You might have heard a thing or two about a decision handed down by the Supreme Court last month, but we assure you, there were other employment-law developments as well. Here are some of the highlights:
It’s not news that the Supreme Court held up the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. But many employers are still unsure as to what that means for them. Before you make any decisions, consult this super-handy flowchart from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Small businesses are off the hook, and so are large businesses that offer affordable health care coverage. You can also find out more about the tax credits (!) your business might qualify for at this government site.
However, the ACA ruling wasn’t the only thing the Supremes were up to last month. They also ruled that outside sales reps for pharmaceutical companies are exempt from overtime pay due to the (wait for it) outside sales exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Elsewhere in our court system, a federal appeals court ruled that managers and HR professionals can be found personally liable for bias and retaliation claims if they have had a role in taking adverse action. We keep saying this and the courts keep bearing it out: take bias claims seriously, and avoid any behavior that might even appear retaliatory.
A case currently working its way through the courts involves claims of bias, but seems to be headed the other direction. A Michigan staffing company had a suit filed against it by the EEOC, claiming that the company refused to hire anyone with a criminal background, and that this policy discriminated against Hispanic and African-American applicants. However, the company itself produced data showing that 22% of the people who supposedly couldn’t get hired… got hired by the company. A district court ruled that the EEOC’s lawsuit was frivolous and ordered the agency to pay $752K to the company for attorney’s fees and other costs. The EEOC has appealed, so we can expect a further verdict from an appeals court some time in the future.
It’s not all bad news for the EEOC, though: they recently won a case in which an employer asked an employee to sign a “last chance agreement” that contained a paragraph in which the employee literally signed away his civil rights. The employee revoked his signature on the agreement, the company fired him and the employee sued with the support of the EEOC. Needless to say, the plaintiff and the EEOC won, because it’s pretty much a given that you should never ask someone to sign away their civil rights as a condition of employment.
Speaking of the EEOC, if you’ve ever wanted to read any or all of the agency’s appellate briefs, back to the year 2000, you’re in luck! They’re now available from the EEOC website. If you want to go back further, pre-2000 briefs can be obtained by contacting your friendly neighborhood court clerk.
Also, if you’ve ever wondered if a job applicant can be rejected because of their religion, the answer is: only if the job itself is religious, like, say, working at a church. If the job is at an electrical company? Not likely. A case before an Oklahoma court right now alleges that an applicant for a job at an electrical firm was asked a whole bunch of religious questions during a job interview, including whether or not he’d be willing to come in early and off the clock for bible-study meetings. Maybe we just spend so much time interviewing people that this stuff is second nature to us, but it blows our mind that anyone conducting a job interview would ask such personal questions that are all but guaranteed to come up against several protected classes. Don’t do that, people!
But the real don’t-do-that prize for last month belongs to a steel plant in upstate New York, where an employee of 14 years suffered appalling racial slurs, threats and animosity between 2005 and 2008. The plant’s parent company was ordered to pay $25 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The parent company has argued that the slurs, the “KKK” graffiti in the plant and the stuffed monkey hanging from the employee’s rear-view mirror by a noose were all just “shop talk,” and apparently something to be expected in a blue-collar environment. But a federal district court decreed that just doesn’t hold water. Plus, if you ask us, it’s more than a little insulting to blue-collar workers everywhere who don’t subject their colleagues to racist slurs. So, to review: don’t do that, people!
We hope your June was a lot smoother and more congenial than any of these court cases. We’ll see you at the end of the month for another legal roundup!
Written by: Catherine Cantieri