Discrimination & Harassment

LGBTQ workplace rights is perhaps the most rapidly evolving area in employment law.  On October 4, 2017, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally weighed in on the topic.  He issued a memorandum to all federal prosecutors declaring that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit employment discrimination based on transgender status.  According to the memo, “Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status.”

So, does the Attorney General’s memo mean that employers can freely discriminate on the basis of gender identity?  Not exactly.  A number of federal courts have held that employment bias based on an individual’s transgender status is a form of unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII (the United States Courts of Appeals for the First, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits have all issued such rulings, as have several federal district courts).  Attorney General Sessions’ memo certainly does not preempt these rulings.  Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued enforcement guidance stating that the Commission also views gender identity as a protected trait under the Law.

Employers must also be aware of state laws on the issue.  Currently, 19 states’ anti-discrimination laws bar employment discrimination based on gender identity for at least some workers.  Pennsylvania is among those states.  Governor Tom Wolf has signed two executive orders relevant to the subject:  one prohibiting discrimination against state employees based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status; the other banning state contractors from discriminating against their LGBTQ employees.  The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has also indicated that it will investigate all complaints of gender identity discrimination in the workplace as a form of unlawful sex bias, including complaints against private sector employers.

While the law regarding transgender individuals’ employment rights remains in flux, employers are well-advised to address the issue with sensitivity and diligence.  Treating transgender employees the same as their similarly situated, non-transgender co-workers remains the best way for all employers to avoid liability for gender identity discrimination.

Most employers take proactive steps to prevent and eliminate workplace harassment. Until recently, courts recognized and rewarded the proactive approach.  Businesses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware could avoid liability for hostile work environment claims if they rooted out the problem before it became “severe and pervasive.”

Courts had long held that a single slur, even if highly offensive, was not pervasive and therefore could not trigger employer liability.  The United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania upheld that standard in Castleberry v. STI Group, a 2015 case involving African American workers who were subjected to a racial slur and threatened with termination in a single incident.  The District Court dismissed the claim.

On appeal, the Third Circuit overturned the District’s ruling.  In doing so, the Court noted that the “plaintiffs alleged that their supervisor used a racially charged slur in front of them and their non-African-American co-workers…Within the same breath, the use of this word was accompanied by threats of termination (which ultimately occurred).”  Under these facts, the Third Circuit held that a single, isolated slur constitutes severe conduct that could create a hostile work environment.

Castleberry is now the law of the land for all Pennsylvania employers (and those in New Jersey and Delaware) who are subject to federal anti-discrimination laws. And it is certainly bad news for employers.  The ruling makes it much easier for a hostile work environment plaintiff to survive summary judgment, leading to increased defense costs and greater potential for a costly verdict.

In light of the Third Circuit’s holding, employers would be wise to take inventory of its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies to ensure that they are up to date and prohibit all occurrences of discriminatory harassment. Supervisors and managers should also be made aware that even a single, isolated racial slur can now lead to liability.

We will continue to monitor Third Circuit cases that develop under Castleberry and any updates will be reported here on our blog.

Workplace rights for LGBT individuals has been a rapidly developing area of the law.  A little over two years ago, former President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs followed suit by issuing regulations protecting the rights of LGBT workers employed by federal contractors and subcontractors.  Then, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published guidance suggesting that the Agency considers sexual orientation and gender identity to be protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Despite these developments, no federal appellate court had ever ruled that Title VII protects workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  That changed earlier this week.

In a groundbreaking 8-3 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (having jurisdiction in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin), ruled that sexual orientation is a protected trait under Title VII and that employers may not discriminate against employees on that basis.  The case, Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, involved an openly lesbian professor who had worked for the college as an adjunct staff member for over fourteen years.  She applied for six different full-time jobs during her tenure and was rejected for each of them.  Then, the college failed to renew her adjunct contract in 2014.  She filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC alleging that she was discriminated against on the basis of her sexual orientation.

The district court dismissed her case on the basis that sexual orientation was not recognized as a protected trait under Title VII.  On appeal, the Seventh Circuit reversed.  It held that sexual orientation was a protected characteristic because, in essence, actions taken on the basis of sexual orientation are a “subset of actions taken on the basis of sex,” which is protected by Title VII.  The Court reasoned that sexual orientation discrimination claims are “no different from the claims brought by women who were rejected for jobs in traditionally male workplaces, such as fire departments, construction, and policing. The employers in those cases were setting the boundaries of what jobs or behaviors they found acceptable for a woman (or in some cases, for a man).”

