By Erin Dougherty FoleyAdam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The Minnesota Supreme Court found that a job applicant need only prove that the employee’s interest in a 12-week maternity leave was the “substantial causative factor” that “actually motivated” the employer’s decision to rescind her job offer and did not need to show anger or hostility about pregnancy under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

In a recent Minnesota Supreme Court case, LaPoint v Family Orthodontics, P.A., A15-0396 (Apr. 5, 2017), a plaintiff challenged an orthodontist’s decision to rescind her job offer after learning she was pregnant and would take maternity leave.  The plaintiff argued that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her pregnancy because her pregnancy played a role in the employer’s  decision to rescind her job offer.  The district court ruled for the employer at a bench trial!

In setting the standard of proof, the Court relied on Goins v. West Grp., 635 N.W.2d 717 (Minn. 2001) and Anderson v. Hunter, Keith, Marshall & Co., 417 N.W.2d 619 (Minn. 1988). Goins required that a plaintiff prove that the pregnancy “actually motivated” the employer’s decision not to hire. Anderson required that plaintiff demonstrate that the pregnancy was “a substantial causative factor” in the employment decision.

The Court rejected the notion that the pregnancy must be a “but-for” cause of the employer’s conduct. As such, the plaintiff need not prove that the employer would have hired her absent unlawful discrimination in order to establish liability, and “proof by the employer that it would have made the same decision absent a discriminatory motive is no defense.”

According to the Court, the employer stated, on three separate occasions, that the plaintiff’s failure to disclose her pregnancy (1) was one of the “two things [that] really kept [her] from sleeping well”; (2) was one of her “concerns”; and (3) left her “confused,” one of “two concerns” that together constituted “[t]he reason why [she] withdrew the job offer.” Further, the plaintiff argued that “rescinding a job offer because a person fails to disclose a pregnancy is illegitimate discrimination on the basis of sex.” More so, the district court found that the defendant “questioned why plaintiff did not bring [her pregnancy] up initially so they could discuss leave of absence issues at that time,” but that “[h]er concern was the [effect of the] length of the leave sought by plaintiff on the practice.”

The Court recited that the defendant “did not demonstrate any animus toward plaintiff because of her pregnancy. Her overriding concern was the disruption a twelve week maternity leave would have on her practice and the impact upon her employees should she deviate from the Clinic’s longstanding policy of six weeks.”

Finally, the Court concluded that it was unable to determine whether the district court, if it had applied the correct law regarding animus, would have made the same findings of fact. Accordingly, the Supreme Court remanded the case.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Absence Management & Accommodations Team or the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.

By Jason E. Burritt, Michelle Gergerian, and Dawn M. Lurie

Seyfarth Synopsis: If Congress fails to pass a funding bill by midnight on Friday, April 28, resulting in a federal government shutdown, it would trigger numerous immigration-related ripple effects on employers, both large and small. The federal government, through its various agencies, plays a key role in authorizing and regulating the employment of foreign citizens in the United States. Employers should be aware of how the federal government shutdown could affect their ability to hire, verify and maintain the status of foreign national employees.

Background

A federal government shutdown could begin at midnight on Friday, April 28 if Congress fails to pass a funding bill. This means that, effective Monday, May 1, only “essential” government workers would report to work until Congress passes a spending bill.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

USCIS would be minimally impacted because it is largely a user-fee funded service. The vast majority of USCIS workers would continue to report to work during a shutdown. This means USCIS would continue to process applications and petitions for immigration benefits, with some processing delays possible. As explained below, however, petitions for which a Department of Labor (DOL) certification is required — such as the H-1B that requires a Labor Condition Application (LCA) -­may be adversely affected. USCIS has not yet announced whether it would temporarily accept extensions without DOL-certified LCAs, although historically USCIS has not.

E-Verify, USCIS’ free, internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States, would be inaccessible during the shutdown. However employers are reminded that they must continue to complete I-9 forms in compliance with the law and when E-Verify becomes available, create cases in the E-Verify system. During a prior shutdown, USCIS issued guidance suspending the “three day rule” for any case affected by the shutdown.  Historically employees caught in the Tentative Non-Confirmations (TNCs) process were provided an extended time period to resolve the issue.

Again, employees would still be required to complete Section 1 of the Form I-9 on or before the first day of employment and employers would still need to complete Section 2 of the Form I-9 no later than the third business day after an employee begins working for pay.

Other components of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) are expected to retain most of their essential staff. CBP has not yet indicated whether it would process immigration applications at the border, such as initial TN and Blanket L applications for Canadian nationals, but it is expected that these adjudications would continue.

Department of Labor

Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) employees, who fall under the umbrella of DOL, are considered non-essential and would be placed in furlough status during the government shutdown. OFLC would neither accept nor process any applications or related materials, including LCAs, applications for a prevailing wage determination, applications for temporary employment certification, PERM audit responses or applications for permanent employment certification (.e.g PERM applications). OFLC’s web site, including the iCERT Visa Portal System, would become static and unable to process any requests or allow authorized users to access their online accounts. Employers with concerns about these deadline-specific functions should consult an immigration attorney with questions about proper maintenance of status during these uncertain times.

