3641 - Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights Act - This bill modifies various employment, leave, and pension rules with respect to part-time workers. Specifically, the bill removes the requirement that employees work a minimum number of hours during the preceding 12-month period before becoming eligible for family and medical leave.

The bill also sets the maximum length of service on which employers may condition the eligibility of part-time employees for a qualified pension plan (e.g., 401(k) retirement plan). Except as required by an applicable collective bargaining agreement, such service requirement may be no longer than two consecutive 12-month periods of at least 500 hours of service for part-time employees who have reached the age of 21 by the end of such period.

The bill further prohibits employers of more than 15 employees from setting disparate terms of employment or working conditions for part-time employees, including with respect to compensation, notice of work hours, and promotion opportunities. Additionally, the bill requires such employers to offer available, qualified part-time employees additional work hours before hiring new employees for such hours. Among other enforcement methods, employers must maintain three years of records for offers of additional hours and employee responses to such offers. The bill also provides a private right of action for employees to enforce the nondiscrimination requirements of this bill.

S.3642 - Schedules That Work Act - This bill provides employees with the right to request changes to their work schedules related to the number of hours they are required to work or be on call, the location of the work, the amount of notification about work schedule assignments, and fluctuations in work hours.

Employers must negotiate in good faith with employees who make such requests and comply with certain work schedule notice and split shift pay requirements for retail, food service, cleaning, hospitality, or warehouse employees.

H.R.6762 - Special Inspector General for Law Enforcement Act - there is no description by the sponsor yet, but this would provide whistleblower protections for law enforcement employees who report wrongdoing by colleagues, ending the blue wall of silence.

H.R.7489 - Time Off to Vote Act - This bill requires an employer, upon the request of an employee, to provide the employee with a minimum of two consecutive hours of paid leave in order to vote in a federal election.

The employer may determine the two-hour period, excluding any lunch break or other break.

Taking such leave shall not result in the employee losing accrued employment benefits.

The bill makes it unlawful for an employer to interfere with the right to take such leave or for an employer to discriminate against an employee for taking such leave. Further, the bill makes it unlawful for any employer to retaliate against an employee for (1) opposing any practice made unlawful by this bill; (2) filing a charge, or instituting or causing to be instituted any proceeding, under or related to this bill; or (3) testifying or preparing to testify in an inquiry or proceeding relating to such leave.

The bill specifies penalties for employers who violate these provisions.

H.R.2243 - Fair Pay Act of 2021 - This bill requires employers to provide equal pay to employees for comparable or equivalent work.

Specifically, employers may not discriminate against employees on the basis of sex, race, or national origin with respect to payment of wages or other conditions of employment for jobs that, although dissimilar, the requirements of which are equivalent, when viewed as a composite of skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. However, employers may pay different wages in accordance with seniority systems, merit systems, systems that measure earnings by quantity or quality of production, or factors that the employer demonstrates are reasonably job-related, or further legitimate business interests. The bill allows compensatory or punitive damages for violations of this prohibition.

The bill prohibits an employer from (1) discriminating against any individual who opposes any act or practice made illegal by this bill or for assisting in an investigation, or (2) discharging or discriminating against any employee who inquires about or discusses another employee's wages.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must assist employers, labor organizations, and the general public in implementing these provisions.

S.2390 - Support Through Loss Act - This bill provides employees with 24 hours of paid leave time each year for an absence resulting from a pregnancy loss or other specified circumstance related to pregnancy, fertility, or an unsuccessful assisted reproductive procedure or adoption match.

Employers must notify each employee about the availability of this paid leave and may not discriminate or discharge an employee for exercising or attempting to exercise the right to such paid leave.

The bill provides for enforcement of this requirement by the Department of Labor and through civil action brought by an employee or individual.

Further, the bill requires specified federal agencies to conduct research and publish information about pregnancy loss and related evidence-based treatment options.

H.R.1065 - Pregnant Workers Fairness Act - This bill prohibits employment practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. A qualified employee is an employee or applicant who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position, with specified exceptions.

Specifically, the bill declares that it is an unlawful employment practice tofail to make reasonable accommodations to known limitations of such employees unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on an entity's business operation;
require a qualified employee affected by such condition to accept an accommodation other than any reasonable accommodation arrived at through an interactive process;
deny employment opportunities based on the need of the entity to make such reasonable accommodations to a qualified employee;
require such employees to take paid or unpaid leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided; or
take adverse action in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment against a qualified employee requesting or using such reasonable accommodations.

The bill sets forth enforcement procedures and remedies that cover different types of employees in relation to such unlawful employment practices.

H.R.3610 - Flexibility for Working Families Act - This bill allows an employee to request from an employer a temporary or permanent change in the terms or conditions of the employee's employment if the request relates to (1) the number of hours the employee is required to work, (2) the times when the employee is required to work or be on call for work, (3) where the employee is required to work, or (4) the amount of notification the employee receives of work schedule assignments. The bill sets forth certain employer duties with respect to such requests.

