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.

August 6, 2014

Here's the wrong way to deliver FMLA notices to employees

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

But, if you send FMLA paperwork to an employee by first class mail, then you're asking for trouble.

I'll show you why after the jump...

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Continue reading "Here's the wrong way to deliver FMLA notices to employees" »

August 5, 2014

Learn all about religious accommodations in the workplace today at 2:00 PM EDT

unocards.JPGWhy, just the other night, I playing my 5-year-old son in a friendly game of Uno.

Well, it was friendly-ish in a cutthroat sorta way. At least, that's what the look on his tear-stained face suggested to me when I mouthed "Uno," shimmied, and spiked my final card to win my fourth game in a row.

Now, some would say that I took it a bit too far when I collected his tears, and then painted them on my face to mock his crying. 

But those people are soft.

In Uno, I talk the talk and walk the walk.

The same could be said for employment-law webinars. And it's not that I view "Hair, Holidays and Hijabs: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace," a webinar that I am co-presenting for BNA today at 2:00 PM EDT, as a competition. 

But, I'm going to really need to raise my game today carry my weight with my co-presenter.

Oh you didn't know? I have the honor and privilege of co-presenting on religious discrimination with P. David Lopez, EEOC General Counsel.

Not to worry though; I have a few aces up my sleeve -- provided that I remember to wear sleeves, which has been a struggle recently.

But seriously, you could a lot worse than David and me for 90 minutes on a really hot workplace issue like religious discrimination and accommodations. There is still time to register (here).

And if you can't make it, and you want a copy of our PowerPoint, just email me and I'll send it to you after the webinar.

Provided that you can beat me in a game of Uno.

(Don't embarrass yourself, I'll send you the PowerPoint anyway...)

August 4, 2014

Inappropriate Facebook videos, comments doom an employee's discrimination claims

On the clock or off, when employees do dumb stuff on Facebook, it could cost them their jobs. And, apparently, their discrimination claims against their former employer too.

Yep, another employee screwed up online. Go figure.

More on that after the jump...

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Continue reading "Inappropriate Facebook videos, comments doom an employee's discrimination claims" »

August 1, 2014

FACT OR FICTION: The ADA requires all employers to offer light duty.

Fact or Fiction?That's right folks. It's time for another edition of "Fact or Fiction" a/k/a "Quick Answers to Quick Questions" a/k/a QATQQ f/k/a "I don't feel like writing a long blog post."

Peep this ADA failure-to-accommodate case. Plaintiff is disabled and requests light duty. However, the evidence presented showed that there were no light duty positions available and the plaintiff presented no evidence to the contrary.

In denying the plaintiff's ADA claim, the court underscored that it's the plaintiff's burden to show that a requested reasonable accommodation exists and is available. Otherwise, my friends, if it's not available, then it's not reasonable.

The answer to today's QATQQ is fiction.

July 31, 2014

Disclosing an employee's medical info on Facebook is hella-stupid

Plus, it may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act too.

How one company's alleged blunder turned into an ADA lawsuit and a blog post at TheEmployerHandbook.com...after the jump...

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Continue reading "Disclosing an employee's medical info on Facebook is hella-stupid" »

July 30, 2014

Two years ago, no one gave this a second thought.

But, now. Oh boy....

Click through for a copy of the complaint.

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Continue reading "Two years ago, no one gave this a second thought." »

July 29, 2014

Court: No First Amendment right for teacher to trash students online

Welcome to The Employer Handbook.

Extending the fifteen minutes of fame of a trash-talking blogger/teacher by a 300 word blog post.

After the jump...

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Continue reading "Court: No First Amendment right for teacher to trash students online" »

July 28, 2014

Is it discrimination to favor a workplace shortie (shawtie?) over her male subordinates?

Because all the other blogs will say "paramour" or "lover"  in the lede, and I need to remain relevant (or "down," if you will) with my more trendy readers.

Over the weekend, I read this case in which a male plaintiff alleged discrimination because his supervisor was allegedly schtupping a female subordinate and treating her better.