Department of State (DOS)

Visa issuance should continue, at least temporarily. Domestic and overseas Consular operations should remain fully operational as long as sufficient fees exist to support operations. However, if a passport agency is located in a government building affected by a lapse in appropriations, that facility may become unsupported. The continuance of consular operations in such instances would be treated on a case-by-case basis by the Under Secretary for Management.

Department of Justice (DOJ)

DOJ trial attorneys and immigration judges should conduct removal (deportation proceedings) only for individuals in federal custody at least for a short period of time. All other cases would likely be suspended during the shutdown. Similarly, furloughed would be attorneys and staff within the Immigrant and Employee Rights section of DOJ charged with accepting and investigating charges of workplace discrimination arising under the immigration laws.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Business Immigration Group.

To stay up-to-date on immigration developments, sign up for Seyfarth’s new BIG Immigration Law Blog.

By Brent I. Clark, Adam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: OSHA has recently updated and published its enforcement procedures for occupational exposure to workplace violence.  The procedures explain and lay out the elements of an OSHA General Duty Clause violation, as well as NIOSH’s guidance for determining the potential for workplace violence.

OSHA defines “workplace violence” as an act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.  It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults, or homicide.  It can involve employees, clients, customers, and visitors.  In addition, OSHA asserts that nearly two million American workers report being victims of workplace violence each year.  According to OSHA: “unfortunately, many more cases go unreported.”

To assist the Agency and its Certified Safety and Health Official (CSHO) inspectors in assessing and citing instances of workplace violence, OSHA has recently released its updated Enforcement Procedures and Scheduling for Occupational Exposure to Workplace Violence, OSHA Directive CPL 02-01-058 (January 10, 2017).  The Directive was last updated in 2011.

The Directive lays out the elements of a General Duty Clause violation, including:

  • The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed;
  • The hazard was recognized;
  • The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and
  • There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.

The Directive also lists “known risk factors”, which “shall be considered in determining whether to inspect a worksite, [but which] none of them would individually trigger an inspection.” The risk factors are: contact with the public; exchange of money; delivery of passengers, goods, or services; having a mobile workplace such as a taxicab; working with persons in healthcare, social service, or criminal justice settings; working alone or in small numbers; working late at night or during early morning hours; working in high-crime areas; guarding valuable property or possessions; working in community-based settings, such as drug rehabilitation centers and group homes.

How Can Workplace Violence Hazards be Reduced?

OSHA indicates that “in most workplaces where risk factors can be identified,” the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions. It suggests that one of the best protections is a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence.  The policy, OSHA advises, should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel.

By assessing worksites, employers can identify methods for reducing the likelihood of incidents occurring. “OSHA believes that a well-written and implemented workplace violence prevention program, combined with engineering controls, administrative controls and training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence in both the private sector and federal workplaces.”

Employers seeking to address this topic in the company’s employee handbook or policy documents should do so carefully, as in the event of an incident, this will be one of the first company documents requested and received by an inspector.

On the enforcement side, we note that OSHA continues to issue citations under the General Duty Clause for alleged workplace violence hazards. However, all of these citations follow one or more actual instances of violence at work.  OSHA appears to be unable to gather sufficient facts during an inspection to support a citation in advance of an actual instance of workplace violence — even though OSHA’s citations allege the employer should have addressed the hazard in advance.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team or the Workplace Counseling & Solutions Team.

By John P. Phillips

Seyfarth Synopsis: For several years now, employers and the EEOC have been at odds over whether employers must automatically reassign a disabled employee to an open position as a reasonable accommodation, or whether employers can maintain a policy of hiring the most-qualified individual for the position, by requiring a disabled employee to compete for open positions against other interested employees. Fortunately, in two recent decisions, the Eleventh Circuit and a Texas district court have helped clarify that an employer’s policy of hiring the most-qualified individual for a job does not violate the ADA.

Many employers post all open positions at their facilities and allow all qualified employees to bid on any job they desire. This allows the company to hire the right employee into the right position, and allows everyone to know that promotions and job opportunities are decided by merit.  These bidding policies help the employer promote open and fair policies, and they promote efficiency, performance, and trust in the workforce.

However, in recent years, the EEOC has challenged these policies, alleging that they discriminate against disabled employees. Accordingly to the EEOC, employers must automatically place even a minimally-qualified disabled employee into an open position as a reasonable accommodation, even if the employer would otherwise open the position to bidding by all employees and even if there are other better-qualified candidates who are interested in the job.

The EEOC’s position has naturally caused significant concern for many employers with open bidding policies. Fortunately, two recent decisions reinforce the right of employers to hire the best candidate for the job.

In December, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that “the ADA only requires an employer to allow a disabled person to compete equally with the rest of the world for a vacant position” and does not require the employer to automatically reassign an employee without competition.

