Archive for May, 2014

Employer Sued by EEOC Over Refusal to Install Door Opener for Wheelchair-Bound Employee

On the face of it, it seems like the easiest accommodation possible: Install an automatic door opener to allow an employer whose disability requires him to use a wheelchair to be able to enter and exit the workplace.

But because a Wisconsin-based company, Orion Energy Systems Inc. allegedly didn’t make that accommodation for this employee, it finds itself a named defendant in an ADA lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC filed the suit in federal district court in Wisconsin seeking relief for Orion employee Scott Conant, who has the above-described physical condition.

“Here, the doors were shut in Mr. Conant’s face both literally and figuratively,” EEOC regional attorney John Hendrickson said, in announcing the suit.. “The EEOC is here to make sure those doors stay open for people wrongly and illegally denied opportunities because of disabilities.”

Read more about the lawsuit here.


Washington Supreme Court Finds Implied Duty of Religious Accommodation in Discrimination Law

If you’re an employer in Washington state and thought you don’t have to make reasonable accommodation for your employees’ religious beliefs, think again. That state’s supreme court has just ruled that this duty is implied under the state’s law against discrimination.

That law prohibits discrimination based on religion, as do regulations promulgated by the state’s human rights commission. But neither mentions reasonable accommodation of religious practices.

Comes now the state supreme court to declare that even though the law against discrimination doesn’t expressly require religious accommodation, such a duty is implied.

As such, workers at Seattle’s international airport can pursue a lawsuit alleging their employer illegally barred them from bringing their own lunches for security reasons, but failed to accommodate religious dietary requirements for lunches that it provides.

The ruling was 5 to 4, which means that if the composition of the court changes by one judge, it could go the other way. And there was a vigorous dissent, accusing the majority of fashioning this reasonable accommodation out of whole cloth.

But for now–and until and if the ruling is reversed–reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs and practices is the law of the land in Washington state.

The case is Kumar v. Gate Gourmet. You can download and read the decision at

Oklahoma Enacts Password Protection Law

The Sooner State has become the latest one to pass a law putting employees’ social media passwords off-limits to employers.

Under the bill signed into law by the governor on May 21,  employers are prohibited rom requesting or requiring access to social media account of certain employees. The law also forbids employers from taking retaliatory personnel action for failure to provide access to social media account; authorizes civil actions for violations and provides for recovery of attorney fees and court costs.

For a link to the text of the new law (H.B. 2372) and for a listing of all states that have passed these laws or have such laws pending in their legislature, click here on the National Conference of State Legislators website.

Settlement Restores Lost Pension Payments to United Airline Pilots Returning From Military Duty

Pilots returning from military service got justice last week in the form of a settlement restoring the full amount they were due in contributions to their pension plans–another reminder of how the law can be used in positive ways to impact veterans’ lives.

In one of the largest settlements ever reached under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reeemployment Act (USERRA), United Airlines last week agreed to pay $6 million to make up for shortfalls in the pensions of pilots who were returning from duty in the National Guard and Reserves.

The settlement will benefit about 1,160 reservists, most of them pilots, who were called up for active-duty service for more than 30 days between 2000 and 2010 while working for the airline.

At issue was United’s contributions to the employees’ 401(k) pension accounts. Under USERRA, companies must continue to provide routine contributions to retirement accounts during reservists’ military service.

United Airlines was providing mobilized reservists with pension contributions that were too small, calculating the amount based on a minimum wage for union employees rather than the individual employees’ actual salaries or wages immediately prior to deployment, according to a lawsuit filed by the employees.

You can read more about the lawsuit and settlement in the Navy Times.

To learn more about the laws and some economic incentives regarding hiring of returning veterans, see my post from last year’s Memorial Day

Silicon Valley Firms Settle Suit Alleging They Colluded Not to Raid Competitions’ Talent

Employers raid each other’s workforces all the time in order to prod talented employees from their competitors to come work for them. That can often work well for the poached employees who can demand higher salaries and other perks for their services.

But what if companies conspired not to poach each other’s talent? That what employees of four Silicon Valley giants alleged in a lawsuit that these firms had done–limiting competition for their services.

Now comes the news that the four–Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe Systems–have settled the suit to the tune of $324.5 million. After the plaintiffs’ attorneys take their cut, the workers (about 64,000) will each receive an average of $4,000 under the settlement, according to court filings.

