Archive for March, 2015

Obama Vetoes Congressional Resolution to Block NLRB Rule Speeding Up Union Elections

The National Labor Relations Board can go ahead with its rule shortening the time between union recognition petitions and elections, following today’s veto by President Obama of a congressional resolution to block the rule.

The rule, which opponents dub the “ambush rule,” would shorten the time in which a union certification election is held from the current median of 38 days to as little as 11.

Congressional Republicans were having nothing of that, charging that this would too little time to mount campaigns to convince employees not to unionize.

“Workers deserve a level playing field that lets them freely choose to make their voices heard, and this requires fair and streamlined procedures for determining whether to have unions as their bargaining representative.” Obama said in his veto message. “Because this resolution seeks to undermine a streamlined democratic process that allows American workers to freely choose to make their voices heard, I cannot support it.”

The Senate voted down the rule earlier this month.

DOJ: University Denied Professor Tenured Position Because She Is Transgender Woman

The U.S. Department of Justice is coming to aid of a university professor who it claims was denied promotion to a tenured position because she is a transgender woman. DOJ announced today that it is suing Southeastern Oklahoma State University on behalf of Rachel Tudor, who originally presented as a man, but three years into her job as an assistant professor, presented as a woman.

According to the lawsuit, Tudor performed her job well, and in 2009, she applied for a promotion to the tenured position of Associate Professor. Southeastern’s administration denied her application, overruling the recommendations of her department chair and other tenured faculty from her department. The lawsuit alleges that Southeastern discriminated against Tudor when it denied her application because of her gender identity, gender transition and non-conformance with gender stereotypes.

The action is another reminder that the DOJ considers sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include discrimination against an individual because of his or her transgender status and refusing to confirm to stereotypes about how men and women should appear and act.

And lest we forget, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shares in that interpretation of Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination. So this lawsuit should also be a wake-up call for private sector employers that the EEOC will come after them for the same alleged violations of Title VII as this university stands accused.

Read more about the lawsuit.

Despite Verdict, Hi Tech Industry Has Ways to Go to Give Women Equal Opportunity to Advance

The news that a jury found a Silicon Valley company not liable in a sex discrimination case brought by a former partner shouldn’t lull the high tech industry into complacency.

The case of Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins Caufield  & Byers send shockwaves through the industry, amid accusations that the firm fostered a “boys club” atmosphere in which women such as her were denied employment opportunities because of their gender.

The gender disparity in the tech industry is not a figment of someone’s imagination. Women held just 15 percent to 20 percent of the jobs at Google, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo.

Whether that’s the product of intentional discrimination–or just a male-dominated culture that puts women at a disadvantage and saves all the best positions for men–the hi tech industry needs to become more welcoming toward women.

And the glass ceiling may be starting to break apart. A diversity consultant in the San Francisco area reports that she has been contacted by more than a dozen companies in recent weeks as the Pao trial unfolded.

 

DOL Extends Sex Bias Rule Comment Period

The public will have until April 14 to comment on the Labor Department’s proposed rule on the obligation of federal contractors and subcontractors not to discriminate on the basis of sex in their employment practices, DOL announced today.

The original deadline for comments was March 31–next Tuesday–but that date was set before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a few days ago that a former UPS employee could pursue a pregnancy bias claim against the company for denying her a light-duty job during her pregnancy.

In response to that ruling, DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which enforces those contractor obligations, decided another two weeks was necessary  to take into account the high court’s decision.

The DOL noted that the ruling in Young v. UPS involved Title VII’s application to sex discrimination in the workplace, and that DOL follows Title VII principles when enforcing the law against employment discrimination by contractors and subcontractors.

Here’s the announcement.

EEOC Sues on Behalf of Female Job Applicant Allegedly Fired For Deceipt Over Her Pregnancy

Is it a legitimate defense to a claim of pregnancy discrimination that the alleged victim lied about her pregnancy when applying for the job? That could be a point of contention in a Title VII lawsuit that the EEOC filed today against CFS Health Management Inc., d/b/a Shefa Wellness Center, a Canton, Ga., medical practice specializing in cosmetic skin care treatments.

According to the EEOC’s suit, the company fired April Raines, a newly-hired  licensed skin care therapist just two days after she told the owner about her pregnancy. At the time, Raines had only worked for the company for approximately two weeks. The agency alleges that when Raines questioned why she was terminated, the employer told her that she had deceived the company by not disclosing her pregnancy during the interview.

