Category Archives: Employee Rights

HR Director Can Be Individually Liable for FMLA Violation

Most human resources professionals and managers think that working for a corporation gives them some protection from being sued themselves by former employees, but a federal appeals court recently held that an HR director can be individually liable for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals made this decision in Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of America, No. 15-888-CV (2d Cir., Mar. 17, 2016).

The Second Circuit decided that the HR director who instigated the firing of an employee who was out on leave to care for her ailing sons could be sued in addition to the company who formerly employed the plaintiff. The FMLA provides that for purposes of being a defendant in a lawsuit, an “employer” includes “any person” who “acts, directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer” toward an employee. Therefore, a manager, supervisor, vice-president, HR director, leave administrator and other decision-making employees could be sued along with their company if the FMLA isn’t administered correctly.

The courts look at the “economic realities” of the situation, including whether the HR director had the power to hire and fire employees; supervise and control employee work schedules or conditions of employment; determine the rate and method of payment; and maintain employment records. Although a vice-president actually made the final firing decision in the Graziadio case, the evidence suggested that the HR director played an important role and the vice-president essentially just rubber-stamped the HR director’s recommendation of terminating the employee who was on leave.

These kinds of decisions are frightening to management employees who have to make hiring and firing decisions and those who have to administer the complex FMLA. However, this ruling should not come as a complete surprise to those of us who live and work in Texas, because the Fifth Circuit, which rules on federal cases in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, made a similar ruling ten years ago.

In addition, our Fifth Circuit court approaches the Fair Labor Standards Act (wage and hour) cases in the same manner. If the economic realities demonstrate that a supervisor was responsible for the misclassification of an employee as an independent contractor (meaning that the proper taxes weren’t paid, among other violations of employment laws) or the underpayment of minimum wages or overtime, then that supervisor may face a personal lawsuit by a former employee, along with the company being sued.

How can you as a manager or HR director protect yourself from a lawsuit that could endanger your personal assets? Continue reading HR Director Can Be Individually Liable for FMLA Violation

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.

 

Texas Businesses Wrestle with Presence of Handguns

Texas businesses have to wrestle with the laws regarding the carrying of handguns by employees and customers in their workplaces.  I’m amazed at how many businesses I counsel who haven’t even thought about the issue in a state where there are millions of guns. I’ve written about this before (here and here), but there is still confusion about a private business’s rights and responsibilities regarding guns in Texas.

As of January 1, 2016, Texas allowed the more than 825,000 residents of the state who are licensed to carry a handgun to openly display the gun in a shoulder or hip holster. Texans may also choose to conceal the handgun and carry it with them on their bodies or in bags or purses. Texas also has reciprocity agreements to allow visitors licensed in many other states to carry guns here.

The state has only banned handguns completely in the following workplaces:

  • bars or restaurants earning more than 51% of their revenue from alcohol sales (they’ll have a sign up stating that fact),
  • correctional facilities,
  • high school, collegiate and professional sporting events,
  • school grounds and school buses,
  • polling places,
  • courtrooms and court offices,
  • racetracks, and
  • secure areas of airports.

It is also illegal under federal law to carry handguns in federal governmental buildings, such as post offices, federal courthouses, the IRS office, Social Security office, etc.

Hospitals, nursing homes, amusement parks, churches and private businesses like yours can prohibit the carrying of pistols onto the premises by employees and/or visitors, but you have do this proactively. Texas law does not make it illegal to carry a handgun into these premises unless the handgun owner has been notified that he/she cannot carry at that place.

