Dress codes are always a hot topic in HR! Deciding what is allowed, what is not, and what kind of perception a company wants to create with its customers, are all affected by how its employees dress and groom. Employers have been warned against being too strict in their dress code policies and to realize that at times they must make exceptions to their usual rules or preferences to be in compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For instance last year, clothing retailer, Abercrombie & Fitch, learned the hard way (several times) not to discriminate against an employee or applicant whose sincerely held religious beliefs require them to wear hijabs.
To help employers sort out this sometimes personal topic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today issued a practical guide, entitled “Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities” along with a Fact Sheet regarding the same. This guide provides practical advice for employers and employees, and includes a question-and-answer format with numerous examples based on EEOC litigation. It is hoped that this guide will protect employees and applicants from job segregation, workplace harassment, retaliation, and discrimination based on their religious beliefs.
Check out the EEOC’s new publication today!
It is pretty straightforward that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. This would include forcing employees to conform to a particular religion, which is what one employer did.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently settled a charge of religious discrimination by Dynamic Medical Services, Inc. (DMS) of Miami, providers of medical and chiropractic services. The EEOC charge stated:
“DMS required Norma Rodriguez, Maykel Ruz, Rommy Sanchez, Yanileydis Capote and other employees to spend at least half their work days in courses that involved Scientology religious practices, such as screaming at ashtrays or staring at someone for eight hours without moving. The company also instructed employees to attend courses at the Church of Scientology. Additionally, the company required Sanchez to undergo an “audit” by connecting herself to an “E-meter,” which Scientologists believe is a religious artifact, and required her to undergo “purification” treatment at the Church of Scientology.”
When employees, Rodriguez and Sanchez refused to participate in Scientology religious practices and did not want to conform to Scientology religious beliefs, they were terminated. DMS will pay $170,000 to the four named claimants and four other class members to settle the lawsuit as well as meet other criteria for resolution.
It is against the law for an employer to mandate employee participation in, or the practice of, a specific religion, as well as refusing to accommodate an employee who requests to be excused, because of objecting to the practices. Employers should be sure they have a current anti-discrimination policy explaining employees’ rights to be free of discrimination of any kind. The EEOC is diligent about addressing these types of charges. Be assured, employers violating such federal laws will be held accountable.
Need help with your employee handbook? HRN is here for you!
Oh, Technology! It is forever on the move, constantly evolving into the next generation of devices with more bells and whistles than the last. Is your company ready for the next tech creation? We have so many capabilities with smartphones and tablets, our lives should be easier, right?
Employees would probably answer that with a resounding “yes”! However, for employers the devices in the hands of nearly every employee presents a danger. Now, don’t take them away or ban them, but rather be aware of what this means for you and your managers. Here it is, “Be careful what you say in the workplace.” Pretty simple!
The Practical Employer, Jon Hyman, shared in his blog at www.workforce.com the dangers of recording devices in the workplace. He cited the verdict in a New York racial harassment case between an African-American woman and her boss, also African-American. She had worked for the defendant for two years and was a manager. She lost her job in retaliation of her claim that he called her the “n” word eight times, which she found to be offensive and hurtful. He said it was a term that has different contexts that can mean affection or even tough love. She proved her claim by submitting a four-minute recording of his rant that she made on her iPhone. The jury found in her favor and awarded her a total of $280,000.
It may be difficult to entirely ban employee recordings in the workplace because of the National Labor Relations Board’s crackdown on employment policies, but there is a proactive measure you can take. The lesson for employers according to Mr. Hyman, is to “train your managers and supervisors to understand and assume that everything they say is being recorded, if not electronically, then via a mental note that an employee can later jot down.” Remember how important documentation is for HR, well it can be equally important for an employee who becomes a plaintiff!
On September 19, 2012, a bill was introduced to help protect pregnant women’s rights in the workplace. What? You say there already is a law like that? Well, not quite!
Back in 1978, The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, was passed with the intent to protect women from discrimination due to “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” It was made a part of the Civil Rights Act because it protects against sex discrimination, covered by that law. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act required equal treatment in employment for pregnant women. This meant that all policies that were applied to other non-pregnant employees should be equally applied to the pregnant employee. The law also said that an employer could not refuse to hire a pregnant woman on the basis of her pregnancy or any condition relating to it. And, it went further yet. Pregnant women were to be afforded equal health insurance benefits for all her pregnancy related expenses as with other medical conditions. However, pregnancy has never been considered a disability. . . until possibly now.
