Welcome Pennsylvania and New Jersey employers.

Settle in and read on for easy-to-navigate, clear and concise summaries of the employment-law landscape in PA and NJ. Plus, we highlight the latest legal trends and changes in the law. You can even improve the way you and your employees conduct business with our featured guest commentary and insights from other management-side employment lawyers and human resources professionals.

This isn't your average blog; this is The Employer Handbook. Read it cover to cover.

July 1, 2014

3 ways the #HobbyLobby decision affects your workplace

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Mid-morning yesterday, the Internet broke shortly after the Supreme Court issued its 5-4 decision in HHS v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc..

Jeez, I'm still cleaning out my Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook feeds.

In case your wifi, 4G, 3G, dial-up, TV, radio, and other electronics picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue, the long and short of yesterday's Supreme Court decision is this: Smaller, closely-held (think: family-owned) companies don't have to provide Obamacare access to birth control if doing so would conflict with an employer's religious beliefs.

So, how does yesterday's decision affect your workplace? I promised you three ways, and here they are:

  1. The court's opinion creates an Obamacare exception for closely-held business. If your company isn't closely held, then there's nothing to see here.

  2. The Hobby Lobby decision does not allow employers (closely-held or otherwise) to discriminate against employees under the guise of a religious practice. In the dissent, Justice Ginsburg pondered, "Suppose an employer's sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage or according women equal pay for substantially similar work. Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection?" Well, no. The majority recognized that "the Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the work force without regard to [a protected class], and prohibitions on [discrimination] are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal."

  3. The Court's opinion is a good reminder about religious accommodations in the workplace. Title VII requires covered employers to make reasonable accommodations for a worker's sincerely-held religious beliefs unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on business operations. The "sincerity" of an employee's stated religious belief is usually not in dispute. (More on that here). And, in these situations, an employer should not judge the employee's religious belief to determine whether it is plausible. Rather, the focus should usually be on whether the accommodation would impose an undue hardship -- because the burden there is rather low.


Image Credit: "HobbyLobbyStowOhio" by DangApricot - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
June 30, 2014

Black man claims a paint company's paint is racist and he was fired for complaining

paintcans.jpgThe Benjamin Moore color gallery contains, among others, Clinton Brown and Tucker Chocolate.

My virgin ears! I mean, how racist can you get?!? Or, so says Clinton Tucker, a former Benjamin Moore employee, who filed a complaint in New Jersey state court in which he alleges that these paint names are hella-racist.

According to Courthouse News Service (here), Tucker says that "being a black man named Clinton Tucker, the plaintiff found this to be extremely racially offensive."

Incidentally, Benjamin Moore also has paint colors called Tucker Orange and Tucker Gray. However, a brief search I conducted yielded no discrimination lawsuit initiated by older or fake-baking employees.

Which brings me to the point of this post, That is, to prevail on a hostile work environment claim, an employee has to show, among other things, that a reasonable person in his shoes would be offended by the same conduct with which the plaintiff takes offense.

And since no one on the face of the earth would find the paint names Tucker Chocolate and Clinton Brown to be racially offensive, then, absent other facts to support a hostile work environment based on race, I think we have a loser claim here.

And an excuse to play Color Me Badd.

*** ducks tomato ***

June 27, 2014

Supreme Court: President Obama botched those NLRB recess appointments

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Supreme Court.jpgIn a unanimous opinion delivered yesterday (here) in NLRB v. Noel Canning, the Supreme Court concluded that President Obama's so-called "recess appointments" of three of the five members of the National Labor Relations Board between the Senate's January 3 and January 6 pro forma sessions were unconstitutional.

Amy Howe from SCOTUSblog.com summarized the decision "in plain english":

"[A]ny recess that is shorter than three days is not long enough to make a recess appointment necessary. And a recess that is longer than three days but shorter than ten days will, in the normal case, also be too short to necessitate a recess appointment."
* * *
"[T]he Senate can prevent the president from making recess appointments even during its longer recesses by holding "pro forma" sessions - that is, sessions at which no work actually gets done - every three days."

