More than ever before, the topic of sexual harassment is dominating the news (and this blog).  It’s time to make sure that your company’s sexual harassment prevention training is up to the task.

Fox Rothschild’s skilled team of attorney trainers will tailor a program to meet your company’s needs.  Take a break from the online routine, and make sure that your next sexual harassment prevention training session is a “wow,” not just a check-the-box compliance item.

38610418 – wow! comic speech bubble, cartoon

To learn more, check out this alert featuring our Los Angeles team.

The laws about what employers can ask job applicants continue to evolve. Here are four areas of inquiry that are not allowed:

  1. Questions about prior salary – With the passage of AB 168, effective January 1, 2018, employers cannot ask applicants for employment about salary history information, including information about compensation and benefits.
  2. Questions about criminal convictions before making a conditional offer of employment – Following the leads of San Francisco and Los AngelesAB 1008 prohibits employers with five or more employees from:
    • Asking on employment applications about criminal convictions;
    • Asking applicants about criminal convictions before making a conditional offer of employment;
    • When conducting background checks on applicants, considering, distributing, or disseminating information about prior arrests not leading to conviction, participation in diversion programs, or convictions that have been sealed, dismissed, expunged, or otherwise nullified. Employers who wish to rely on criminal conviction information to withdraw a conditional job offer must notify the applicant of their preliminary decision, give them a copy of the report (if any), explain the applicant’s right to respond, give them at least five business days to do so, and then wait five more business days to decide what to do when an applicant contests the decision. There are exceptions for employers who operate health facilities hiring employees who will have regular access to patients or drugs.
  3. Questions about membership in protected categories – These questions have been prohibited in some cases for over 50 years. But too many interviewers don’t understand the nuances. Inappropriate questions include:
    • What kind of name is that?
    • What’s your maiden name?
    • How old are you?
    • Do you live alone?
    • Who do you live with?
    • What year did you graduate?
    • How old are your children?
    • Do you plan to have children?
    • What church do you attend?
    • What does your spouse do?
    • Is English your first language?The DFEH published this handout discussing these issues and listing other improper questions.
  4. Medical inquires before an offer of employment – At the pre-offer stage, employers may not make generalized inquiries about a job applicant’s health, present medical condition, or any disability. Nor may employers conduct medical or psychological exams at the pre-offer stage or ask about medical history, on-the-job injuries, workers’ compensation claims, or absences due to illness. The EEOC announced this month that it settled a suit with a staffing agency regarding pre-offer medical inquiries.

Make sure that the people interviewing for your organization are up to date on what areas of inquiry are not allowed.

It’s time once again for the annual roundup of new California employment laws. Since we’ve discussed many of these laws when they were enacted, I’m including links to those earlier discussions.

  • Stop asking about salary history – AB 168 bars employers from asking job applicants about their previous salary. The legislation’s goal is to narrow the gender gap by preventing employers from basing offers on prior salary and thus, presumably, perpetuating historical discrimination. This will also remove the perceived gap in negotiating power between an employers and employees who must disclose their prior salary. Employers should ensure that their job applications don’t seek prohibited information and that those interviewing applicants know not to ask these questions.
  • More employers must offer parenting leave – SB 63, officially titled the Parental Leave Act, requires employers with between 20 and 49 employees to offer parenting leave that mirrors the Family Medical Leave Act. The new Act allows employees who work for a covered employer to take 12-weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave if they have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in the 12-months prior to taking leave.  Employees can take leave only for the purpose of bonding with a newborn child, adopted child or foster child within a year of the birth or placement. Covered employers will also need to maintain health coverage under the same terms as an active employee. The Act also prohibits discrimination and retaliation against an employee for taking parental leave.The Parental Leave Act does not require employers to pay any portion of the leave but requires that employees be able to use accrued sick and vacation time. Employees can apply to have a portion of the parental leave paid for through the state’s Paid Family Leave program.  As we’ve previously explained, San Francisco requires some employers to pay a remaining portion of parental leave.
  • Expanded harassment training – California requires at least biannual harassment training for supervisors in companies with 50 or more employees. Having given a dozen sessions of the  training in the last month, I can assure you that there’s no shortage of material to talk about. But as of January 1, 2018, SB 396 requires that the training include information on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. If your handbook doesn’t specifically prohibit discrimination and harassment on those bases, you’re overdue for a revision.
  • Ban the box – Following the leads of San Francisco and Los Angeles, AB 1008 prohibits employers with five or more employees from:
    • Asking on employment applications about criminal convictions;
    • Asking applicants about criminal convictions before making a conditional offer of employment;
    • When conducting background checks on applicants, considering, distributing, or disseminating information about prior arrests not leading to conviction, participation in diversion programs, or convictions that have been sealed, dismissed, expunged, or otherwise nullified.

Employers who wish to rely on criminal conviction information to withdraw a conditional job offer must notify the applicant of their preliminary decision, give them a copy of the report (if any), explain the applicants right to respond, give them at least five business days to do so, and then wait five more business days to decide when an applicant contests the decision. There are exceptions for employers who operate health facilities hiring employees who will have regular access to patients or drugs.

