Four Recent HR & Employment Law Developments

As those working in human resources and my fellow employment lawyers can attest, the last few years have given us constant change.  New employment laws, new labor regulations, federal agencies aggressively enforcing both, and significant cases being issued almost daily make it tough for even the most seasoned “HR Genius” to keep on top of all of the developments.  I try to lighten the load through this Blog, but like you, only have so many hours in the day.

So,  this week I am going to lean on my management-side employment law colleagues at Michael Best & Friedrich.  Below are just a sampling of the recent articles and “client alerts” they have authored recently:

1.  Wisconsin just enacted its “Right-To-Work” Law.  What does this mean for employers in Wisconsin? Click here.

2.  The Department of Labor just issued its Final Rule revising and expanding the definition of “spouse” to include those from same sex marriages.  For more details, click here.

3.  Utah just enacted a new law prohibiting discrimination against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation and “gender identity.”  If you have operations there, then you should  click here.

4.  Do you know what constitutes a valid employment claim “release,” and when you can lawfully “require” employees to sign them?  For this information and more, click here.

Hopefully you will find these helpful in your quest to becoming (or remaining) an “HR Genius.”

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter: @HRGeniusBar
@wagelaws

 

 

 

Lies, Damn Lies and (EEOC) Statistics

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“98% of all statistics are made up”  ~Author Unknown

On February 4, 2015, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) released its Fiscal Year 2014 Enforcement and Litigation Data”  report (“EEOC Report”).  The EEOC Report, chock full of statistics regarding employment discrimination charges brought against employers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and other Federal statutes, is a statistician’s dream.

As Mark Twain reportedly said, however, “facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.”   Perhaps not surprisingly then, the EEOC Report can be interpreted to contain good and bad news for employers:

Good news:  The total number of discrimination charges filed against employers actually fell almost 5% in fiscal 2014 from the year prior.
Bad news:     There were still 88,778 EEOC discrimination charges filed against employers in 2014. (This does not count state and local charges).

Good news:  In 2014 the EEOC dismissed 65.6% of the discrimination charges during the investigation stage.
Bad news:     In 2014 the EEOC recovered over $318 million from employers through its enforcement, settlement and litigation efforts. 

Good news:   In 2014 age discrimination charges dropped almost 20% from their peak in 2008.
Bad news:     Retaliation claims reached an all time high, comprising nearly 43% of all discrimination charges.

Good news:  The EEOC files suit in less than 8 percent of the cases where it believes discrimination occurred and no settlement is reached.
Bad news:     The EEOC filed 133 “merits” lawsuits across the country, and claims a 90% success rate at resolving matters in district court.

Hopefully 2015 will only bring your company good news.  Decrease the possibility of bad news by adopting some human resources “best practices”  found here and here.

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
 Twitter: @HRGeniusBar
 @wagelaws 

 

Avoid These 3 Common HR Mistakes

The numbers are simply staggering: In 2013, individuals filed over 93,000 employment discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). The EEOC collected $372 Million in damages from employers during that time. Similarly, thousands of minimum wage and overtime claims were brought against companies under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Department of Labor collected $250 Million in back pay damages in 2013. Moreover, approximately 20% of the lawsuits filed in Federal Court in 2013 stemmed from an employment dispute. It feels like litigation roulette – you never know when your company’s time is up, but if you keep playing the game (i.e. running your business), eventually you will get sued.

Given this, companies should take steps to reduce the risk of becoming the next defendant, and put themselves in a solid defensive position. One way to do so is to avoid making one of these 3 common human resources (“HR”) mistakes:

Mistake #1: Failing to properly screen applicants. Remember the old principle “garbage in, garbage out”? Hire a loser and all you get is a loser employee you can’t get rid of fast enough. How about avoiding that hassle? Start with a laser-like focus on the employment application. Has the applicant never held a job longer than 3 months? If so, why do you think he would last any longer at your place? Has the applicant conveniently failed to answer the “reason for leaving” question after a former employer’s name? This silence should speak volumes. Worse yet, does it say something disturbing like “dispute with supervisor”? And how did the applicant answer the “conviction record” question? These answers and/or omissions all need to be addressed with the applicant. Trust but verify with reference checks; a recent survey of hiring managers revealed that 60% found false information on applicants’ job applications and/or resumes. Finally, never hire someone based solely on the recommendation of a friend or co-worker.

