This is my son’s first year playing t-ball. The rules, in case you’re not familiar with them, are simple: 

  • Everybody hits
  • Everybody (eventually) rounds the bases
  • Everybody scores

Some games, my son wants to lead off. Some games, he wants to hit last. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where he hits. The coach can place him anywhere in the batting order because he will hit, he will round the bases, and he will score.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is similar in that respect. It requires an employer to accommodate an employee with a disability if doing so will not create an undue hardship for the employer and will allow that employee to perform the essential functions of the job.

The ADA regulations include a non-exhaustive list of reasonable accommodations. Does the employee get to choose which one? Sure, the employee can express his/her desire. But, ultimately, the employee should get one that is reasonable, whether it is the employee’s choice — or not.

A recent case reflects this. In Bunn v. Khoury Enterprises, Inc., Mr. Bunn, who is disabled (visual impairment), sought an accommodation to allow him to perform his essential job functions. So, the employer restructured the employee’s job. The accommodation worked. But, since it was not the accommodation Mr. Bunn wanted, he sued, claiming a violation of the ADA.

The lower court granted summary judgment to the employer and, on appeal, the 7th Circuit affirmed, because the the job restructuring, while not the employee’s preference, nonetheless allowed the employee to perform the essential functions of the job:

“In short, it was exactly the kind of accommodation envisioned by the regulations applicable to the ADA….the undisputed facts show that Khoury did what it was required to do by law….In this area of the law, we are primarily concerned with the ends, not the means…Bunn’s apparent displeasure with the way in which Khoury decided on that accommodation, or with its failure to provide the exact accommodation he would have preferred, is irrelevant.”

Does this mean that employers should resort to the my-way-or-the-highway approach to workplace accommodations? Certainly not. Oftentimes, providing the employee with a preferred accommodation will not increase expense or inconvenience and, instead, will satisfy the employee.

And although the 7th Circuit underscored that an employee will not prevail on a “failure-to-accommodate” ADA claim by merely showing that the employer failed to engage in an interactive process with the employee or that it caused the interactive process to break down, an employer that goes through the interactive process should have an easier time establishing it acted reasonably when responding to an employee’s request for accommodation.

Because, after all, an employer just needs to act reasonably.

Thumbnail image for facelock.JPGWithin the past week, two states have passed laws, which will provide employees with more workplace protections.

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure that the internet had yet arrived in either Oklahoma or Louisiana, the latter of which is still controlled by a French monarch, I’m fairly certain.

(But since Louisiana also has beignets and Mardi Gras, all is forgiven).

And, sure enough, Oklahoma and Louisiana not only have the internet, but social media too. Who knew?

So, here’s the deal with these two laws.

In Oklahoma, this new law bans companies from requesting that current and prospective employees provide them with their online logins or passwords. It also prohibits retaliating against a current or prospective employee for failing to provide those login credentials. 

The exceptions to the rule on providing usernames and passwords are for accounts or services provided by the employer and certain workplace investigations. Additionally, an employer may review or access personal online social media accounts that an employee may choose to use while utilizing an employer’s computer system, information technology network or an employer’s electronic communication device.

In Louisiana, the new law is very similar. It also protects school students.

At least one report I read cited a lawmaker who claimed that these new laws are “designed to halt a trend of employers invading the online privacy of employees and potential hires.” But, once again, no actual study was cited.

So, if anyone has any actual facts to supports to support this alleged “trend,” here is as good a place as any to share them. Otherwise, I still contend that these laws are solutions, while well-intentioned, in search of a problem.

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If you’re on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell ‘em Meyer sent you.

I hope that you guys had a nice Memorial Day. Nothing like a good three-day weekend. Although, three of my four children didn’t seem to appreciate that most American businesses were closed for the holiday:

Sorry, kids. 

Maybe, starting the workweek off with the Employment Law Blog Carnival: Small Business Edition over at the Employer’s Corner Blog will cheer them up.

Thumbnail image for fmla.jpegSo, check this out.

I read this case yesterday about an employee who provided her company with a November 12 doctor’s note, requesting that her hours be reduced due to her high-risk pregnancy. The employee would have become eligible for coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act on November 17.

The company fired her on November 16.

Man, that is cold! But is it unlawful?