The Seventh Circuit’s ruling is not binding precedent on Pennsylvania employers.  However, as we reported last year, at least one federal district court in the Commonwealth considers sexual orientation to be a protected trait under Title VII.

The Seventh Circuit’s ruling may ultimately prove to have a much broader impact.  The Hively decision now means that circuit courts are officially split on the issue of whether Title VII protections include sexual orientation (last month, the Eleventh Circuit held that sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected under the statute).  When federal circuit courts provide conflicting rulings on the same legal question, the Supreme Court of the United States is more likely to issue its own ruling on the subject in order to ensure consistent application of the law.

We will continue to monitor any future developments on the subject.  As always, we’ll report any updates right here.

In the Third Circuit, an employer’s honest belief that an employee committed misconduct can now serve as a defense to a retaliation claim under the FMLA.  With the recent decision in Capps v. Mondelez Global, LLC (found here) the Third Circuit joins the Seventh, Eighth and Tenth Circuits in providing such a defense.

In the Capps case, Mondelez (the employer) fired Fredrick Capps (a longtime employee) for what Mondelez believed to be dishonest use of intermittent FMLA leave.  During the time of his employment, Capps suffered from a medical condition that required him to undergo bilateral hip replacement in 2003.  Thereafter, he experienced flare-ups that caused him severe pain, which sometimes lasted for days or weeks at a time. As a result of his condition, Capps requested intermittent FMLA leave to cover his periodic time off work.  Because of his ongoing condition, Capps was recertified for intermittent FMLA leave every six months from 2003 to the end of his employment.

On February 14, 2013, Capps reported that he would not be in to work because he was experiencing pain caused by a flare-up of his condition.  Later that same day, Capps drove to a local pub, where he got something to eat and also had a few beers and shots of alcohol with his friends.  About three hours later, Capps attempted to drive home, but was arrested for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (“DUI”) and spent the night in jail.  After being released from jail the next morning, Capps again called off work using intermittent FMLA leave because he said he was experiencing leg pain from his condition.

When Capps returned to work, he did not report his DUI arrest.  However, over the next several months he called off work numerous times and requested intermittent FMLA leave for his condition.  Interestingly enough, during this same time period, Capps was required to attend court hearings and other appointments related to his DUI charge.

On August 7, 2013, Capps pled guilty to the DUI charge and immediately served 72 hours in jail.  When the employer became aware of Capps’ conviction early in 2014, an investigation commenced looking into Capps’ attendance from the time of his DUI arrest to his guilty plea.  This investigation uncovered that Capps’ arrest date and several subsequent court dates corresponded with days that Capps had also used intermittent FMLA leave.  After further investigation, including discussions with Capps himself, it became clear that the documentation Capps submitted did not support his need for FMLA leave on the days that he also appeared in court.

Subsequently, Capps was discharged based on his violation of the company’s Dishonest Acts Policy and misuse of FMLA leave. The termination letter sent to Capps stated: “You claimed to be out due to [ ] FMLA related issues on multiple dates. The documentation you produced does not support your claim of [ ] FMLA related absences.”  After his termination, Capps filed suit claiming, among other things, that the employer retaliated against him for exercising his rights under the FMLA.

After having his FMLA retaliation claim dismissed on summary judgment, Capps’ argued on appeal that the District Court improperly dismissed his claim because the employer was mistaken in its belief that Capps misused his FMLA leave or was otherwise dishonest. However, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Capp’s FMLA retaliation claim emphasizing that an FMLA retaliation claim requires proof of an employer’s retaliatory intent.  In other words, Capps could not show that the employer’s reasonable belief that he was dishonest and misused his FMLA leave was a pretext for retaliation.

While employers should always proceed with caution before terminating an employee around the time he or she requests, takes, or returns from FMLA leave; the Third Circuit’s adoption of the honest belief defense provides a significant means for employers to defend against FMLA retaliation claims. More specifically, employers that discharge an employee based upon an honest belief that the employee is abusing FMLA leave may now be more likely to prevail on a motion for summary judgement.

