Category Archives: Discrimination

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Essential

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Every employer with 15 or more employees needs to require employees to attend sexual harassment prevention training. That is the takeaway that businesses need to understand from a new task force report on harassment in the workplace that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published in June 2016.

The EEOC’s report states that businesses have “to reboot workplace harassment prevention efforts.” The EEOC is especially concerned that most sexual harassment  prevention training focuses only on defining harassment and telling employees what they are prohibited legally from doing.

Instead, the EEOC is encouraging (read: requiring) businesses to also include workplace civility training and bystander intervention training. If a disgruntled employee makes an illegal harassment claim against your business in the future, the EEOC, as the investigating agency, is going to immediately require your business to provide evidence that you thoroughly trained your employees on these new topics. If the harassment complaint goes to trial, this training will also be your best defense.

Bystander Intervention Training is defined by the EEOC report as training that helps employees identify unwelcome and offensive behavior and creates collective responsibility to step in and take action when they see other employees exhibit problematic behaviors. The training is geared towards empowering employees to intervene when they see unacceptable conduct and gives them resources to do so.

Workplace civility training focuses on teaching employees to abide by reasonable expectations of respect and cooperation in the workplace. The emphasis is supposed to be positive—what the employees should do—rather than those things they are prohibited from doing. The training needs to include navigation of interpersonal relationships, an understanding of conflict resolution and teaching supervisors how to be civility coaches. In other words, it is now the company’s responsibility to teach workers how to be responsible, respectful professionals. On the job training and supervisor modeling is fine, but you need to add formal in-house training also.

Interestingly, at the same time that the EEOC is “encouraging” employers to promote more civility in the workplace and to prevent bullying and harassment, the National Labor Relations Board is issuing decisions that punish non-unionized businesses for written policies requiring employees to be respectful to coworkers.

The NRLB has repeatedly found that a company is infringing on an employee’s labor rights when the employer enforces handbook policies like this one from T-Mobile’s employee manual: “Employees are expected to maintain a positive work environment by communicating in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships with clients, co-workers and management.” The NRLB thinks that kind of policy has a chilling effect on employees who have a right to discuss with coworkers all of the terms and conditions of their employment. I’ve alerted you about the NRLB’s crusade against policy manuals before.

So you as an employer are left with trying to decide whether to be investigated and sued by the NLRB or the EEOC. Continue reading Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Essential

Should You Protest Unemployment Claims?

Unemployment claims can cost you money as an employer because your Texas Workforce Commission tax rate will escalate the next year if an employee is awarded benefits. But handling your unemployment claim deftly has become critical in avoiding even more expense down the road when your employee sues you.

It is not always an easy decision about whether to protest unemployment and you have to make that decision quickly (usually within 14 days of the notice of an unemployment claim). On the one hand, you as an employer don’t want your tax rate to increase. On the other hand, you don’t want to say something harmful in an unemployment appeal hearing that will have significant consequences in later litigation.

At an employment law conference that I attended this week, I heard an employee’s lawyer with 40 years of experience say that he believes that TWC unemployment appeal hearings are one of his best tools for winning discrimination cases for employees. Why? Because at the appeal hearing, the company’s witnesses have to testify under oath about the reasons an employee was fired. Often, the employer’s witnesses are not represented by legal counsel and they are not adequately prepared for the testimony they are going to give. They give inconsistent or unprovable reasons that later come back to haunt them when the former employee sues the company in a completely different matter.

The plaintiff’s lawyer admitted that he likes to ambush supervisors and HR representatives at the TWC unemployment hearing and get helpful sworn testimony for his client from those witnesses, because the company’s representatives rarely expect the employee to appear at the hearing with legal counsel. When he cross-examines them, the witnesses get flustered and accidentally provide testimony harmful to the company.

The result is Continue reading Should You Protest Unemployment Claims?

Ban the Felony Box on Applications

If your employment application asks whether the applicant has ever been convicted of a felony, you may need to consider whether to “ban-the-box” that asks that question of your applicants. Why? Because nationally, over 100 cities and counties and over 185 million people live in a ban-the-box or fair-chance jurisdiction.  In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is gunning for employers who exclude everyone with a criminal history from employment.