  • Minimum wage increases – On January 1, 2018, the California state minimum wage goes up to $11.00 per hour for businesses with 26 or more employees and $10.50 per hour for smaller companies. The inimitable Sahara Pynes discusses which cities are raising their minimum wages here.

Takeaway: The burdens of employing people in California continue to increase. As a result, it becomes increasingly important for employers to be proactive in determining before they get sued where they’re vulnerable. In terms of time, expense, stress, disruption, and damage to a company’s reputation, an audit of HR practices is way cheaper than a lawsuit.

Takeaway 2: Happy 2018!

Just over a month ago, I had the pleasure of presenting a webinar entitled: “2017 Update: Accommodating Employees With Disabilities.” You can download the slides from my presentation. There were over a hundred attendees (mostly HR professionals) and I wasn’t able to answer everyone’s questions. Since other readers of this blog may have similar questions, let me answer them now.

  • Q: If an employee needs a reasonable accommodation to work reduced hours (under 30 hours/week), are we required to keep them on our company-sponsored group benefit plans since the contract with our benefit providers states employees working a minimum of 30 hours/week are eligible to participate in the company-sponsored group insurance plans?
    A: No. An employee receiving a part-time schedule as a reasonable accommodation is entitled only to those benefits that other part-time employees receive. But if they lose medical coverage because of reduced hours, they may be entitled to continue benefits at group rates at their own expense pursuant to COBRA (for employers with 20 or more employees) or, if you’re in California, Cal COBRA (for two to 19 employees). Your benefits provider can give you details on the notice.
  • Q: Does a doctor’s note have to include a specific diagnosis of a certain condition? What if it is a chiropractor treating neck & shoulder pain. Is that a condition? Do they need to be more specific?
    A: No. If the need for accommodation is not obvious, and the applicant or employee hasn’t already provided “reasonable medical documentation confirming the existence of the disability and the need for accommodation,” the employer can require a doctor’s note addressing those issues. However, employers aren’t entitled to (and have no need to know) the specific diagnosis.
  • Q: What if the doctor says to provide an ergonomic chair and we already do that and the employee just doesn’t like the chair?
    A: Employees aren’t entitled to the accommodation of their choice. If the accommodation you offer (in this case, the chair) is adequate to accommodate the employee, you’ve met your obligations.
  • Q: Do we have to pay for parking that is closer when someone has a broken leg?
    A: This is a developing area of the law. Most courts have held that employers are not required to assist a disabled employee with getting to work. However, some courts have made exceptions, such as when an employee was able to get himself to work without assistance, but the employer transferred the employee to a location that is harder to get to because of a disability. If you’re not paying for other employees’ parking, I don’t see why you would have to pay for this one’s. But again, this is an unsettled area and the answer may depend on what jurisdiction you’re in.

I’ll be speaking on disability law again on December 4, 2017 – this time in a presentation intended for lawyers – at the Bar Association of San Francisco 2017 Disability Law Update. Krista Stone-Manista of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP will provide the plaintiff’s perspective and I’ll provide the defense perspective on the last year’s developments in this area of law. You can get details, register for the event, or register for the webcast here.

The obligations to reasonably accommodate disabled workers and to engage them in the interactive process make this a unique area of law. If you practice in this area (or hope to), this is a great way to learn about the last year’s developments. See you there!

What a year it has been for harassment claims. The biggest year in the 22 years I have been practicing law. It seems that every day there is a big new headline or rejuvenated social media campaign, and someone else powerful losing their job over harassment allegations.

It is astounding to me that there are so many issues, even after AB 1825 was passed back in 2004 mandating harassment prevention training in California. That statute was expanded to require training on bullying and abusive conduct in 2015 (AB 2053). And now, as of January 1, 2018, it will need to include training on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation (SB 396).  With increased protections for transgender employees under California law, training to increase tolerance and understanding surrounding those issues will be particularly important.

Training certainly hasn’t fixed the harassment issue. But since training is mandatory for any business with over 50 employees, it might as well be meaningful. That is why I try to focus my training on real life stories and anecdotes that get people out of their own head (and point of view), and into the head of the victim. One of the main themes is always that harassment is based on perception, not intent; so it is possible to unintentionally harass someone, in fact it happens all of the time. For example, someone may think a compliment, sexual innuendo, or even a direct pass is flattery, but as the millions of “me too” posts reflect, that may not be how such conduct is perceived by the recipient.  Especially when there is a power differential at play.

David Schwimmer’s series of #that’sharassment videos provide realistic (and disturbing) examples of how harassment resonates in workplaces, and how it feels to the recipient.

In my career I have seen many talented and valuable managers lose their jobs due to inappropriate behavior that violated harassment policies. In my training, I tell all managers that doing a great job is not a defense to a harassment claim, and won’t protect them. That message certainly rings true based on recent headlines.

