Earlier this month, a widely-recognized Fortune 50 company reached a $1.7 million agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to resolve nearly a decade of litigation over the company’s nation-wide policy of discharging workers who do not return from medical leave after 12 months.

While this settlement still requires approval by a federal judge, the litigation itself (and the size and scope of the settlement, which also includes changes to the company’s policy, notice-posting, record-keeping, reporting, and other requirements) should be instructive for employers dealing with a common issue: what to do with employees who are granted a medical leave but cannot return to duty at the end of a set time period.

Continue Reading Could The EEOC Sue Over Your “Maximum Leave” Policy?

One of President Trump’s chief agenda items has been immigration enforcement.  While the President’s intent may be to keep out terrorists, remove undocumented foreign nationals, and eliminate fraudulent visa practices, these efforts can also have a tremendous impact on U.S. employers.  One of the ways this administration has ramped up its immigration enforcement efforts has been through an increase in I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form audits to ensure companies and organizations are engaging in fair, non-discriminatory hiring practices and only hiring individuals who have proper work authorization.

While the Form I-9 requirement originates from Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act, all employers are required by law to complete and retain a Form I-9 for each employee, regardless of the employee’s immigration status in the U.S.  So, even a company or organization with only U.S. citizen employees is not necessarily safe from a government-conducted site visit.  For instance, the Immigrant and Employee Rights (IER) Section of the Department of Justice exists to investigate 1) citizenship status discrimination in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee, 2) national origin discrimination in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee, 3) unfair documentary practices during the employment eligibility verification, Form I-9 and E-Verify, and 4) allegations of unlawful  retaliation or intimidation.  Note that discrimination can be consider action both for or against U.S. workers or workers of a particular national origin, so if the IER receives a complaint about your company’s hiring or employment practices regardless of who it supposedly helps or harms, it can open a case against your company and investigate the allegation(s) made.  Even if your company has not engaged in prohibited discriminatory practices, your company could still face severe penalties and fines for documentation/paperwork violations that may be found in such an investigation.

In the event that your company is selected for an audit and you have never inspected your Forms I-9 with an experienced counsel, it is possible that there will be numerous I-9 violations per form. These violations can be either civil or criminal.  For example, in a recent I-9 case settlement, a national Chinese fast-food chain was fined $400,000 in civil penalties and was ordered to pay $200,000 in back wages for its unlawful practices.  One of its primary violations was carrying on the practice of re-verifying lawful permanent residents when their green cards expired.  In another case, a Florida staffing company was ordered to pay a fine of $120,000 for requiring non-U.S. citizens to present specific documents, among other violations.  Without proper training in completing the Form I-9, it is not difficult to make sixty-plus violations per form—the average number of I-9 violations a government officer finds on a single I-9 form!

When the government is assessing monetary fines, one of the mitigating factors considered is good faith on the part of the employer.  By proactively taking the first step to have an experienced counsel review your company’s Forms I-9 and making adjustments and corrections before the government pays your company a visit, you may be able to significantly reduce the amount of total fines or even avoid any penalties altogether.

By  on June 13, 2017

Employers large and small regularly turn over employees. Employees quit to take care of their families, resign to take other jobs, or are fired.  Also, many employers, particularly ones whose employees are unionized, will lay off or suspend employees.  The reason for the permanent or temporary separation can be crucial in determining the employee’s eligibility for unemployment benefits.  While employers do not directly pay unemployment benefit claims, the number of successful claims affects the employer’s unemployment tax liability.

All 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have some form of state-run unemployment benefits.  In every state, if an employee is terminated for cause it affects his or her ability to collect unemployment benefits.  In some states, it completely disqualifies the employee; in others it limits his or her benefit award.  Also in every state, if the employee voluntarily leaves (i.e., quits) without good cause (for no good reason), then he or she is barred from receiving benefits.

Each state, however defines differently what a disqualifying termination for cause is and what is good cause for quitting. Most states find that terminations resulting from drug or alcohol issues (like showing up intoxicated, or refusing a drug test) are for cause.  But Oregon, for example, will grant benefits to an employee who enters a drug or alcohol related rehab program within 10 days after such a discharge.  States like Virginia, North Carolina, and Michigan cite absenteeism as a cause for termination affecting an employee’s ability to collect benefits.  California and Pennsylvania find employees who are terminated due to a criminal conviction cannot receive benefits, while many others disqualify employees who commit crimes in the workplace (whether those crimes are prosecuted or not).  All states have a general disqualifier of termination for misconduct (but again each state defines misconduct differently).  Then there are unique disqualifiers, such as in Ohio and West Virginia where resigning to marry or attend to family or personal matters is the equivalent of voluntarily leaving without good cause.