In that case, EEOC v. St. Joseph’s Hospital, Inc., the plaintiff was employed as a clinical nurse in the hospital’s psychiatric ward.  The plaintiff developed spinal stenosis, for which she required the use of a cane.  St. Joseph’s had significant safety concerns related to the presence of a cane in the psychiatric ward, and eventually determined that it was too dangerous to allow a cane in the ward.  The hospital gave the plaintiff 30 days to bid on another position at the hospital.  Although there were over 700 positions available, the plaintiff waited three weeks to apply for any jobs at all, and ultimately only applied for three jobs within the 30-day time period.  She was not hired for any of the positions and eventually was terminated.

Following a jury trial, the EEOC argued on appeal that the ADA requires reassignment without competing against non-disabled employees. The Eleventh Circuit ruled against the EEOC.  The Court outlined a multi-part test to determine whether the requested accommodation—automatic reassignment to an open position without competing against non-disabled employees—was reasonable:

  1. The plaintiff must show that his or her requested accommodation is reasonable on its face, i.e., “ordinarily or in the run of cases.”
  2. If the plaintiff does so, the burden shifts to the employer to show that granting the accommodation would impose an undue hardship under the facts of the particular case.
  3. If the plaintiff does not carry his or her burden at step one, the plaintiff can still prevail, provided he or she can show that there are special circumstances in that particular case making the accommodation reasonable.

The Eleventh Circuit affirmatively found that “[r]equiring reassignment in violation of an employer’s best-qualified hiring or transfer policy is not reasonable ‘in the run of cases.’” Consequently, the Court found that where the employer has a merits-based selection policy, the ADA only requires the employer to allow a disabled person to compete equally for a vacant position.  And in that case, given that the plaintiff had not attempted to show any special circumstances that warranted requiring the hospital to ignore its best-qualified hiring policy, the Court found that the hospital had not violated the ADA by requiring the plaintiff to bid for an open position.

In March, in EEOC v. Methodist Hospitals of Dallas, the Northern District of Texas was faced with an almost identical fact pattern.  There, the Court noted that the Fifth Circuit had not directly addressed the issue, but found that “the weight of Fifth Circuit authority holds that the ADA does not entitle a disabled employee to preferential treatment.”  In making its holding, the Court adopted the reasoning in the Eleventh Circuit’s St. Joseph’s Hospital decision in full, and held that Methodist’s policy of requiring disabled employees to compete with non-disabled applicants in order to hire the best candidate does not violate the ADA.

Taken together, these two recent decisions should provide comfort to employers with open bidding policies. However, employers should be aware that despite these set-backs, the EEOC is not likely to agree that open bidding policies comport with the ADA.  The federal courts have not yet agreed uniformly on this issue, and the EEOC consistently cites to cases out of the Seventh Circuit, the Tenth Circuit, and the D.C. Circuit to support its position.  Although these cases have been distinguished by the Eleventh Circuit and the Northern District of Texas, employers in those districts should be especially alert when dealing with reassignment requests from disabled employees.

In addition, whenever presented with a request for accommodation, employers should not jump to any conclusions or make any rash decisions. It is always a best practice to refer all disability claims to HR, go through the interactive process, stay in communication with the disabled employee, and, above all, document, document, document.

Fortunately, these decisions strengthen employers’ ability to maintain merits-based selection policies, and will help companies continue to hire the right employee into the right position.

For more information on this or any related topic, please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Absence Management and Accommodations Team, the ADA Title III Team, or the Workplace Counseling & Solutions Team.

 

By Caitlyn Crisp and Michael Cross

Seyfarth Synopsis: California voters gave the green light to recreational use of marijuana with the passage of Prop 64. Marijuana users may have felt like they struck Acapulco Gold, but a review of the law on drug testing in the workplace may turn out to be a buzzkill.

When can an employer drug test its employees?

Last November, California voters passed Proposition 64—the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. The new law permits individuals over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana or eight grams of marijuana concentrates. California households, regardless of how many people reside there, can grow up to six plants at a time.

But Prop 64 also expressly protects an employer’s right “to enact and enforce workplace policies pertaining to marijuana.” In other words, despite Prop 64, employers may still prohibit their employees from using the sticky icky. This good news for employers who want to maintain drug-free workplace policies may leave some employees dazed and confused.

Employers have had the right to narrowly craft drug testing policies to meet their needs. Reinforcing that right are Prop 64’s drug-free workplace carve-out and the fact that ganja use remains illegal on the federal level. It remains the case, however, that drug testing may affect an employee’s privacy rights, which create limits on when an employer may drug test.

California courts have used a balancing test to determine whether a drug test is legal for existing employees. Courts weigh the employer’s basis for testing versus the employee’s expectation of privacy. The nature of the test, the equipment used, the manner of administration, and its reliability are factors a court may consider in determining whether a drug test is permissible.

