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.

January 6, 2014

EEOC thrashes Scientologist employer that allegedly made workers scream at ashtrays

tomcruise.jpg

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know much about Scientology.

Why, my Scientology acumen could fill a thimble. Basically, I know that Tom Cruise is a Scientologist and Katie Holmes was a Scientologist; but, not anymore. Anything else comes from my favorite gossip blog, The Superficial, which is barely, if at all, safe for work.

(Although, I can guarantee you that if you search that blog for the word "Scientology," the results will be anything but).

170,000 reasons not to force religion on your employees.

Yeah, so anyway, last week, I read with interest, this EEOC press release, in which the federal agency announced that it had settled with a Florida employer that had allegedly tried to force Scientology on its employees.

Here's what the EEOC specifically claimed was happening in the workplace:

The EEOC charged in its suit that Dynamic Medical Services, Inc. ("DMS") required Norma Rodriguez, Maykel Ruz, Rommy Sanchez, Yanileydis Capote and other employees to spend at least half their work days in courses that involved Scientology religious practices, such as screaming at ashtrays or staring at someone for eight hours without moving. The company also instructed employees to attend courses at the Church of Scientology. Additionally, the company required Sanchez to undergo an "audit" by connect­ing herself to an "E-meter," which Scientologists believe is a religious artifact, and required her to undergo "purification" treatment at the Church of Scientology.

Whoa!

You can find a copy of the EEOC's federal court complaint here.

The press release indicates that the employer will pay $170,000 as part of a consent decree. It will also require the employer to accommodate employees who complain about attending and/or participating in religious courses or other religious work-related activities for religious reasons; to notify EEOC if employees request a religious accommodation; to adopt an anti-discrimination policy that explains to employees their rights under Title VII with respect to religious discrimination; and to conduct training for DMS employees covering Title VII, and specifically focusing on religious discrimination.

So what can employers learn from this? I've got two takeaways.

  1. Proselytize at your own risk. As I've discussed here on the blog before, proselytizing, an effort to convert someone to a particular religion, is not prohibited per se in the workplace. This is because federal anti-discrimination law does not require that the workplace be sanitized of all religion (e.g., a Christmas tree, menorah, etc.).

    Where employers cross the line is by requiring participation in certain forms of religious expression (e.g., Scientology) without reasonably accommodating those who feel that participation would conflict with a sincerely-held religious belief. So, if my employer wants me to get my Scientology on by screaming at ashtrays, and doing so doesn't conflict with my own sincerely-held religious beliefs, then I'd better start screaming.

  2. Scrutinize particular religions at your own risk too. All it takes is a sincerely-held religious belief. Just because an employee believes that his religion should involve purification treatments and using an e-meter, doesn't mean that you as the employer have the right to second-guess it. Doing so, will inevitably lead to a religious-discrimination claim.

    Want to sanitize your workplace of religion altogether? Knock yourself out. But, don't make exceptions for particular religious groups (e.g., allowing Christmas trees and menorahs, but not e-meters). That's another recipe for a religious discrimination claim. Even so, if an employee requires a reasonable accommodation related to his religion, you may need to provide it, unless doing so will cause undue hardship (i.e., added cost to the employer or an imposition on co-workers).


No disrespect intended with today's music selection.
(and because there is no "She Blinded Me With Scientology")

January 3, 2014

"Rise before The Employer Handbook; kneel before The Employer Handbook!"

And I say this with the fervor of 100 General Zods, such that Zod himself (especially, the crappy one from Man Of Steel, I'm a Terence Stamp man) would have no choice but to rise and kneel.

But I put down the moonshine funnel digress.

Today, The Employer Handbook celebrates its 3rd birthday. And what did The Employer Handbook get for its 3rd birthday? I mean, in addition to the strawberry edible underwear that one of my readers sent me anonymously. (Next year, go large. Medium, is a bit snug). Well, you guys voted The Employer Handbook ABA Journal's 2013 Top Labor & Employment Law Blog!