(The court said "voluntary romantic affiliation," but why say in three words, what you can say in one).

Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that, in exchange for putting out, his female co-worker received better job assignments, bonuses, and other working conditions.

[Tell that to Lana Del Rey. (Sigh!)]

Well, the fatal flaw in the plaintiff's argument, as the court pointed out, is that favoring one female subordinate over one man...and the rest of the workforce (both male and female), because the female subordinate is getting jiggy with it, may not be fair, but it's not discrimination either:

"Mr. Clark presented no evidence that Cache Valley treated women more favorably than men, and no circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. Indeed, as the district court concluded, Mr. Clark merely provided evidence that Mr. Perschon extended preferential treatment to one female employee: Ms. Silver, a co-worker with whom Mr. Perschon allegedly was having an affair or some other form of "improper" relationship. Favoritism of a paramour is not gender discrimination."

So, while running a workplace where supervisors and direct reports engage in consensual romantic relationships may not be the gold standard (e.g., perception of unfair treatment during the relationship, and the fallout when/if the two break up), "preferential treatment on the basis of a consensual romantic relationship between a supervisor and an employee is not gender-based discrimination."

Neither is "friendship" or "cronyism." 

In other words, go ahead and treat the jerks like jerks because they are jerks and don't worry about violating the law.

July 25, 2014

EEOC shows no goodwill to Goodwill Industries: $100K for retaliation

Thumbnail image for eeoclogo.pngJust in case you thought that the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission uses a soft touch towards any business that may discriminate -- let alone a charity.

Earlier this week, the EEOC announced here that Goodwill Industries will pay $100,000 to settle a long-standing retaliation lawsuit.

In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that Goodwill retaliated against a worker by firing her after she testified on behalf of another Goodwill employee in a previous federal sex and age discrimination lawsuit.

Ladies and Gentlemen: This EEOC does not mess around!

July 24, 2014

#TBT The Employer Handbook seeks your feedback

feedback.gif

Back when I was a young aspiring blogger -- as opposed to the blog king I am now -- I asked my audience (here) for some feedback to improve this jawn.

Well, you gave it, I improved it, and I've been turning down multi-million dollar offers to sell this piece ever since.

I won't sell out -- yes, I will -- because I love you all and no one could handle The Employer Handbook with the grace and dignity it deserves.

***scratches butt ***

Could we use some find tuning? 

Probably not. But, I'm sure you folks have some good ideas to improve the blog. Maybe TMI is an issue, I dunno.

So, holler at me in the comments below or via email.

Thank you!

July 23, 2014

Real and Spectacular! A true Seinfeld-ian claim of sexual harassment

Before law school was even on the radar for me, I knew that coitus on office furniture was a workplace no-no. And ignorance is not a defense.

But, maybe Seinfeld isn't a thing in Indiana.

You see, Connie Orton-Bell worked at a maximum security prison in Indiana. One day, she learned that night-shift employees were having sex on her desk.

The investigator who discovered the prison procreation, told Ms. Orton-Bell, "he was not concerned about night-shift staff having sex but suggested she should probably wash off her desk every morning."

(I recommend Endust. It's no-wax formula removes dust, soil and surface wax buildup).

The prison superintendent too learned of the nighttime nooky and said that, "as long as inmates were not involved, he was not concerned either."

And then there's Ms. Orton-Bell herself.

Immediately after the superintendent shared his thoughts on sexy-time in the slammer, he discovered that Orton-Bell was having an affair with the Major in charge of custody (which, ironically enough, allegedly involved sex on his desk).

And, for that, Ms. Orton-Bell lost her job.

Both she and the Major separately appealed their terminations because, apparently, the Indiana State Corrections System is bacchanalia, so, why should they lose their jobs?

*** give me a sec, my head is spinning ***

Well, the prison cut a deal with the Major. He testified against Orton-Bell and yadda, yadda, yadda, she sued alleging, among other things, a hostile work environment based primarily on the night shift constantly using her desk as a giant Petri-Dish experiment.

No sexual harassment because the desk sex wasn't based on...sex.

Now, I was ready to predict that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals would have denied the claim (in this opinion) by concluding that a reasonable person in Ms. Orton-Bell's shoes would not have been offended by the sex on a desk.

However, the court went in a different direction in dismissing Ms. Orton-Bell's hostile work environment claim; namely, the lack of evidence that Ms. Orton-Bell's gender caused the harassment:

The notion that night-shift staff had sex on her desk because she was a woman is pure speculation. The only evidence of any motive held by the night-shift staff (who have not been identified) for having sex on her desk is that her office had curtains and was in a lockable suite near the infirmary, but accessible with the master key that a night-shift lieutenant would have.
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The conduct was certainly sexual intercourse on her desk, but that does not mean that night-shift staff had sexual intercourse on Orton-Bell's desk because she was of the female sex. There is no evidence to indicate that, had her conveniently private and secure, but accessible, office belonged to a man, it would not have been used in the same manner.

So, what can we take away from this post...other than our appetites?

  1. No sex on desks at work.

  2. No sex at work.

  3. No sex on desks. (Splinters)

UPDATE: It appears that I'm not the only blogger to put a tv-spin on this sex romp. So, for more on this case and, what I trust are far keener legal insights, check out Jon Hyman's post "Orange is the new sexual harassment"at the Ohio Employer's Law Blog.

Friends, it's hard-hitting Pulitzer-Prize commentary like this that won me the 2013 ABA Blawg 100 Amici for Labor and Employment. Hey, don't blame me. You voted for it, suckers. Just be sure to nominate this ridiculous blog for the ABA Blawg 100 Amici again.

July 22, 2014

Requesting an accommodation means more than saying, "I'm disabled."

My cold, black employment-law heart is numb to just about anything.

I remember this one time, early in my career, when I had to depose a teenage female plaintiff and ask her, with her mother present in the room, whether it offended her that her alleged male sexual harasser wanted to have a threesome with her and her mother.

Back then, it seemed salacious. Now, it's like, whatever. Most of this stuff just rolls off of my shoulders.

But I do have a soft spot for failure-to-accommodate cases under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For, I get how hard it is for an employee to have to share with an employer -- let alone anyone -- that the employee has [insert name of disability]. It's a very vulnerable position.

Triggering a duty to accommodate.

The Americans with Disabilities Act tasks employers with providing reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities to allow them to perform the essential functions of the job.

However, as hard as it for an employee to communicate to an employer that he/she has a disability, a recent federal court decision reminds us that merely communicating the existence of a disability is not enough to trigger an employer's duty to accommodate.

In Wallace v. Heartland Community College, the court noted that, while the plaintiff did make her employer aware that she had a disability which was causing her "stress and pain" at work, she failed to communicate how she wanted her employer to accommodate her disability.

And although "requests for accommodations need not be communicated through formal channels," and there may have been some semblance of a reasonable accommodation discussion, the court determined that the plaintiff was responsible for the breakdown of the interactive process that failed to result in identifying a reasonable accommodation.

Make it easier for employees to request accommodations.

The case provides a good lesson to employers and employees alike about the importance of open communication and cooperation in determining what accommodation(s), if any, will allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. Although the law may place the onus on the employee to advance the ball, at least initially, when discussing workplace accommodations, proactive employers should facilitate these discussions by educating employees, through policy and training, about the ways in which employees can make these requests.

July 21, 2014

Today, President Obama will sign an Executive Order banning LGBT discrimination

Thumbnail image for rainbowflag.jpgAccording to a Friday report from Cynthia L. Hackerott at Wolters Kluwer, President Obama will sign an Executive Order today banning discrimination against LGBT employees by federal contractors.

Last month, I blogged here that the White House had announced that it intended to eventually ban LGBT discrimination by federal contractors through Executive Order because the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), did not make it through Congress.

Since that time, several gay-rights groups withdrew their support for ENDA, fearing that it afforded "religiously affiliated organizations ... a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people."

Following the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, religious groups had pushed the White House to include a religious exemption in the President's Executive Order. However, Ms. Hackerott and Jennifer Bendery at The Huffington Post (here) confirm that today's Executive Order will not have a religious exemption.

