Maintaining a religion-neutral workplace

by Charles S. Plumb

About a year ago, a group of private citizens paid for a seven-foot-tall granite monument of the Ten Commandments and gained approval for it to be placed on the north end of the Oklahoma Capitol grounds. Not surprisingly, a satanic group then asked Oklahoma’s Capitol Preservation Commission for permission to erect a seven-foot-tall “homage” to the Prince of Darkness, and a Hindu organization applied to have a monkey god statue join the growing list of Oklahoma statehouse religious monuments. Most recently, the Pastafarians—people who follow the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster—have asked how they can apply for a spot for their statue on Oklahoma’s Capitol grounds. I’m serious.  ReligiousSymbols

What does this have to do with your workplace? Hopefully nothing. But it serves as a good reminder about the potential curveballs an employer can face when religious issues gain prominence at work.

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Discriminatory practices: pitfalls of the I-9 process

by Anders Lindberg

The I-9 process of verifying an employee’s identity and employment authorization can be, as W.C. Fields put it, “fraught with eminent peril.” Failure to comply with documentation, verification, and discrimination laws can result in stiff fines and penalties. And recent settlement agreements between employers and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indicate that the government is paying attention. EmployeeFillsOutForm

Background

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What’s the status of transgender employees in the workplace?

by Raanon Gal and Chad A. Shultz

The law regarding the rights of transgender employees is evolving, with a clear trend toward the recognition and protection of the rights of transgender individuals. Just five years ago, employers in the United States likely would not have considered whether transgender employees were protected by federal employment laws. At most, employers would have considered whether state or local laws extended protections to transgender employees. However, the global community has been active regarding the protection of transgender employees’ rights in the workplace, and now it seems that the federal government is on track to join that trend. 

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Miss Utah and the Equal Pay Act

by Boyd Byers

She didn’t win the crown, but Miss Utah, Marissa Powell, made the most news during the Miss USA pageant this summer. Her bungled response to a question about the gender pay gap went viral and was seen by millions on the Internet. But her response also generated serious discussion about equal pay. 

‘Create education better’

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Same-sex couples stand to receive benefits after DOMA provision’s demise

by Scott Evans

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a pair of decisions favorable to the gay rights movement. In United States v. Windsor, the Court ruled that same-sex married couples are entitled to federal benefits, and by declining to decide a California case, the Court effectively allowed same-sex marriage in the state.

In the Windsor case, the Supreme Court held that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman and denied more than 1,000 federal benefits to same-sex married couples, was unconstitutional because it violated the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Court’s decision to strike down Section 3 may dramatically transform the legal and financial standing of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the majority’s opinion in the 5-4 decision, with the four liberal-leaning justices―Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan―joining.

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Sex, religion, and retaliation

by Mark I. Schickman

I keep waiting for the day that employment discrimination claims disappear. We spend a ton of time training employees to prevent and avoid discriminatory conduct, and the proper behavior is pretty intuitive. So, logically, employment discrimination should have been eradicated, like polio and smallpox.

It would be terrible for my business if discrimination cases went away because defending them is much of what I do. But no worries―there isn’t much chance of employment discrimination disappearing. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received about 100,000 charges in 2012, up from 75,000 in 2005. Religious discrimination is the fastest- growing category of charges, fed by a rising fear of those who practice Islam and the misplaced view that, unlike race or sex, a person can just change religion. The EEOC is putting extra enforcement effort into that area. read more…

What’s on the immigration horizon for employers?

by Elaine Young

During the month of May, the Senate Judiciary Committee marked up the comprehensive immigration reform bill that the “Gang of Eight” proposed earlier in the year. In June, we saw the House of Representatives debate over what to add or take away from the bill. Here’s a quick Q&A on how some of the most likely provisions will affect employers. Just a note―the bill is more than 800 pages long, so this is a general summary.

Drilling down to the basics

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Atten-hut! Know your USERRA obligations

by Steve Jones

Q What are my obligations to employees who are in the military, are called to serve, and then seek to return to their civilian jobs? What if an employee will be deployed for more than a year?

A The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) governs the employment of military servicemembers. USERRA, which is a federal law and therefore applies in all states, is intended to ensure that people who serve or have served in the armed forces, reserves, National Guard, or other uniformed services (1) are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service, (2) are promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from military duty, and (3) are not discriminated against in employment based on past, present, or future military service. You must be aware of your obligations under USERRA before you hire military servicemembers, during their employment, and while they are away from their jobs because of service-related duties.

Application of the law

First, you may not deny someone initial employment because of past, present, or future military service. You can defend your company against a USERRA claim by presenting evidence that you would have taken the same action if the job applicant didn’t have military service obligations. Detailed documentation, including comprehensive interview notes and in-depth explanations of your reasons for not hiring prospective employees, will help your defense. read more…

Military needs more than a few good men

by Mark Schickman

Let’s turn the clock back 50 years to the days before Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sex discrimination was a constant, and sexual harassment was so prevalent that it wasn’t yet a term of art. The notion that a woman had the right to a workplace free from sexist comments or unequal treatment was nothing short of bizarre. Work life as portrayed on Mad Men was pretty much the norm.

Do you know how gender discrimination found its way into Title VII? The bill was originally designed to cover discrimination based on race and national origin. Opponents allowed gender to be added as a protected class, thinking it would kill the bill. Much to their surprise, Title VII passed―sexual harassment prohibitions and all. read more…

She works hard for the money

by Kylie Crawford TenBrook

Several years ago, I attended a celebration for one of my brothers, who had just become an Eagle Scout. Several relatives were there, including some distant relatives I hadn’t seen in years. One of those distant relatives, who is close to my age, approached me, and the following exchange took place. (The comments in parentheses are my thoughts as the conversation progressed. Please take my fresh-out-of-law- school cockiness with a grain of salt―I have been severely humbled since then.)

Relative: So, Kylie, what are you doing these days?

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