The bill prohibits an employer from interfering with any rights provided to an employee under this bill. An employee may file a complaint with the Department of Labor for any violations of such rights. Labor shall investigate and attempt to resolve such complaints and may issue orders making determinations and assessing civil penalties or awarding relief for alleged violations. The bill provides for judicial review of such orders, including in federal courts of appeal.

Labor and certain federal agencies and offices shall provide information and technical assistance to employers, labor organizations, and the general public regarding compliance with this bill.

The Wage and Hour Division of Labor must issue guidance on compliance with providing a flexible work environment through changes in employee terms and conditions of employment as provided in this bill.

The requirements of this bill are applicable to certain classes of employees, including employees of the Government Accountability Office and the Library of Congress.The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must provide examples of reasonable accommodations that shall be provided to affected employees unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would impose an undue hardship.

The bill prohibits state immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution from an action for a violation of this bill.

H.R.842 - Protecting the Right to Organize Act - This bill expands various labor protections related to employees' rights to organize and collectively bargain in the workplace.

Among other things, it (1) revises the definitions of employee, supervisor, and employer to broaden the scope of individuals covered by the fair labor standards; (2) permits labor organizations to encourage participation of union members in strikes initiated by employees represented by a different labor organization (i.e., secondary strikes); and (3) prohibits employers from bringing claims against unions that conduct such secondary strikes.

The bill also allows collective bargaining agreements to require all employees represented by the bargaining unit to contribute fees to the labor organization for the cost of such representation, notwithstanding a state law to the contrary; and expands unfair labor practices to include prohibitions against replacement of, or discrimination against, workers who participate in strikes.

The bill makes it an unfair labor practice to require or coerce employees to attend employer meetings designed to discourage union membership and prohibits employers from entering into agreements with employees under which employees waive the right to pursue or a join collective or class-action litigation.

The bill further prohibits employers from taking adverse actions against an employee, including employees with management responsibilities, in response to that employee participating in protected activities related to the enforcement of the prohibitions against unfair labor practices (i.e., whistleblower protections). Such protected activities includeproviding information about a potential violation to an enforcement agency,
participating in an enforcement proceeding,
initiating a proceeding concerning an alleged violation or assisting in such a proceeding, or
refusing to participate in an activity the employee reasonably believes is a violation of labor laws.

Finally, the bill addresses the procedures for union representation elections, provides employees with the ability to vote in such elections remotely by telephone or the internet, modifies the protections against unfair labor practices that result in serious economic harm, and establishes penalties and permits injunctive relief against entities that fail to comply with National Labor Relations Board orders.

This is only a sampling of pro-employee laws that could be passed and that are pending right now. It isn't that we don't know how to protect employees. It's that we don't. Talk to your elected officials about these pro-employee laws, and vote well in November and beyond.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Department Of Labor Gives Examples of Illegal Retaliation

The U.S. Department of Labor has provided a guidance that gives specific examples of what constitutes illegal retaliation. The complete guidance is here. Some specific examples they provided are:

Example 1: Employee calls WHD about overtime. 

Nelson works as a cook at a restaurant and contacts WHD confidentially to inquire about overtime pay. Nelson tells another cook what he learned from WHD and his co-worker tells someone on the wait staff. Later that day their manager overhears two wait staff talking about the call and terminates Nelson’s employment. In this scenario, terminating Nelson’s employment because he contacted WHD (or was suspected of contacting WHD) would be prohibited. WHD may investigate or Nelson may file a private cause of action seeking appropriate remedies, including, but not limited to, reinstatement, lost wages, and liquidated damages. 

Example 2: Employee asks for additional break time to express breast milk. 

Aisha is a new mother who works for a call center. She uses her lunch break to express breast milk and needs additional time to finish pumping before she is able to return calls at her work station. Her boss complains when she is late returning from lunch and tells her she cannot use any time beyond her meal break for “personal stuff.” When Aisha asks if she has a right to take another break for pumping later in the day, her boss sends her home for the rest of her shift without pay. In this scenario, Aisha was sent home for attempting to exercise her rights under the FLSA. After investigating, WHD, in addition to requiring the employer to provide the requisite time and space for nursing mothers in compliance with the law, determines Aisha may also be entitled to back pay and liquidated damages for wages she lost when her boss sent her home in retaliation for requesting a break. 

Example: Worker penalized for using FMLA leave to care for child. 