While there are many common threads among the various states, each state’s disqualification standards are different. Employers need to know what reasons for separation hinder or preclude an employee’s claim for benefits.  It is important that employers consistently and accurately document all reasons for separation.  This includes temporary separations, like suspensions and labor disputes, because some states will pay benefits to temporarily unemployed workers.  Many of these states will not pay benefits to employees subject to a disciplinary suspension or out of work due to an on-going strike.   One word of caution that cannot be stressed enough, however, is this documentation of the stated reason for separation must be accurate.  If an employer creates a pretextual reason for termination, so as to hinder an employee’s ability to obtain unemployment benefits, it could expose itself or undermine its defense to claims of discrimination in that same termination.  An employer does not want to win the small victory of denying a former employee unemployment compensation only to find itself significantly hampered in responding to a discrimination lawsuit.

In summary, employers need to know their state’s reasons for disqualification, accurately document reasons for separation, and thoughtfully challenge unfounded unemployment benefit claims. If you need assistance is compiling a list of disqualifying reasons for your state or states, or if you want to discuss whether and how to fight a claim for unemployment (in light of other, perhaps bigger concerns), please do not hesitate to contact us.  We will be glad to assist you.

Religious issues in the workplace are challenging both from a legal and practical standpoint. Managers and HR professionals want employees to feel accepted and included, and they don’t want anyone to feel targeted or mistreated based on their religious beliefs or practices. Problems can arise, however, where an employee’s religious practices interfere with the employee’s job or professional interactions. How do you accommodate the employee’s beliefs while also ensuring that the employee meets the job’s requirements? Continue Reading Handling An Employee Who Won’t Shake Hands For Religious Reasons

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series of posts, we began the discussion of what the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), enacted in May 2016, really means for employers in defending their trade secrets.  In particular, we addressed some of the “good” the DTSA offers for employers, including:  (1) a clear path to federal court, (2) ex parte seizure orders and (3) international application.  In Part 3, we addressed the bad — four potential downsides of the DTSA for employers, including mandatory disclosure of whistleblower protections.  In this final Part 4, we outline questions left unanswered by the DTSA which are worth watching for future developments. Continue Reading The Defend Trade Secrets Act: What Does it Really Mean for Employers? The Good, the Bad and the Ambiguous, Part 4

Beginning on March 1, 2017, California employers and businesses will need to re-label any single-stall restroom facilities as available to users of either gender.  Such facilities are required to be identified as “all gender” and be universally accessible. Continue Reading Single-User Restrooms Must Be Made Available To All in California

Back in April 2015, we told you about a new player in the world of employee whistleblower enforcement:  the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  The SEC grabbed everyone’s attention in 2015 by issuing its first administrative order finding that a public company violated SEC rules based solely on language in an employment agreement. Continue Reading Employment Agreements Under the Bright Light of the SEC’s Enforcement Efforts

A recent federal Appellate Court decision offers employers greater flexibility and decision making authority in considering job reassignments for qualified disabled employees.  In EEOC v. St. Joseph’s Hospital, a case decided by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Georgia, Florida and Alabama), an employee sought a job reassignment as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The employer allowed the employee thirty days to apply for vacant positions, but did not automatically grant her a new position.  Rather the employer required the employee to compete for a new position pursuant to its best qualified applicant hiring policy – she would be given the job only if she was the best qualified applicant for the position. Continue Reading Are Disabled Employees Entitled to Be Reassigned to an Open Position?

Out with the old and in with the new?  Not so fast.  For California employers, it’s more like keep the old and add the new.  And, as so often happens, the new year brings new concerns.  While this list is not exhaustive, California employers should keep their sights on the following new state and local regulations or requirements for 2017: Continue Reading Catch the Wave: New California Employment Regulations and Requirements for 2017

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series of posts, we began the discussion of what the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), enacted in May 2016, really means for employers in defending their trade secrets.  In particular, we addressed some of the “good” the DTSA offers for employers, including:  (1) a clear path to federal court, (2) ex parte seizure orders and (3) international application.  In this Part 3, we address the bad — four potential downsides of the DTSA for employers. Continue Reading The Defend Trade Secrets Act: What Does it Really Mean for Employers? The Good, the Bad and the Ambiguous, Part 3