So, there you have it. The net effect of this opinion is that any NLRB decision rendered with the three improperly-appointed NLRB members is void of lack of a quorum. (Previously, the Supreme Court held here that the Board is powerless to rule with less than a quorum of three members). Although, with a full quorum now, you'd expect that those case would eventually be affirmed.

For more on the Court's decision on NLRB v. Noel Canning check out:

June 26, 2014

Score? US Men's Soccer's permission slip so your employees can miss work today

I remember a high school classmate of mine who had his mom send in a permission slip to excuse him from missing school for the Philadelphia Phillies' home opener. Mom's note indicated that her son was suffering from "Vernal Flu." 

Get it? Vernal Flu = Spring Fever.

Pretty creative, huh?

The US Men's Soccer team is not impressed.

JurgenNote.jpg

Image Credit: @USSoccer on Twitter

UPDATE: Daniel Schwartz scooped me on this last night with "A Note from the U.S. Coach is a Great Idea, But Not a Good Excuse." NEWMAN!

June 25, 2014

#SHRM14 updates from the best of the bloggerati

Sorry for the late past today, gang. I had planned on putting something together last night, but, two words: sushi coma.

So, here for your enjoyment, whether you're attending the 2014 SHRM Annual Conference and Expo this year, like I am, or whether you've been following along online, is a collection of recent blog posts tracking the event:

June 24, 2014

Nooses, n-words, and confederate flags, but no discrimination #shrm14

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Over the weekend, I read this opinion in a race-discrimination with facts so egregious, they'd make David Duke blush.

Let me set the scene for you. This is a workplace where, allegedly, several of the white employees displayed Confederate flag paraphernalia. I'll spare you a verbatim review of the racial graffiti and epithets -- you can view it here -- but, it was pretty darn bad. And what about multiple nooses in the workplace -- eight in total.

[Sidebar: I once attended a deposition of an Ivy League-educated HR Manager who testified that there was a time when she did not understand how a hangman's noose in the workplace would offend a black employee. Hubba-what?!? Folks, just so we're clear here, a hangman's noose is the single worst symbol of racial hate. Period. So eight of 'em is hella-bad!]

All that hate, but no discrimination.

There is no question that nooses, n-words, graffiti and Confederate flags are symbols of racial animus and violence. But that was not enough to convince the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate several of the race-discrimination claims that the lower court had dismissed.

Dismissed?!? Why? Because many of the plaintiffs lacked firsthand knowledge of the bad stuff.

As the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned: "an employee alleging a hostile work environment cannot complain about conduct of which he was oblivious for the purpose of proving that his work environment was objectively hostile."

In other words, an employee cannot rely on evidence of racial harassment of which he is not personally aware to prove that his work environment was objectively hostile. And while some of the plaintiffs were able to show that they were personally exposed to acts of race discrimination, the ones who relied on "me too" evidence about those incidents had their cases dismissed.

Employer wins.

Employer takeaway.

But, not really. Because, well, it probably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending these legal actions (without factoring in the cost of paying judgments). So, for the love of God, if your workplace at all resembles the allegations presented here...

Well, you're probably not reading this blog anyway.

June 23, 2014

What HR should know about same-sex marriage and the FMLA #SHRM14

Thumbnail image for fmla.jpegFolks, I get the feeling you may be inundated with extra blog posts over the next few days.

That is, I'm punching this post out from the airport, as I await my flight to Orlando, where I'll be attending the Gathering of the Juggalos 2014 SHRM Annual Conference and Expo.

Two speaking gigs for me and lot of other conference time to listen, learn, and blog.

My first session is Tuesday, where I'll present "Meeting the Challenges That Leaves of Absence and Attendance Issues Present Under the FMLA and ADA."

So, the timing of last week's announcement from the U.S. Department of Labor couldn't have come at a better time.

(Thanks for holding off on the announcement. Let me know what you think of that bottle of 12-year I sent you).

Same-sex couple will enjoy the same FMLA rights.

