Happy Thanksgiving and the Many Things for Which We Are ThankfulBefore everyone gets out of the office to their various homes and families to celebrate the holiday, we wanted to review the year and count our blessings. Not only are we thankful that our families and colleagues in our Houston and Tampa offices weathered the storms safely, we are also thankful for the following legal stuff:

1. The DOL is not about to change the wage and hour laws.

Does anyone else remember the panicked calls last Thanksgiving week when the Texas judge put the brakes on a regulation that was going to increase the salary basis test? We are all thankful that will not happen this year. Although we still don’t know what, if anything, will happen on that front we will keep you posted.

2. Finally a court has said the ADA is not about leave.

Despite the EEOC’s insistence otherwise, the Seventh Circuit stepped up to the plate and said extended leave is not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. As we all know, you still need to consider if a limited amount of leave will get the employee back to work but we are thankful that we have some new case law on this front.

3. Harvey Weinstein doesn’t work for us.

This story has horrified many but given all employers a wake-up call. We are grateful for the opportunity to train more people and try to make America a better place to work.

4. The NLRB has a new direction.

Maybe the new Board won’t tell employees that it is okay to swear at your boss on Facebook or nitpick employer policies quite so much.

5. You’re not going to be the employer of someone else’s employees.

DOL has withdrawn its prior guidance on independent contractor and joint employer liability, and Alabama’s Rep. Byrne has introduced a bill to “Save Our Small Businesses.”

6. Legalized marijuana has made questions about drug policies so much more interesting.

Even though it isn’t legal in many states, the fact that employees can legally ingest marijuana many places (including Florida) and take their chances on the looming random drug screen has spiced up our lives. While the law will continue to develop in this area, we are grateful for the very interesting questions we have received.

7. People other than our mothers read this blog.

(Okay, some of our moms are reading and might boost the numbers a little bit.) Since 2016, we have published more than 130 articles and had more than 230,000 reads, according to aggregate reports from Lexology and JD Supra. We have received recognition in The Expert Institute’s Best Legal Blog 2017 competition, the ABA Journal’s Web 100 Ranking, and numerous quotations in other publications. We enjoy bringing you this information and love it when you tell us it is helpful or tweet it to someone else.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Labor & Employment Insights blog team!

Changing of the Leaves: EEOC Again Pushes for Additional Leave as ADA AccommodationWe have said it before — the EEOC believes that leave is a reasonable accommodation and automatic termination when FMLA leave runs out violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Even though at least one federal court has made clear it disagrees, the EEOC continues to press the point and has recently filed a lawsuit against the Blood Bank of Hawaii for failure to provide reasonable accommodations for and then firing employees who required additional leave time for their disabilities.

The Allegations

The EEOC contends that the blood bank had “a rigid maximum leave policy” under which employees with disabilities who ran out of FMLA leave were not granted a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation. The complaint also alleges that employees returning from leave were required to return to work without limitations. As a result, some folks lost their jobs. The EEOC thinks this violates the ADA.

According to the EEOC:

“Employees should never be terminated or forced to resign simply because they need additional leave for their disabilities.”

Takeaways

The EEOC is looking for disability cases. It has issued guidance on leave as a reasonable accommodation, and going after inflexible leave policies is one of six national priorities identified by the Strategic Enforcement Plan. With that in mind, make sure you don’t end up as a target.

  1. Check your policies. If any of them state or suggest that an employee who exhausts FMLA leave will immediately be terminated, change them. The EEOC has made it clear it wants no bright lines.
  2. Train your managers and supervisors. Make sure people understand that the company will always consider a reasonable accommodation. It might be some amount of leave, it might not. What you want to avoid is a supervisor (or an HR manager) saying “We always terminate people who can’t return from leave—no exceptions.”
  3. Check you return to work letters. Eliminate any language that says “you have to return to work without restrictions.” That kind of talk will get you sued. No matter what the restriction, you have to consider whether you could provide a reasonable accommodation.
  4. Always consider vacant positions. The ADA requires that you consider whether the employee can perform (with or without a reasonable accommodation) the essential functions of a vacant position for which he or she is qualified. You may not have a vacancy, and you don’t have to create one—but you always need to check. If the employee can perform the vacant position (even if it pays less), offer it as a reasonable accommodation. Also, it doesn’t have to be a temporary assignment.

The ADA is tricky and every situation is different. Have a process to follow but don’t rely on bright lines.

Sad Dad Wants Paid Leave to Care for Newborn Lad; Employer’s Leave Policy Is Not So Rad; ACLU Gets MadCan an employer distinguish between moms and dads when granting paid parental leave for care for a newborn? Bank JP Morgan appears to believe so. Derek Rotondo requested parental leave when his wife was expecting their second child. Under JP Morgan’s policies, mothers are by default considered primary caregivers and are automatically entitled to 16 weeks of paid parental leave. Fathers, however, are only entitled to two weeks of paid leave, unless the father could prove that the mother was “medically incapable” of taking care of the child. Mr. Rotondo did not meet that criteria and was denied the 16 weeks of paid leave. In response, he and the ACLU filed a charge with the EEOC alleging that JP Morgan’s policy violated Title VII because it enforced gender stereotypes—women as caregivers and men as workers.

Keep in mind we are not talking about whether men can take unpaid leave to care for a newborn. That issue was decided long ago with the FMLA’s passage. If a man working for an FMLA-covered employer is FMLA-eligible and requests 12 weeks of unpaid leave when a newborn enters his life, the employer’s answer is almost always a definite yes. The issue in this matter is about the employer’s paid leave policy.

EEOC Guidance

The EEOC has issued specific guidance on employers providing paid pregnancy and post-pregnancy leave. They suggest that employers should divide this type of leave into two categories:

(1)  Pregnancy disability – leave related to any physical limitations imposed by pregnancy or childbirth

(2)  Bonding – leave for purposes of bonding with and/or providing care for a child

Obviously, the first category can be limited to women affected by those conditions. However, if an employer chooses to extend paid leave to new mothers beyond the period of recuperation from childbirth, it must provide that leave to similarly situated men and women on the same terms. The guidance goes on to give an example of how an employer can phrase the distinction between the types of leave in their policies.

Takeaways

The JP Morgan charge is still in the early stages so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. However, as norms for childcare have evolved into a more equal status between mothers and fathers, employers may be confronted with similar requests by working dads. While the EEOC’s suggested language for a policy is only guidance, not a requirement, it is helpful as a starting point for discussions about what benefits an employer may want to provide. Keep in mind that you cannot discriminate against employees based on their sex—even if your intent is to give new mothers an extra benefit.