Jaime takes approved FMLA leave to care for his seven-year-old daughter when she is in the hospital overnight and recovering from surgery. Jaime returns to work as scheduled but receives three negative attendance points for the days he used FMLA leave. Under his employer’s no fault attendance plan, employees are allocated points for every absence from work, regardless of the reason for the absence. Employees are disciplined when they accrue a set number of points, and employees who accrue more than ten points in a calendar year may be terminated. 2 A state employee’s private right of action may be limited by the sovereign immunity provision of the Eleventh Amendment. Id. 6 In this scenario, assigning attendance points to Jaime’s FMLA-protected leave days would be prohibited. Under the FMLA’s anti-retaliation provisions, an employer may not use the taking of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions and may not count FMLA leave days under no fault attendance policies. In an investigation, WHD would require that the employer remove the attendance points from Jaime’s employment record for the days he used FMLA leave to care for his daughter. 

Example: Employee returns to work and her hours are cut in half. 

Deborah used FMLA leave from her job as a front desk clerk at a hotel when she suffered from migraine headaches that made it impossible for her to work. She was approved for FMLA leave and used it for three days in January and one day in February. In April, she had another episode, and used FMLA leave for two days. When she returned to work her new manager reduced her schedule from 40 hours to 20 hours a week saying they need workers who will show up every day. WHD completes an investigation and requires the hotel to return Deborah to her previous schedule and pay her for an additional 20 hours a week in wages for the duration of the period she worked the reduced schedule. WHD also requires the employer to pay Deborah an amount equivalent to her lost wages in liquidated damages. 

Example: WHD investigates and employer fires crew of agricultural workers. 

An employer houses 15 migrant agricultural workers in housing that is determined to be substandard. Workers sleep on the floor, have no electricity, use water from a garden hose, and have one hotplate for cooking that is shared among all of the workers. After a WHD investigator arrives at the location unannounced to inspect the housing conditions and interview workers, the employer fires all 15 workers because, “We don’t want any whiners on the team.” The employer does not pay the workers for their final week of work. In this scenario, WHD may pursue back pay, and reinstatement of employment for every worker, and civil money penalty assessments against the employer.

Example: Worker threatened with deportation. 

An employer participating in the H-1B visa program hired seven workers with H-1B visas to provide occupational, physical, and speech therapy services to patients in their homes. The employer deducted a monthly sponsorship fee from the pay of each worker with an H-1B visa. The employer required the workers to sign a form declaring that the deductions were for recouping personal loans it purportedly gave to the workers. When one worker refused to sign the document, the employer threatened him with deportation, criminal perjury, and threats of physical violence against his family in his home country. In this scenario, WHD may pursue back wages for the illegal deduction, civil money penalties against the employer for the retaliation, debarment from the H-1B program for two years, and other appropriate legal or equitable remedies. WHD also may, potentially, make a referral to the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Immigrant and Employee Rights Section.2F 3

Example: Supervisor lies about employee’s performance history because of WHD interview. 

Charlotte is an employee at a vehicle assembly plant where WHD conducts an LVC compliance verification under the USMCA. She was instructed by her immediate supervisor to tell WHD representatives that she earns $16 an hour despite the fact that she actually earns $13.50 an hour. After the WHD representatives leave the worksite, Charlotte’s supervisor asks her what she said to WHD representatives. When Charlotte states that she told the truth, the supervisor fabricates a story of insubordination that results in the termination of Charlotte’s employment. Charlotte had no prior occurrences of corrective action and was otherwise in good standing with her employer. In this scenario, after investigating and verifying that Charlotte was retaliated against for cooperating with a WHD investigation, WHD may pursue lost wages, reinstatement, and the assessment of a civil money penalty.

Example: Federal contract worker’s promotion denied after they inquire about sick leave. 

Bernard works on a federal contract covered by EO 13706. He is a supervisor of maintenance services at a national park and is about to be promoted. When Bernard emails his employer, the contractor, asking about the availability of paid sick leave to attend his spouse’s upcoming medical appointments, his planned promotion is cancelled and he is rescheduled from working weekdays only to weekdays and weekend shifts. When Bernard asks about the changes, his manager states the changes were made so that he would have fewer responsibilities at work and more time available to help with his wife’s health care. A representative for the national park (the contracting agency) who communicates with Bernard about work orders during the week, contacts WHD on Bernard’s behalf. In this scenario, WHD may investigate to determine whether the maintenance contractor has violated the anti-retaliation provisions of the EO and its regulations. The employer may be required to grant Bernard the promotion and return him to his previous work schedule and duties. He may also receive back wages to compensate for any difference in wages received compared to the wages he would have received if the retaliatory actions had not occurred. 

Example: Contract worker asks about deductions from pay and is denied bonus.

Geri is a crewmember working on the construction of a new post office building for a federal contractor covered by EO 14026. Geri asks her company payroll department about deductions from her paycheck that may bring her earnings below $15.00 per hour. The payroll department refers her question to a corporate officer of the company who directs the payroll department to cancel Geri’s quarterly performance bonus. In this scenario, a retaliatory denial of the bonus would be prohibited by EO 14026. WHD may investigate, determine the employer violated the EO, and require payment of the bonus and other wages that may be due if the deductions were improperly made.

These are just a few examples they provide for retaliation. The agency also describes retaliation in general:

Retaliation occurs when an employer, including through a manager, supervisor, administrator or other agent, takes an adverse action against an employee because they engaged in a protected activity.

 Examples of protected activity include making a complaint to a manager, employer, or WHD; cooperating with a WHD investigation; requesting payment of wages; refusing to return back wages to the employer; complaints by a third party on behalf of an employee; consulting with WHD staff; exercising rights or attempting to exercise rights, such as requesting certain types of leave; and testifying at trial. 

Under many of the statutes enforced by WHD, an employee can be protected from retaliation even if the employee’s complaint to the employer or WHD is based on a mistaken belief that the employee’s rights have been violated. For example, if a worker believes, and so tells an employer, that he is owed overtime pay for the hours he worked, the worker has engaged in a protected activity, even if the worker’s belief that he is due overtime turns out to be mistaken because he has been correctly paid. 

An adverse action is any action that could dissuade an employee from raising a concern about a possible violation or engaging in other protected activity, such as filing a complaint or cooperating in a WHD investigation. An adverse action taken by an employer can take many forms, including termination; confiscating a worker’s passport or other immigration documents; disciplinary actions; threats to employees, their families or co-workers; reduction of work hours or rate of pay; shift changes or elimination of premium pay; blacklisting; and demotion. Adverse actions can be subtle, such as excluding an employee from a regularly scheduled meeting, or overt, such as intimidating employees to return back wages found due (“kickbacks”), threatening an employee with deportation, or terminating an employee. 

Bottom line: If you think you've been retaliated against for objecting to something illegal your employer did, for contacting a government agency, or for taking protected medical leave, you should talk to an employment lawyer in your state about your rights. 


Thursday, July 7, 2022

Does The First Amendment Mean Anti-Harassment Policies Are Illegal? Florida Court Says Yes

 In a what-the-frack moment, I took a look at what seems to be an opinion that has no relation to employment law, and realized that it has far-reaching implications. The 11th Circuit has ruled that the University of Central Florida's anti-harassment policy that applies to students violates the First Amendment.

Now, granted, as I've said before, the First Amendment only applies to governments. UCF is a government-run school. So this issue will only apply to governments. But it also seems to apply to anti-harassment policies that government employers might try to impose. And it might apply to other anti-harassment policies because of the way the Court analyzed the policy.

The issue was a student who wanted to say stuff like, "abortion is immoral," "government should not be able to force religious organizations to recognize marriages with whihc they disagree," "affirmative action is deeply unfair," and "a man cannot become a woman because he 'feels like one.'" The student said he was afraid to speak up because he might be disciplined under the university's discriminatory harassment policy, which prohibited harassment based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, non-religion, age, genetic information, sex, pregnancy, parental status, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, political affiliation, or veteran's status. 

The Court said that this policy violates the First Amendment because it is content-based, in that the "University must 'examine the content of the message that is conveyed to determine whether' it harasses another student 'based upon' any of a long list of characteristics." They said that, because it is content-based, it is subject to strict scrutiny, and that the policy is very broad. For instance, the Court points to language in the policy that says it's prohibited if the conduct "may be humiliating." 

They also said the policy is illegal because it discriminates on the basis of viewpoint, because it only prohibits speech that is discriminatory.

Well, duh. Of course an anti-harassment policy prohibits speech that is discriminatory. And for a court to say governments can't bar discriminatory speech opens up a can of worms for employment lawyers. Can a government discipline an employee who walks up to a Black coworker and says, "In my opinion, Black people should go back to being slaves," or who walks up to a pregnant coworker and says, "You shouldn't be allowed to work while you're pregnant or have children"? What if the person who says these things is a supervisor? 

So I say again, what the frack? If anti-harassment policies are going to be invalidated because they require employers to actually analyze what was said and whether it is discriminatory, then how can there ever be valid anti-harassment policies in government? And once the courts start saying viewpoint discrimination is illegal, then all bad actors have to do is phrase their discriminatory comments in the form of an opinion.

Will employment law be like Jeopardy? You only lose if you fail to phrase your statement in the form of an opinion?

If anyone can explain why this opinion isn't beyond outrageous, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Did Florida Make It Illegal To Refuse To Hire White Nationalists, and Yet Make Affirmative Action And CRT Legal? The Utter Stupidity of the Stop WOKE Act.

 The Florida legislature, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to modify Florida's anti-discrimination statute with the Stop WOKE Act. /1

There's a lot stupid about this, but let's unpack some of the most idiotic parts. 

The Whole Thing Is Opposite What They Meant

As has been the Florida Legislature's practice this session, the whole thing says the opposite of what they probably meant. Because the way it reads looks like the entire list (I put the whole list in a footnote below) is something the legislature believes is not discrimination, and should not be taught as such. But what they may have actually meant is that they think the entire list actually is discrimination. They wrote that, "Subjecting any individual, as a condition of employment, membership, certification, licensing, credentialing, or passing an examination, to training, instruction, or any other required activity that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe any of the following concepts constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin under this section" is illegal.