It's a humbling honor that leaves me nearly speechless. Nearly.

You see, frankly, I started this blog three years ago because I enjoy writing about employment law, and you can only be so snarky in 140 characters on Twitter. And, with the encouragement of some other great employment-law bloggers (and a lot of patience from my wife and family), so began The Employer Handbook.

And lucky for me, y'all slugged through the typos, grammar mistakes, obscure wrestling references, hip-hop, and other assorted nonsense. Ultimately, the readers recognized this site as a pretty decent source of practical labor and employment law news and insight.

(But, not legal advice, check the disclaimer).

For that, in all seriousness, I am grateful. It means a lot to know that you enjoy this site.

So, let's make a deal. If you keep reading my posts about long-shot FMLA legislation, wacky hostile work environments (24 sniffs?!?), and teachers getting fired over Facebook shenanigans, then I'll keep publishing.

But, now, if you'll excuse me, for Monday's column, I have to finish reading about a recent EEOC settlement involving a company that allegedly forced its employees to scream at ashtrays -- desk calendars, sure, but ashtrays? -- and practice other forms of Scientology.

You just can't make this stuff up.

January 2, 2014

New Year's Resolution: Social media training for your workforce

nyres.jpgThe king is dead. Long live the king!

Teens are beginning to drop Facebook like a bad habit; instead, taking advantage of messaging apps like What'sApp, Snapchat, and Instagram to social network.

According to a GlobalWebIndex study highlighted in this Forbes article from Haydn Shaughnessy, "from Q2 2012 to Q3 2013 the percentage of active users among 16 - 19 year olds fell from 62% to 52% (these are active users in the sense of having contributed content), and among 20 - 24 year olds fell from 63% to 52%."

What this means for your business is that your aging workforce comprises the largest percentage of Facebook users. Shaughnessy also reports that the "percentage of active users among the 35 - 44 year old age group rose from 47% to 53%, among 45 - 54 year olds from 43% to 49%, and among 55 - 64 year olds from 39% - 45%."

Hopefully, by now, you have a social media policy. In 2014, make sure to conduct social media training -- just as you would, say, respect-in-the-workplace training. (By now, I trust all of you HR pros have received an employee complaint about a co-worker, along with the printout of a Facebook page on which the complaint is based).

So, consider pairing social media training with respect-in-the-workplace training to address how online behavior -- even "off the clock" -- can still impact the workplace.

However, just as there is no one-size-fits-all social media policy, training too should be customized to your workforce. Consider not just any negative impact employee social media use could have on the workplace, but be sure to accentuate the positives. They do exist, you know.

If you have any social media training tips that you wish to share, please let me know in the comments below.

(One tip from yours truly, remind employees to adjust their Facebook privacy settings)

December 30, 2013

The most clicked, hella-best HR-compliance updates from 2013!!!

Ah, it was a good year at the ole Handbook.

Total web traffic was up over fifty percent from 2012. And average time per visit was down over 20%, which is fine by me. I pad my important stats, while discouraging loitering.

five.pngAnd we got our first visitor from Uzbekistan. And the fifth most common search phrase that brought visitors to the site was "Kenny Powers."

Swish!

(6th was "excuses for missing work" -- yikes!)

And, thankfully, our servers have recovered from the beating you pervs HR/Lawyer laureates administered on the recent Facebook groping photo post. Yeah, don't worry. A little hair of the dog, and the blog is back in business.

And, to think, that post didn't even make the Top 5 from 2013. Here's what did:

5. "Feeling 'maybe overworked' is not an FMLA 'serious health condition'"

4. "Court holds that anxiety from possibly getting fired is an ADA disability."

3. "New federal bill would expand FMLA to cover part-time employees"

2. "Employee gets fired for tweeting complaints about discrimination"

1. "When a hostile work environment isn't a hostile work environment"

Dudes, thank you for making 2013 a banner year for The Employer Handbook.

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous 2014!