If an employer has an objectively reasonable suspicion that an employee is using drugs, then a drug test is likely permissible, especially when there is a threat to workplace safety. California employers generally have authority to eradicate potential harm to their business and their employees’ safety.

Note: Stay tuned for next week’s blog post on random drug testing by employers.

How should the employer notify employees about its drug testing policy?

If an employer plans to drug test, it should distribute to employees a clear drug policy before employees are subject to testing. The policy should explicitly prohibit the use of marijuana and notify employees of the circumstances in which a drug test would occur. This type of notice may decrease a drug testing program’s intrusion on an employee’s privacy interests.

Some employers may choose to educate employees about how marijuana lingers in one’s body beyond the time the “high” wears off. Because cannabis remains in a person’s system longer than other drugs, it’s possible for an employee to test positive for marijuana use that occurred during non-working time. A marijuana test, unlike an alcohol test, will not indicate whether the test subject is under the influence at the time of the test. Rather, a drug test may show THC in the bloodstream that has resulted from marijuana use days, weeks, or even months before the day of the test.

Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana continues to be a Schedule I controlled substance whose use and possession is illegal. For that reason, employers remain within their rights to maintain drug free-workplaces that exclude marijuana. In addition, federal contractors, under the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act, must establish drug-free workplaces.

Employers generally have the right to institute an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which allows an employee who has failed a drug test to attend an assistance program to help curb a substance abuse problem, or to place an employee in a supervised position and withhold certain privileges during a probationary period. Whatever policy an employer enacts, the policy should give employees clear expectations about the situations in which the employer will exercise its right to conduct a drug test for cause.

Is an employer exposing itself to risk by drug testing employees?

Drug testing employees may give rise to claims by employees for disability discrimination, invasion of privacy, and defamation. In addition, employers who fail to uniformly apply drug testing policies risk exposure to a discrimination suit under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. An employer must not single out protected categories of employees for drug testing.

How can Seyfarth help?

Employers should assess their written policies, and training and education of employees to ensure compliance with California’s drug testing laws. Seyfarth’s Workplace Solutions Group is ready and willing to help to make sure your company is in compliance.

Edited by Chelsea Mesa.

By Karla Grossenbacher

Men typing in Whatsapp on IphoneSeyfarth Synopsis: Given the issues workplace texting presents for employers, employers would be wise to make clear in their policies what method of communication employees may use in the workplace for business purposes. If texting is allowed or tolerated in the workplace, employers need to review their policies relating to employee communication and record retention to make sure texts, in additional to email, are covered.

Texting is becoming more common in the workplace. Most employees use company-owned or personal phones to communicate in the workplace to some degree, and with phones, comes texting.  Even if email is the sanctioned form of communication in the workplace, employees will text.  Some employers may not even be aware their employees are texting with each other or to what extent.  Other employers may be aware and actually permit texting in the workplace or simply tolerate it because they feel they cannot prevent it from happening.

Yet, if employers allow employees to text in the workplace, they will need to think about how they will access, view and preserve employee texts in the same manner that they do with emails. Plaintiff-side lawyers in employment cases are beginning to demand that text messages be produced along with emails during discovery.  If the texts are made from company phones, the basis for such a request would seem to be well-founded assuming the substance of the texts is relevant to the claims and defenses in the case.  However, when the texts are sent or received on personal devices used by employees in the workplace, the issue becomes more complicated.  In such cases, employers typically argue that they are not required to produce texts from their employees’ personal devices because such devices are not within the employer’s custody or control.  But if employees are using personal devices at work pursuant to a Bring Your Own Device program, the argument that such devices are not under the employers’ custody or control is undercut.  Often BYOD policies allow for the employers to take custody of the employee’s personal device for various legitimate business purposes, which would include responding to discovery requests in litigation.

Thus, employers must grapple with how they will fulfill their legal obligations with respect to workplace texts by ensuring they have the same ability to access, view and preserve employees texts that they do with employee emails. And this need will only grow more pressing as time goes on.  Some commentators say that, given the strong preferences of Generation Y for texting, texting will replace email as the primary mode of communication in the workplace of the future.  Thus, prudent employers will start thinking about this issue is now.

The difficulty with texting in the workplace is that — from the employer’s perspective — texting is offline. In workplaces in which email is the primary method of communication, employee emails are usually sent, received and stored on an email server that is maintained by the employer.  With the right policies in place, employers have free reign to access, review and preserve employee emails stored on these servers.  There are many legitimate reasons for which employers need to access and view employee communications.  For example, the employer may be conducting a workplace investigation or responding to a subpoena or discovery requests in litigation.  Employers may also have an affirmative obligation to preserve employee communications when they are in litigation or in connection with a governmental inquiry or as required by law.

However, employers do not have ready access to employee texts and are not in a position to preserve them. Unlike emails, texts typically reside on the phones on which they are sent and received.  These phones may or may not belong to the employer, but in order to access and review workplace texts, the employer must first take possession of the phone on which the text resides.  Not only is this a cumbersome process if several employees’ texts must be retrieved, but it may not be possible if the owner/custodian of the phone is not in the office or works remotely.  Moreover, having to take physical custody of an employee’s phone rules out any kind of surreptitious review of texts, which could be important in an investigation of suspected wrongdoing.