The bill mentioned above that was introduced by Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) proposes that pregnant women be given the same workplace accommodations that are afforded to persons with disabilities. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) would require an employer to make “reasonable accommodations” as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for a pregnant employee, to allow them to perform the essential functions of their job.
If this bill passes, it will bring great relief to pregnant women who once feared disclosing their pregnancy to their employer for fear of being involuntarily transferred to another position, placed on unpaid leave, or even losing her job. It would permit a woman to have minor modifications to her job duties that would allow her to work as long as possible in her pregnancy without worrying about harm to herself or her unborn child. These minor adjustments could be as simple as an offer of light duty or even providing a chair in which to occasionally sit, when standing or walking is the norm. Affording such reasonable accommodations would also give the expectant mother a measure of economic security, knowing her pregnancy will not jeopardize her employment. The National Women’s Law Center reports that women make up half the workforce, so this bill, if it becomes law, will be a step in the right direction to keep the economy strong.
Keep your eye on this one because opposition is strong. Republicans who oppose this bill argue that it will bring lower profits and undue hardship on businesses. See the full text of the bill here.
Last week, I wrote a blog about best practices for conducting legal criminal background checks. Also last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated and released enforcement guidance on employers’ consideration of arrest and conviction records in employment.
The updated guidance is available directly from the EEOC website in PDF form, and includes a list of employer best practices. The EEOC does not appear to have made any strict rules that would prevent employers from considering conviction records, but attempts to provide some guidance. The Commission continues to embrace the long-standing three-factor test that was first established by the Court in Green v. Missouri Pacific Railroad Company:
- The nature of the offense;
- The time elapsed since the conviction or completion of sentence; and
- The nature of the job sought or held.
New in the Guidance Report:
- Application Questions – Although the agency did not ban employers from using the checkbox on an application, they did recommend against it as a best practice. Instead, the agency recommends employers only ask applicants in the case where criminal history may be relevant.
- Arrest Records – It is important to note that arrest records, standing alone, may not be used to deny employment to an individual. However, employment decisions may be made based on the conduct that underlies the arrest. Consequently, an individual may be denied employment or terminated if the arrest is relevant and makes the individual unfit for the position.
- Individualized Assessment – This is the biggest development in the EEOC’s guidance. An “individualized assessment” occurs when the employer: informs the applicant or employee that he or she is being screened due to a criminal record; individual is provided with opportunity to respond; and the employer considers extenuating circumstances when making its final decision. The EEOC states that employers who develop their targeted screen based on the Green factors and conduct an “individualized assessment” can avoid Title VII liability. According to SHRM’s survey, 88 percent of respondents indicated they allow the individual to explain the results of the background check, so it appears many employers are already engaging in this best practice.
- Compliance with Federal Law – Employers who are conducting a criminal background check in order to comply with another Federal law will not violate Title VII. However, any screening that exceeds the scope of the applicable law will be scrutinized.
- Compliance with State Law – Title VII pre-empts state and local laws that are in conflict with it, so an employer who conducts criminal background checks in accordance with state law will not be protected from liability. Some employers could end up in a no-win situation as a result.
Employers’ best bet now is to review their criminal background check procedures in light of the new guidance.
At one time or another, we’ve all heard this advice: “Talk about anything – except religion and politics.” Many of us could also say that at one time or another, our parents or grandparents told us to be even more careful in discussing those issues at work. Employers walk a fine line between respecting employees’ rights to freedom of speech and protecting those employees from discrimination or harassment that could arise from those discussions.
In a recent Careerbuilder survey, one third of respondents said they discuss politics at work. Forty-three percent also said they expected to discuss the upcoming presidential election at work. The sample of 7,000 full-time workers also revealed:
- Men are more likely than women to engage in political discussion at work (44% men, 23% women).
- 23% of workers admit that they have been involved in a political discussion that became heated with a co-worker, or in some cases, a boss higher up in the organization.
- Men are also more likely (25%) than women (19%) to admit to an altercation with a co-worker over opposing political views.
- 10% of workers said that their opinion of a co-worker changed – often for the negative – after learning of his or her political views.
- Although the statistics were fairly even across age groups, people age 55 and older were the most likely (43%) to discuss politics at work, and people ages 18-24 were least likely (25%).