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The “ban the box” movement seeks to have employers consider an individual candidate’s job qualifications while prohibiting the employers from taking into account a candidate’s criminal history in the beginning of the application process.  Ban-the-box aims to provide applicants with a “fair chance” at employment by delaying any consideration of criminal history until a preliminary job offer is made.

Austin is the first city in Texas to “ban the box,” but it is likely that more areas of the Lone Star State will follow in the near future.  As of March 24, 2016, Austin passed the Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance, which prohibits employers from asking about or taking under consideration the criminal history of an individual until after making a conditional employment offer. While this ordinance does not cover state agencies or federal employment, it does apply to any private organization with 15 employees or more in the Austin city limits.

So Texas Panhandle employers don’t have to comply with the Austin ordinance if they have no employees in Austin, but they do need to worry about the EEOC claiming that a local employer discriminates in their hiring on the basis of race or ethnicity (it is the official position of the EEOC that “national data supports a finding that criminal record exclusions have a disparate impact based on race and national origin. The national data provides a basis for the Commission to investigate Title VII disparate impact charges challenging criminal record exclusions”).

So the wise employer will go ahead and take the “ever been convicted of a felony” question off of the application for employment. In addition, for both prudence and economic reasons (detailed criminal background checks aren’t cheap), smart employers will wait until they actually make a conditional job offer before checking the criminal record of a potential employee.

In addition, an employer should not: Continue reading Ban the Felony Box on Applications

Let Employees Discuss Their Wages

Employees can discuss their wages with their coworkers, despite many employers’ policies to the contrary. If this wasn’t clear enough when the National Labor Relations Board and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals emphatically told employers that (see this post for more information), now the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is joining the chorus.

On January 21, 2016, the EEOC issued a 73-page proposed guidance to its investigators concerning retaliation claims. All of the laws EEOC enforces, like the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII, make it illegal to fire, demote, harass, or otherwise retaliate against applicants or employees because they complained to their employer about discrimination on the job, filed a charge of discrimination with EEOC, participated in an employment discrimination proceeding (such as an investigation or lawsuit), or engaged in any other “protected activity” under employment discrimination laws (more on the proposed guidelines concerning retaliation is coming in future posts).

Hear Ye, Hear Ye
Employees Can Talk About Their Wages

Slipped into the middle of the proposed guidance is a section emphasizing that not only will the National Labor Relations Board come after you as an employer for unfair labor practices if you fire someone for discussing their wages, but that the EEOC might pursue a claim against you also. The EEOC said that reprisal for discussing compensation may violate the retaliation provisions of laws it enforces, such as the Equal Pay Act (requiring that similarly-situated women be paid the same as men for the same work) or Title VII (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, etc.).

All employers should review their current written employment policies to assure that any statement prohibiting wage discussions among coworkers has been removed. In addition, employers must not fire, demote, cut the wages or hours of or otherwise retaliate against an employee who discloses his/her compensation package with coworkers or others, whether shared verbally, by showing another person the pay stub or even by posting information about any worker’s pay on social media.

Texas Discrimination Charges Too Numerous

Texas leads the nation in number of charges filed with the EEOC alleging gender discrimination, race discrimination, age discrimination, and disability discrimination, according to a recent story from the Society for Human Resource Management.  It is time for more employee training and better personnel policies for your Texas business so you don’t have to battle a discrimination charge.

 

A Texas Employer’s New Year’s Resolutions 2016

The quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s is the perfect time for you as an employer to consider some resolutions for 2016. What can you do differently in 2016 to be a better employer and to avoid stepping on any legal landmines?

From 28 years of experience advising employers like you on employment law issues, here are my suggestions for 2016 resolutions with links to more information from previous posts on this website about these topics:

  • Resolve that you will make a decision about whether your employees and/or customers can openly carry handguns on your business premises. The open carry law goes into effect on January 1 and allows those who are licensed to carry concealed handguns to start carrying them openly in shoulder or hip holsters. You have the right as an employer to prohibit guns completely on your premises by both customers and employees, to just prohibit employees from carrying guns, to prohibit open carry but allow concealed carry, or to allow everyone to freely carry handguns on your premises. If you choose to ban either open or concealed carry by customers, you will have to post the §30.06 (concealed carry) and/or §30.07 (open carry) signs with the proper wording and font size required by the Texas Penal Code. To just prohibit employees from coming to work armed, you only need to add a policy to your employee policy manual. For more information about Texas gun laws in the workplace, click here.
  • Resolve that you will get ready for big changes in the overtime laws. If you have an employee to whom you pay an annual salary of less than $50,440, in mid-2016 you are going to have to move that employee’s compensation to an hourly rate and pay that employee overtime if he/she works more than 40 hours in any one workweek. Click here for more information about that change to the Fair Labor Standards Act regulations.
  • Resolve that you will stop using any kind of “contract labor”. The landscape has just gotten too rocky to use any worker whom you do not treat as an employee. Just give up on the idea that you can save the taxes or avoid the pains of having employees. The government is really cracking down on misclassification of workers as contract labor, day workers or independent contractors. That means that in 2016, you need to pay taxes on every worker, you need to provide every full-time worker with benefits, and you need to accept that you will have liability if that worker hurts or mistreats someone. Click here for more information about the dangers of misclassifying a worker as contract labor. If you think you are the exception to this rule, don’t proceed without a knowledgeable attorney’s legal opinion.
  • Resolve that you will update your employment policy manual. The requirements for written policies changed dramatically in 2015 due to the changes required by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Labor. Your policy manual is out of date unless your employment attorney has made significant revisions in the last six months. Click here for more information about some of the changes that are now required.
  • Resolve that you will learn and apply the new rules regarding pregnant employees. Take your maternity policy out of your handbook (because it will be considered discriminatory) and add instead a policy that allows pregnancy and maternity leave that is identical to what you allow when someone has a disability or serious illness. That means that you can’t set a standard 6-week maternity leave, but may have to be more flexible with each pregnant worker’s individual needs like the Americans with Disabilities Act requires with handicapped employees. Click here for more information about how to update your procedures regarding pregnant employees to comply with the new regulations.

 

 

 

Employers Addressing Employee Tattoos

Attorney Vicki Wilmarth provided Texas employers with advice about addressing employee tattoos in Amarillo Magazine’s latest cover story, “Invisible Ink.” Click here  to read the very informative article and for more information about your company dress code regarding facial piercings and body art.

How Texas Employers Should Respond to Marriage Decision

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states has Texas employers scrambling for a correct response. Businesses need to consider employee benefits, leaves of absence and many other Texas workplace policies to address the change in the definition of spouse.

Unlike some changes in the law, this one will not wait for Texas employers to catch up. Travis County had already issued 54 licenses to same sex couples by noon today. The Austin American-Statesman reported that clerks in Dallas, Bexar, Tarrant, Midland, McLennan and El Paso counties also began issuing licenses to same-sex couples and judges have already started marrying same-sex couples today in Texas.

Here are some of the employment law considerations that businesses need to address immediately: Continue reading How Texas Employers Should Respond to Marriage Decision

Advertising Job Openings Without Discriminating

As an employer, your work to prevent an employment discrimination lawsuit starts from the beginning: in the way you advertise the job opening. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the number of charges filed by employees and applicants alleging discriminatory advertising rose from 49 in 2013 to 121 in 2014.  The vast majority of the claims filed in 2014 (111) were for advertisement discrimination against older job applicants, but may also involve gender discrimination, disability discrimination or other discriminatory conduct.

Recently, the popular restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday settled a claim with the EEOC for $100,000.  Two male employees sued the restaurant after an internal job posting was advertised specifying “only females would be considered” for temporary summer positions in a Utah resort town.  Because the summer resort employees would be residing together for several weeks in company-housing, the restaurant reasoned that it would be best if all employees were of the same gender.

While violations such as a gender-specific job announcement may seem obvious in hindsight, there are many subtle ways discrimination is included in employers’ advertising.  Have you ever seen an ad in the paper seeking “recent college graduates”?  You might consider this to mean that a college degree is required for the job.  But the EEOC could look at this as way of screening out older applicants in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).  The ADEA and its Texas equivalent statute make it illegal for employers (with 15 or more employees) to discriminate against workers age 40 and over.

To avoid problems such as the one Ruby Tuesday faced, carefully consider the wording of your advertising, most specifically, your job postings.  Continue reading Advertising Job Openings Without Discriminating