Tuesday, July 26, 2011

FMLA Parental Bereavement Leave: Have we met before?

Recent Family and Medical Leave news has been about a proposed amendment to the Act which would provide parental bereavement leave upon the death of a son or daughter. As with parental bonding leave that is currently provided for in the Act, bereavement leave would be taken in one block unless the employer agreed to allow for intermittent leave.

One can't help but look at the amendment and see shades of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) which added another protected class to employment discrimination. At the time of passage in 2008, many wondered if this was a solution looking for a problem. With this proposed FMLA amendment, curiosity requires the question of whether an employer would deny leave to an employee in the face of the tragic loss of a child. An employee who finds him-/herself needing more leave in the face of such a loss might have the option of doing so under either an unpaid leave of absence or by utilizing accrued/banked leave under other policies (PTO, sick, personal). Additionally, if the grief is so great that it causes depression, requires counseling, or prevents an employee from engaging in daily living activities might qualify the employee for an extended leave under the Americans With Disabilities Act, given the recent overtures by the EEOC that disabling conditions essentially mandate such action.

Of course, this discussion may be putting the cart before the horse: the FMLA Parental Bereavement Leave bill is in its infancy stages and has yet to secure a sponsor in the House of Representatives. That said, the bill is worth tracking (you can do that here) as companion legislation, or the success of this amendment, is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bending With the Wind: EEOC's Attack on Inflexible Leave Policies

Much publicity has been given to the recent $20 million settlement (for good reason) the EEOC negotiated with Verizon Wireless concerning the company's leave policy. The Verizon settlement is now the largest example of the EEOC's enforcement approach concerning "inflexible medical leave policies." This case is an illustration of what many experts predicted would be the paradigm shift in ADA analyses under the 2008 Amendments: the question is no longer whether the employee is disabled, but rather what an employer is doing to provide a reasonable accommodation.

The most recent settlement, while eye-popping, is not the first foray by the EEOC into this specific area of ADA enforcement:
  • August 2001: The EEOC settles a reasonable accommodation suit against Blood Systems, Inc./United Blood Services for $650,000. The Commission claimed that the employer's medical leave policies "illegally required termination of a class of employees with disabilities after 120 days without consideration of whether an extension would be a reasonable accommodation in accordance with the ADA."
  • August 2009: The EEOC sues UPS for summarily enforcing a leave policy that results in termination of employment if the employee is unable to return to work after a 12-month leave of absence for at least 30 days.
  • September 2009: The EEOC enters into a consent decree with Sears, Roebuck and Co. for $6.2 million (at the time, the largest ADA settlement in a single lawsuit for the Commission). The EEOC had sued Sears claiming that the company's "inflexible workers' compensation leave exhaustion policy" illegally discriminated against employees with disabilities by failing to assess whether additional leave would be a reasonable accommodation.
  • August 2010: The EEOC files suit against Princeton HealthCare System for enforcing "leave policies that do not provide reasonable accommodations" by terminating employment of individuals who are unable to return to work within 7 days (if not eligible for FMLA) and refusing to grant FMLA-eligible employees leave beyond the mandated 12 weeks.
  • September 2010: The Commission files suit against United Road Towing for an inflexible 12-week medical leave policy.
  • September 2010: Texas concrete manufacturer Ingram Readymix is sued by the EEOC for allegedly denying periodic leave to an employee for medical treatment.
  • October 2010: California company American Apparel is sued by the Commission for terminating an employee who needed additional leave for chemotherapy after he had taken approved leave for the initial treatment.
  • January 2011: Supervalu (Jewel-Osco) settles a suit brought by the EEOC for $3.2 million. The Commission alleged that the company "operated an overly rigid and illegal disability leave policy" that terminated disabled employees if they could not return to work after a year without any need for accommodations or physical/mental restrictions.
An employer's take-away from all of this can be found in a quote from one of the EEOC's regional attorneys: "The era of employers being able to inflexibly and universally apply a leave limits policy without seriously considering the reasonable accommodation requirements of the ADA are over."

If you haven't already re-evaluated your leave policies, these examples are hopefully an impetus to do just that. While hardwoods have their place, your leave policy might be more appropriately constructed as a willow.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Brave New World of Hiring in Tennessee

Since 1986, employers have been the primary enforcement tool of immigration. With the creation of the I-9 Form, it has been the responsibility of employers to find out if a person seeking employment is authorized to be and work in the United States.

The pressure on employers to enforce these immigration laws during the hiring process is getting ready to explode for employers in Tennessee. On June 7, 2011, Tennessee Governor Haslam signed into law new provisions of the 'Tennessee Lawful Employment Act' that will dramatically change the way employers hire new employees - and even independent contractors who provide labor and services for your company.

A new complex layer of state immigration enforcement obligations will supplement (and sometimes overlap) the federal regulations that employers already follow. The new legislation is built around the use of the federal 'E-Verify' system or maintenance of documentation proving legal residency for every employee similar to what is now required with the Form I-9.

Over the next several days, we will focus on 5 different components of the new legislation to help explain the scope of the new law. In summary, the 5 topics will include:

1. E-Verify and Legal Residency documentation; Employer will either have to register and use E-Verify or maintain specific documentation proving lawful residency - even if you do not have internet access;

2. Independent Contractors; new verification requirements now extend to persons who provide labor or services to your company - even if they are not your own employees;

3. Worksite Investigations; a new state office will be created to conduct random audits and inspections at your workplace;

4. Increased Penalties; higher fines and the possible permanent suspension of your license are now among the heightened penalties for violation of these new provisions;

5. Implementation Dates; Employer obligations to comply with this new legislation will be phased in depending upon the size of your workforce. Generally, the law becomes effective on January 1, 2012.

Welcome to the New World of Immigration Enforcement!