Walking the workplace proselytizing tightrope

January 15, 2017 0 COMMENTS

by David L. Johnson

“Have a blessed day.” “I’m praying for you.” “Are you a believer?” “Would you be interested in attending church with me?” Comments and questions like those may be common in your workplace. On the one hand, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars employers from discriminating against employees because of their religion. On the other hand, employers have a legitimate interest in preventing employees from expressing their religion in a manner that is disruptive to business operations and preventing proselytizing from creating a religiously hostile work environment. That can be a real tightrope walk because it’s often unclear where the line should be drawn.  Tightrope walker businessman

Title VII requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs. That may present challenges when an employee claims that a need to share her faith or seek to convert others is a fundamental tenet of her religion. Employers need not provide accommodations that would impose an undue hardship. Of course, what amounts to a “reasonable” accommodation and what kind of hardship is considered “undue” is open to interpretation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has interpreted an “undue hardship” to be a hardship that presents “more than a minimal burden on [the] operation of the business.” An accommodation that would impede coworkers’ right to work in an environment free from religious harassment would be considered an undue hardship.

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U.S. Supreme Court to consider transgender restroom lawsuit

January 15, 2017 0 COMMENTS

by Ryan B. Frazier

During the 1990s, Saturday Night Live, a popular TV sketch comedy show, featured a recurring gender-ambiguous character, Pat. The gag in Pat’s comedy sketches often involved others’ failed attempts to determine the seemingly androgynous character’s gender. The skits played off the then-prevailing view that a person’s gender falls into one of two categories: male or female.  Gender transition concept

Society’s view of gender has evolved significantly since then. The rigid dichotomy of a two-gender world view is frequently challenged and, in some cases, rejected outright. As society’s views on gender morph, the law is attempting to keep pace.

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What’s gender identity got to do with work?

December 18, 2016 0 COMMENTS

by Amanda M. Jones

From Bruce Jenner’s announcement that he was transitioning to become a woman named “Caitlyn” to North Carolina’s passage of a so-called bathroom bill requiring schools and public agencies to restrict bathroom use to the facility corresponding to a person’s biological sex at birth, gender identity issues have become the subject of significant policy debate, lawsuits, and mainstream conversation. Gender identity is also increasingly becoming a more prevalent issue in our workplaces.  Gender Identity

Is transgender discrimination in employment illegal?

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EEOC announces new strategic enforcement priorities

November 20, 2016 0 COMMENTS

by Leslie E. Silverman

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) broke new ground in late 2012 with the release of its first Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) publicly identifying its top enforcement priorities. Since that time, the EEOC’s enforcement and litigation program has largely focused on the priority areas laid out in the SEP:  Book of Compliance

  1. Eliminating barriers for recruiting and hiring;
  2. Protecting vulnerable workers;
  3. Addressing select emerging and developing issues;
  4. Ensuring equal pay protections;
  5. Preserving access to the legal system; and
  6. Preventing systemic harassment.

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DOJ and EEOC release ‘Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement’ report

November 20, 2016 0 COMMENTS

by Sean D. Lee

On October 5, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a joint report aimed at helping law enforcement agencies across the country recruit, hire, and retain diverse workforces.  Police presence at Trump rally

The comprehensive report, “Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement,” presents the findings of a joint research initiative by the DOJ and the EEOC launched in December 2015 to understand the barriers that undermine diversity in law enforcement and highlight “promising practices” to increase diversity. The report arrives amid an intensifying national conversation about race and policing, although it stresses that diversity also includes characteristics like sex, sexual orientation, religion, language ability, and life experience.

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Onionheads everywhere rejoice as NY federal court protects their ‘religion’ under Title VII

November 20, 2016 1 COMMENTS

by Brent E. Siler

The title of this article isn’t a typo or a joke. It’s a literal statement of holding in a recent federal case before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, which found that an employer’s conflict-resolution program, which its creator dubbed “Onionhead” or “Harnessing Happiness,” was in fact a religion under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Despite the outrageous-sounding nature of the case, it serves as a reminder that the bar for what constitutes a religion under Title VII is low, and employers that try to force religious belief systems on their employees face real legal risks.  Prayer Group

Sincerity of beliefs is the key

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Not your stereotypical sexual harasser: encountering sex-based misconduct at work

October 16, 2016 0 COMMENTS

by Stefanie M. Renaud

With the announcement of Gretchen Carlson’s (and, subsequently, several other female employees’) complaints about Fox News head Roger Ailes and his ensuing resignation, sexual harassment has recently been in the news. Although Ailes’ conduct somehow slipped under Fox’s radar, most other employers know that employee complaints about sexual harassment are a serious matter that must be promptly investigated. And most, if not all, of you have a sexual harassment policy that includes strong language assuring employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment, you will act quickly to eliminate inappropriate conduct, and anyone found to have violated your sexual harassment policy will be subject to prompt discipline. However, having such a policy does little good if stereotypes about what sexual harassment “looks like” stop employees and supervisors from recognizing—or reporting—it.  Sexual harassment in the workplace

Modern perceptions of sexual harassment generally bring to mind a female victim and a male perpetrator. However, like Jennifer Aniston in “Horrible Bosses,” a sexual harasser can be female, too. And as the recent lawsuit against Elton John shows, sexual harassment can happen between people of the same gender, regardless of the harasser’s or the victim’s sexual orientation.

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New EEOC guidance should remind employers to guard against retaliation

September 18, 2016 0 COMMENTS

No employer trying to build diversity in its workforce is likely to get very far if its culture tolerates discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against employees based on race, gender, age, disability, or any other characteristic protected by law. Not only does such a culture work against recruitment and retention of diverse talent, it also invites legal trouble. That’s why employers are taking a close look at new guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addressing retaliation claims.  Dangerous handshake

The EEOC issued its new guidance on August 29, replacing previous guidance released in 1998. In addition to the guidance document, the EEOC also released a question-and-answer document and a fact sheet for small business. The material from the EEOC follows a surge of retaliation claims in recent years.

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‘No good deed’ for Microsoft, others in the high-tech sector

September 18, 2016 0 COMMENTS

by Leslie E. Silverman

There is a common refrain uttered by management lawyers, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Yes, it is cynical, but as employers in the high-tech sector are beginning to discover, it is often true. Currently, Microsoft is dealing with issues as a result of well-intended diversity and corporate social responsibility efforts.  Indianapolis - May 2016: Microsoft Midwest District Headquarters I

Social responsibility initiative backfires

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EEOC revises national origin discrimination guidance for changing workforce

September 18, 2016 0 COMMENTS

by Arielle B. Sepulveda

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released proposed enforcement guidance on national origin discrimination for public comment. Once finalized, the guidance will serve as a reference for agency staff when they investigate and litigate national origin discrimination claims as well as a resource for employers and employees on the law and the EEOC’s interpretation of it.  EEOC-jpg

Basics of national origin discrimination

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