Recently in QATQQ Category

May 5, 2014

FACT OR FICTION: There is such a thing as a reverse-disability claim?

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."

Try this one for size, folks.

In this case, an employee argued that her former employer retaliated against her, by terminating her for complaining about the favorable treatment a co-worker with a special needs child received.

Oh, for the love of God, please let the answer to today's "Fact or Fiction" be the latter.

Pretty please...

The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against an a qualified individual (i.e., a disabled individual who can perform the essential functions of her job with or without a reasonable accommodation). However, if you are not disabled, you're not covered under the ADA.

Indeed, the ADA provides that "[n]othing in this chapter shall provide the basis for a claim by an individual without a disability that the individual was subject to discrimination because of the individual's lack of disability."

Therefore, an individual who gets all bent out of shape because her employer shows compassion toward employees with disabilities (or employees who have children with disabilities), has no claim under the ADA.

The answer to today's question is fiction.

* * *

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.

March 26, 2014

FACT OR FICTION: You must provide FMLA to someone who "potentially" qualifies for it

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."

Employee comes to you with a leave request in which he potentially qualifies for FMLA. Must you provide it?

Break 'em off Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals:

"The plain text of the [FMLA] provides a cause of action against employers who 'deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under this subchapter.' Nothing in the statute speaks of 'potential rights.'"

So, the answer to today's "Fact or Fiction" is fiction.

However, remember that if an employee comes to you requests leave that potentially qualifies as FMLA leave, you still must ascertain whether the employee's absence actually qualifies for FMLA protection.

And don't forget that the employee doesn't need to use the letters "FMLA" in order for his leave to qualify under the FMLA. So, educate your supervisors and others who may receive leave requests to know the type of leave that could qualify as such under the FMLA, and to respond accordingly.

March 12, 2014

FACT OR FICTION: An FMLA-eligible employee can decline FMLA leave

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."

One of your FMLA-eligible employees walks into HR one day and says that she has a serious health condition and would like to take time off to treat her injury. However, the employee, who has paid time off banked away, says that she'd like to dip into her bank of PTO and exhaust that without using any of her 12 weeks of FMLA.

Can your employee affirmatively decline to use FMLA leave, even if the underlying reason for seeking the leave would have invoked FMLA protection?

Answer: Yes*

Indeed, this recent Ninth Circuit decision held exactly that.

So what's with the asterisk? My FMLA blogging buddy Jeff Nowak, in this post at FMLA Insights, believes that the Ninth Circuit's decision could ultimately reflect the minority view from the courts:

To be candid, my recommendation is to ignore the [Ninth Circuit] decision and designate the absence as FMLA leave if it indeed qualifies as such. For me, the FMLA regulations are clear. At 29 C.F.R. 825.301(a), the DOL tells us, "Once the employer has acquired knowledge that the leave is being taken for an FMLA-qualifying reason, the employer must [designate the absence as FMLA leave]." There is nothing in this regulatory provision to suggest that the employee can influence this process. To the contrary, the regulation states that the employer designates once it knows the absence is for an FMLA-qualifying reason.

Ok. Maybe the answer isn't really clear-cut. However, one thing is: if the employer does want to designate leave as FMLA leave, the regulations require that it serenade me with Chevelle notify the employee.

February 13, 2014

FACT OR FICTION: Snow + Office Closed = FMLA Day

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."

One of your employees is currently using FMLA leave. Today, due to the winter storm, you've decided to close the office. 

Do you still count today's snow-induced office closure towards the 12 workweeks of FMLA to which your employee is entitled?

Answer: It depends.

  • If the employee would have otherwise taken the entire week off on FMLA leave, then today can be charged as an FMLA day just the same.

  • If, however, you employee is using FMLA leave in increments of less than one week, the snow day will not count against the employee's FMLA entitlement, unless you expect that employee to come to work.

November 21, 2013

FACT OR FICTION: Giving a part-time employee full-time hours may be FMLA retaliation?

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."

Come on, gang! Did you see yesterday's blog masterpiece? Those .gif's don't animate themselves. My little elves -- I'm classifying them as FLSA exempt by the way -- crank the wheel every time you land on the page. So, cut me some slack; I'm taking it easy today.

But, check this out. We have a part-time employee who claims that her three requests for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a sick spouse are denied. Then, less than a month later, her boss gives her full-hours.

In this economy?!? What nerve!

But, possible FMLA retaliation claim?

Yes, according to a Maryland federal court in this opinion. Assigning full-time work to a part-time employee may constitute an adverse employment action, which, along with the protected activity (the FMLA request), and a connection between request and hours, completes the FMLA retaliation trinity.

So, learn from this and be careful about adjusting the terms and conditions of employment -- in any way that could arguably be construed as adverse -- shortly after an employee requests/takes FMLA leave.

November 1, 2013

FACT OR FICTION: You can ban employees from consuming alcohol -- even off the clock.

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.

October 11, 2013

FACT OR FICTION: FMLA and workers' compensation may run concurrently

Thumbnail image for ffiction.pngThat'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."

