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Jon Allison’s Monday Blog

Jon Allison

First Of Its Kind Maternity Leave Policy
Earlier this month Vodafone Group, a global telecommunications company, announced that, by the end of 2015, all of its 30 operating companies around the globe will be offering a minimum of 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.  Additionally, for the first six months after returning from leave, new mothers will be required to work just 30 hours per week while earning their full salaries.  The policy may be the first of its kind.  The rationale is assisting women in transitioning back to work after maternity leave will improve recruitment and retention of talented female employees.  Vodafone found that 65 percent of women who left the company after a maternity leave did so in the first year.  It also found that in countries where mandates were in place for companies to help women transition back to work after a maternity leave retention rates were higher.  Vodafone’s 16 weeks of paid leave puts it at the high end of what companies offer in the U.S.  Compared to other countries, however, the U.S. lags behind.  For more read this article.

Medical Inquiries Must Be Job-Related And Consistent With Business Necessity
The trucking company PAM Transport Inc. was ordered last month to pay approximately half a million dollars to 12 former truck drivers in a disability discrimination lawsuit.  PAM was utilizing a medical clearance policy requiring all drivers to notify it of any contact with medical professionals.  Under federal disability law, employers are not permitted to make medical inquiries of employees unless they are job-related and consistent with business necessity.  PAM was also ordered to change its medical clearance policy.   Read more here . . .

Wisconsin The 25th Right-to-Work State
Last week Wisconsin became the 25th right-to-work state.  Right-to-work laws allow workers to opt out of paying union fees even if their workplace is represented by a union.  Workers who opt out would still benefit from bargaining the union does with the company to increase wages and benefits even without giving money to the union to support those efforts.  Less money means less resources for the union and reduced union power.  Studies have found that right-to-work laws result in reduced wages and benefits.  Right-to-work laws until recently were hard to pass outside the South and Mountain West.  That has changed with numerous Republican victories in statehouses across the country.  Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin are now all right-to-work states.  This article goes in to greater detail.

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Where you live makes a difference.

Katherine Neff

Each state has its own laws impacting workers’ rights.  In the Tri-state, Ohio and Kentucky allow employees to pursue state law discrimination claims in court in front of a jury, while Indiana employees must pursue their state law discrimination claims through the civil and human rights commissions created by statute and are not afforded a jury trial.  However, most employees may still pursue discrimination claims in federal court under the federal anti-discrimination statutes.  Because federal laws do not exist to protect workers who suffer workplace injuries, these workers’ rights will vary based on where they live.

Employees who suffer workplace injuries cannot pursue claims against their employers outside of workers’ compensation benefit programs.  Because Congress permits each state to determine its own workers’ compensation benefits, with no federal minimums, workers who live across state lines can experience vastly different outcomes for the same injury.  For example, in the Tri-state, a worker who loses an arm in Kentucky may recover $402,277 in benefits, but workers in Indiana and Ohio can recover only $202,050 and $193,950 respectively.  Although these states are above the national average, many states are outrageously low.  Benefits in Alabama, for example, max out at just $48,840.

States use a “schedule of benefits,” to determine how much a worker can recover following a work-place injury.  More often than not, these “schedules” are based on political bargains struck decades ago, instead of on medical wisdom and economic analysis.

ProPublica and NPR found that employers are paying the lowest rates for workers’ compensation benefits than at any time since the 1970s, yet, states continue to reduce benefits, often citing the need to compete with neighboring states and be more attractive to business.  As a result, taxpayers (through programs like Social Security and Medicaid) and the injured workers are forced to subsidize the lost income and medical costs.

Read more in this article.

 

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Jon Allison’s Monday Blog

Jon Allison

A Second Chance
Last week “The New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act” took effect.  It forbids employers with 15 or more employees from asking job applicants about criminal histories on job applications and during initial interviews.  The rationale is that employers ought to be objectively evaluating candidates before potentially being swayed by any criminal history.
According to a recent New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll, men with criminal records account for about 34 percent of all nonworking men ages 25 to 54.  70 million Americans have arrests or criminal convictions.  Employers have easier access to criminal records than ever before afforded by modern technology and many use the available information to screen out applicants on that basis alone.  Even individuals with arrests or minor convictions that occurred in the distant past have trouble finding work.  Unemployment rates for persons with criminal records has become a problem not just for those persons, but for the labor market as a whole.
Hawaii was the first state to pass legislation to address this issue back in 1998.  Recently, the “ban the box” movement has gained momentum.  14 states and nearly 100 cities have adopted the policy.  Big companies like Walmart and Target have removed the conviction question from their initial job applications.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie when signing “The New Jersey Opportunity to Complete Act” said “everyone deserves a second chance.”
For more on the “ban the box” movement see the articles below . . .
New York Times, On Point, New York Times.