But what they should have written instead is: "Subjecting any individual, as a condition of employment, membership, certification, licensing, credentialing, or passing an examination, to training, instruction, or any other required activity that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe any of the following concepts constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin under this section" is illegal.

Is it illegal to discriminate against white nationalists?

What really jumps out at me is that employers are not allowed to refuse to hire someone who believes that, "Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of another race, color, sex, or national origin." We're talking white nationalists here. As I read this, employers can't refuse to hire white nationalists in Florida. Taking out all the qualifiers, other types of discrimination, and weaselly language, here's what it says is one of the things that is illegal with respect to race discrimination: 

Subjecting any individual, as a condition of employment, to any required activity that compels such individual to believe the following concept constitutes discrimination based on race: 

1. Members of one race are morally superior to members of another race.

Since white nationalists, by definition, believe whites are superior in every way to non-whites, that means employers can't refuse to hire (or fire once they find out about their beliefs) white nationalists? This is what happens when you put in language deliberately meant to confuse and obfuscate your intent. 

Is Discrimination Based On Your Ancestors' Race Now Legal?

Let's look at another provision that says something stupid. 

The legislature also says that this concept is not discrimination: 

"An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin." 

So now it's also illegal to refuse to hire or fire anyone who believes that they should discriminate against employees or potential employees because of actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin. Did they mean this? Or is it just too many double negatives? Who knows? It's the law now in Florida.

Is Affirmative Action Now Legal?

I think they also just made affirmative action legal, since they say this is not discrimination:

An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion.

Hello affirmative action.

Wait, I Thought They Were Against Critical Race Theory

The legislature also decided that employers are not allowed to refuse to hire someone who believes in some key tenets of Critical Race Theory. They also decided that employers can't subject employees to training that says Critical Race Theory is discrimination. Don't believe me? Look at the wording and tell me I'm wrong.

/1The statute now has this language added to it:

760.10 Unlawful employment practices.— 

(8)(a) Subjecting any individual, as a condition of employment, membership, certification, licensing, credentialing, or passing an examination, to training, instruction, or any other required activity that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe any of the following concepts constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin under this section: 

1. Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of another race, color, sex, or national origin. 

2. An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously. 

3. An individual's moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, sex, or national origin. 

4. Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, sex, or national origin. 

5. An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.  

6. An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion. 

7. An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin. 

8. Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, sex, or national origin to oppress members of another race, color, sex, or national origin. 

(b) Paragraph (a) may not be construed to prohibit discussion of the concepts listed therein as part of a course of training or instruction, provided such training or instruction is given in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts. 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Yes, Some Small Employers In Florida Can Be Sued For Discrimination

For the most part, discrimination cases can only be filed against employers with at least 15 employees. Federal law and Florida law both limit liability for most discrimination claims to employers with 15 or more employees. But some cities and counties in Florida allow discrimination claims to be made against employers with 5 or more employees. 

Miami-Dade County has such an ordinance. A new case out of the Third District Court of Appeals has confirmed that employees who work for employers in Miami-Dade County that have at least 5 employees can sue for discrimination in court. 

Is that earth-shattering news? No. That ordinance has been in place for many years. But employers have tried to resist lawsuits filed under the ordinance, saying that there is no private right of action under the ordinance. The alternative was to have an administrative hearing in front of the county equal opportunity board, which is difficult to coordinate. Now it's clear that employees can sue and have a judge and jury hear their discrimination case.

Other counties and municipalities in Florida that have ordinances allowing employees of small employers to bring discrimination claims include Broward, Cutler Bay, Miami Beach, Tampa, Orange County, Hillsborough County, Lee County, and Pinellas County. Whether employees can sue under these ordinances or must use local administrative hearings instead will depend on the language of the ordinance. 

In the recent case, the Court pointed to the clear language of the ordinance and found a private right of action exists:

In 2006, the Miami-Dade County Commission amended section 11A-28 to include:

(10) Enforcement by private persons. 
(a) If within one hundred eighty (180) days after a complaint is filed alleging discrimination, the Director [of the Commission on Human Rights] has been unable to obtain voluntary compliance with the provisions of this Article, the aggrieved person may demand a notice of right-to-sue from the Director, the issuance of which shall terminate the jurisdiction of the Director and the Board over such a complaint. Not later than ninety (90) days following receipt of the notice of right-to-sue, the aggrieved person may commence a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction against the respondent named in the complaint. 
(b) If, in a private enforcement proceeding under this Article, the court finds that a discriminatory practice has occurred or is about to occur it may issue an order prohibiting the practice and providing affirmative relief from the effects of the practice, including temporary or permanent injunctive and other equitable relief, temporary restraining order, actual and punitive damages, reasonable attorney's fees, interest, costs or other appropriate relief.