Title VII doesn’t precisely prohibit pre-employment questions about pregnancy, but if you’re going to ask a woman about whether she is pregnant or wants to become pregnant, you should be prepared to ask a man whether he is about to become a father or expects to be. So the best advice is don’t ask these questions of applicants of either gender.

Anyway, I suspect that the employer’s asserted defense in this case is a steep climb, because it shouldn’t have asked the question in the first place.

Here’s more on the lawsuit.

Supreme Court: Denying Accommodation to Pregnant Worker Could Be Title VII Violation

Employers that accommodate workers with temporary disabilities may also have to do so for pregnant employees or risk being found liable under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for not doing so, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today.

The case in which the justices ruled was brought by Peggy Young, a former delivery driver for United Parcel Service. She alleged that by refusing her a light-duty accommodation during her pregnancy UPS was in effect giving her the choice of unpaid leave or losing her job during her pregnancy.

The company defended its actions arguing that its policy did not violate the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act because it made accommodations and light-duty assignments available to employees injured on the job, while treating pregnant employees no worse than workers injured off the job who received no accommodations.

In today’s 6-3 ruling, the justices held that if a pregnant employee can show that the employer did not accommodate her but employer did accommodate others “similar in their ability or inability to work,” the burden will shift to the employer to  show it had  “legitimate, nondiscriminatory” reasons for denying her accommodation.  But that reason can’t simply be that it would have been costly or inconvenient to accommodate the woman.

If the woman can then show that the employer’s policy places a “significant burden” on pregnant employees–for example, it accommodate large percentage of nonpregnant employees but only a small percentage of pregnant employees, that could toss the question back to the jury to decide whether the employer’s conduct was discriminatory.

The court’s ruling in Young v. UPS is available here.

Utah Passes Breastfeeding Protection Law

It’s now illegal under Utah’s antidiscrimination law to discriminate against a female employee because she breastfeeds or has a medical condition related to breastfeeding.  The amendment to the law modifies the definition of pregnancy, childbirth, or pregnancy-related conditions to include breastfeeding and related medical conditions.

Governor Gary R. Herbert signed the law last Friday, March 20. This followed by just a few weeks his signing of legislation protecting gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination.

This makes Utah the 26th state in the country to pass a law protecting breastfeeding at work. The National Conference of State Legislatures keeps track of these laws.

For the text of the law, H.B. 105, click here.

EEOC: Employer Illegally Rescinded Promotion Offer to Woman Because of Her Pregnancy

The EEOC has taken yet another employer to court over its alleged discrimination against a pregnant employee.  In this case the commission is alleging that Receivable Management, Inc., d/b/a Kramer and Associates, a debt collections firm located in Hackensack, N.J., violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by rescinding its offer to promote an employee because she was pregnant.

The EEOC charges that Carol Vartanian was offered a promotion to a managerial position, and that the company rescinded the offer after Vartanian told her supervisor that she was pregnant.

“The company told her she needed to focus on her health and that her maternity leave would coincide with tax season, the company’s busiest time of the year,” according to the EEOC’s announcement of the lawsuit.

Whether the EEOC can prove its case or not, there’s a lesson here for all employers: It’s up to the woman to decide whether she can continue to work during her pregnancy.  The employer doesn’t get to decide that.

Here’s how the EEOC put it: “When an employer acts on the paternalistic view that pregnancy diminishes a woman’s ability to work or interferes with the employer’s operations, it is a violation of federal law,” said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Rosemary DiSavino.

Report: Women Catching Up to Men in Earnings, But Great Variation by State, Ethnicity, Education

It’s going to take another 40 years or more to close the wage gap between men and women, and if you are a woman currently living in certain states it’s not going to happen in your lifetime.

Those are the mixed bag conclusions from a study published last week by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The study predicts that U.S. women won’t achieve wage parity with men until 2058. The good news is that the wage gap has been narrowing. In 1980, women made 60.2 cents for every dollar a man earned, but by 2013 that was up to 78.3 cents for every dollar a man earned.

Women have also been gaining on men in median salary; women’s median went from $30,138 to $39,157 in three decades, while men’s decreased slightly from $50,096 to $50,033, according to the study

But in some states closing the gap could take many more generations. The study says, for example, that the gender gap won’t go away in Wyoming until 2159. The climb is comparatively less steep in Louisiana, where the wage gap should disappear by 2106 and in  North Dakota, 2104.