To be clear, this case is not a get out of jail free card for employers.  Before the decision is made to terminate, employers must be sure that there is supporting evidence of the employer’s honest belief. In the Capps case, this took the form of a thorough investigation of the employee’s absences along with an opportunity for the employee to explain and support his actions.  Yet, when an employer has supporting evidence and reasonably believes that an employee abused FMLA leave or was otherwise dishonest about the need for such leave, this honest belief will serve as the employer’s defense to a FMLA retaliation claim.

In 2010, two employees filed a claim against their former employer, Robert Half International, Inc., alleging that it violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). In addition to individual claims, the plaintiffs brought a collective action on behalf of all other similarly situated employees. The plaintiffs, however, had signed employment agreements containing arbitration clauses, which generally required that any dispute arising out of their employment be submitted to arbitration. It was silent as to class-wide claims.

The employer filed a motion to compel the employees to resolve their claims through arbitration on an individualized basis. The court ordered the employees to submit their claims to arbitration but left for the arbitrator to decide whether the claims could proceed on a class basis. The arbitrator subsequently ruled that class arbitration was permitted under the agreements. The employer appealed and argued that the question of whether the employees could submit claims to arbitration on a class-wide basis is one to be decided by the courts, not an arbitrator.

The First Shoe

The Third Circuit agreed. The court first explained that it is generally the province of the courts to resolve “questions of arbitrability.” That is, courts have narrow authority to decide whether or not an arbitration clause applies to particular claims and/or particular parties. On the other hand, arbitrators decide all issues they have been authorized by the parties to resolve. This includes procedural questions, and in traditional litigation, questions of class are procedural in nature. So, in this case, the court was presented with the following question: when an arbitration clause is silent as to arbitration on a class basis, is the permissibility of class arbitration a “question of arbitrability” to be decided by the court, or is it a procedural question to be decided by an arbitrator?

In a precedential opinion issued in 2014, the Third Circuit held that it was a question of arbitrability reserved for the court, because it was an issue of whether the clause applies to particular claims and/or parties. With this ruling, the Third Circuit then remanded the case to the district court to determine whether the employment agreements authorized class arbitration. On remand, finding no explicit language in the arbitration clauses, and finding no other evidence to the contrary, the district court found that class arbitration was not permitted under the agreement. The employees appealed.

The Other Shoe (sort of)

In a non-binding decision issued at the end of January, the Third Circuit agreed that class arbitration was not permitted. First, the court recognized that “a party may only be compelled to submit to class arbitration if there is a contractual basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so.” Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l, Inc., 559 U.S. 662, 684 (2010). To determine whether the parties agreed to class arbitration in this case, the court first looked for explicit language of authorization, noting that under Third Circuit precedent, “silence regarding class arbitrability generally indicates a prohibition.” Quillion v. Tenet HealthSystems Phila., Inc., 673 F.3d 221, 228 (3d Cir. 2012). It found no explicit language. Despite this finding and its precedent concerning the silence of class arbitration, the court did not stop there. It went on to look for implicit authorization elsewhere in the employment agreement. It again found nothing and affirmed that the agreement did not authorize class-wide arbitration.

While this ruling resolves this case and gives guidance moving forward, it does not definitively answer whether the absence of explicit language precludes class arbitration. To the contrary, the court’s analysis suggests that class arbitration could be inferred from other language in the employment agreement. So, going forward, to avoid a court making such an inference – one contrary to your true intent – inclusion of explicit language prohibiting class arbitration remains the best policy. However, you must be aware that the National Labor Relations Board takes the position that explicit prohibitions of class arbitration violate the National Labor Relations Act. Three courts of appeals, among other courts, have disagreed and overturned the Board’s position. Stay tuned, as the Supreme Court of the United States is set to resolve this question later this year.

On November 3, 2016, the National Labor Relations Board issued a Decision and Order in Trump Ruffin Commercial, LLC, finding that the Trump International Hotel, Las Vegas unlawfully refused to bargain with UNITE HERE International Union after the union won a representation election among the Hotel’s housekeeping, food and beverage and guest service employees.

….In other news, just five days later, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States with the pledges to Make America Great Again, to cultivate more good paying jobs for Americans and to undo much of the agenda of the Obama administration.

Over the past several Presidential transitions, the Human Resources community has become accustomed to the swinging pendulum in the areas of labor and employment law.  We know change is coming.  We’re just not always sure what exactly it will involve.   Everyone remembers the threat of unions being certified on the basis of a card check, right?  That didn’t happen in 2009, but of course quickie elections did.  So making specific predictions on Inauguration Day can be dangerous.   But as the new Administration now has officially taken over, we have to at least try.