Eric

P.S. - No post tomorrow, but this Vine of my 1-year-old and I doing "Lollipop" should hold you over until we return in 2014:

December 27, 2013

A general manager may have to pay his employer's wage-and-hour debts

emptypockets.jpgEarlier this month, in this post, I highlighted a Pennsylvania federal court opinion recognizing that the Fair Labor Standards Act definition of "employer" is broad enough to bestow personal liability for a company's wage-and-hour debts upon its President/CEO.

Well, how about a general manager that has zero ownership interest in the company? Could he too be personally responsible if his company fails to pay minimum wage or overtime?

According to a recent decision from an Illinois federal court, there answer is yes:

This analysis looks at the totality of the circumstances of the employment relationship, as opposed to formalistic or technical labels. Courts focus not on whether the individual controlled 'every aspect' of an employee's job, but whether the individual 'had control over the alleged FLSA violation.'... Although low-level supervisors, such as those without control over a corporation's payroll, generally are not individually liable under FLSA, '[a] general manager may be personally liable for FLSA violations if he or she acted on behalf of the corporation to cause the violations.'
I'm pretty sure that this decision means that the Brooklyn Nets can stick its General Manager with the bill for all of the overpaid has-beens stinking up the basketball court this season. 

Look out Billy King!
December 26, 2013

Teacher fired over Facebook groping photo could get her job back

facebooksanta.jpg_jpgMerry Christmas, Laraine Cook.

Back in October, I blogged here about Ms. Cook, an Idaho school teacher who lost her job after her employer learned about a photo on her Facebook page that showed her boyfriend touching her chest.

(Oh, fine, here's the pic)

What made this story unique -- yeah, I know, teacher getting in trouble on Facebook is fast approaching "death and taxes" status -- is that the female teacher's boyfriend, also taught at the same school. He was not fired; merely disciplined.

Well, according to this story from Jimmy Hancock at the Idaho State Journal, Ms. Cook should be getting her job back soon:

A grievance panel has determined that former Pocatello High School girls' basketball coach Laraine Cook should again be allowed to work as a teacher and that she should be rehired as the girls' basketball coach for the 2014-2015 season....Addressing the firing, the panel said it should be rescinded and considered a suspension without pay from the time of the termination until the time of the panel's decision.

The panel further noted that the lack of a social media policy afforded Ms. Cook little guidance as to what the school considered online behavior that could cost her her job.

So, use Ms. Cook's situation as a wake-up call to implement/revise your social media policy. Remind your employees that certain online conduct -- even on their own time -- could cost 'em their jobs.

December 23, 2013

So your public relations executive just tweeted a racist joke that went viral...

justinesacco.jpgIt doesn't end well for the PR Exec. Just so we're clear.

Click through to read the full story...

Continue reading "So your public relations executive just tweeted a racist joke that went viral..." »

December 20, 2013

Last day to vote for The Employer Handbook as a top employment-law blog

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Today is the final day to vote in ABA Journal's Blawg 100 Amici contest. The polls close at 5 pm. If you have yet to vote for my blog, and would like to do so, here's how:

    1. Click here.
    2. Register.
    3. Scroll down the page to the "Labor and Employment" category, and click on it.
    4. Click "Vote Now!" for The Employer Handbook.

The whole process takes 20 seconds.

I appreciate all of your support. Thank you.

December 19, 2013

PA Gov. Corbett announces support for ban on LGBT workplace discrimination

Thumbnail image for LGBT_flag_map_of_Pennsylvania.svg.pngOver the Summer, I reported here that about companion Pennsylvania bills introduced in the House and Senate that would outlaw both sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the workplace.

Each bill had bipartisan support, but it was unclear how Governor Corbett (R) would act if a bill was placed on his desk for his signature.



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Two days left to vote in the ABA Journal's Blawg 100 Amici contest. Please consider voting for this blog by clicking here, the banner to the right, or by tweeting your support.

Thank you.




