Articles Posted in Third Circuit Employment Law 101

Chalkboard eraser, Waldorf School, East Lexington MA.jpgBack when I first started this blog, when I believed that my blogging success would translate into Aston Martins and beach homes, rather than “Can you please email me a copy of your FMLA PowerPoint?”, I had a series of “Third Circuit Employment Law 101″ posts. Well, I don’t think I’ve done a “101” post for nearly 5 years. Time to break that streak.

Oh, hold on a sec, I need to respond to another PowerPoint-request email…

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fmla

Yep, in this precedential opinion, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals created a Family and Medical Leave Act loophole that could protect “the most frivolous leave requests.”

Folks, if your business is covered under the FMLA, and you’ve ever had to deal with a questionable medical certification for an employee’s serious health condition, read on…

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Happy Monday, everyone.

Glad to see I didn’t break some of your content filters on Friday with my filthy NLRB post. But, hey, just another day in the interesting life of an employment lawyer / HR professional, amirite?

Today, I bring you a very simple lesson, courtesy of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, from right here in my backyard. That lesson is this:

When you terminate an employee, do not write “Health Reasons” on the employee’s termination form. Continue reading

What the hell are you talking about, Eric? Why would we make an independent contractor sign a release of employment claims before starting work for our company?

So glad you asked. Although, I’m not sure I like your tone.

*** takes pills ***

Many years ago, Allstate Insurance restructured its business, where it decided to longer have employees; only independent contractors. So, it offered its employees a bunch of options. One option was a severance; another was the ability to convert to independent contractor status. Either way, the individual had to release all past and presented employment-related claims agains the company.

When the EEOC got wind of the conversion option, they cried retaliation.

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Trial is over!

I’m coming atcha live and direct from the bloggerdome with a sweet defense verdict in my pocket. Yup, yup!

[cue music]

[cue music]

And what do I come back to? A precedential Third Circuit opinion discussing an employee’s right to return to work from FMLA.

I’ll cover that for you after the jump…

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Thumbnail image for fmla.jpegOne of the questions I hear a lot from employers is: Can we communicate with employees on Family and Medical Leave Act leave and, if so, how much?

I’ll get to that in a second.

#HelpShaneFightCancer

For the folks who missed my blog post on Friday, we’re trying to raise some money for an eight-month-old baby with cancer. Please take a few minutes, read the post, donate if you can, and spread the word (hashtag #HelpShaneFightCancer). Thank you!

Now, back to the FMLA.

Over the weekend, I read this recent opinion from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which is right in my back yard. The case involved an employee who was informed that her job was being eliminated. However, her employer offered her another position within the company. The only catch was that she sign a non-competition agreement. The employee was given specific deadline in which to accept and sign. The alternative was termination with a severance.

Before the deadline, the employee suffered panic attacks, and the employer afforded her FMLA leave. But, after the employee commenced leave, the employer contacted the employee to reiterate the deadline to accept and sign.

This deadline came and went without the employee signing the non-compete. So, she was fired.

And then she sued for FMLA interference.

And she lost because I basically took the lede right from the Third Circuit’s opinion:

“Passport imposed the requirement that O’Donnell sign the offer letter and the non-compete agreement before she took FMLA leave…Thus, O’Donnell knew that she needed to sign the forms well before she invoked her FMLA rights….As this Court has previously explained, ‘there is no right in the FMLA to be left alone,’ and be completely absolved of responding to the employer’s discrete inquiries….There is no evidence showing that Passport in any way hampered or discouraged O’Donnell’s exercise of her right to medical leave, or attempted to persuade her to return from her leave early.

Generally, you should be communicating with employees on FMLA leave. 

This is especially true where the employee is taking leave for his/her own serious health condition and that serious health condition could also be construed under the Americans with Disabilities Act as a disability.

Because once the ADA comes into the equation, an employer should have an interactive dialogue with the disabled employee. This open communication helps determine what reasonable accommodations(s) will allow the employee to perform the essential functions of his/her job. This could be additional leave after FMLA expires, or something else, such as light duty.

But, the only way you’ll ascertain that is by communicating with your employee.

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P.S. – And speaking of communicating, if you’re on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group

I was on such a roll this week. 

You guys were digging the heck out of my peeing in the breakroom post, David Crosby the alcoholic, and the one about a supervisor offering cash to sleep with an employee’s wife.

You know who even read that last one? Scan down to the blog comments. Yep, that’s a comment from the plaintiff himself. OMG!!!

But, can you hear the crickets now? I mean, cue the tumbleweed, because if there’s anything that grinds momentum to a halt here at The Employer Handbook, it’s a post about the Fair Labor Standards Act.