Here’s an easy one:  President Trump is unlikely to be appointing what we would call traditional candidates to run the departments and agencies that regulate the American workplace.    While he has nominated some people who have significant governmental service on their resumes, the current list includes a fair share of people with no such experience – – CEOs, philanthropists, investment bankers, a neurosurgeon, even the co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment.   These appointments do not signal “business as usual” for the federal government, nor did the President who, in his inaugural address, pledged to transfer power from Washington back to the American people.

At first blush, this would portend wholesale rollback of workplace regulations.  Indeed, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, has been a critic of substantially increasing the minimum wage and a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s efforts to make more workers eligible for overtime pay.  And critics have noted similar opposition by other nominees to what has been the recent mission or focus of the agency that they may be leading (See Governor Rick Perry and Betsy DeVos).

But here’s the rub:  a substantial portion of President Trump’s electoral base of support likely will not support the pendulum swinging back in ways that make their workplaces less safe or adversely impact their earnings.  So…this will be a bit more complicated.

What can we say now in January 2017 with confidence?

  • We’re not going to get back all of that time we spent learning the ever changing minutiae of the Affordable Care Act.  But we can certainly anticipate that there will be new regulation impacting employer provided health insurance.
  • We will see change in leadership at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The current EEOC Chair’s term will end in July 2017, and the new Chair will likely fill the now vacant EEOC General Counsel position.   That new leadership is less likely to retain the current EEOC’s focus upon pay equity issues and seeking to expand gender identity and sexual orientation protections through selective litigation.   And let’s not forget the agency’s proposed regulations that would require employers to provide compensation data and hours for all employees as part of the EEO-1 reporting process.  We think that it is unlikely that these requirements will become effective in March 2018, as currently planned.
  • The NLRB will be looking at the bureaucratic version of Extreme Home Makeover.  Readers of our Annual NLRB Year in Review will recall that the Obama Board has involved itself in everything from revising the representation election timeline, to creating rights to use your email system for organizing activity to uncovering the dastardly hidden meaning of the most innocuous provisions of your employee handbook.  They expanded the concept of joint employment to the point you might have to sit at the bargaining table to discuss wages, benefits and working conditions of people who are not even your employees.  And then when they were done with that, they even tried to get involved in college football!  The party’s soon over at the Board.  President Trump will have the opportunity to fill two current Member vacancies on the Board as soon as he gets down to work.  More critically, by November he will have the opportunity to replace NLRB General Counsel Richard Griffin Jr., an Obama appointee, former union lawyer and spearhead for most of the NLRB’s most aggressive initiatives.
  • OSHA recordkeeping requirements should be reduced.  We know how this has been an area of focus over the past 8 years and has caused more work for employers.  And the new silica rules and anti-retaliation rules that seek to effectively prohibit mandatory post-accident drug testing and safety incentive programs may soon be on the cutting room floor.

So, that’s enough prognostication on Day 1 of the Trump Administration.  Stay tuned!

 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (‘EEOC”) has been aggressively advancing its position that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation even though sexual orientation is not expressly identified as a protected class. More information on the EEOC’s position is available here. Recently, the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania agreed with the EEOC’s position. In, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Scott Medical Health Center, P.C., U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon concluded that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited by Title VII.

In its complaint, the EEOC alleged that a former gay male employee who worked for Scott Medical in a telemarketing position, was subject to harassment, anti-gay epithets and a hostile work environment based on his sexual orientation.

In support of its arguments to dismiss the EEOC’s complaint, Scott Medical relied heavily on a prior Third Circuit case, Bibby v. Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co., which held that Title VII protections could not be extended to claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Despite this clear precedent, the court in Scott Medical stated that, “[i]ncremental changes have over time broadened the scope of Title VII’s protections of sex discrimination in the workplace” and “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is, at its very core, sex stereotyping plain and simple.” The court went on to say that “[t]here is no more obvious form of sex stereotyping than making a determination that a person should conform to heterosexuality.”

Judge Bissoon relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s rationale in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, wherein the Supreme Court concluded that an employer who treats a woman differently on the basis of a belief that women should not be or cannot be aggressive, has engaged in sexual stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of gender. Judge Bissoon used this reasoning from Price Waterhouse to conclude that “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a subset of sexual stereotyping and thus covered by Title VII’s prohibitions on discrimination ‘because of sex’.”