The suit, filed in 2011, accused the companies of conspiring to limit competition and keep wages depressed for engineers, programmers and other technical staff.

A hearing is set for June 19 at which U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh will be asked to give preliminary approval to the settlement. One of the named plaintiffs objects to the settlement because he feels it lets the companies off too easily.

Germany Raises Retirement Age to 67, Backs Higher Pensions for Stay-at-Home Moms

Not all wisdom on HR and benefits resides in the United States. Overseas other countries are enacting changes in their employment laws in response to the needs of a changing society.

Latest case in point is Germany, where today the legislature approved a pension overhaul that lets some people retire early on full pensions.  Legislators raised the retirement age from 65 to 67, and people who have paid pension contributions for 45 years will be able to retire at age 63 without any cut in their pension.

Mothers who stayed at home to raise their children and tend to their families also will be granted higher pensions under the new law. When was the last time anyone suggested instituting a pension system for stay-at-home moms in the U.S.?

Periodically in our debate in the U.S. over retirement policy, someone mentions raising the retirement age but then policymakers and Congress flinch from making such a fundamental change to our retirement policy. It’s a complicated subject requiring thoughtful debate, but at least Germany has pointed a possible way forward.

OSHA Steps Up Campaign to Reduce Incidence of Heat-Related Illnesses at Nation’s Workplaces

I just got back from a bike ride, which left me hot and sweaty, but at least I’m able to return to an air conditioned home. Not so for many workers, who must suffer the travails of working in the heat in the outdoors.

And just downing copious amounts of water may not be enough to ward off these illnesses.

The government is here to help.

Today the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced it is renewing its summertime Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers, first launched in 2011.

Now in its fourth year, the campaign “aims to raise awareness and educate workers and employers about the dangers of working in hot weather and provide resources and guidance to address these hazards. Workers at particular risk are those in outdoor industries, such as agriculture, construction, landscaping and transportation.”

Thousands of employees become sick each year and many die from working in the heat, the agency said. In 2012, there were 31 heat-related worker deaths and 4,120 heat-related worker illnesses.

As part of the campaign, OSHA has produced educational materials on beating the heat in English and Spanish, and they also have a mobile app that enables employers and workers to monitor the heat index at their worksites.

For more information, click here.

Justice for Employee Who Had Job Offer Withdrawn Because of Old Back Injury

A federal district court has entered a permanent injunction in the case of a disabled individual who had a job offer withdrawn because of an old back injury even though his current physical condition didn’t prevent him from performing the job.

I wrote previously about the case of  EEOC v.  American Tool & Mold LLC, which was found liable for withdrawing a job offer to Michael Matanic based on an old back injury. The company terminated him even though he was medically cleared by his doctor to work and was in good health.

Under the permanent injunction, the company “must conduct a functional job analysis and create written job descriptions for each position subject to a post-offer medical examination. ATM must also ensure that any third-party medical contractors it uses for post-offer medical examinations conducts them in a manner consistent with the ADA.”

The announcement is something of a victory lap for the EEOC, which obtained a favorable ruling from the court on the merits of this ADA lawsuit back in April. Still, it reinforces the message of that victory–don’t base employment decisions on myths or stereotypes about a person’s medical condition.

Read more here.

Small Businesses Required to Provide Family Leave Under New Law Enacted in Maryland

Small employers in Maryland will have to start offering FMLA-style leave to new parents under new legislation signed by Governor Martin O’Malley.

The new law takes effect October 1, on which date employers with 15 to 49 employees will have to allow new parents up to six weeks of paid or unpaid leave following the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.

To be eligible, the employee must have worked for the employer for at least one year and for 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months–the same as under the federal FMLA.

During the leave period, the employer has to maintain the employees’ health coverage, and on return to work, the employee must be restored to the same job that he or she held prior to taking leave or to an equivalent position.

The only allowed grounds for denying unpaid parent leave to an eligible employee is if necessary to prevent “substantial and grievous economic injury to the operations of the employer.” The employer must so inform the employee before the employee begins the leave.

Maryland becomes the 16th state–along with the District of Columbia–to have family and medical leave laws more expansive than what the federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires.

Here’s more information on HB 1026, which became the new law.