* * *

Yesterday, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported here that Gov. Corbett said that he would support legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

The Inquirer story notes that 33 Pennsylvania municipalities have nondiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity, while 23 Fortune 500 companies based in Pennsylvania have similar nondiscrimination policies.

Neither bill has moved out of committee since being introduced in August. The Inquirer reports that Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), chairman of the state government committee, who controls the movement of the bill in the House, is against it.

We'll just have to wait and see what comes of it.

December 18, 2013

Proposed bill banning credit checks on employees and applicants reintroduced

creditcheck.jpeg

Second verse, same as the first.

Back in March, I reported here that a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, known as the Equal Employment for All Act, would amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to prohibit the use of consumer credit checks against prospective and current employees for the purposes of making adverse employment decisions.

Yesterday, it was the Senate's turn to get in on the act; the Equal Employment for All Act, that is.

(See how I did that?)

Details on the Senate bill, what it would mean for employers, and its chances of passage after the jump...

Continue reading "Proposed bill banning credit checks on employees and applicants reintroduced" »

December 17, 2013

Telling an employee her "big fat ass needs to concentrate on losing weight" is not discrimination

Let's talk (alleged) big butts and discrimination after the jump...

(Sir Mix-a-Lot is gonna be feelin' this post).

Continue reading "Telling an employee her "big fat ass needs to concentrate on losing weight" is not discrimination" »

December 16, 2013

New bill in Congress would provide paid family and medical leave

fmla.jpegA real game changer: Paid family and medical leave.

Details after the jump...

Continue reading "New bill in Congress would provide paid family and medical leave" »

December 13, 2013

Your President/CEO may have to pay your company's wage and hour debts herself

MacGyver.jpgWell, that certainly sucks. Even worse than the time I found out that Santa Claus MacGyver wasn't a real person.

(My psychiatrist says that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not so sure...)

But seriously, I thought that the purpose of a limited liability company was to insulate members from the debts of the company.

After the jump, see how that rule doesn't necessarily apply when an LLC fails to pay minimum wage or overtime...

Continue reading "Your President/CEO may have to pay your company's wage and hour debts herself" »

December 12, 2013

GUEST POST: Hidden Substance Use at Work

guestblogger.jpgToday, we have a guest blogger at The Employer Handbook. It's Melissa Kluska. Melissa currently writes for St. Jude Retreats, a non 12 step alternative to traditional alcohol and drug rehab. As well as writing for St. Jude's, Melissa enjoys blogging about health and relationships.

(Want to guest blog on an employment-law topic at The Employer Handbook? Email me).

Continue reading "GUEST POST: Hidden Substance Use at Work" »

December 11, 2013

FACT OR FICTION: Employers may discriminate based on family status

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."

Yesterday, I read this opinion about a white man who claimed that he lost out on a middle school boys basketball coaching job because the school didn't like the fact that he was married to an Asian ethnic Chinese woman and they have seven mixed race children.

The plaintiff claimed that the school violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The school filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the man could not state a claim under Title VII. The school prevailed because, well, I'll let the court tell you:

The plaintiff alleges that he was discriminated against, not because of his own race, but because of the race or his wife and children. He is basing his discrimination claims on his family status. Viewing the allegations in the light most-favorable to the plaintiff, it is possible that he was treated differently from white males who did not have mixed race families. However, discrimination based on family status alone is not actionable under Title VII. Simply stated, Mr. Blasi is not a member of a protected class for Title VII purposes. Because he is not a member of a protected class, he cannot establish a prima facie case of direct discrimination under Title VII. His claims under this legal theory have no merit.

Therefore, the answer to today's QATQQ is fact.

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It's also a fact that this blog -- the one you read religiously for the compliance content, humor and hidden satanic messages is hella-awesome! So, please vote for it today in the ABA Journal's Blawg 100 Amici contest. You can cast your vote for The Employer Handbook here, by clicking the banner to the right, or tweeting your support.

Thank you.