Monthly Archives: January 2017

A Flurry of EEOC Activity Just Before and Up to Inauguration Day, and the Appointment of an Acting Chair

In the month leading up to Donald Trump’s Inauguration, the EEOC issued several notices that may be of interest to employers.

National Origin Discrimination.  In late November the EEOC issued a new enforcement guidance on national origin discrimination. The guidance provides insight into how EEOC investigators are going to analyze claims of national origin discrimination. In addition to the guidance, the EEOC issued a fact sheet that specifically reminds employers that Title VII protects job applicants and employees regardless of immigration status and customer preferences. This protection is established law and not part of an executive order.

Mental Disabilities. On December 13, 2016, the EEOC provided notice of a new resource document directed at employees and applicants explaining that those with mental disabilities are protected from discrimination and harassment based on their conditions. In this resource document, the EEOC notes that its data shows that charges of discrimination based on mental health conditions are on the rise. Handling issues relating to mental disabilities is often difficult (and sometimes scary) for employers. An understanding of the EEOC’s position on employers’ obligations is important to avoiding legal liability.  A helpful resource for employers dealing with disability accommodation issues is the Job Accommodation Network, a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor. This website provides suggested accommodations for employees with disabilities, including those with mental disabilities.

Highlighting Accomplishments. On December 21, 2016, the EEOC issued a notice discussing its 2016 highlights. This document details the number of charges resolved by the EEOC and points out that the EEOC secured more than $482 million dollars for victims of discrimination.

Affirmative Action. On the first business day of January 2017, the EEOC provided notice that it issued final rules requiring federal agencies to engage in affirmative action for individuals with disabilities. These new rules are set to go into effect on March 6, 2017. The EEOC followed up with a question and answer document providing general information about the rules. These rules are not applicable to private sector employers.

Harassment. On January 10, 2017, the EEOC issued a proposed Enforcement Guidance on Unlawful Harassment, and is inviting comment on the guidance. The deadline to provide feedback on the draft guidance is February 9, 2017.  If you are interested in providing feedback, it can be posted (publically) here.

Case Law Digest. On January 12, 2017, the EEOC issued its quarterly publication that reviews federal court cases of interest, as well as recent Commission decisions. Although interesting and informative, unless you are a L & E attorney looking for something specific, preparing a presentation on the EEOC’s legal activity, or want to pretend that you are in law school, reading this document should not be a high priority.

Litigation Statistics. The day before the inauguration, the EEOC issued its enforcement and litigation statistics for 2016. The information provided shows that in Florida the number of charges filed in 2016 was greater than those filed in 2015. The statistics also give information on the breakdown by state of charges filed, as well as the type of charges filed (age, race, sex, retaliation, etc.).

Progress Report. On Inauguration Day, the EEOC sent out a notice highlighting the January 19, 2017 release of its Progress Report. This document is the EEOC’s review of its own work, detailing how the EEOC has been complying with its legislative mandate to enforce Title VII (and other laws). It will be interesting to see what the next Progress Report looks like, as it is likely that the agency may adjust its focus over the next year or so.

Appointment of an Acting Chair. On January 25, 2017, President Trump appointed Victoria Lipnic to serve as the EEOC’s acting chair. Lipnic joined the Commission in 2010 and was confirmed for a second term in late 2015. Before joining the Commission, she served as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment Standards.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
941-552-2558

Predicting the Unpredictable: Labor and Employment Law in 2017 (Part Two)

This post is part two of a two-part series. Catch up on part one here.

Several of the biggest employment law matters in 2016 were the Department of Labor’s overtime regulations, Florida’s medical marijuana law, LGBT rights, and changes to the joint employer relationship. It is expected that each of these issues will continue to hold the limelight in 2017.

DOL’s Overtime Regulations – Since March 2014, when President Obama issued a Memorandum to the Secretary of Labor directing the Secretary to “modernize and streamline existing overtime regulations,” this has been a hot topic. The discussion has moved from what the regulations will be, to what will happen with the Department of Labor’s appeal of the temporary injunction prohibiting the implementation of the rule.  Oral argument has not yet been set. Thus, the new administration could withdraw its appeal of the temporary injunction, leaving the lower court’s decision intact. If Puzder does take the reins of the DOL, it is likely that this will occur, as he is on record stating that the 2016 overtime regulations diminish opportunities for workers.