The Family and Medical Leave Act permits eligible employees to take leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition. The FMLA defines family member as "a husband or wife as defined or recognized under State law for purposes of marriage in the State where the employee resides." So, if your employee resides in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, then that employee can take leave under the FMLA to care for a spouse with a serious health condition.

The Department proposes to define spouse as follows:

"Spouse, as defined in the statute, means a husband or wife. For purposes of this definition, husband or wife refers to the other person with whom an individual entered into marriage as defined or recognized under State law for purposes of marriage in the State in which the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside of any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State. This definition includes an individual in a same-sex or common law marriage that either (1) was entered into in a State that recognizes such marriages or, (2) if entered into outside of any State, is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State."

Here's the long and short of it, under the proposed rule, all legally married couples (opposite-sex, same-sex, common-law) would have the same FMLA rights, regardless of residence.

Be heard on this proposed rule.

If you have comments on the proposed rule, you can leave them below. But, until the Department recognizes this blog as an official forum for public comment -- mailing second bottle of scotch shortly -- you can leave comments for the rule officially the the Department here.

June 20, 2014

Survey reveals the top workplace productivity killers (Hint: one rhymes with "mocial sedia")

And most of them revolve around technology.

According to a CareerBuilder survey, here are the top ten:

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Now, on the flip side, it's easy to see how technology and, in particular, social media, could increase productivity in the workplace. Indeed, a 2013 Microsoft study, emphasizes how social media can improve collaboration and the speed with which information is shared.

We'll debate the pros and cons of social media in the workplace at my SHRM Annual sesh next week.

But, for now, how about a list of 11 hella-crazy things employees have seen co-workers doing when they should have been busy working:

  • Employee was blowing bubbles in sub-zero weather to see if the bubbles would freeze and break
  • A married employee was looking at a dating web site and then denied it while it was still up on his computer screen
  • Employee was caring for her pet bird that she smuggled into work
  • Employee was shaving her legs in the women's restroom
  • Employee was laying under boxes to scare people
  • Employees were having a wrestling match
  • Employee was sleeping, but claimed he was praying
  • Employee was taking selfies in the bathroom
  • Employee was changing clothes in a cubicle
  • Employee was printing off a book from the Internet
  • Employee was warming her bare feet under the bathroom hand dryer

I've seen the bathroom selfies on Facebook. Totally weird! What's the craziest thing you saw a co-worker doing in the workplace? Let me know in the comments below.

Image Credit: CareerBuilder.com

June 19, 2014

#SHRM14: Let's grab coffee (you're buying)

shrm.jpgAnd by coffee, I mean turkey legs and frozen blueberry-mango rum lemonade.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down...

You see that badge over there? You know what I had to do to get that badge?
Buy the full version of Photoshop
Spike the Kool-Aid of everyone on the SHRM Annual Conference Speaker Selection Committee
I beat out thousands (trillions?) of other speaker submissions to be selected as a SHRM 2014 Annual Conference & Exposition speaker.

And, crew, I got selected to speak not once, but twice. Know what that means? ***Ducks Lucifer's pitchfork***  Say, is it just me, or do any of you smell sulfur?

It means that SHRM trusts me to speak intelligently about: (1) social media in the workplace; and (2) tackling leave issues under the FMLA/ADA.

That's a lot of pressure. Let's just hope I remember to wear pants. Pretty sure I can pull it off. (The pants and the presentations).

But otherwise, when I'm not speaking, Your Blogness is up for whatever; not in a Bud Light "Up for Whatever" kinda way. See, turkey legs, et al, supra. Rather, I'd like to meet some of my readers -- the ones that aren't crazy stalkers.

So, if you're not a crazy stalker, and you like this blog, and you're gonna be at SHRM14, then drop me a line, and let's plan some time to meet. I look forward to catching up.

See you in Orlando.

June 18, 2014

3d Cir: No FMLA interference where employee receives all leave requested

Thumbnail image for fmla.jpegNow, before I get to the FMLA, let me talk about another recent decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court. On Monday, the high court ruled (here) that:

  1. Claims asserted under the "improper quality of patient care" provision of New Jersey's Conscientious Employee Protection Act "must be premised upon a reasonable belief that the employer has violated a law, rule, regulation, declaratory ruling adopted pursuant to law, or a professional code of ethics that governs the employer and differentiates between acceptable and unacceptable conduct in the employer's delivery of patient care."