So, what happens now based on the court’s decision in Scott Medical Health Center? Well, initially the case will proceed toward trial and an appeal to the Third Circuit may be forthcoming in the future. If appealed, the Third Circuit will likely be faced with reconsidering its prior decision in Bibby and other similar cases. Likewise, other courts throughout the country will be considering this same issue in the near future as the EEOC continues to champion the theory that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In the meantime, employers should take a hard look at their Equal Employment Opportunity and Anti-Harassment policies, and consider adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. In addition, employers will need to response appropriately in the event of a complaint alleging harassment based on sexual orientation. It may also be a good idea to update your management training on this topic.

Employers with more than 100 employees and federal contractors are probably more than familiar with the EEO-1 reporting requirements, but those requirements are about to change. On July 13, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published a revised version of a proposed rule to broaden the scope of data collected in the EEO-1 report. Earlier this year, the EEOC issued an initial version of the proposed rule, which would have required additional reporting on each of ten categories of employees and pay information reported by race and gender.  The July 13 version of the rule contained some key changes.

Changes to Proposed Rule

Under the new proposal, the EEOC will require reporting on an employer’s established pay ranges for positions and hours worked. In response to the comments received regarding the initial proposal, the revised proposal proposes moving the due date for filing the required report from September 30, 2017 to March 31, 2018. This change will allow employers to use employee’s W-2 earnings for reporting. Because of the revisions to the proposal, a new 30 day notice and comment period commenced with the release of the new revised proposal in the federal register.

Purpose of Data Collection

EEOC explained that it intends to use pay data for early analysis of discriminatory complaints. Investigators will examine the data for pay disparities and perform statistical analyses, yet to be determined in order to investigate whether compensation discrimination appears likely. EEOC has further stated that it will compare periodic reports on pay disparities by gender and race based on the data. Finally, the agency will use the data to enhance its support for training programs by, among other things, providing supporting evidence for training programs.

What Should I Do Now

EEOC actually pays attention to the comments it receives as is evidenced by the new revised proposed rule. We strongly encourage employers to make comments on the hardships the proposed revised rule would create. EEOC has remained silent on how it will account for the merit based non-discriminatory factors that could lead to differences in pay in the same job category. This is an issue we suggest employers should press heavily in their comments. Tenure, skill sets and even the broad nature of the job categories themselves can be pivotal in determining wage differences. Stay tuned, we will likely see more changes when the final rule is published.

 

Since the passage of the Medical Marijuana Act (“MMA”), we have received many questions from employers regarding the MMA’s impact on employment law; one of the most frequent questions being – what do I do if an employee tells me he/she is using medical marijuana? While the answer to this question will partly depend on state regulations that have yet to be issued, for now there are a few things that employers should know and do when confronted with an employee who is using medicinal marijuana:

  1. Recognize that only “certified users” are legally permitted to use medicinal marijuana in Pennsylvania. Only individuals who are “certified” under the MMA are authorized to use medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. Because the regulatory framework to implement the certification process has not been implemented, there presently is no mechanism for individuals in Pennsylvania to become “certified.” Until the regulatory framework is in place and certifications are being issued, any employee who reports that he is using medical marijuana is likely violating the law. Until a certification is issued, the employee is not entitled to the protections contained in the MMA, such as the anti-discrimination provision at §2103(b)(1), which we discussed here.
  1. Understand that the MMA does not require employers to accommodate the use of medical marijuana while the employee is at work. The MMA specifically provides “nothing in this Act shall require an employer to make an accommodation for the use of medical marijuana on the property or premises of any place of employment.” §2103(b)(2). For this reason, it appears employers may implement and/or continue to enforce policies that prevent marijuana use at work or on the employer’s premises, regardless of whether the use is certified under the MMA.
  1. Analyze the employee’s situation in accordance with the ADA. Under current interpretations of the law, it appears that the ADA does not prohibit an employer from discharging an employee who tests positive for marijuana, even if the use was prescribed by a doctor. However, the employee who voluntarily discloses medical marijuana use, because the employee has a disability, may be entitled to protection under the ADA. Accordingly, an employer should engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine whether accommodations are warranted. While we strongly recommend that employers seek guidance from counsel in these situations, the following general steps should be followed in all situations:
  • Ask the employee, in writing, to obtain a letter or report from his/her health care provider identifying the condition for which the medicinal marijuana has been prescribed and how, if at all, the employee’s use of medicinal marijuana will impact or impair the employee’s ability to perform his/her job. Providing a copy of the employee’s job description to the health care provider is a best practice.
  • To the extent the employee’s ability to perform his/her job is impacted by the use of medicinal marijuana, assess whether the employee can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Remember, this is a fact-specific inquiry that should be conducted on a case-by-case basis. For example, if you would normally provide medical leave to an employee temporarily prohibited from performing his job due to the use of prescription drugs, you may be required to do the same for an employee with a prescription for medicinal marijuana.
  • To the extent an employee’s ability to perform his/her job is not impacted by the use of medicinal marijuana, remind the employee that reporting to work “under the influence” and the use of marijuana at work or on the employer’s premises are strictly prohibited.
  • Continue communicating with your employee to fulfill your obligations to interact under the ADA.