Also, where texts reside only on the phones on which they are sent and received, it is much more difficult for the employer to ensure such texts are being preserved in those situations in which an employer has an affirmative duty to preserve such communications. Setting aside the fact that phones can be lost or damaged or suffer a malfunction that makes it impossible to retrieve the texts stored on them, in order for an employer to ensure texts are being preserved, the texts need to be backed up in some way.  If employees are texting on company-owned phones, it is conceivable that the employer could implement a system for automatically backing up the texts.  However, with the proliferation of Bring Your Own Device programs, employees are often using their own phones at work.  Where employees are using their own personal devices in the workplace, the employer would have to require employees to back up their texts to a company-owned computer or server.  Even with a protocol in place for backing up texts, an employer could never be sure all texts were being captured as it is possible for employees to delete texts from a phone before the backup occurs.

There will also certainly be privacy issues raised for employers when they access and view employee texts. Personal and work-related texts will inevitably be commingled, especially if the phone is a personal device.  The good news for employers on this front is that texts appear to garner less privacy protection under applicable law than emails in the workplace.  For example, under the federal Stored Communications Act, which prohibits unauthorized accessing of communications in electronic storage through a facility that provides an electronic communication service, courts have held that a cell phone is not “facility” and that texts are not in “electronic storage” for purposes of the statute, and therefore, the SCA’s prohibitions do not apply to accessing texts on a cell phone.

Given the issues workplace texting presents for employers, employers would be wise to make clear in their policies what method of communication employees may use in the workplace for business purposes. If texting is allowed or tolerated in the workplace, employers need to review their policies relating to employee communication and record retention to make sure texts, in additional to email, are covered.  No one knows exactly what the workplace of the future will look like and how employees will communicate in it, but employers should look into that future now and start taking steps to prepare for it.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Social Media Team or the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.

By Christopher W. Kelleher, Tracy M. Billows, and Joshua D. Seidman

Seyfarth Synopsis: The Illinois General Assembly will consider the proposed Healthy Workplace Act which, if passed into law, will require most Illinois employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees.

Illinois legislators have caught the paid sick leave bug that has been going around the Country. Sponsors from both chambers of the Illinois legislature have introduced a bill called the Healthy Workplace Act which, if adopted, will mandate paid sick leave for Illinois workers.

Under the proposed law (House Bill 2771/Senate Bill 1296), employees would be entitled to a minimum of five “paid sick days” each year to: (1) care for their own physical or mental illness, injury, or health condition, or seek medical diagnosis or care; (2) care for family member for the same reasons; (3) attend a medical appointment for themselves or family members; (4) miss work due to a public health emergency; or (5) miss work because the employee or a family member has experienced domestic violence abuse.

Employees would accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked. This includes FLSA-exempt employees, who would be deemed to work 40 hours each week for accrual purposes in most cases.

There is some potential for tension if and when the new law is passed.

For instance:

  • Employees will be entitled to determine how much sick time they need to use, but employers will be allowed to set a “reasonable minimum increment” which cannot exceed four hours per day;
  • Employers will also be able to ask for “certification” of the illness, injury, or health condition when employees take paid sick leave for three consecutive workdays. However, “[a]ny reasonable documentation” will suffice if it meets certain criteria;
  • Employers must treat the health information of both employees and their family members confidentially, and cannot disclose this information without the employee’s permission;
  • Paid sick days must be provided at the employee’s oral request, but if need for a sick day is foreseeable, the employee must give at least seven days’ notice before leave begins. If need for a sick day is not foreseeable, however, then employees should provide notice “as soon as is practicable”;
  • And finally, while employers must not discriminate or retaliate against employees for using paid sick leave, they may discipline employees for abusing paid sick leave.

The Bill, which has accumulated dozens of co-sponsors in both houses, was presented for a second reading on March 29, 2017. Stay tuned for further developments.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Absence Management & Accommodations Team or the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.

 

By Christine Hendrickson, Annette Tyman, Hillary Massey, and Monica Rodriquez

50 State Pay Equity Desktop Reference: What Employers Need to KnSeyfarth Synopsis: Today, April 4th, is Equal Pay Day.  In commemoration, Seyfarth’s Pay Equity Group  is introducing a 50-State Pay Equity Desktop Reference.

Pay equity may be on the minds and lips of your employees today, as today is Equal Pay Day.

Equal Pay Day originated more than 20 years ago as a public awareness event to symbolize how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.  While we’ve previously examined the basis of the statistic that underlies the event, there is no doubt that pay equity has become a high priority for employers, as administrative agencies and a patchwork of states have aggressively moved to address pay equity and enforcement.  What used to be a sleepy, little-discussed event has now become major news.