Florida’s Medical Marijuana Law – This past election Florida’s voters approved medical marijuana for treatment of certain health conditions.  Although the state has already issued seven licenses for growing marijuana and some of the businesses with licenses are already starting to plant crops, it will not be until summer 2017 that regulations implementing the voters’ directive will be released. Many counties and cities in the state, including Sarasota County, Manatee County, Hillsborough County, Pasco County, and the City of Bradenton, have or are considering instituting temporary bans of the drug until the state’s regulations are issued and/or local zoning and building regulations are implemented.

Even though it is clear from the text of the constitutional amendment that employers will not be required to allow employees to use marijuana at the workplace, there will still be questions regarding zero tolerance policies, Florida specific drug testing, and reasonable accommodation under the Florida Civil Rights Act (arguably the ADA, a federal law, would not require an accommodation that involves a federally prohibited substance). Further, although marijuana (and CBD/hemp oil) may be approved for limited use in Florida, what the voters approved this past election is in direct conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act. In addition, on January 13, 2017, the Florida’s legislature’s 2014 approval of limited use of CBD will be in direct conflict with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s new rule making CBD a schedule one controlled substance.

State laws will not protect businesses, including those licensed by the state to grow marijuana, from federal prosecution. If Sessions takes over the DOJ, he could overrule the 2009 directive to U.S. Attorneys not to prosecute violations of the federal drug laws when the acts being prosecuted are legal under state law. If this occurs, the federal government could thwart business opportunities in the marijuana industry and put many people in jail.

LGBT Rights in the Workplace and in Places of Public Accommodation – In the last few years, both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the DOJ have taken serious efforts to expand protections afforded to members of the LGBT community. The EEOC’s 2017 Strategic Enforcement Plan indicates that providing this group protections under Title VII will remain a priority. However, depending on who is chosen to lead the EEOC, this focus could change and this aspect of the strategic plan could be ignored. Similarly, with Sessions in charge of the DOJ, a roll back in efforts to use public accommodation laws to provide greater protections to transgender persons is likely to occur.

Joint Employer Status – Recently both the EEOC and the National Labor Relations Board have broken with their own long-standing standards of what constitutes a joint employer, with both agencies expanding their standards to cover a greater number of relationships. The NLRB went as far as to redefine the joint employment test in place for over 30 years. In the past, a joint employer relationship existed when two entities shared or codetermined the essential terms and conditions of the workforce. Thus, for two entities to be considered joint employers, both had to exercise some control over employees’ terms and conditions of employment. However, with the 2015 Browning-Ferris decision, the NLRB removed the actual exercise of control as a requirement and instead focused on whether each entity has a “right to control” regardless of whether that right is ever used. Because of the five-year staggered terms of board members and the fact that a change at the Board level is made through interpretations of the NLRA, the impact of the new administration on this standard will most likely not be immediate. Instead, the NLRB’s new joint employer standard is already being challenged by Congress, and if a bill is passed overriding the NLRB’s new standard, it is likely that the new President will sign the bill.

Aside from the foregoing issues, there are also several other matters that will probably be of interest in 2017: Will Obama’s executive orders for federal contractors regarding minimum wage and paid sick leave stand? Will the new administration continue to push for fair pay? Will we see an increase in INS investigations of undocumented workers? Will the new administration attempt to undo the NLRB’s quickie election rules?

If only we had Dr. Who’s Tardis so we could travel to the future and see for ourselves. Whether the changes will ultimately be positive or negative for employers in 2017 is yet to be seen. Regardless, we are guaranteed a year full of activity in the employment law arena.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
941-552-2558

Predicting the Unpredictable: Labor and Employment Law in 2017

This post is part one of a two-part series.

Since Santa did not leave the Wicked Witch of the West’s crystal ball under my tree, Emmett Lathrup “Doc” Brown’s DeLorean parked outside my house, or provide me with access to Bill and Ted’s telephone booth, I am unable say with certainty what 2017 will hold for employers. However, I am confident that several labor and employment issues will take, or remain, on center stage, as the President-Elect has indicated that once he takes office, he plans to repeal many of the executive orders and regulations implemented by the Obama administration that businesses have generally criticized as burdensome. Further, two nominations for leadership positions made by the President-Elect that will influence the employment arena are the nominations of Jeff Sessions to lead the Department of Justice and Andrew Puzder to lead the Department of Labor.