Illustration of a pot boiling overCalifornia employers can expect all of the news about harassment claims to keep bringing even more issues to the surface. The proverbial pot has been stirred.

And as current events have shown, taking prompt action to correct and prevent harassment is critical. There have been enough headlines about harassment in 2017, don’t let the next one be about your company.  Let’s put an end to the me too’s.

Governor Brown is in that final flurry of signing and rejecting bills sent to him at the end of the legislative session. Two of those bills that we have been following involved pay equity issues. The Governor approved one, and vetoed the other.

The Governor signed into law AB 168, which bars employers from asking job applicants about their previous salary. The stated goal of the legislation is to narrow the gender gap by preventing employers from basing offers on prior salary and thus, presumably, perpetuating historical discrimination. This will also remove the perceived gap in negotiating power between an employer and an employee who must disclose her (or his) prior salary.

The Governor used the veto pen on AB 1209 that would have required large employers (500 or more employees) to report “gender wage differentials” to the Secretary of State for publication. The legislation seemed to presume that a comparison of “mean wages” and “median wages” between men and women would result in a “differential.” This legislation would have been a powerful weapon in the hands of plaintiffs’ lawyers who are bringing cases under the California Fair Pay Act where employers bear the burden of proving that a “differential” is not the result of gender discrimination. The Governor expressed this very concern, explaining that ambiguities in the bill “could be exploited to encourage more litigation than pay equity.”

We will continue tracking and reporting on new legislation.

 

The California Legislature has completed its work for this session, and three bills concerning employment issues survived the process and have been sent to Governor Brown for his consideration and possible signature. All three of these prospective laws have been labeled “job killers” by the California Chamber of Commerce which is lobbying heavily against the bills. Opposing the Chamber on these issues are the state’s unions and the organized plaintiffs’ bar.

AB 1209 would require employers to report wage payments by gender. Such reporting would fuel the fires of lawsuits under the state’s recent Fair Pay Act under which a “pay gap” is presumed to be a result of illegal discrimination.

SB 33 would outlaw arbitration clauses in certain consumer agreements. This legislation is another example of the hostility of the California courts and legislature to arbitration agreements, including in the employment context. This new bill seems contrary to binding U.S. Supreme Court precedent, and would likely not survive a judicial challenge.

SB 63 would extend employee parental leave protections to employers with 20 or more workers. Currently the law applies only to employers with 50 or more workers. This law would obviously be a burden on smaller employers.

We can expect many of the bills that did not pass the legislature this year – such as required predictive scheduling for retailers and restaurants (SB 878), and universal health care — to reappear in the next session. This ever-vigilant blog, of course, will keep you posted.

39224362 – web content accessibility concept with wheelchair icon and symbol on a blue computer key for blog and online business.

The claim du jour is website accessibility.

Plaintiffs are suing businesses in alarming numbers alleging that websites are not accessible to persons with disabilities.  In this alert, Fox attorneys Carolyn Richmond, Ernest Badway and Jason Jendrewski offer practical guidance for avoiding a lawsuit.

In addition to explaining the legal issues, this article includes a comprehensive checklist to evaluate the accessibility of a website and its content.  It also includes helpful action items for conforming with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

Get up to speed on this new legal issue here!

If the EEOC’s recent lawsuit against Estee Lauder is any indication of things to come, now is a good time to review your parental leave policy.  The crux of the policy at issue is a grant of six weeks of paid parental leave for a primary caregiver and two weeks for a secondary caregiver.  On its face, it seems lawful and non-discriminatory, but what about in practice?

A week before the EEOC filed suit, I was at a cocktail party chatting about parental leave with a business owner.  We discussed different trends in these types of policies and the concept of “primary” and “secondary” caregiver delineations.  “How do you know if someone is really a primary caregiver?” he asked.  “What if you know the father is definitely not the primary caregiver but insists he is for purposes of the parental leave policy?” Good questions.  I paused and responded that I wouldn’t recommend challenging the caregiver status and would operate on the honor system.

In the Estee Lauder case, the practice was to assume the mother is the primary caregiver unless the father proves otherwise or the birth is through a surrogate.  This assumption treats men less favorably than women and is the foundation of this lawsuit based on gender discrimination.

I have seen, and even drafted, numerous policies relying on caregiver status and have not seen any implementation issues based on gender.  But, in light of these recent lawsuits, I’ll be adjusting my recommendations.  Some issues to consider:

  1. Whether the policy treats men and women differently based on gender stereotypes (e.g. maternity vs. paternity)
  2. How parental leave coordinates with any state or local paid parental leave (information on San Francisco’s required policy here)
  3. How parental leave coordinates with any disability policy, as policies that seek to deduct state disability payments from parental leave policies treat disabled mothers less favorably than non-disabled fathers
  4. Ensure compliance with PDL, FMLA and CFRA in conjunction with any disability and/or parental leave policy
  5. With pending litigation, the law in this area could change soon, so seek counsel to be sure you are up to date