But, since the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which is in my hood and surely knows what a jawn is without me having to hyperlink that jawn, issued this precedential opinion on FLSA successor-in-interest liability yesterday. So, it’s the least I could do.

Well, the least I could do is cut right to the chase. So, here’s the money shot:

“The imposition of successor liability will often be necessary to achieve the statutory goals [of the National Labor Relations Act and Title VII] because the workers will often be unable to head off a corporate sale by their employer aimed at extinguishing the employer’s liability to them. This logic extends to suits to enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act….In the absence of successor liability, a violator of the [FLSA] could escape liability, or at least make relief much more difficult to obtain, by selling its assets without an assumption of liabilities by the buyer (for such an assumption would reduce the purchase price by imposing a cost on the buyer) and then dissolving.”

So, buyer beware and either pay less for the acquired company or —

Hey, is anyone still here? Bueller?

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.”

If you operate a business in PA, NJ, DE or the USVI, then the answer is yes. This is true — even if the ban extends to alcohol consumption off the job.

So says the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in this opinion from earlier this week, where an alcoholic employee, who had previously checked himself in to rehab, had violated the terms of a subsequent return-to-work agreement with his employer never to consume alcohol again.

The employee claimed that the agreement violated the Americans with Disabilities Act’s ADA’s prohibition of “qualification standards, employment tests or other selection criteria that screen out or tend to screen out an individual with a disability.” The court; however, disagreed:

As numerous courts have recognized, employers do not violate the ADA merely by entering into return-to-work agreements that impose employment conditions different from those of other employees. Indeed, several of our sister circuits have explicitly endorsed agreements that bar an employee from consuming alcohol–whether at the workplace or otherwise…Although Ostrowski was subject to different standards than other Con-way employees who did not sign an RWA, this difference results from the terms of his agreement rather than disability discrimination.

Ultimately, the plaintiff could not show how the ban on booze singled him out because of his alleged disability (alcoholism) versus regulating his conduct (drinking alcohol).

So, the answer to today’s question — at least in the Third Circuit — is FACT.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer must make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an individual unless the employer can show that doing so how cause it undue hardship.

Generally, an employee will initiate the process by advising her employer that she is disabled and needs an accommodation to perform the essential functions of her job. What then ensues is an interactive dialogue in which both sides work together in good faith to decide on what that accommodation may be.

But here’s the rub:

The accommodation need only be reasonable; not the employee’s first choice.

patrialmask.jpgHere’s an example from a recent decision from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals:

A chemist had a disability that manifested itself when she became exposed to certain solvents. So, the employer offered her a full-mask respirator. It didn’t work because she was claustrophobic and it caused her to suffer a panic attack. The employer then offered a partial-mask respirator, which the employee refused without explanation. But, she never suggested that the partial-mask was unreasonable. Instead, she preferred a transfer. Ultimately, she took sick leave and was terminated after she failed to return to work upon exhausting FMLA and her bank of paid time off. So, she sued under the ADA for a failure to accommodation and lost.

Reject the reasonable accommodation at your own risk.

Relying upon an ADA regulation, the Third Circuit reasoned that an individual who rejects a reasonable accommodation “to perform the essential functions of the position held or desired, and cannot, as a result of that rejection, perform the essential functions of the position, the individual will not be considered qualified” for the job.

Have a good faith, interactive dialogue.

So, when an employee comes to you requesting an accommodation for a disability, I’m not suggesting that you should wax and twirl your handlebar mustache before offering her an “accommodation.” But you don’t have to accept her preference either. Instead, truly have an interactive dialogue with the employee to arrive at an accommodation that both sides can live with.

nlrb.jpgIn a 2-1 decision issued today (copy here), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the National Labor Relations Board lacked the authority to act as early as March 2010, when President Obama appointed Craig Becker to the Board. The Third Circuit held that Member Becker’s appointment to the Board while the Senate was on an intrasession recess (a break within a session of the Senate) was unconstitutional. Implicit in the court’s decision is that the appointments of Members Block, Griffin, Flynn in 2013, while the Senate held pro-forma sessions, were also invalid.

The Third Circuit ruled that recess appointments are only valid if made during intersession breaks (i.e., between sessions of the Senate).

This decision is crazy-long (102 pages plus a 55 page dissent). Thankfully, my Dilworth Paxson colleagues, Erin Galbally and Marjorie Obod prepared an e-alert summarizing the decision.

If you do business in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, or the US Virgin Islands, the net effect of this decision may be that, until the Supreme Court rules in this pending case, you can basically ignore just about anything* that the Board has done this decade (well, since March 2010). 

* From June 22, 2010 through August 27, 2011, the Senate had confirmed enough Board members for quorum. So don’t ignore that stuff.

(h/t The Volokh Conspiracy)