At Seyfarth Shaw, we are marking Equal Pay Day with the release of the first annual 50-State Pay Equity Desktop Reference.  This Desktop Reference was aimed at answering the most common questions we are asked about regarding the patchwork of different state laws that touch on pay equity, including:

  • Who is protected?
  • What type of work must be compared?
  • May employers rely on geographic location to explain pay differences?
  • What is the statute of limitations?; and
  • May employers ask about salary history?

Seyfarth Shaw at Work (SSAW) offers a more comprehensive 50-state survey, which is updated quarterly.  For additional information about the comprehensive survey, please email payequity@seyfarth.com.  The Desktop Reference also provides more information about undertaking a proactive equity audit and the lifecycle of such an audit.

Seyfarth’s Pay Equity Group leads the legal industry in fair pay analysis, thought leadership, and client advocacy.  For more than twenty years, we have partnered with our clients to proactively address these developments and minimize risk.  Seyfarth also recently testified before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, requesting the EEOC withdraw its proposal to require employers to report data on compensation and diversity through the EEO-1 report.  For questions, contact the authors, Christine Hendrickson, Annette Tyman, Hillary Massey, and Monica Rodriquez, or your Seyfarth attorney with whom you regularly work.

By Dawn M. Lurie and Leon Rodriguez

Top view of smart phone, coffee, pen and notepadSeyfarth Synopsis: As the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the administration generally, signals increases in immigration enforcement activity, businesses are advised to implement clear protocols for the conduct of key personnel in the event of a visit by a federal officer, particularly Special Agents of the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.   This guidance identifies the likely purposes of an ICE visit and sets forth critical steps for key personnel should such a visit occur.  Businesses are advised to work with legal counsel to tailor this general guidance to their specific industry and business processes.

In light of the Trump Administration’s promises of increased immigration enforcement, employers and employees are growing more concerned about the prospect of government worksite visits either to effectuate arrests or to conduct investigations and audits.  To be clear, the Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS”) Immigration and Customs Enforcement  (“ICE”) agency has clarified that there has been no directive to initiate worksite enforcement (aka raids) against employers. Notwithstanding, it does appear that recent ICE arrests have swept not only individuals either alleged to have committed a crime or for whom an immigration warrant is outstanding, but also others accompanying the intended arrestee who are found to lack legal status in the U.S.

In addition to arrests, other investigative and audit activity looms on the horizon. Chatter continues about a possible increase in Form I-9 audits by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations Unit (HSI), and similar activity by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fraud Detection National Security Unit as well as it’s E-Verify Monitoring and Compliance branch. Additionally, the Department of Justice’s newly named Employee and Immigrant Rights Office (legacy Office of Special Counsel), will continue to pursue investigations into citizenship, national origin discrimination and document abuse matters. This Alert focuses on a visit by the folks at HSI, a separate Alert will be focused on USCIS site visits and investigative visits by other agencies.

Be Prepared

Employers must develop and implement strong compliance policies, renew their current policies, assess immigration exposure, consider outside counsel audits of Form I-9, E-Verify and H-1B public access files, if applicable and most relevant to today’s climate, plan in advance how to respond when immigration agents visit the company. All personnel, from the those in the reception area to HR managers must be prepared and know what to say and what not to say when DHS agents visit. Training alone will not prepare the business, but rather a targeted step-by-step process, known to all relevant managers and employees, that can be easily followed in the event of a visit will likely yield enhanced results

It is important to understand the possible purposes of a DHS visit and how to respond when a DHS Special Agent knocks on your door. The following is a general guide for addressing a visit from an immigration Special Agent. We recommend developing specific process documents to describe the various types of encounters with government agents that a worksite may face. It is also important to consider delineating roles and responsibilities, as well as a global response to investigations and audits.

Keep in mind there will be three main reasons by ICE may visit a worksite:

  1. To look for, or take into custody, a particular individual;
  2. To issue a Notice of Inspection of a company’s Form I-9 document; ICE continues to focus its worksite inspection efforts on employers conducting business in critical infrastructure and national security interest industries/sectors.  For example commercial facilities, communications, critical manufacturing, dams, emergency services, government facilities, information technology, nuclear reactors materials and waste and transportation systems remain favorites. Other focus is on employers for whom ICE has received a credible tip or lead. A full overview of the Form I-9 Inspection is discussed in a separate Alert; or
  3. To conduct a Worksite Enforcement Action: During these worksite “raids”, large numbers of Special Agents may descend upon a location, without notice. ICE will obtain indictments, arrest or search warrants, or a commitment from a U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute a targeted employer before arresting employees for civil immigration violations at a worksite. The last such “Action” occurred in Bellingham, Washington in February of 2009 however, it is unknown whether such activity will resume.