Section 11A-28(10)

The result was as it should be. If a local ordinance provides for a private right of action, then employees can sue in court. 

It is now clear that, at least in Miami-Dade County, if your employer has at least 5 employees, it's illegal to discriminate, and you can sue if they do (after filing a charge of discrimination with the county and giving them at least 180 days to resolve it, and after getting a right to sue letter). 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

How To Make $400,000 By Being An A**hat; And, Are You One Of The Chosen?

 I had just read about the philosophy professor who claimed it was against his religion to refer to a trans woman as she/her, and then sued after he was disciplined. The college just settled for $400,000. This isn't the first case where an evangelical Christian has claimed that their religion prohibited basic human decency and manners. And that got me thinking.

I then went for a walk and went face-first into a spiderweb and had an epiphany. An enlightenment, if you will. A new religion. Maybe you'll want to join it. And before you say, hey, you can't just pull a religion out of a hat, first of all, I have Mormon clients you've just triggered. Second, all you need for a religion to be legally protected is a sincerely held belief, observance, or practice. Here's what EEOC says about religion:

Religion includes not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others.Further, a person’s religious beliefs “need not be confined in either source or content to traditional or parochial concepts of religion.” A belief is “religious” for Title VII purposes if it is “religious” in the person’s “own scheme of things,” i.e., it is a “sincere and meaningful” belief that “occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by . . . God.” The Supreme Court has made it clear that it is not a court’s role to determine the reasonableness of an individual’s religious beliefs, and that “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.” An employee’s belief, observance, or practice can be “religious” under Title VII even if the employee is affiliated with a religious group that does not espouse or recognize that individual’s belief, observance, or practice, or if few – or no – other people adhere to it.

Here are the beliefs of this spiderweb-inspired religion:

Name of religion: The religion is called Church of the Chosen. Why? Because the Creator's chosen people have always been the downtrodden and bullied. The misfits. The Jewish people are a good example of the chosen people, as are everyone who has been looked down upon. So if you are are gay, lesbian, trans, queer, female, Black, Brown, ace, atheist, agnostic, nerdly, disabled,  wrong in all the right ways, an underdog, a nitty gritty dirty little freak*, or you celebrate Festivus, do cosplay, geek out on a hobby, expound on the glories of wine or beer, collect rocks or books, or ever played D&D, then you are one of the Chosen.

Creator: The Creator of all things does not care what you call them. You can refer to them as God, Jehovah, Allah, or Sue. However, they do want you to know that they are non-binary. They are neither male nor female, having no need for reproductive organs. All humans are made in their image, including male, female, intersex, non-binary, and all iterations of sexual identification and sexual preference. Their pronouns are they/them. They aren't saying if there are more than one, or none, of them.

Belief: The Creator does not care if you believe in them or not. They do not need any particular form of worship. You can be atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Santeria, Pastafarian, or any other religion and still be part of the Church of the Chosen. 

Pronouns: The Chosen believe that people should be given the courtesy of being called by their preferred pronouns. The Chosen also believe their religion demands** that those who deliberately misgender must, forever after or until they relent, be called by the opposite gender. So, in the case of Nicholas Meriwether, the Chosen shall now refer to the now-rich philosophy professor as Ms. Meriwether, and use she/her pronouns. For those who refuse to use non-binary pronouns, they shall forever after or until they relent, be referred to as they/them. This is our sincerely held belief, one of our core beliefs, and it must be respected. We fully expect the Alliance Defending Freedom to represent anyone who is disciplined for doing so. As their senior counsel, Travis Barham, said, “This case forced us to defend what used to be a common belief — that nobody should be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep their job.”

Science: The Chosen believe in science. The Chosen believe in following the recommendations of the CDC, the WHO, and their physicians. We believe in getting recommended vaccinations unless we have an allergy or our doctor otherwise advises us against them. We believe in using masks to prevent the spread of deadly diseases. The Chosen also believe that they should not have to sit next to anyone who is both unvaccinated and unmasked for a deadly disease against the recommendation of medical professionals.  While the Chosen believe it is anyone's right to believe that masking hides the face and is against the Creator's will, the Chosen also believe that their religion demands they, and their children, avoid such people, who will almost certainly contaminate their bodies. Thus, they must assert a religious exemption if they believe they are being required to be exposed to such contamination.

Bodies: The Chosen believe that their religion demands they have control over their bodies, and that any decisions related to their bodies be between their doctors and them. The religion demands that the Chosen claim a religious exemption from the dictates of any government or other authority which would limit their ability to choose birth control, abortion, gender-affirming treatment, gender-affirming surgery, or make other choices about their bodies. The Chosen in the medical profession also believe that they must assert a religious exemption and refuse to abide by any government restrictions on what treatments they may provide to patients who have chosen to utilize birth control, abortion, gender-affirming treatment, or gender-affirming surgery. 