Mistake #2: Failing to terminate a poorly performing employee. Not all hires turn out well. Some employees are simply poor performers. But why are they still employed by your company? Are you running a business or a charity? Managers should give employees clear performance expectations. If an employee fails to meet them, he should receive progressive discipline. If the employee still does not improve his performance, the company should terminate his employment. Consider the alternative – lowered workforce morale and a less profitable company bottom line. Retaining a poor performing employee can also result in a good deed getting punished: if you terminate someone else for the same poor level of performance, and the terminated employee falls into a different “protected classification,” you will be sued for discrimination. Like bad wine, life is too short to work with bad employees. If you have the opportunity to terminate one, take it.

Mistake #3: Failing to recognize threat levels. You need to be able to recognize potential legal risks and plan accordingly. Does the employee you intend to terminate fall into one or more protected classifications (i.e. race, over 40, disabled, etc.)? Has the employee mentioned an “L word” – lawyer or lawsuit? Has the employee referenced the “EEOC” or “discrimination”? Has the employee cited chapter and verse of the requirements of a particular statute? Has the employee requested a copy of her personnel file? Is the employee trying to tape record conversations? If any of these have occurred, you are approaching litigation threat level “DEFCON 1.” To reduce the threat, make sure that you have all of the facts, have reviewed the employee’s prior disciplinary record, have looked at your disciplinary practice in comparable situations, have adequate documentation, and a legitimate business reason for the employment decision.*

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter: @HRGeniusBar
@wagelaws

* Portions of this article first appeared in the Wisconsin Institute of CPA’s October, 2014 magazine, The Bottom Line.

 

 

 

 

Legally Lethal Employment Interview Questions

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Most employers are aware that there are numerous obvious questions that are simply “off limits” and should not be asked of an applicant during an employment interview.   For example: How old are you?  Do you have a disability? Are you pregnant?

But, there are many other questions that, on their face, many not appear to be discriminatory, but are still legally troublesome.  These loaded questions either (1) imply that a protected characteristic will be a factor in the hiring decision, or (2) will elicit information that will put you on notice that the individual falls into a protected classification.  Unfortunately, if you don’t hire the applicant, he/she will assume his/her answer to one of these questions was the primary reason for being rejected, and file a discrimination charge.

Here’s several legally risky questions one should avoid asking during an interview:

1.  “Do you have kids?” Similarly, “Are you planning on having kids?”  “What kind of childcare arrangements will you make?”  Problem: gender discrimination; pregnancy discrimination; “caregiver” discrimination.  Do you ask this of all applicants, or only female applicants?

2.  “Your last name is so unusual.  What nationality is it?” Problem: national origin and/or ethnicity discrimination.  Do you ask caucasian applicant Michael Smith this?  Nothing good can come from the knowledge you obtain from this question. Control your genealogical curiosity, and don’t ask.

3.  “Is your spouse ok with moving to _______ for the job?” Similarly, “Will your spouse be ok if you have to travel a lot for the job?” Problem: gender discrimination; sexual orientation discrimination; marital status discrimination. Do you ask this of all applicants, or only female applicants?  What if they refer to their “partner” of the same gender, or that they’re divorced? Now you have knowledge of something personal that is irrelevant to whether the applicant can do the job.  Given that some states prohibit sexual orientation and marital status discrimination, in addition to gender discrimination, you face a triple threat. 

4.  “What year did you graduate from high school / college?”  Problem:  age discrimination.  Do you ask this of all applicants, young and old?  Or just those who look older? One can easily  approximate the applicant’s age with the knowledge of a high school and/or college graduation date.  A savvy applicant will assume you asked it to figure out how old he is, and suspect age discrimination is at play.

5.  “Have you ever been arrested before?”  Problem: race discrimination; arrest/conviction record discrimination.  The EEOC has taken the position that asking about arrests and convictions may lead to a discriminatory “disparate impact” on minority candidates.  Generally, asking about a past arrest that did not result in a conviction is very risky.  Several states and cities also have prohibitions on what can be asked regarding an applicant’s arrest and/or conviction record.    Employers should be aware of any state and local laws before asking these questions.  

Answers to the above questions are generally not relevant to whether the applicant can perform the job’s essential functions.  Bottom line – if there is no business reason to ask them, and often only leads to bad things (i.e. a lawsuit), don’t ask them.

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter: @HRGeniusBar
             @wagelaws

 

 

 

 

 

EEOC Expands Reach of Pregnancy Discrimination Act

stork-and-baby

On July 14, 2014 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued its first “enforcement guidance” on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) since 1983.  One of the more significant aspects of the Guidance is the EEOC’s view of an employer’s duty to accommodate pregnant workers under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The EEOC now takes the position that employers must accommodate a pregnant employee’s work restrictions to the same extent it accommodates non-pregnant employees with similar restrictions.

This means, in the EEOC’s view, that employers who offer light duty work to individuals injured on the job must also offer light duty work to pregnant employees with work restrictions, regardless of the fact that the light duty policy only applies, by its terms, to those employees who have restrictions stemming from a work related injury.

The EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance is quite extensive.  The entire Guidance document can be found here:

http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_guidance.cfm .

The EEOC also issued a “Questions & Answers” document, found here:

http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_qa.cfm .

As if that wasn’t enough summer reading, the EEOC also issued a “Fact Sheet” that summarizes the PDA’s requirements at:

http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/pregnancy_factsheet.cfm .

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter: @HRGeniusBar
@wagelaws

Four Things To Expect During An EEOC On-Site Visit

“Guests, like fish,  begin to smell after three days old.”

– Benjamin Franklin 

You know the drill.  An employee or ex-employee files a discrimination charge against your company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).  You file a position statement denying the allegations and then wait.  You hear nothing and hope that no news is good news.  But, as they say, hope is not a strategy.

Instead, you are introduced to the EEOC’s new, more aggressive investigation strategy.  No longer willing to accept a company’s written response at face value, the EEOC now frequently demands on-site visits to interview witnesses and gather information.

As one can imagine, these on-site fishing expeditions visits offer little “upside” to the company.  To avoid floundering like a fish out of water, one needs to be prepared.  Here are just a few things you can expect to see and hear during an EEOC on-site visit:

1. The Tour.  The EEOC Investigator almost always requests to take a tour of the facility before conducting witness interviews.  Knowing this, the company should make sure there are no potential OSHA violations that could be spotted.  In addition, confirm the location(s) where the company posts the required federal labor and employment law posters, and double-check to make sure all of them are  actually posted; the Investigator will want to verify this.  Finally, have someone who is familiar with the facility and articulate but not verbose lead the tour.

2.  Probing the Company’s Story.  Recall that the EEOC Investigator typically comes on-site after the company has filed its position statement.  The Investigator will question witnesses to see if their recollections match the facts the company presented in its position statement.  Thus, every potential management witness should read the Discrimination Charge and the company’s position statement at least a couple of times before the on-site in order to [re-]familiarize themselves with the facts of the case.

3. Questions about Employment Law Knowledge & Training. EEOC Investigators will interview Human Resources (“HR”) personnel who are involved in the case.  Investigators often ask HR representatives: (1) about their general knowledge of employment laws; (2)  whether they have a college degree in the HR field; (3) whether they have recently attended HR seminars or conferences; and (4) what training they have provided to company employees on topics such as discrimination and harassment.  As “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” it is important that the HR representative comes across as knowledgeable of the anti-discrimination laws and the employer’s obligations thereunder.

4.  Selective Note Taking.  Watching the EEOC Investigator take notes of witness interviews will test one’s patience, as it often seems that the only statements being written down are those not helpful to your case.  All of the good points your witness is making are seemingly ignored.  If you observe this occurring, you or your counsel may need to re-emphasize key points to the Investigator to give him or her the “equal opportunity” to write them down.  You do not want the Investigator leaving with a distorted record of the facts.

Ultimately, your goal is to have your “uninvited guest” finish his/her visit and leave that same day.  Anything longer would really stink.

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
 Twitter: @HRGeniusBar@wagelaws

3 AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT MYTHS

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Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) was enacted in 1990,  employers and employees still hold certain misconceptions about the law and its requirements.  Here are three common myths surrounding the ADA:

MYTH #1 – The company can condition an employee’s return to work on the employee providing a “full medical release” without restrictions.

REALITY:  The company can require a medical release before an employee can return from a medical leave.  But, it cannot demand that the release be “restriction free.”  Rather, if the employee presents  restrictions with the release, the company must determine if it is able to provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee to enable the employee to perform the job’s “essential functions.”

MYTH #2 – If an employee’s disability is controlled by medication(s), the employee is not disabled.

REALITY:  The amendments to the ADA make clear that an employer cannot take into account the mitigating effects of medication or equipment on the employee’s medical condition in assessing whether the employee has a disability.  The employee can still be considered disabled even if the medication or device adequately controls the employee’s symptoms.

MYTH #3 – A company can enforce a leave of absence policy that provides an employee will be terminated if unable to return from a medical leave after a specific number of weeks or months.

REALITY:  Although a “leave of absence” can be a reasonable accommodation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) takes the position that an employer cannot “automatically” terminate an employee if the employee is unable to return to work after a specific period of time (e.g. 6 months or a year).  Rather, the EEOC views such “blanket” policies as violating the ADA’s requirement that the employer treat each accommodation situation on an individual basis.  Instead, the employer would have to establish that no other reasonable accommodation exists before terminating the employee.

 

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter: @HRGeniusBar
@wagelaws