What the Executive Order does.

The Executive Order will amend an existing Executive Order originally signed by President Lyndon Johnson, which bans discrimination by federal contractors against an enumerated list of protected classes. President Obama's amendment adds sexual orientation and gender identity to that list.

According to Ms. Bendery, this Order affects 24,000 companies employing roughly 28 million workers, or about one-fifth of the nation's workforce.

Some non-federal contractors may also be covered.

It's worth noting that many states and municipalities already protect LGBT employees from workplace discrimination, regardless of whether their employer's contract with the government. Most Fortune 500 and 100 companies already have internal rules banning LGBT discrimination.

Update: President Obama has signed the Order and the White House has published a fact sheet entitled "Taking Action to Support LGBT Workplace Equality is Good For Business".

July 18, 2014

Can a NJ company legally shorten the statute of limitations on employment claims?

Let's assume that you operate a business in New Jersey. And you get to thinking:

"What if we put a provision in our employment application, by which a job applicant waives the two-year statute of limitations applicable to most workplace claims and shortens the period for such claims to six months?"

Would that be enforceable?

Well, since we're talking about New Jersey, which is pretty much the most employee-friendly state next to California, most experts would tell you to pour 'em a glass of whatever your drinking, because your idea is nuts.

Like spawn of Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen cray-cray.

Well, spla-dow!

Tell those so-called experts to check themselves before they wreck themselves, because, late last month, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (in this opinion) said that an employment application provision shortening the statute of limitations could be binding, yo!

The Court emphasized that the provision in question was "contained in a two-page application and set forth very conspicuously in bold oversized print and capital lettering, just above the applicant's signature line. The terminology was clear and uncomplicated. Plaintiff was put under no pressure to complete and sign the application quickly."

And did I mention that English is the plaintiff's second language? Wow!

This is a MONSTER VICTORY (see what I did there?) for NJ employers. A statute of limitations shortener, maybe paired with a jury trial waiver, that's a pretty potent 1-2 punch to fend off workplace lawsuits. 

Well that, and a respectful workplace, with training and such.

But, you get the idea.

July 17, 2014

Court: No need to accommodate employee who shows up drunk on Mike's Hard Lemonade

Hey there, United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

This Americans with Disabilities Act failure-to-accomodate opinion right here. You had me at "Ortiz reported to work on April 5, 2010, carrying one empty and three full cans of 'Mike's Hard Lemonade' (an alcoholic beverage), along with raw meat."

I may borrow that line for my Hangover Part IV treatment. It stars Zach Galifianakis and the rest of the crew -- cameos by Pee Wee Herman, Octomom, and Peter Dinklage (as Tyrion Lannister) -- and centers around the hi-jinx that ensue after the boys get blackout drunk following Alan's nephew's bris.

game of thrones got tyrion lannister peter dinklage gif

(Three years later...)

And the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay goes to Eric Meyer.

"First of all, I'd like to thank God. I'd also like to thank the members of the Academy, my family, and the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. (applause) Step up your game, Western Division (laughter)..."

Yes, friends I stole borrowed the plot from the Illinois federal court, which opined (here) that an employee who shows up to work smelling of alcohol and with a blood alcohol level of .198. (15 minutes later, the level was .203), can be fired without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yes, it's true.

(The opinion; not my script idea, dummies).

It doesn't matter that alcoholism is an ADA disability (it is) or, for that matter, what other disabilities the plaintiff may have had. Reporting to work in possession and under the influence of alcohol not only renders that employee unqualified under the ADA, but is a terminable offense.

So, next time one of your employees shows up to work zooted, carrying a four-foot gravity bong and a medium rare chateaubriand, go ahead and fire that person. No ADA violation there.

And then call me. So, I can start working on my next script.

(In the meantime, nominate this blog for the ABA Blawg 100 Amici, would ya? I have a prestigious blawg title to defend. Yes, I just used the word "blawg" in two straight sentences. Ok, three).

Image credit: GifWave.com