 

Retaliation Claims Still The Most Common
Retaliation is still the claim most often made in charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  42.8 % of the charges filed in 2014 contained a charge of retaliation.  Retaliation occurs when an employee engages in protected activity (for example making a sexual harassment complaint), the employer takes some adverse job action against the complaining employee, and there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse job action.  It is generally easier for an employee to recognize retaliation versus discrimination when it occurs.  Retaliation claims are typically easier to prove as well.  This article goes into greater detail on retaliation.

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Jon Allison’s Monday Blog

Jon Allison

We Don’t Allow Hats.  You Got A Problem With That?
Last week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Samantha Elauf and Abercrombie & Fitch.  Elauf was denied a job as a sales-floor employee because she wears a headscarf as a practicing Muslim.  Under Abercrombie’s “look policy” hats are forbidden.  The issue the Supreme Court must decide is whether Elauf had a duty to ask for a religious accommodation to Abercrombie’s policy allowing her to wear the headscarf or whether Abercrombie had a duty to offer one.
Abercrombie’s position is that it didn’t have to make an exception to its policy because Elauf didn’t tell Abercrombie she wore the headscarf for religious reasons, didn’t ask for a religious accommodation and Abercrombie’s handbook instructs managers not to ask candidates about their religion.
On the other hand, Elauf and other job candidates wouldn’t know Abercrombie policies and therefore wouldn’t know of any need to request an accommodation.  The reality is inferences about a person’s religion are often drawn by certain clothing items worn.  Abercrombie’s policy forbids hats not headscarves.  Its policy and others like it could easily be used to impermissibly deny employment when the real reason for the denial is the applicant’s religion.
Nearly all of the justices seemed to side with Elauf.  Justice Sotomayor suggested that the interviewer could have told Elauf of the no hat policy and asked if she had “a problem with that.”  This would have been an appropriate way to prompt Elauf to request an accommodation allowing her to wear the headscarf.  This case has received a lot of coverage. For more see the following articles from The Washington Post, CNN, Huffington Post.
Was I Not Hired Because Of My Age?
The vast majority of people who decide to talk to a lawyer about possible age discrimination have been terminated from a job or are experiencing problems in a job they currently hold.  What about looking into whether age discrimination may have been the reason a job applicant wasn’t hired?  Applicants should be paying attention to statements made and questions asked by the employer during the application process like “when do you plan to retire?” or “when did you graduate?”  Also, if a younger and less qualified applicant is chosen for hire over an older and more qualified applicant, age discrimination may be at work.  For more insights, see this article.
“Ban The Box” Adds Georgia
The policy known as “ban the box” refers to employment forms that ask about prior criminal convictions.  States and cities that have adopted the “ban the box” policy no longer require job applicants to disclose their criminal histories on these forms.  Supporters of the policy say it helps people with criminal records reintegrate into society.  Some states only apply the policy to those applying for state jobs whereas others apply it to the private sector as well.  This blog goes into further detail.

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Monday Blog

Jon Allison

Another Story Of Corporate Greed
Last week a jury in New Orleans found an Alabama-based ship repair company, Signal, guilty of labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering and discrimination and ordered it to pay 12 million dollars to five Indian men who agreed to come to the United States in 2005 to repair oil rigs and facilities after Hurricane Katrina.  Signal recruited approximately 500 workers from India to save on the cost of hiring US workers (approximately 8 million in savings).  It promised them a better life, including good jobs and permanent US residency for their families.  It did not live up to either promise and instead forced them to work under inhumane conditions.  When some of the men complained, the company attempted to have them deported.  Co-defendants, a New Orleans lawyer and an Indian recruiting company, were ordered to pay $915,000 each for their respective roles.  A number of related lawsuits are pending.  To find out more, see this article.

Sexist Practices In The Air
Qatar Airways, the world’s 10th largest air carrier, still maintains rules for its female flight attendants similar to the type of policies that were outlawed in the United States half a century ago.  According to the Washington Post, female flight attendants must be single to be hired and stay single for 5 years.  They have to ask permission to get married.  They can be terminated for being pregnant and must advise the airline if they become pregnant.  Other airlines around the world continue to engage in similar practices, including holding swimsuit competitions for female flight attendants.  This post goes in to more detail.

Hospitals Refusing To Acknowledge Injuries To Their Own Nurses
If you’ve tuned in to NPR this month you may have heard accounts of injured nurses and their employers’ responses to those injuries.  According to NPR, hospitals around the country are all too often refusing to acknowledge injuries to nurses caused by lifting and moving patients.  State laws require companies to pay workers’ compensation to support employees injured on the job while they’re missing work and their paychecks.  One example of that not happening is the case of Terry Cawthorn and Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina.  Cawthorn was a nurse at Mission for more than 20 years when she hurt her back trying to move a patient.  Mission refused to help Cawthorn.  The hospital’s own medical staff determined she was hurt moving patients.  The hospital, however, took the position that she hurt her back lifting a dinner casserole out of her oven.  Mission hospital then terminated Cawthorn as a result of her injury saying that she was no longer fit to work.  The termination letter was delivered to her in her hospital bed 2 days after her surgery, thereby saving the money for postage.
Hospital To Nurses: Your Injuries Are Not Our Problem

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