Earlier this week, I spoke at the SHRM Lehigh Valley Annual Conference on leave issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. During the course of our discussion, not only did we address the interplay between these federal laws, but we also touched upon the impact of workers' compensation laws. 

One question that came up is whether an employer can require that an employee take FMLA leave concurrently with workers' compensation leave.

Absent a collective bargaining agreement provision to the contrary, the answer is yes. But here are a few other things you should know about the interplay (all of this comes from a Department of Labor Opinion letter):

  1. Where an employee is collecting workers' compensation, which is also a serious health condition under the FMLA, the employer cannot require the employee to substitute any paid vacation, personal, or medical or sick leave, for any part of the absence that is covered by the payments under the workers' compensation plan. Similarly, an employee is precluded from relying upon FMLA's substitution provision to insist upon receiving workers' compensation and accrued paid leave benefits during such an absence. However, the employer and employee may be able to agree to paid leave to supplement the workers' compensation replacement income.

  2. An employer may not recover health insurance premiums from an employee taking FMLA and workers' compensation concurrently, if the employee does not return to work. Also, an employer may not recover any non-health benefit premiums paid during a FMLA-designated temporary disability leave or workers' compensation absence, as opposed to during unpaid leave.

  3. If the employer designates workers' compensation as FMLA leave, then the employee is entitled to all employment benefits accrued prior to the date on which the leave commenced.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm trying to figure out what the fox says.

August 28, 2013

FACT OR FICTION: Permanent light duty is an ADA reasonable accommodation

Thumbnail image for ffiction.pngThat'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."

Today, I'm speaking at the EEOC EXCEL Conference in Denver, CO. It's an incredible honor, given that this is the first year that the conference has not only catered to public sector employers, but also those in the private sector.

(Well, at least, that's what someone at yesterday's networking reception, so I'm going with it).

My topic is the so-called "Bermuda Triangle of Leave": ADA, FMLA and Workers Compensation. One of the topics I'll discuss is light duty. So, for those of you who cannot attend, let's make this post a topical two-part QATQQ.

  1. May an employer force an employee taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act for his own serious health condition to work light duty in lieu? Nope. The FMLA permits eligible employees to take up to 12 workweeks of leave. Leave is leave. Period. There is no such thing as light duty under the FMLA. Even if an employee is voluntarily performing a light duty assignment, the employee is not on FMLA leave.

  2. Can an employer be stuck providing permanent light duty as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA? Well, probably not. This is best addressed with an example. Let's say that an employee's job is to stack heavy boxes. A year into his employment, the employee suffers a devastating wrist injury. If the employee is offered temporary light duty work as a reasonable accommodation, and the employer has made it known that permanent light duty is not an option, then the employee cannot keep that light-duty job permanently. However, if the employer knows that the wrist injury is permanent and the employer places the employee into what could reasonably be viewed as a permanent light-duty position, then the employee may have effectively changed the essential functions of the employee's position (lifting boxes) to light duty (something other than lifting boxes). Consequently, the employer may have to keep that employee in the light duty position.

May 7, 2013

Fact or Fiction: It's ok to fire an employee for pro-union Facebook posts to NON-employees

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."

I'll set it up for you:

You run a non-union company called RH Chili Peppers. However, one of your employees, Disgruntled Donny, has been trying to get his co-workers to help unionize the workplace. Thus far, he has been unsuccessful. So, DD takes to Facebook and posts a message bashing the wages and benefits at RH Chili Peppers on a Facebook page called, "Peter Picked a Peck," a Facebook page that DD "likes." PPaP is frequented by employees, like DD, who work in the chili pepper industry, albeit at other chili pepper companies in the city.

One of your employees shows you printouts of DD's inflammatory comments about RH Chili Peppers. Can you discipline DD?

According to this decision last week from the National Labor Relations Board, the answer is no. The reason is that the National Labor Relations Act protects employees who opt to engage in union-related activities. This speech, even if directed at third parties, is protected if it flows from prior organizational activity, which was known to the employer, and is not libelous. It does not matter whether DD uses a actual bull-horn or a virtual bull-horn. Either way, that speech is protected and discipline may not ensue based on the substance of DD's pro-union speech.

So the answer to today's QATQQ is FICTION.

January 23, 2013

Fact or Fiction: Your employee's nasty facial scar may be a disability

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."

Your new employee at local pizzeria has what we'll call a "facial deformity." So, rather than having him work the cash register, or otherwise emerge from the kitchen, you mandate that he work in the back so that no customers will ever see him.

Have you violated the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Well, it's probably time to call the lawyer...

Under the ADA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a disabled employee. An individual has a "disability" if he:

  1. has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual;

  2. has a record of such impairment; or

  3. is regarded as having such impairment.

The supporting regulations are clear that a cosmetic disfigurement, such as a "facial deformity," qualifies as a physical impairment. And if that physical impairment substantially limits a major life activity such as --- I dunno -- working, we've got an ADA disability. Moreover, if the employer keeps the employee in the back under the pretense of appealing to "customer preferences," then the employee is likely being "regarded as" disabled. 

To be clear, employment decisions that are based on the discriminatory preferences of customers are just as unlawful as decisions based on an employer's own discriminatory preferences. 