Education: The Chosen believe that children should be taught about all kinds of families, and that children and teachers should be able to speak about their own families. The Chosen also believe that it is sacrilege to fail to teach all aspects of history, good and bad. Teachers who are Chosen must claim a religious exemption and refuse to abide by restrictions on discussing same-sex parents, gender dysphoria, science, critical race theory, math, or banned books. Parents who are Chosen must insist that teachers and schools exempt their children and abide by their religious beliefs in this regard. 

Prayer: The Creator is not a personal genie. They do not want to be bothered by football games, craps games, school functions, civic meetings, or other trivial matters. The Chosen believe it is sacrilege to engage in public prayer other than in places of worship, prayer groups, or other places where 100% of those in attendance actively want to participate. The Chosen believe it is your absolute right to bother the Creator with whatever you want to bother them with, as long as you do not force others to listen in or participate. The Chosen believe that, if forced to listen to the prayers of others, their minds and bodies will be polluted. Therefore, they must demand a religious exemption to participating in and listening to all forced prayer.

Voting: The Chosen believe that all citizens of a democracy should be allowed to vote and that voting should be made as easy as possible for those citizens. Therefore, Supervisors of Elections and other employees who work on elections have a duty to claim a religious exemption from any and all laws and regulations in which they would be required to reduce the number of voting places, ballot drop-offs, and/or early voting days; make absentee voting more difficult; or make voting in person more difficult.

These are just some of the core beliefs of the Church of the Chosen. I may have more epiphanies about the core beliefs of the Chosen the next time I run face-first into a spiderweb.*** If you also hold some or all of these beliefs, you are one of the Chosen. It is now your religion. You can demand that public accommodations, schools, and workplaces respect and abide by your religion. If one religion can exempt itself from complying with laws and regulations, so must the Chosen.**** It is the way.

* Okay, that last part may be because I was listenng to Pink when my face hit the spiderweb, but who am I to question the Creator? Maybe Pink is a prophet.

** Because the Creator is known to be vindictive as heck. Lot's wife is a little salty about this.

*** Which happens almost daily, because the little buggers are sneaky and we have a large yard.

**** While this is written with some tongue in cheek, I am dead serious. These are my sincerely held core beliefs. If they are yours, then fight for your religious rights as one of the Chosen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

How To Claim A Religious Accommodation For COVID Vaccines

 First of all, let me say that I'm a big believer in the COVID vaccines. They work. That being said, if you have a real religious reason (not a political reason) for seeking an exemption to the vaccine, here's what you need to know.

EEOC just updated its guidance on this issue, so if you are serious about seeking a religious accommodation under Title VII, I suggest you read it. Here are some of the key points:

Be ready to answer some questions. EEOC has its own internal form that employers and employees can use as an example. Employers might have their own forms to fill out. Here are the questions EEOC has for its own employees to answer on the form:

1) Please identify the EEOC requirement, policy, or practice that conflicts with your sincerely held religious observance, practice, or belief (hereinafter "religious beliefs"). 

2) Please describe the nature of your sincerely held religious beliefs or religious practice or observance that conflict with the EEOC requirement, policy, or practice identified above. 

3) What is the accommodation or modification that you are requesting? 

4) List any alternative accommodations that also would eliminate the conflict between the EEOC requirement, policy, or practice and your sincerely held religious beliefs.  

What is a sincerely held religious belief?: "EEOC guidance explains that the definition of religion is broad and protects beliefs, practices, and observances with which the employer may be unfamiliar. Therefore, the employer should ordinarily assume that an employee’s request for religious accommodation is based on a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance. However, if an employee requests a religious accommodation, and an employer is aware of facts that provide an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, practice, or observance, the employer would be justified in requesting additional supporting information. See also 29 CFR 1605."

What are alternative accommodations?: "An employee who does not get vaccinated due to a disability (covered by the ADA) or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance (covered by Title VII) may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation that does not pose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. For example, as a reasonable accommodation, an unvaccinated employee entering the workplace might wear a face mask, work at a social distance from coworkers or non-employees, work a modified shift, get periodic tests for COVID-19, be given the opportunity to telework, or finally, accept a reassignment."

What are the employer's duties regarding an accommodation request?: "Once an employer is on notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents the employee from getting a COVID-19 vaccine, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship. Employers also may receive religious accommodation requests from individuals who wish to wait until an alternative version or specific brand of COVID-19 vaccine is available to the employee. Such requests should be processed according to the same standards that apply to other accommodation requests."

Can the employer say no?: "Under Title VII, courts define “undue hardship” as having more than minimal cost or burden on the employer. This is an easier standard for employers to meet than the ADA’s undue hardship standard, which applies to requests for accommodations due to a disability. Considerations relevant to undue hardship can include, among other things, the proportion of employees in the workplace who already are partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the extent of employee contact with non-employees, whose vaccination status could be unknown or who may be ineligible for the vaccine. Ultimately, if an employee cannot be accommodated, employers should determine if any other rights apply under the EEO laws or other federal, state, and local authorities before taking adverse employment action against an unvaccinated employee."