Political views often mix with religious views as well, and a company could easily find itself in the middle of a discrimination or harassment claim.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides a few tips for employers on stopping religious harassment:
- Make sure you have a well-publicized – and consistently applied – anti-harassment policy. Make sure it is clear to employees how they should file complaints, and quickly and thoroughly investigate any complaints.
- If you discover harassment has occurred, address and end the conduct, even if you don’t think it rises to the level of unlawful activity. Allowed to continue, the conduct could become more pervasive or severe.
- Intervene if you learn of possible Title VII violations, even if no one files a complaint.
- Allow religious expression among employees to the same extent that you would allow other forms of personal expression that are not harassing or disruptive.
More of the EEOC’s tips can be found here: Employer Best Practices – Religion
Careerbuilder Political Survey
How do you handle political discussions in your workplace? We want to know!
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is not a new acronym. In fact, it has been included in some form of the bills considered by Congress in every session since 1994 except in the 109th Congress (January 3, 2005 to January 3, 2007). So what is ENDA? Simply stated, it is a proposed federal law that would prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the workplace. The bill is closely modeled on existing civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 15 states and D.C. also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Although these laws provide important protections, according to a 2002 General Accounting Office (GAO) report, relatively few complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation have been filed in these states.
Although there isn’t currently a federal law in place, as of March 2011 87% of the Fortune 500 companies had implemented non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and 46% had policies that include gender identity.
Currently the bill was introduced in the 112th Congress on April 6, 2011 in the House, and on April 13, 2011 in the Senate. With the current makeup of the House and Senate, politicians are predicting that the proposed ENDA may pass. Stay tuned for further updates.
Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) is applicable to all applicants and employees of most private employers, state and local governments, educational institutions, employment agencies and labor organizations. It prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, genetics, age, retaliation, or marital status.
Your workload may have increased significantly recently based on the sharp increase of EEO claims filed by applicants and employees. According to statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the number of claims of job discrimination filed with the agency has increased by nearly 33% over the last 5 years. A record number of claims – 99,922 charges – were filed in 2010.
Why the increase? There are a few reasons speculated as to the spike in claims:
- Weak job market
- New EEOC system, making it easier to file claims
- Current administration has taken a hands-on role in pushing workers’ rights
So does an increase in the number of claims result in an increase in settlements? Not necessarily, according to statistics from the EEOC. For claims filed in fiscal year 2010, just 19.2% of claims ended up with “merit resolutions” resulting in positive outcomes for complainants such as back pay, reinstatements of seniority and employment, or a job promotion. Out of the remaining 80.8% of cases, nearly 65% were dismissed and found to have no “reasonable cause.”
Keeping accurate records of applicants, tracking performance, accurate payroll records, and documentation of employee-related decisions are important safeguards when presenting the company’s defense should you be faced with a claim from the EEOC.
The Supreme Court announced today that it will consider the appeal of Wal-Mart in a sex discrimination class action suit. The Court will limit its review to the question of whether the lower court erred when certifying the class, one of the largest in history. Six female Wal-Mart employees initiated the suit, alleging unfair pay and promotion practices. The plaintiffs sought class action status, a class that could potentially cover 500,000 to 1.5 million workers. Wal-Mart’s appeal is being supported by other major US corporations and the Chamber of Commerce.
You can read more about the case in the Wall Street Journal at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704156304576003313491986164.html?mod=WSJ_hp_MIDDLETopStories
An 8th Circuit Court of Appeals decision found that an employer, who fired an employee because she did not fit within sexual stereotypes (not feminine enough), violated Title VII.
The employee, a night desk employee at a motel, had received several merit pay increases and positive customer feedback. Consequently, her manager sought and received approval (over the phone) from a corporate director of operations to put her in a daytime front desk job.
All was fine until the director stopped by in person and found the employee wasn’t “pretty enough” lacked the “Midwestern girl look” that the motel chain desired. The employee, by her own admission, wore men’s shirts and pants, had a more masculine appearance, and had even been mistaken for a male.
The director ordered the manager to put the employee back on the night shift. When the manager refused she was asked to resign. The employee was later fired…and then sued. The court found for the employee, holding that the discrimination would not have occurred but for the individual’s sex, violating Title VII.
Note that federal law still does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation (although many states do). Rather the court found discrimination “because of sex…,” a confusing distinction, I know. [Lewis v Heartland Inns of America].
The 8th Circuit covers North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas.