15 Employment and Labor Resolutions for 2015, part 2 of 3

In the second part of the series of resolutions everyone should make to keep their human resource department running smoothly — and legally, we have five more entries:

 6. Audit your wage-hour compliance. Unintentional overtime and wage-hour law violations have a new name in many quarters: “wage theft.” Federal and state agencies and plaintiff’s lawyers, sometimes encouraged by labor unions and their affiliate groups, are saying “show me the money” and finding it. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor has said that it will attempt to narrow the white-collar exemptions this year. (Although the DOL says the changes will not be drastic, they are expected to be drastic). Among other things, a good wage-hour audit will include ensuring that lower-wage employees are getting at least the applicable minimum wage; that employees are not being required or “pressured” to work off the clock, or “winked at” when they do so; that the employees classified as “exempt” really are; and that any “independent contractors” really are (see also Resolution No. 1). Be sure that the review includes compliance with applicable state and local minimum wage laws, too. Many states now have a higher minimum wage than the Fair Labor Standards Act rate.

7. Update your EEO/no-harassment policies, and get that training done! In just the past year, the EEOC has taken the position that pregnancy and related conditions (including lactation) must be reasonably accommodated. The EEOC and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which enforces the affirmative action laws that apply to federal contractors, both agree that “gender identity” is a protected category and that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity violates Title VII. Do your policies reflect this? Do your employees know the new rules? Do victims of harassment and discrimination know that they have recourse?

8. Review your use of criminal background and credit information in hiring decisions. Many state and local laws prohibit employers from asking about criminal history on employment applications, and the EEOC has taken an aggressive position on the use of criminal or credit information in making employment decisions. You can still get this information, but are you getting it properly? If you find that an individual has a criminal or credit problem, are you making the required “individualized analysis” that takes into account, among other things, the nature of the conviction, the years that have passed, and the particular position for which the individual is applying? Did you grab some “canned” rules from a website, or are your rules customized to fit your industry, your workforce, and the people you serve?

9. If you’re a federal contractor, make sure you are up to date on all of the OFCCP’s new requirements. For example, the new requirement that you prohibit discrimination or harassment based on gender identity. The new minimum wage (applicable to some, but not all, federal contractors). The new scheduling letter and itemized listing. The proposed rule prohibiting employers from requiring that employees avoid discussing their pay. The rule requiring employers to “air their dirty linen” by disclosing certain violations of federal labor and employment laws. The new rule on disability discrimination/accommodation and veterans. (“Perform compensation analysis” is another good resolution if you haven’t done one lately).

10. Make sure you’re in compliance with the new injury and illness reporting requirements under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which took effect on January 1. (Reported on this new rule back in September).

 Check back next week for the last installment of the 15 resolutions.

Disclaimer I am not a licensed attorney. My blogs are based on my own experiences, interviews (where credited), and loads of research and do not represent legal advice.

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15 Employment and Labor Resolutions for 2015, part 2 of 3

15 Employment and Labor Resolutions for 2015, part 1 of 3

Now that the new year is well under way and we have all had an opportunity to settle in and organize ourselves for the coming year, I thought I should share some critical chores that need to be attended to keep you safely out of any legal twists.

Here are your first five resolutions as shared by Constangy, Brooks:

1. Make sure your “independent contractors” are really independent contractors. “Independent contractors” are under scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board, state and local agencies, plaintiffs’ lawyers, and union organizers. A mis-classification can cost you back taxes, back pay (including overtime), and back benefits, as well as penalties and interest. If you determine the manner in which an independent contractor performs his duties, including where and when the duties are performed, then the person is an employee.

2. Review your email policies. The NLRB recently found that employees generally have a right to use employer email systems during non-working time in support of union organizing and concerted activity. The Board’s decision means that many employer email use policies, as currently drafted, would probably be found to violate the National Labor Relations Act if an unfair labor practice charge were filed or a union tried to organize employees and argued that the employer’s email policy interfered with the organizing efforts. In light of the new “quickie election” rule that the NLRB issued last month, both union and non-union employers would be well advised to review their email policies and revise as needed. (The “quickie election” rule is scheduled to take effect on April 14, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other employer groups, including the Society for Human Resources Management, filed suit on Monday seeking to block the rule.)