Even without hanging the required signs, employers can put a written policy in their employee manual prohibiting employees from bringing handguns into the workplace. Should you do this? Separating out the politics of that question, it depends on

  • your beliefs about guns in general,
  • how comfortable your employees are being around gun-toting coworkers,
  • whether you believe your business is located in a safe area of town,
  • whether your employees face real dangers in their job that a handgun could minimize,
  • whether you have other ways to keep your employees secure (such as evacuation drills, good lighting, security guards, secured entrances, alarms, etc.)
  • whether your employees are well-trained in the safety and use of a handgun (the required 4-hour Texas licensing course is not adequate for this purpose),
  • whether you want to face disciplining and/or firing a volatile employee wearing a sidearm,
  • whether you are covered by special insurance for handgun liability if there is an accidental discharge of a weapon (your general liability policy probably won’t cover it),
  • whether you are prepared for the lawsuits that may follow a shooting (there is no immunity in the open carry statute for an employer when an employee hurts someone with his weapon), and
  • how your customers will react to seeing your employees armed.

If you can’t decide, have a conversation with your employees to determine the best option for your business and do some objective research for yourself about whether the scenario of a “good guy with a gun” protecting people in your workplace is a real possibility or a myth.

Once you have decided whether to allow your employees to carry handguns and have adopted a written policy explaining the employee rule, the next question is whether to prohibit customers, vendors and other visitors to your workplace from carrying any kind of handgun on your private property. Continue reading Texas Businesses Wrestle with Presence of Handguns

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.

 

 

 

NLRB Crackdown on Employee Handbooks

Even if your HR department is on top of things, some of the policies in your employee handbook probably are now unlawful. Confidentiality policies, professionalism policies, employee conduct policies, solicitation policies, conflict of interest policies, social media policies, and others have come under intense scrutiny by the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) in the last six months. The result could be an unfair labor practices claim filed against your company, even though your company is not unionized. Continue reading NLRB Crackdown on Employee Handbooks

Workplace Posters For Free Online

There are companies that want to sell you expensive workplace posters that you don’t need to purchase because they are available for free online. Many employers are afraid that they don’t know which employment notices must be visible in the workplace, so they fall for the marketing pitch to pay for these expensive commercial posters.

As a Texas employer, have you received advertising in the mail similar to the notice pictured here? Such notices appear official, and can feel almost threatening, with warnings of penalties and fines associated with an employer failing to post current state and federal employment posters in the workplace.

Employment Poster Solicitation

It is not necessary for a Texas employer to pay $84 for the poster offered here. While it is true that posting certain notices and information is legally required, employers need not pay any company for this information. Free copies of the required posters can be found from the websites of each of the federal or Texas agencies that require them. The Texas Workforce Commission has graciously gathered a list of these posters into one place for you here.

Not only are you out the money if you buy one of these expensive posters, but these for-profit posters could actually hurt you if they promise rights to your employees that the law does not give them (such as promising Family and Medical Leave rights if the company has less than 50 employees and isn’t required to provide Family and Medical Leave). You don’t want to obligate yourself to things the law doesn’t require you to provide. The poster “invoice” pictured here didn’t ask the size of the employer’s workforce and apparently was not tailored to the laws to which a particular employer was subject.

As of August 2015, the posters that you as a Texas employer must have on your bulletin board, depending on the size of your workforce, are as follows: Continue reading Workplace Posters For Free Online

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.

Salary Basis for FLSA Exemptions Raised Dramatically

Claiming that your employees are exempt from overtime is about to become much more difficult with release of new regulations this week by the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

On June 29, 2015, President Obama announced that the DOL is issuing proposed rules that will probably go into effect in early 2016. Those proposed rules redefine which employees have to earn overtime on their hourly pay instead of being paid as an exempt salaried employee.

The result could be skyrocketing overtime costs and more frequent wage and hour suits against companies that fail to make this transition carefully.

The advantage for an employer of an FLSA exemption has always been that the employer doesn’t have to track that employee’s hours and doesn’t have to pay overtime wages of 1.5 times the hourly rate for anything over 40 hours worked in one workweek. That advantage will no longer be available to you as an employer in 2016 for those employees you pay less than $970 per week, which adds up to $50,440 per year. Continue reading Salary Basis for FLSA Exemptions Raised Dramatically

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