  2. A plaintiff asserting that his or her employer's conduct is incompatible with a "clear mandate of public policy concerning the public health" must, at a minimum, identify authority that applies to the "activity, policy or practice" of the employer.

To the two of you who care about that opinion, you're welcome. And, to the rest of you who slogged through this post to here, huzzah! Your reward is this #LockInLuc campaign ad (h/t Deadspin) and a post about the FMLA.

(Ok, to keep reading, here's some bribery: the ESPN highlights from yesterday's 0-0 World Cup "thriller" between Mexico and Brazil....)

Uh, yeah, FMLA time.

So, I read this opinion yesterday from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and I was all like, "What am I missing here?"

The court reminded us that an FMLA interference action has nothing to do with discrimination. Instead, what matters is whether the employer provided the employee with the entitlements guaranteed by the FMLA."

Well, duh.

In other words, if an employee is FMLA eligible, requests FMLA from an FMLA-qualifying employer, gets FMLA leave, feels better, returns from FMLA leave, and gets fired, that's not FMLA interference.

Employer takeaway: Think twice before firing an employee on the day the employee returns from FMLA leave. It may not be FMLA interference, but you'll find yourself defending an FMLA retaliation claim.

June 17, 2014

President Obama to ban LGBT discrimination by federal contractors -- eventually

The White House announced the news yesterday via Twitter.

Just two years ago, the White House indicated that President Obama would not sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, preferring that Congress act to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that would have banned LGBT discrimination in the private sector, entirely. However, ENDA stalled out in the House after passing the Senate last November.

And, according to Jennifer Bendery and Sam Stein reporting at The Huffington Post (article here), while President Obama has directed his staff to being drafting an Executive Order for his signature, there's no guarantee that he'll sign it right away:

"Notably, [a White House] official would not say whether the president will sign the order into law on Monday -- suggesting the White House is leaking the news to warn lawmakers that they have a limited window to pass more sweeping workplace discrimination legislation before he acts without them."

According to Edward Isaac-Dovere and Jennifer Epstein reporting at Politico (article here), there is some speculation that a delay in implementing the Executive Order could have to do with "the upcoming Supreme Court's decision on the Hobby Lobby case, on the religious exemption for businesses to claim leeway from Obamacare's contraception mandate."

Other speculation suggests that, given the upcoming June 30 White House's annual LGBT Pride Month reception, a signature on the Executive Order could come within the next two weeks.

Whatever the timing, absent a federal law on LGBT workplace discrimination, there are still many protections available for private-sector employees. Many states and municipalities already have laws banning LGBT discrimination. Further, same-sex discrimination based on gender stereotypes is also unlawful under Title VII. Moreover, many Fortune 500 companies (88% to be exact) have already banned LGBT discrimination in the workplace.

But as for a federal law specifically banning LGBT discrimination, it's wait and see.

June 16, 2014

EEOC sues a nonprofit that assists the disabled for, yep, disability discrimination

So much for that case of Monday writer's block...

From a recent EEOC press release:

According to the EEOC's suit, Disability Network denied a deaf independent living specialist reasonable accommodations and then fired him. For example, the nonprofit refused the employee his requests for TTY equipment, a video phone and the ability to use text messaging, and refused to provide him with alternate accommodations.

* * *
"The irony in this case is incredible," said EEOC Trial Attorney Nedra Campbell. "Disability Network was formed to help and protect people with disabilities - and so was the ADA, under which we now have to sue them for violating their mandate and betraying an employee."

June 12, 2014

Apparently, you can curse your boss out and still keep your job

latrelle.pngWhat with me gabbing on about firefighters afraid of fighting fires, butt grabs, and some Delaware lawyer starving himself over social media, I missed this National Labor Relations Board decision, in which the Board basically held that, as long as you don't go too far and pull a Latrell Sprewell, you can curse out your boss with impunity. 