3. Review your policies on social media, confidentiality, and “courtesy.” The NLRB is going after garden-variety employer policies, taking the position that the policies interfere with and have a chilling effect on employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity. Among the commonplace policies under attack are those requiring that information about the company or employees be kept confidential; policies requiring that employees treat each other with courtesy, respect, and civility; and even some policies requiring that employees not disclose confidential and proprietary information. As with the email policies, a non-compliant policy could result in an unfair labor practice charge or the setting aside of an employer victory in a union election.

4. Review your severance agreements. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that certain standard provisions in employee separation agreements unlawfully interfere with employee rights to bring or cooperate in the investigation of discrimination charges before the EEOC, and has filed suit against some employers using agreements with terms that the EEOC doesn’t like. One of the lawsuits has already been dismissed, but the court in that case did not make a ruling as to whether the EEOC’s position had merit. Even if you decide to take your chances with your current agreement, it’s not a bad idea to consider toning down provisions that you know the EEOC will find objectionable.

5. Review your leave policies and their administration. It’s not just the Family and Medical Leave Act anymore, although that’s enough in itself. You’ve probably seen that a number of states most recently, Massachusetts have enacted paid sick leave laws. Do your leave policies comply with the laws of the all the jurisdictions where you operate? And what do you do when an employee reaches the end of a sick leave or disability leave period? If you automatically terminate, then you could be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as state or local disability rights laws.

This is a lot to take in, I know, but the reviews must be done by either your counsel (who specializes in labor law) or by an experienced human resource professional. Check in next week for another five HR resolutions.

Disclaimer I am not a licensed attorney. My blogs are based on my own experiences, interviews (where credited), and loads of research, and do not represent legal advice.
15 Employment and Labor Resolutions for 2015, part 1 of 3

OFCCP Releases Final Rule on LGBT Non-discrimination

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs announced this month that it is issuing a Final Rule that implements President Obama’s Executive Order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

This Final Rule will be effective 120 days after publication in the Federal Register (which has not yet occurred) and will apply to federal contracts entered into or modified on or after that date.

What does the Final Rule change?

The EO Clause has been changed to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Those contractors who incorporate the EO clause by reference, however, will not need to physically alter their subcontracts or purchase orders.

Contractors must notify applicants and employees of their non-discrimination policy by posting the “EEO is the Law” poster. Presumably, the government will be updating this poster to include these two new categories.

Contractors are also obligated to expressly state in job advertisements that all qualified candidates will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin. The Final Rule provides that employers can satisfy this requirement by including that verbiage or simply indicating that the company is an “equal opportunity employer.”

Although employees hired outside of the United States are not covered by the regulations, if a contractor is not able to obtain a visa of entry for an employee or potential employee to a country in which it is doing business, the regulations require the contractor to notify both the OFCCP and the U.S. Department of State if the contractor believes that the refusal of the visa is due to the individual’s protected characteristic. This requirement now applies to sexual orientation and gender identity status. 

Affirmative Action Plan Placement Goals Changes

The section of the regulations regarding Placement Goals in AAPs has also been updated. Contractors are prohibited from extending preferences on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin due to specific placement goals.

What is not affected by the Final Rule?

The Final Rule does not change contractors’ reporting and information collection requirements, so contractors are not required to survey or report on the number of LGBT applicants or employees. The required components of Affirmative Action Plans are also not affected.

What should contractors do to comply?

The Final Rule simply adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the sections of the regulation where the other protected categories are listed, so the affect on federal contractors is limited. Contractors should, however, begin the process of determining whether and when they need to do the following:

• Update the EO Clause in subcontracts and purchase orders;

• Amend the EEO and AA policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity;

• Obtain new “EEO is the Law” posters;

• Modify their EEO tagline on job solicitations; and

• Train appropriate personnel on the new protections.

In addition, the OFCCP has issued FAQs regarding its interpretation of the Final Rule. These will probably be updated periodically as contractors pose questions to the OFCCP.

Why no proposed rule?

The OFCCP bypassed the Notice of Proposed Rule-making and comment period. They stated that the “Executive Order was very clear about the steps the Department of Labor was required to take and left no discretion regarding how to proceed. In such cases, principles of administrative law allow an agency to publish final rules without prior notice and comment when the agency only makes a required change to conform a regulation to the enabling authority and does not have any discretion in doing so.”

If you have any questions regarding this Final Rule, please contact a board certified labor attorney.

OFCCP Releases Final Rule on LGBT Non-discrimination