To prevail on her FMLA interference claim, an employee must show, among other things, that she is eligible for FMLA coverage.

She gives notice on November 13 when she’s not eligible. But the FMLA will start on November 17, when she is eligible. And the company fires her in the interim.

Hmm…..

The Court said, under the circumstances, yes:

The determination of whether an employee . . . has been employed by the employer for a total of at least 12 months must be made as of the date the FMLA leave is to start. An employee may be on non-FMLA leave at the time he or she meets the 12-month eligibility requirement, and in that event, any portion of the leave taken for an FMLA-qualifying reason after the employee meets the eligibility requirement would be FMLA leave.

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Defendant does not contend that Wages was not entitled to use sick leave, personal leave, or vacation time to cover her reduced time until she became FMLA-eligible. The only reason Wages was not able to reach her eligibility date is because Defendant fired her before she could do so. The Court therefore finds that Wages was an eligible employee under the framework established by the FMLA.

In a nutshell, can you terminate an FMLA-seeking employee just before his/her one-year anniversary with the company?

Not if that employee can bridge the gap between FMLA-ineligible and FMLA-eligible by using accrued time off.

But, under certain circumstances, yes. For example, if that employee seeks FMLA to care for a spouse with a serious health condition and the employee will run out of accrued time off before becoming FMLA-eligible, then yes.

However, if you’re dealing with an employee who seeks FMLA leave for his/her own serious health condition, even if the employee will run out of accrued time off before becoming FMLA-eligible, firing that employee could run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA requires reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. And since many serious health conditions qualify as disabilities too. And time off may be a reasonable accommodation. You smell what I’m cookin‘?

Trust me, it won’t end up well for you.

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If you’re on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell ‘em Meyer sent you.

parainbow.jpgICYMI, yesterday, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled in this opinion that PA’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

How fitting that the first gay couple in Philadelphia to obtain a marriage license was Kerry Smith and Rue Landau, who serves as the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR). Congratulations, Rue and Kerry!

So, now that, for the time being, gay marriage is legal in the Keystone State, how does this impact local employers? Find out after the jump…

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Thumbnail image for youarefired.jpgThe thing about this law-blogging gig, other than the money, power and women, of course, is the pride of being first to post about a crazy new case.

Last week, I missed out on the nude sunbather who sued an elementary school-employer for retaliation. Well, Jon Hyman at the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, I see your nude sunbather and raise you two white guys and a native american who dressed as klansmen at work, allowed themselves to be photographed, and then sued for race discrimination. Boom!

Yes, this really happened.

More on this one after the jump…

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holdstomach.jpg

In Friday’s edition of The Atlantic, Emily Matcher’s “Should Paid ‘Menstrual Leave’ Be a Thing?” was shared over 12,000 times.

The article notes that several Asian countries including Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia, offer “menstrual leave” for women endure painful periods. However, Ms. Matcher mentioned that, while many of these laws are “well-intentioned,” many women decline to take leave given the potential embarrassment of having to substantiate the basis for their “menstrual leave” or because they may be viewed as weak.

Katy Waldman, writing at The Slate Blog, says “Thanks, but We Will Pass on Paid Menstrual Leave.” She argues that companies with reasonable sick-leave policies “should be able to accommodate these women without prying into their pants.”

Well, I should hope so.

Most sick-leave policies I’ve seen don’t require a doctor’s note for missing a day or two. And most cities that have enacted paid-sick-leave laws have followed suit and don’t require employees to substantiate calling out sick for a day or two.

But, even without a formal sick-leave policy, while conceding that I have no personal experience with a painful period, I would imagine that, bad menstrual pain could qualify as a “serious health condition,” which would allow an employee to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

And how about the Americans with Disabilities Act? Even though it is episodic, and temporary, if it interferes with a major life activity, theoretically, bad menstrual pain may qualify as a disability under the ADA. This would trigger the potential obligation for an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation — maybe, time off.

So, I think we have this covered without offering separate “paid menstrual leave.”

But what do you think? Should American employers offer “paid menstrual leave?” Please let me know in the comments below.

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If you’re on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell ‘em Meyer sent you.