Naturally, if you have specific questions about the MMA and its impact on your workplace, please don’t hesitate to call any member of our Labor and Employment Law Practice Group for further guidance. As the Pennsylvania Department of Health begins to implement temporary regulations, we will keep you apprised of further developments.

The EEOC has recently issued guidance addressing a variety of issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

What is unique about this recent guidance is that the materials, entitled “Legal Rights for Pregnant Workers Under Federal Law,” “What You Should Know: Equal Pay and the EEOC’s Proposal to Collect Pay Data,” and “Helping Patients Deal with Pregnancy-Related Limitations and Restrictions at Work,” are directed at employees and physicians rather than employers. However, this guidance certainly offers a trove of helpful information that employers may rely on when necessary.

For instance, in “Legal Rights for Pregnant Workers”, the EEOC provides guidance regarding the employee’s right to an accommodation of any restrictions that may result from a pregnancy, particularly in the nature of altered break and work schedules, permission to sit or stand, ergonomic office furniture, shift changes, elimination of marginal job functions and/or permission to work from home. However, the guidance also notes instances in which accommodations would be unreasonable and therefore, unnecessary. Being primed to discuss some of those issues as part of the interactive process and referencing the guidance’s conclusion that “the ADA doesn’t require your employer to make changes that involve significant difficulty or expense” and that “if more than one accommodation would work (to address your restrictions), the employer can choose which one to give you” may help keep the employee engaged and effective in the workplace.

The materials directed at physicians are also helpful for employers, particularly because it can easily be attached to correspondence to the physician when requesting additional information about a potential employee accommodation issue. Employers often have to follow up with physicians because an initial request for accommodation comes in the form of a note scrawled on a prescription pad, with no explanation of the condition, the reason for the accommodation, and how the accommodation will address the circumstances of the condition. The EEOC’s resource should be of assistance to employers on these issues, where it notes that documentation from a physician is most helpful where it includes:

  • The nature of the patient’s condition. State the patient’s pregnancy-related medical condition.
  • The patient’s functional limitations in the absence of treatment. Describe the extent to which the medical condition would limit a major life activity (e.g., lifting, bending or concentrating), or a major bodily function (e.g. bowel or circulatory functions), in the absence of treatment or any other accommodation. If the symptoms of the condition come and go or are in remission, describe the limitations during an active episode. It is sufficient to establish substantial limitation of one major life activity or major bodily function.
  • The need for an accommodation. Explain how the patient’s medical condition makes changes at work necessary. For example, if your patient needs an accommodation to perform a particular job function, you should explain how the patient’s symptoms – as they actually are, with treatment – make performing the function more difficult. If necessary, ask your patient for a description of her job duties. Also explain to the employer why your patient may need an accommodation such as a schedule change (e.g., to attend a medical appointment during the workday.) Limit your discussion to the specific problems that may be helped by an accommodation.
  • Suggested Accommodation(s). If you are aware of an effective accommodation, you may suggest it. Do not overstate the need for a particular accommodation in can an alternative is necessary.

This language, at least, can be cited by employers in their correspondence to physicians regarding accommodations requests to better help advance these discussions quickly.

The Pay Data guidance relates to the recent proposal to begin collecting summary pay data by gender, race and ethnicity, and again is generally directed at employees to explain their rights to equal pay and how to enforce those rights. However, the one piece of additional news for employers is that the EEOC is continuing to pursue the revision of the EEO-1 for the collection of pay data and, sometime during this summer, will be submitting revisions for a second comment period before the proposal for data collection is finalized. We will keep you posted on this initiative.