(You may be thinking bona fide occupational qualification. Indeed, religion, sex, or national origin can be a bona fide occupational qualification; the ADA contains no BFOQ defense). 

The answer to today's QATQQ is FACT. And, for more, check out this recent federal-court decision authored by none other than the author of the most blunt same-sex sexual harassment judicial opinion...evah!

December 11, 2012

Fact or Fiction: Breaks/lunch taken at work may qualify for FMLA

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."

The Family and Medical Leave Act permits employees to take leave on an intermittent basis or to work a reduced schedule under certain circumstances, such as caring for a parent with a serious health condition. Intermittent leave can be days, hours, or even minutes off of work. Indeed, when an employee takes FMLA leave on an intermittent or reduced leave schedule basis, the employer must account for the leave using an increment no greater than the shortest period of time that the employer uses to account for use of other forms of leave provided that it is not greater than one hour and provided further that an employee's FMLA leave entitlement may not be reduced by more than the amount of leave actually taken.

When employees use minutes of intermittent FMLA, it's generally in the form of early dismissals or late arrivals to work. But what about FMLA leave during breaks and lunches, when the employee never actually leaves the office? Can that time be used for intermittent FMLA leave?

According to this recent case, periodic time away from one's desk throughout the work day -- but not out of the office -- is not FMLA leave. The court was "unable to locate a case where 'temporary' FMLA leave was awarded in such a context-where the leave given does not constitute time away from a place of work."

The answer to today's "fact or fiction" is fiction.

October 24, 2012

Fact or Fiction: FMLA covers a tummy-tuck procedure

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."

An employee is eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act if the employee has "a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee." An employee has a serious health condition if there is "an illness, injury, impairment or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care . . . or continuing treatment by a health care provider."

Treatments for cosmetic procedures are not serious health conditions unless complications develop from the procedure or inpatient hospital care is required. So, an employee who takes leave for a tummy-tuck procedure is not covered under the FMLA.

The answer to today's question is fiction.

For more on this, check out Dorsey v. Bellanger.

October 17, 2012

Fact or Fiction: Opposing an employee's u/c request may be Title VII retaliation

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."

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, an employer engages in unlawful retaliation when, in response to an employee complaint of discrimination, it acts in a way that may dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.

So, let's assume that an individual files a charge of discrimination with the EEOC against her former employer. Thereafter, the employee files for unemployment compensation benefits, and the employer fights the claim for unemployment compensation, claiming that the employee was terminated for gross negligence. Could that be viewed as Title VII retaliation?

According to the this recent PA federal court decision, the answer is fact:

Ms. Stezzi can satisfy the "`adverse employment action' element of [her] prima facie case of retaliation" with her claims regarding Citizens Bank's post-employment conduct if she can show that Citizens Bank's actions negatively affected her future employment opportunities...I find that her complaint sufficiently alleges that Citizens Bank adversely affected her future employment opportunities by ordering Talx to appeal her unemployment compensation benefits....If other employers saw that Talx described Ms. Stezzi as grossly negligent in its appeal, it is reasonable to infer that such employers might refuse to hire Ms. Stezzi.

June 14, 2012

Fact or Fiction: Disabilities under the ADAAA cannot be episodic

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."

So, let's get right to it. In Pearce-Mato v. Shinseki, decided earlier this week, a Pennsylvania federal court reminded us that episodic impairments may, indeed, be disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act:

The fact that the periods during which an episodic impairment is active and substantially limits a major life activity may be brief or occur infrequently is no longer relevant to determining whether the impairment substantially limits a major life activity ...  An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.

So, the answer to today's question is fiction.

And here's a bonus tip from the same case: a disabled employee does not need to request a reasonable accommodation in writing. Rather, as previously noted in this case, to request accommodation, an individual may use "plain English" and need not mention the ADA or use the phrase "reasonable accommodation." The notice merely "must make clear that the employee wants assistance for his or her disability. In other words, the employer must know of both the disability and the employee's desire for accommodation for that disability."


December 14, 2011

Fact or Fiction: Courts recognize retaliation against ex-employees

Thumbnail image for ffiction.pngThat'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". So, let's get right to today's question:

Let's say I have a former employee who files a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. If a potential new employer comes calling from a job reference and I...

    1. give my former employee a bad reference;
    2. to get back at the employee for filing the charge; and,
    3. because of my bad reference, the former employee is not hired...

Have I engaged in actionable post-employment retaliation?

You bet I have! So, the answer to today's QATQQ is "FACT".

Consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., here in the Third Circuit (PA, NJ, DE, USVI) post-employment retaliation is bad, bad, bad. In this Third Circuit decision, the court held that "an ex-employee may file a retaliation action against a previous employer for retaliatory conduct occurring after the end of the employment relationship when the retaliatory act is in reprisal for a protected act and arises out of or is related to the employment relationship."  Many state courts are on boards with this too (For example, check out this case from the NJ Supreme Court). A former employer engages in retaliation where its action results in discharge from a later job, a refusal to hire the plaintiff, or other professional or occupational harm. In essence, post-employment retaliation must involve some harm to an employee's employment opportunities.