Here are some Tennessee fun facts:

  • The city of Kingston served as Tennessee’s state capital for one day (September 21, 1807)
  • There are more horses per capita in Shelby County than any other county in the United States.
  • Tennessee ties with Missouri as the most neighborly state in the union. It is bordered by 8 states.
  • The name “Tennessee” was chosen to support the pick-up line, “Are you from Tennessee? Because you’re the only Ten I see.”

And now Tennessee becomes the latest state to have a social media workplace privacy law.

You know the drill:

  1. No asking for employee or applicant social media passwords
  2. No forcing an employee or applicant to friend you
  3. No should surfing
  4. No adverse action based on the failure to do 1-3

The new law contains some exceptions to allow employers to gain access to an employee’s private social media content (e.g., to support a workplace investigation). 

It takes effect on 1/1/15.

But, this is all so 2013.

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If you’re on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell ‘em Meyer sent you.

In Pennsylvania, a company and an employee can enter into an agreement whereby, in exchange for some form of consideration, the employee agrees not to compete with the company after the employment ends.

Consideration can come in a variety of forms; for example, a raise, bonus, promotion, or sugar. Initial employment can also be sufficient consideration.

However, in Pennsylvania, continued employment won’t cut it. That is, a non-competition agreement will be invalid if an employee signs it after commencing employment — even if you tell the employee that he/she will lose his job by not signing.

However, some smart lawyer out there — even smarter than I am — figured out that, by inserting the language “intending to be legally bound” into a non-competition agreement, Pennsylvania’s Uniform Written Obligations Act (“UWOA“) would validate the agreement — even without any additional consideration.

Until now, son.

Earlier this week, in Socko v. Mid-Atlantic Systems of CPA, Inc. (opinion here; Socko here), the Pennsylvania Superior Court said the UWOA exception be like this won’t save a non-competition agreement otherwise lacking in consideration:

“Language in an employment contract that the parties intend to be legally bound does not constitute valuable consideration in this context….Contractual language satisfying the UWOA does not provide the employee with any actual benefit, and thus cannot suffice as a form of consideration that is adequate to support the later enforcement of the covenant not to compete against the employee.”

While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on this issue, employers would be wise to play it safe and offer employees sufficient consideration to support a covenant not to compete: either initial employment or, if the employee signs the agreement after employment begins, something else of sufficient value.

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If you’re on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell ‘em Meyer sent you.

It was Gloria Steinem who, in discussing President Bill Clinton’s indiscretions with Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey, fashioned the “one free grope” rule. That is, while not condoning President Clinton’s actions, Steinem concluded that one touching is not sexual harassment — at least as a matter law.

Well, yesterday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, saw Steinem’s “one-free-grope” rule and raised her a “two-free-slurs” rule.

In Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleu Corp., (opinion (here), a black plaintiff alleged that her co-worker referred to her as a “porch monkey” twice in two days, from which she claimed to have been subjected to a racially hostile work environment. 

The United States Court for the District of Maryland disagreed. 

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that “the ‘porch monkey’ term … was indeed racially derogatory and highly offensive, and nothing we say or hold condones it.”

Now, before I discuss the Fourth Circuit’s opinion, I note that, in some states, like New Jersey for example, a single slur create a hostile work environment. And Steinem’s “one grope rule” notwithstanding, a New York court noted that a single incident — albeit a forcible kiss — could be enough to demonstrate actionable sexual harassment.

But those opinions are further up I-95. Further south, y’all, not only is a single slur hardly enough to create a hostile work environment, but, according to the Fourth Circuit, neither are two racial epithets:

“A single racist statement [is] a far cry from alleging a [hostile work] environment of crude and racist conditions so severe or pervasive….[And] “a coworker’s use of [porch monkey] twice in a period of two days … as a matter of law, [is not] so severe or pervasive as to change the terms and conditions of [a black plaintiff’s] employment so as to be legally discriminatory.”

But, look folks, as I’ve said before, even if a single incident (or two incidents) is not enough to create a winning lawsuit, it may be enough to create a lawsuit that you’ll have to spend valuable time, money, and resources defending.

So, don’t condone this behavior in your workplace — ever.

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If you’re on LinkedIn, consider joining the discussion of news, trends and insights in employment law, HR, and the workplace, by becoming a member of The Employer Handbook LinkedIn Group. Tell ‘em Meyer sent you.