"If an employee’s objection to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement is not religious in nature, or is not sincerely held, Title VII does not require the employer to provide an exception to the vaccination requirement as a religious accommodation." 

What can they ask about my religion?:  "However, if an employer has an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, the employer would be justified in making a limited factual inquiry and seeking additional supporting information. An employee who fails to cooperate with an employer’s reasonable requests for verification of the sincerity or religious nature of a professed belief, practice, or observance risks losing any subsequent claim that the employer improperly denied an accommodation."

The sincerity of an employee’s stated religious beliefs, practices, or observances is usually not in dispute. The employee’s sincerity in holding a religious belief is “largely a matter of individual credibility.” Section 12-I.A.2: Religious Discrimination (credibility and sincerity). Factors that—either alone or in combination—might undermine an employee’s credibility include: whether the employee has acted in a manner inconsistent with the professed belief (although employees need not be scrupulous in their observance); whether the accommodation sought is a particularly desirable benefit that is likely to be sought for nonreligious reasons; whether the timing of the request renders it suspect (for example, it follows an earlier request by the employee for the same benefit for secular reasons); and whether the employer otherwise has reason to believe the accommodation is not sought for religious reasons.

The employer may ask for an explanation of how the employee’s religious beliefs, practices, or observances conflict with the employer’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement. Although prior inconsistent conduct is relevant to the question of sincerity, an individual’s beliefs—or degree of adherence—may change over time and, therefore, an employee’s newly adopted or inconsistently observed practices may nevertheless be sincerely held. An employer should not assume that an employee is insincere simply because some of the employee’s practices deviate from the commonly followed tenets of the employee’s religion, or because the employee adheres to some common practices but not others. No one factor or consideration is determinative, and employers should evaluate religious objections on an individual basis.

So, when they ask about your religious belief, you need to give specifics. If you say that you believe the body is a temple that you are not permitted to pollute with chemical substances, or that your religion prohibits all vaccines, you will likely need to provide examples. So can you give examples such as not having been vaccinated since you joined this religion, not taking antibiotics, not taking any supplements to boost the immune system, etc? Is there a doctor who can confirm you refused such treatments when ill? Do you also decline alcohol and other similar substances? Do you refrain from eating processed foods and drinks that contain non-organic chemicals? This is the kind of information they are looking for. If you really do follow specific limitations in your medical treatment or consumption of chemicals, then you probably have a legitimate religious exemption. 

Does it have to be a traditional religion?: "The definition of “religion” under Title VII protects both traditional and nontraditional religious beliefs, practices, or observances, including those that may be unfamiliar to employers. While the employer should not assume that a request is invalid simply because it is based on unfamiliar religious beliefs, practices, or observances, employees may be asked to explain the religious nature of their belief, practice, or observance and should not assume that the employer already knows or understands it."

Some traditional religions do object to the vaccines. However, even Christian Scientists made an exception for them, so it is not very many religions. Catholics internationally object to none, but American Catholics in some areas object to Johnson & Johnson. 

I sincerely believe vaccinations are bad. Is that a religion?: "Title VII does not protect social, political, or economic views or personal preferences. Thus, objections to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement that are purely based on social, political, or economic views or personal preferences, or any other nonreligious concerns (including about the possible effects of the vaccine), do not qualify as religious beliefs, practices, or observances under Title VII. However, overlap between a religious and political view does not place it outside the scope of Title VII’s religious protections, as long as the view is part of a comprehensive religious belief system and is not simply an isolated teaching."

And then there's Florida: Florida has passed a law banning private corporations from mandating vaccines in the workplace unless they allow exceptions that include religion (as mentioned above, federal law already has exemptions for religion). The law details how to claim each exemption, and imposes fines on employers for noncompliance. Here's the form to claim an exemption in Florida. Other states have similar exemptions. If an employer in Florida does not accept an employee's properly completed exemption form, violations can be reported to the Attorney General. The Attorney General has the authority to impose fines for such violations:

  • Up to $10,000 for private entities employing less than 100 people
  • Up to $50,000 for private entities employing 100 people or more
Public employers, including educational or governmental institutions, are prohibited from imposing COVID-19 vaccination mandates. Violations for public employers can be reported to the Florida Department of Health through VaxPassFreeFL@FLHealth.gov.

Even with Florida's lax standards, if your employer catches you in a lie about your "sincerely held religious beliefs," you can be fired, so I suggest being serious about this. Don't claim a religious belief if you don't have a real one.

I guess watching Fox News is arguably being part of a cult, so maybe there's an argument there for a religious exemption. But seriously, get the vaccine if you can. If you don't have a medical or sincere religious reason, just get it. 

If you have a sincerely held religous belief against the vaccines, you might want to talk to an employee-side employment lawyer in your state about your rights.