Maintaining a religion-neutral workplace

March 16, 2014 0 COMMENTS

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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Wiccan what? Religious accommodations and sincerely held beliefs

March 16, 2014 0 COMMENTS

by Steve Jones

Q If an employee asks for time off for her religious beliefs, can I legally question her about her religion (e.g., what her religion is and why she needs off)?  Wiccan

A Most likely, yes. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Act requires employers with 15 or more employees to make reasonable accommodations for a worker’s sincerely held religious beliefs unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on business operations. Under Title VII, the “undue hardship” defense requires an employer to show that under the particular circumstances, the proposed accommodation poses more than a minimal cost to or burden on the employer.

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ENDA may be coming soon—what will its impact really be?

January 19, 2014 0 COMMENTS

by John R. Merinar, Jr.

A great deal of attention has been focused on the U.S. Senate’s recent passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The House of Representatives has yet to take up the bill, but there’s much speculation that supporters have the votes necessary to secure passage. Often, supporters can be heard using the phrase “fundamentally transform,” made popular by President Barack Obama, to describe the impact of ENDA in the workplace. But, in reality, the legislation may merely be an example of lawmakers catching up with the citizens they represent.  Senate

Behind the curve

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Reconsidering the status of sexual orientation in the workplace

December 15, 2013 0 COMMENTS

by Harold Pinkley

From the time I began practicing employment law (too many) years ago―and probably for longer than that―employment lawyers have been quite comfortable advising clients that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender and other protected status) does not cover sexual orientation. Many states’ laws don’t prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, either. In other words, when it comes to homosexual or bisexual employees, discriminate away.  SexualOrientation

However, it has become fairly clear that such glib advice is incomplete and perhaps even wrong not just from an ethical standpoint but also in terms of legal liability. This article provides an overview of some changes and developments to be mindful of when addressing sexual orientation issues in the workplace.

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Criminal and background reports as evidence in EEOC class actions

April 14, 2013 0 COMMENTS

by Steven Collis

In its first class action lawsuit challenging an employer’s use of criminal records, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ended up dropping its case against PeopleMark and getting socked with $750,000 in sanctions. Recently, the EEOC suffered another stinging loss when a federal court dismissed its discrimination case against Kaplan Higher Education Corporation (which was discussed in a previous blog post, “EEOC’s use of ‘race raters’ against Kaplan University gets failing grade”) based on an unsound analysis by the commission’s expert witness. With the same expert providing statistical evidence in another case, could the agency strike out in a third background check class action lawsuit?

Over the past few years, the EEOC has aggressively challenged the use of credit reports and criminal history checks in hiring decisions, alleging that use of the information results in a discriminatory impact on candidates in protected groups. In 2012, the commission successfully negotiated a $3.13 million prelawsuit settlement of a race discrimination charge against Pepsi in which the soda giant’s criminal background check policy was called into question for allegedly discriminating against African Americans. However, the agency has been less successful pursuing similar cases in court, mainly because of its struggle to proffer reliable evidence of discriminatory impact. Despite the EEOC’s mixed results, the recent settlements and case filings indicate that the use of credit and criminal history checks in the hiring process is a hot topic. read more…

Defense of wage discrimination claims for the present and beyond

January 20, 2013 0 COMMENTS

by Jason R. Mau

Over the last three years, members of Congress have attempted to amend the Equal Pay Act (EPA) to improve and ensure its protection of individuals subject to pay discrimination on the basis of gender. Originally approved in January 2009 by the House of Representatives, the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) failed to gain support in the Senate and was reintroduced in both houses of Congress in the spring of 2011. In June 2012, the bill again failed to gain the necessary support in the Senate.

The reintroduced legislation included provisions that would have enhanced employers’ burden of proof when defending against EPA claims. Those provisions are in addition to proposed amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that would allow for enhanced penalties, protection from retaliation for initiating an investigation or discussion of employee wages, programs for negotiation skills training, collection of pay information for research, and establishment of a national award for pay equity in the workplace. read more…

Ex-EEOC employee met requirements to pursue disability claim against agency

September 16, 2012 0 COMMENTS

by Nancy Williams

Just as private-sector workers are required to file an administrative charge of discrimination before filing a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal employees also have prefiling requirements. In a disability discrimination case against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the 9th Circuit recently decided that the employee had taken all necessary steps and could proceed with her claim.

Was filing of lawsuit fatally premature?

Mary Bullock was an administrative law judge (ALJ) for the EEOC from 1999 to 2007. She suffers from both multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus. In January 2003, she filed an informal disability discrimination complaint, and four months later, she filed a formal complaint. She claimed the EEOC had failed to accommodate her condition and thus had violated the federal Rehabilitation Act. The informal and formal complaint steps track the requirements of Title VII for federal employee claims. read more…

Dress Code Considerations for a Diverse Workforce

July 17, 2011 2 COMMENTS

By Carolyn A. Wade

Society’s standards (or lack thereof) regarding clothing and grooming have certainly changed over the last 50 years. Taking a trip on an airplane used to mean “dressing up” and wearing the kind of clothes you would wear to church ― a suit and tie or a dress and heels. Now people fly in sweatpants and sneakers and regularly wear jeans to church. Some employees would happily wear nothing but sweatpants or jeans to work if their employers would let them.

For some employees, personal appearance ― including hairstyle, jewelry, tattoos, piercings, and head coverings as well as clothing ― is a form of self-expression. Religious mandates can also affect an employee’s appearance. Employers are confronted not only with excessively casual appearance but also with other extremes: looks that are too suggestive, too political, too dangerous, too bizarre. What’s “slightly sexy” to one person can be “downright vulgar” to another. So what’s an employer to do? How far can you go in regulating your employees’ appearance?

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Lawmakers Try to Address Workplace Gender Identity Issues

July 17, 2011 2 COMMENTS

Gender identity disorder is a medically recognized condition in which a person’s gender identity doesn’t match his genetic sex. In some cases, the recommended standard of care is counseling and sex reassignment therapy, which includes representing yourself as the gender corresponding to your identity, hormone replacement therapy, and, eventually, gender reassignment surgery.

Although federal law still doesn’t explicitly prohibit transgender discrimination, don’t assume that a transgendered employee has no legal protection. Some federal courts have been allowing transgendered people to proceed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based on certain legal theories. In addition, many state and local laws either expressly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or include gender identity within their definition of “sex.”

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The Rule Is ‘English only’! Capice?

June 19, 2011 0 COMMENTS

By Lauren M. Cooper

A much-debated issue is whether you may lawfully require employees to speak only English in the workplace. The simple answer is yes. This article will address the circumstances in which you may legally enforce an English-only policy and the potential legal risks that follow.

Status Quo Ante

Employers increasingly ask employees to refrain from speaking languages other than English in the workplace to promote productivity and efficiency and preserve workplace harmony. Certainly, a policy that targets only a particular language or national origin, such as a “non- Spanish” policy, violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on national origin. But what about rules requiring employees to speak English while on the job? read more…

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