Designate and Prepare Representative Responders

When the government knocks it will serve a company well to have prepared those on site to greet the government visitor. Providing that “greeter” with a specific list of exactly who needs to be contacted, both immediately at the affected location and/or elsewhere in the company, will minimize confusion. This guidance will be welcomed by your employees. Defining roles, and even providing scripts to greeters and representative responders, may further minimize unnecessary disruption and distress. Responder roles include, but are not limited to, the following individuals:

  • Receptionist /Front Desk Greeter
  • Manager(s)
  • Human Resources Representative
  • General Counsel, if applicable
  • Outside Immigration Counsel

Provide Instructions to the Field

Employees likely to be approached by government Special Agents, including reception staff and relevant security personnel, should be briefed on the company’s protocol for handling a visit targeting an individual, the service of a Notice of Inspection, or another enforcement action. It is critical that companies first discuss the specifics of such a protocol with their immigration counsel in order to address individual considerations and customize a particular response.  Advice will be based on a variety of factors including a risk assessment and even a review of your physical plant.

Regardless of the type of investigation, all responders must be as cooperative as possible with the government Special Agents. You generally want to provide the government with only that which is necessary to meet their request as outlined in detail below. The initial contact should ascertain the name of the agency visiting and whether or not they have documents to present, as well as the purpose of their visit. You also want to ensure the visit itself does not exceed the scope of the warrant, subpoena, or other written request.

The Receptionist/Greeter should be instructed that upon the arrival of government Special Agents, s/he should immediately contact the designated Manager and any other Responders. The receptionist’s role could end there or could continue to the next steps depending upon the direction of the company.

  1. The Greeter should not allow the Special Agents out of the waiting area, but rather make them comfortable while waiting for the Manager or appropriate lead person.
  2. Limited questions and answers noting she/he is not authorized to give consent to enter the premises or respond to questions. Special Agents are trained professionals and being overly talkative is not recommended. In some cases the Special Agents may seem threatening, aggressive, or difficult, however there is no need to panic. In other cases, the pair of agents could begin a game of “good cop/bad cop” right there in the lobby. The Greeter should keep calm and continue to try to reach the manager.
  3. If the Special Agent is still aggressive, inform him/her that the company has protocols in place to make sure government inquiries are addressed and request that you be allowed to follow them. On the other hand if the agent is very chatty, keep in mind he/she is really not a friend and there is no need to sit down and engage in conversation. Keep the answers short and direct until a Manager arrives.
  4. A direct call to legal counsel should be considered as part of this process for the Greeter.
  5. AGAIN, the Greeter should not provide any consent to allow the Special Agents access to anywhere outside of the public entry way space.

The Manager (or his designee) should ensure legal counsel, headquarters and outside immigration counsel, as designated in your company’s individual protocol has been contacted prior to walking out to meet the Special Agents. Mobile phone numbers and specific contact information should be readily accessible. The manager should then greet and escort the Special Agents to a predetermined room/location, which should be as private as possible. The location should be close to an exit of the building where their departure, possibly with an employee, will not cause disruption. Specifically the Manager should then take the following steps:

  1. Confirm and/or identify the government agency that dispatched the agent/visitor. Ask the Special Agents for identification and note each person’s name, title, agency, and obtain contact information as well a business card.
  2. Ask the Special Agents about the purpose of the visit and request subpoena and/or warrant, under which they are acting.  The agents MUST present a warrant in order to gain access to the items or individuals they are seeking.
  3. Inquire on the nature of the inquiry and ascertain to the extent possible if an individual employee is being or if the agents are investigating the company.
  4. Communicate to the government agents that the company will cooperate with the request but that they have/will contact legal counsel to assist them in complying.
  5. Determine if the agent is presenting official documents by reading them or scanning to in-house counsel or outside Counsel. If time is short the Manager can take a photo on their phone and text message. If the investigator presents any official documents, they must be read carefully to determine if the document is a Judicial Subpoena (which must be honored) or an Administrative Subpoena (which may be challenged). Generally, Form I-9 audit requests are administrative and elements of the request may be subject to challenge.
  6. An arrest warrant will not authorize its holders to simply wander otherwise private premises. The warrant must describe with specificity the location to be entered and those specifics will limit where an agent can go.   Even if the warrant authorizes the arrest of an individual, it must explicitly authorize entry into specific private premises including individual offices, the production floor etc. for such entry to occur.
  7. Employees should be reminded not to waive any rights, and provide consent to any activity beyond that described in the warrant.
  8. Remember ICE agents must have a valid search warrant or the company’s consent to enter non-public areas of the workplace even if the company itself is under investigation.
  9. Make contact with the lawyers. Before answering any of the agent’s questions, the Manager should first speak with inside counsel or experienced immigration counsel. Counsel may want to come to the location, if possible, or speak by telephone with the investigator.
  10. Remember you have three days to turn over your Form I-9s and related documents, even when presented with a subpoena and related Notice of Inspection. Do not EVER waive this time period. Immigration counsel will assist directly and organize the submission to ICE or the requesting agency (sharing of Form I-9 data is limited for privacy purposes, but allowed to be provided to agencies outside of DHS and DOL where there is a criminal investigation involved). Documents will be turned over in an orderly fashion with ICE acknowledging receipt and providing a “Chain of Custody.”