Literally, you can call your boss a "f*%king crook," an "a$$hole," and "stupid" on a Friday, and still have a job to come back to on Monday.

God bless America.

For more on this Board decision, check out these posts:

June 11, 2014

If you have questions today about FMLA/ADA leave issues, I've got your hook up

Thumbnail image for weknownext.pngIn two weeks, at the SHRM Annual Conference, I'll be presenting "Meeting the Challenges That Leaves of Absence and Attendance Issues Present Under the FMLA and ADA." 

The good news is that I have 75 minutes of HR greatness planned for my SHRM sesh. The bad news is that my presentation is at 7:00 AM on the day after the #SHRM14 Social Bash at the Hard Rock Cafe.

So, let's just say "Hey, thanks a lot, SHRM!" that I anticipate an intimate gathering of HR hardcore FMLA/ADAthletes for my spiel.

What do you think? Should I provide coffee or hair of the dog? Irish Coffee it is!

If, somehow, you miss my session because [insert another inappropriate comment here] or you won't be at the SHRM Annual Conference, you're not our of luck. Because...

Me, you, Twitter, today 3 pm. Your FMLA/ADA questions; my answers. Details here.

Let's do this, yo.

June 10, 2014

The firefighter afraid of fighting fires loses his ADA claim. Right, you guys? Right?!?

If I could drink up your collective skepticism when it comes to these Americans with Disabilities Act cases...

...I'd need my stomach pumped.

Let's see. There's the one about the utilityman who couldn't climb utility poles, but had an ADA claim against a utility company. And then who can forget the bridge worker with the fear of heights who presented a viable ADA claim? And what about the stripper who feared climbing the stripper pole?

Let's travel down to Texas, where everything's bigger; including the wacky ADA cases.

This latest doozy made it all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.

It involves a firefighter captain from Houston who, on two separate occasions, apparently became frightened when it came time to enter a burning building. 

The firefighter's doctor noted an episode of global transient amnesia but approved his return to work. The City, however, was all like, WTH?!? and fought the firefighter's return to active duty in court. 

The firefighter countersued, alleging that his employer had violated the ADA when it reassigned him to the training academy and refused to restore him to his prior position in fire suppression.

A jury found in the firefighter's favor  on the ADA claim and an appellate court affirmed.

Yeah, no. He's not disabled.

The Texas Supreme Court; however, reversed. It concluded that the firefighter was not disabled:

"There is no evidence from which a reasonable and fair-minded jury could conclude that Proler was disabled. The jury heard evidence of two incidents where Proler was allegedly unable to provide useful help to his firefighting team during actual fires at two residential buildings. Being unable to set aside the normal fear of entering a burning building is not a mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

* * *
...If one considers the NBA, the capacity to play professional basketball is an ability; the rest of us do not suffer from a disability because we cannot play at that level. A job skill required for a specific job is not a disability if most people lack that skill."

But what about a perceived disability? Because even if the firefighter is not disabled, if the City perceived him as such, and it motivated an adverse employment action, then ka-$hing!

But alas, no, the Texas Supreme Court was not buying that argument:

"But there is no evidence from which a reasonable and fair-minded jury could find that the City perceived Proler to be suffering from a mental impairment that substantially limited a major life activity. The evidence was entirely to the contrary--indicating Proler was removed from a front-line firefighting position only because City decision-makers had received information that Proler had frozen at two fires, and he was therefore perceived to be unable to do his particular job as captain of a firefighting crew. Even Proler's mother agreed that the department acted properly in removing him from the scene of the second fire."

There's no strikethrough on that last sentence, is there?

***Evernotes reminder to raise the "mother agreed" defense next time I litigate in Texas***

Takeaways from this post:

  1. I regret not going with this song.

  2. This case was decided based on the ADA, prior to its 2009 amendment. As y'all (what I did there, you see it) know, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act now makes it hella-easy to demonstrate a disability.

  3. I SLAYED the list below. Crushed it! (First song is NSFW)