Things look better on the East Coast. There women in Florida might achieve pay parity in 2038 and Maryland in 2042.

Differences in wages by race are also stark. Hispanic women earn just 53.8 cents on the dollar compared to Hispanic men. Women with graduate degrees make 69.1 percent of what men with graduate degrees make. The gap is a little narrower for women with bachelor’s degrees. They earn 71.4 percent for every dollar a man with a bachelor’s degree makes.

You can download the report, The Status of Women in the States: 2015–Employment and Earnings,  from the institute’s web site.

Family-Owned Businesses: Do’s and Dont’s

As we head into the weekend, here’s expert advice from Robin Paggi, our resident guest blogger, on ways for owners of family businesses to recognize and prevent personnel conflicts.

Family-Owned Businesses: Do’s and Dont’s

My first job was working for my dad, Bob Rutledge, at his bait and tackle shop (Bob’s Bait Bucket). Almost four decades later, I now work for Jeff Thorn at Worklogic HR, where a number of past and current employees belong to the Thorn family.

Evidently, my experience being both a relative and non-relative in a family-owned business is not unique because, according to the article “The Facts of Family Business” on www.forbes.com, “about 90% of all U.S. businesses are family-owned or controlled by a family.”

Being employed in your family’s business can be a challenge for many reasons. In the article, “Working in a Family Business: Understanding the Pros and Cons” on www.mindtools.com, the reason at the top of the list is that “working with family members may sometimes lead to conflict.” Indeed! My husband grew up working with his brothers in his father’s business. One day at work, an older brother started bossing him around in a way he did not appreciate. Fed up, my husband dropped his tool belt on the floor, walked home, drove back to college, and never returned to the family business.

“Conflicts are part of a normal experience for many small start-ups and family-owned businesses,” said Carolyn M. Brown in her article “7 Rules for Avoiding Conflicts of Interest in a Family Business” on www.inc.com. True, but conflicts in family businesses are bad for all employees – those who are family members and those who are not. Ways for family business owners to prevent conflicts include:

Treating family and non-family members equally. “Don’t create two classes of employees – family vs. non-family. Be careful not to show family members special treatment,” said Brown. Although I no longer work with my dad, my three brothers and nephew do. The family business has expanded to two locations and has employed numerous people in addition to family members over the past 38 years. According to my dad, all employees are treated the same: “Everyone does the same work and plays by the same rules.”

My boss also agrees with this philosophy; however, he admits that he’s tougher on his family members than his other employees, which is not necessarily a good thing. “I caution employers that, while you want to show that you’re not favoring your family, don’t go overboard because you end up treating them so differently that it has a reverse affect.”

Creating a boundary between the family and the business. Family members who work together need to keep the business out of their home life and their family drama out of the workplace. In her article “5 Tips for Managing a Successful Family Business” on www.sba.gov, Nico Janssen said that, “Families will always bicker, but the challenge is not to let the bickering (interfere) with the business and rub-off on non-family employees…” Family drama is not allowed in my dad’s stores. “You’ve got to maintain a sense of decorum,” he said. “It’s foolish not to.” Family drama is also not present at my current workplace. In fact, if I had not been told that I’m working with Thorn family members, I wouldn’t have known it.

Other rules for preventing conflict that family business owners should consider include: not employing family members if they can’t make a contribution to the business; disciplining and rewarding family members just like other employees; communicating openly and honestly (don’t keep it a secret that family members work there and keep everyone in the loop – not just the relatives); and, don’t let family members take advantage of the relationship (such as allowing them to borrow company vehicles when non-relatives aren’t allowed to).

Working in a family business can be challenging for everyone involved. Employers who treat everyone equally and keep family and business matters separate help reduce conflict and increase the likelihood of the business’s success.

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

Robin last wrote for us on There’s More to Motivating Than Money. Before that she wrote on Love at Work: How Should Employers Respond, and prior to that about lessons for employers in the Brian Williams matter.  Prior to that she wrote about giving employees a second chance. Before that she wrote about making sure the applicant is a good fit for the job and before that about  cure for inappropriate behavior at work. Before that she wrote about cyberloafing, on business lessons from a Christmas story and before that about cell phone policies at work. She has also written for us on rules for holiday parties at work and before that about preventing workplace bullying.