In summary:

  • Do not turn over any documents unless a search warrant mandates such action. Again, this will not be the case in the context of an Form I-9 audit.
  • Do not provide any information other than what is exactly asked.
  • Make copies, if possible of anything being taken.
  • Ensure legal counsel is available in real time to consult on any immediate requests.

Companies in specific industries may face additional challenges when responding to government visits. Outside immigration counsel should be consulted to establish customized protocols and practical procedures for your employees, supervisors and managers, and possibly your customers, to follow when faced with visits from ICE, USCIS DOJ or the DOL.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Business Immigration Group.

 

By Dawn Reddy Solowey

Seyfarth Synopsis: In a recent federal case the employer has challenged the EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation taking the position that a religious accommodation request does not meet the test for protected activity under Title VII. In defending retaliation litigation, employers should consider whether there is a viable argument that a request for religious accommodation is not sufficient to establish protected activity as a matter of law –and, in any event — to proceed carefully when considering the request.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has maintained in its Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation that “persons requesting religious accommodation under Title VII are protected against retaliation for making such requests.” In its Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace, the EEOC “has taken the position that requesting religious accommodation is protected activity.”

In a federal case pending in Minnesota, one employer has challenged this guidance by the EEOC, and taken the position that a religious accommodation request does not meet the test for protected activity under Title VII.

Case Background

The case is EEOC v. North Memorial Health Care, Civ. No. 0:15-cv-3675, in the U.S. District for the District of Minnesota.  In that case, the EEOC sued the employer hospital claiming that the employer had retaliated against an applicant by withdrawing a conditional job offer because she asked for a scheduling accommodation for her religious beliefs.  On March 15, 2017, the employer moved for summary judgment.  The employer argued that the retaliation claim fails on grounds including that a religious accommodation request did not amount to protected activity as a matter of law.

The Employer’s Argument

The employer argued that the EEOC’s informal guidance is inconsistent with Title VII’s plain language, and therefore was not entitled to any deference.

Title VII provides for two categories of protected activity: (1) opposing any practice that violates Title VII; and (2) making a charge, testifying, assisting, or participating in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under Title VII.  In its motion for summary judgment, the employer argued that a religious accommodation request falls in neither category.

The employer argued that requesting a religious accommodation is not opposing an unlawful practice, and neither is it making a charge or otherwise assisting in a Title VII investigation. The employer maintained that the EEOC has conceded as much in its retaliation guidance, by stating that a person requesting accommodation “might not literally ‘oppose’ discrimination or ‘participate’ in a complaint process.”

The employer’s motion cited two Circuit Court of Appeals opinions that have assumed, without deciding, that a religious accommodation request can amount to protected activity. However, the employer maintained that no federal appellate authority has directly and specifically analyzed the issue.  The employer cited two federal district courts, the District of Maryland and District of Columbia, that have held that a request for religious accommodation, without more, does not amount to protected activity.

Anticipating a likely argument by the EEOC, the employer sought to distinguish a request for religious accommodation from a request for an ADA disability accommodation, which has been held by some courts to amount to protected activity. The employer pointed to differences in the language of Title VII and the ADA.

Employment lawyers will be watching for the EEOC’s Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment, and ultimately the decision of the District Court to see how the employer’s theory fares.

What Does This Case Signal for Employers Defending Retaliation Litigation?

In defending retaliation litigation, an employer should consider whether, in the relevant jurisdiction, there is a viable argument that a request for religious accommodation is not sufficient to establish protected activity as a matter of law.   As always, it is important to keep in mind that the law governing retaliation claims under Title VII may differ from that under state and local laws.

What Does This Case Signal for Employers Managing Accommodation Requests?

A more conservative approach should guide an employers’ response to religious accommodation requests. Employers responding to a religious accommodation request would be wise to assume — until there is settled, binding law to the contrary — that a request for religious accommodation may be construed as protected activity under Title VII.  As a practical matter, this means that an adverse action that an employer takes against an employee, and that post-dates a religious accommodation request from the employee, may be challenged as retaliatory by the employee and/or the EEOC.

Best Practices for Responding to Religious Accommodation Requests

Best practices for employers to respond to religious accommodation requests, and minimize the risk of retaliation liability, include:

  • Set up a policy and process for managing religious accommodation requests in a manner that is consistent and compliant with the jurisdiction’s law. Ensure that managers and HR are trained in the policy and process, and that employees know how to request a religious accommodation.
  • Review each religious accommodation request individually on a case-by-case basis. You can read our Roadmap for Responding to a Request for Religious Accommodation here. Given the complexities of this area of the law, it is wise to enlist the help of counsel who specializes in this area.
  • Ensure that any adverse actions taken against an employee, including those subsequent to a religious accommodation request, are based on legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons, and that the business reasons for those adverse actions are well-documented .

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Absence Management and Accommodations Team.