Jeff Sessions is known for taking positions contrary to those advocated by civil rights organizations, especially those supporting LGBT rights, and he is on record opposing the legalization of marijuana. This will be interesting because under the Obama administration the DOJ has been actively working to expand LGBT rights (think North Carolina), and has not been actively enforcing federal marijuana prohibitions in states where the drug is legal (think Colorado).

As for Andrew Puzder, he is an executive whose businesses have been investigated for wage and hour violations by the DOL. He is on record stating that American workers are overprotected. He is generally opposed to minimum wage increases, and he finds paid sick leave requirements burdensome. As Secretary of Labor, Puzder will be responsible for the agency that enforces many of the employment laws that businesses deal with on a regular basis, including the FLSA, the FMLA and OSHA.

If these two nominations are confirmed by the Senate and their past statements are indicative of how they will manage their agencies, businesses may see regulations curtailed and less aggressive enforcement of employment laws. As a business owner, such changes may equate to fewer regulations, less time dedicated to dealing with government agency investigations, and possibly lower labor expenses.

If some predictions on how Sessions and Puzder will lead their agencies under a Trump presidency come to pass, worker protections may be greatly diminished. If protections are impacted to the extent that workers feel that neither their employers nor their government has their best interests in mind, they may seek advocates to assist in improving the terms and conditions of employment. Think Sally Field in her Oscar willing performance in Norma Rae. If employees seek to unionize, the result may be more burdensome for employers than the existing regulatory framework.

Only time will tell how the new administration will impact the labor and employment arena. If employee protections do begin to decline, employers that value employees and treat them well are less likely to see the involvement of outside advocates.

Part two of this post will specifically address several of the issues mentioned above, including the DOL’s overtime regulations and Florida’s Medical Marijuana Law. Stay tuned.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
941-552-2558

Florida and Several of Its Cities will Ride the 2017 Wave of Minimum Wage Hikes

During the course of 2017, 21 states including Florida, plus the District of Columbia (D.C.), are increasing their minimum wage rates for nonexempt employees. Florida, along with 18 other states, increased its minimum wage as of January 1, 2017. As discussed here, Florida increased its minimum wage to $8.10. Maryland, Oregon and D.C. are set to raise their respective minimum rates in July 2017.

Several cities in Florida are also set to raise minimum wages above Florida’s minimum wage. For example, as of October 1, 2017, the City of West Palm Beach’s minimum wage rises by $1.00 per hour to a new minimum of $14.25, and then to $15 in fiscal year 2018-2019. On January 1, 2018, the City of Miami Beach’s minimum wage is set to increase to $10.31 and ultimately to $13.31 over a four-year cycle. There are other cities in Florida that either have approved or are also contemplating similar increases.

This is an important juncture for Florida employers, especially those who employ low-wage workers affected by the new minimum wage changes, to carefully audit their pay practices to ensure legal compliance. In addition to federal, state and even local minimum wage laws, many Florida counties and cities (for example Miami-Dade, West Palm Beach, and St. Petersburg) have wage theft ordinances designed to protect employees wages. Employee claims alleging violations of local, state, or federal wage and hour laws can be costly and significantly affect a company’s bottom line. Despite minimum wage increases at the state and local level, the federal minimum wage has remained stagnant at $7.25 per hour since 2009. Employers should be aware that where several different minimum wages may apply, the employer must pay the higher wage rate.

2.2% of Florida wage earners, or approximately 187,000 employees, are expected to receive pay raises due to the state minimum wage adjustment. About 4.4 million employees are expected to benefit from state minimum wage increases nationwide.

The states’ minimum wage increases and resultant minimums vary quite dramatically when compared on a national scale. At the low-end, for example, is Florida’s five cents ($0.05) per hour increase which raises the state minimum wage from $8.05 to $8.10. This matches the five cent increase in Alaska (to $9.80), in Ohio (to $8.15 ) and in Missouri (to $7.70). By contrast, at the high-end of the spectrum is Arizona with a $1.95 per hour increase to a new minimum wage rate of $10.00, followed by Maine with a $1.50 per hour increase to a new minimum of $9.00, Washington state with a $1.53 per hour increase to a new minimum of $11, and Massachusetts with a $1.00 per hour increase to a new minimum of $11 per hour.

John M. Hament
jhament@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2555