Employers face claims of retaliation at an increasingly alarming rate. Nearly 43% of all charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in FY 2014 included some allegation of retaliatory conduct. While retaliation is by no means a new concern for the EEOC, the Proposed Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues issued on January 21, 2016 shows very clearly that the agency intends to take an even more aggressive approach to address what it perceives as an epidemic of retaliation affecting the workplace. Continue Reading
As reported in our November 9, 2015 blog post, the present STEM OPT rule which allows F-1 students with U.S. degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) to extend their optional practical training (OPT) by 17 months was to expire on February 12, 2016, unless the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could publish and promulgate a new rule. The present STEM OPT extension rule had been vacated by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in August 2015 for procedural deficiencies in its promulgation, but the court’s ruling was stayed until February 12, 2016, so DHS could publish a new rule for public comment and prevent hardship to the thousands of F-1 students employed in the U.S. on STEM OPT and the companies that employ those individuals.
Our November 9, 2015 blog post detailed some of the highlights of DHS’ proposed STEM OPT extension rule which was published for comment in the Federal Register on October 19, 2015. The DHS received an overwhelming 50,000 plus comments to the proposed rule and, a few days before the Christmas holiday, asked the court for a 90-day extension of the existing STEM OPT rule so it could address the comments and begin to train DHS officers on the intended changes to the STEM OPT program. Following additional pleadings by DHS and Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) — the plaintiff in the case that was before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia — the court, last Saturday, delayed its order terminating the STEM OPT rule as of February 12, 2016, and granted the DHS an additional 90 days to revise its proposed STEM OPT rule. The court extended the sunset date of the STEM OPT extension rule to May 10, 2016, and warned DHS that no further extensions would be granted.
As a result of this determination, those F-1 student employees with STEM OPT remain authorized to work in the U.S., at least through May 10, 2016. However, WashTech’s counsel has indicated that an appeal of the decision to extend the sunset date by 90 days would be filed with the D.C. Circuit immediately.
We will continue to keep you informed of further developments in this matter so you and your employees can plan accordingly.
As we reported in a blog post last month, although neither the federal nor state law expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression, Governor Cuomo bypassed the legislative process and urged the New York State Division of Human Rights to issue regulations that will interpret the state’s anti-discrimination prohibitions to cover transgender individuals. Just this week, the New York State Division of Human Rights adopted those regulations. The regulations, which became effective on Wednesday, make discrimination or harassment against transgender applicants and employees unlawful, and require employers to accommodate transgender individuals who have been diagnosed with a medical condition referred to as “gender dysphoria” – a medical condition related to an individual having a gender identity different from the sex assigned to him or her at birth.
In addition, the New York City Commission on Human Rights recently issued a guidance document on what constitutes discrimination against transgender people under the New York City Human Rights Law. The Commission’s guidance provides numerous examples of employer actions that violate the NYCHRL, including failure to use an individual’s preferred name, pronoun or title, denying transgender employees the use of restrooms consistent with their gender identity, and even enforcing dress codes that make differentiations based on sex or gender. The Commission’s recent guidance also announces much more strict penalties for transgender discrimination. Under the NYCHRL, civil penalties can range from $125,000 to $250,000 for violations that are deemed to be “willful, wanton or malicious.” The Commission announced that, among other factors, it will consider the lack of an adequate discrimination policy as a factor in assessing penalties.
Employers should review and revise their EEO and anti-harassment policies in light of these recent changes. Employers should also consider taking steps to educate and train their employees regarding these new requirements.
On December 28, 2015, Governor Cuomo signed a bill repealing Civil Service Law § 75-b(2)(b). This has a significant effect on the anti-retaliation provisions of New York’s “whistle blower” protection statute for public employees who report to a governmental body either (a) violations of a law, rule or regulation, or (b) something which an employee reasonably believes to be “improper governmental action.” Continue Reading
In Whole Foods Market, Inc., the National Labor Relations Board, in a 2-1 decision, held that Whole Foods’ rules prohibiting the recording of conversations in the workplace violated Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act. The two rules that were found to be unlawful were nearly identical. Both appeared in the company’s General Information Guide, a guide that applied to all employees.
The first rule prohibited the recording of company meetings without prior approval from store management, and the second rule prohibited all recording in the workplace without similar prior approval. The stated purpose of both rules (as set forth in the Guide) was to encourage open conversation and dialogue, and to eliminate the chilling effect that may exist when someone is concerned a conversation is being secretly recorded. Continue Reading
Human resource officers and managers are often asked to chair or sit on a retirement plan committee responsible for administrative tasks. In this role, a committee member takes on fiduciary responsibilities to plan participants and beneficiaries, and can be held personally liable for fiduciary breaches under Federal law. As legal counsel, we endeavor to manage this risk for our clients through guidance on good governance, indemnification protection, and the adoption of effective policies. Effective management of employee benefit plans will meet this fiduciary duty to participants while at the same time improving results for employees and minimizing potential liability exposure of plan managers. Continue Reading
Under the heading of “better late than never,” the IRS has recognized that “some employers, insurers, and other providers of minimum essential [i.e., health] coverage need additional time to adapt and implement systems and procedures to gather, analyze, and report” the information required on Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C for the 2015 calendar year. It has delayed the due dates for providing the required forms to both individuals and the IRS as follows:
- The due date for providing forms to individuals on 1095-B and 1095-C is extended from February 1, 2016 to March 31, 2016.
- The due date for filing with the IRS is extended from:
- February 29, 2016 to May 31, 2016 if not filing electronically (for employers who filed fewer than 250 W-2s in the prior year), and
- March 31, 2016 to June 30, 2016 if filing electronically.
Employers or other coverage providers who do not comply with the extended due dates are subject to penalties, which may be abated for reasonable cause based on facts and circumstances.
Because of the delay, individuals who file tax returns based on other information from their employers about their offers of coverage for purpose of determining whether they are eligible for a premium tax credit for health insurance marketplace coverage will not be required to file amended tax returns once they receive their Forms 1095-C or any corrected 1095-C.
As we reported previously, the New York State Department of Labor (“NYSDOL”) proposed a series of new regulations earlier this year. These proposals included new regulations raising the minimum wage and reducing the maximum available “tip credit” for certain workers in the hospitality industry, and new regulations implementing the recommendation of Governor Cuomo’s Fast Food Wage Board to raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15.00 per hour. Today, both sets of regulations were formally adopted and published in the New York State Register.
These new regulations are effective on December 31, 2015, and contain no changes from what NYSDOL originally proposed earlier this year. For more information about these regulations, readers can access our prior blog article. Among other things, as of December 31, 2015, certain tipped workers who fall under New York’s Hospitality Industry Wage Order must be paid at least $7.50 per hour and may only receive a maximum “tip credit” of $1.50 per hour. Also, as of this same date, covered fast food workers must be paid at least $9.75 per hour if they are employed outside of New York City or at least $10.50 per hour if they are employed inside of New York City. These minimum wages for covered fast food workers are set to automatically increase annually, eventually reaching $15.00 per hour on December 31, 2018 in New York City and on July 1, 2021 in all other areas of New York.
There may be legal challenges to these recently-adopted regulations, in particular the regulations impacting employers in the fast food industry. We will continue to report any noteworthy developments here.
After several unsuccessful attempts to pass the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act, which would have extended the nondiscrimination protections in the New York Human Rights Law to transgender individuals, Governor Cuomo took the unprecedented step of directing the New York State Division of Human Rights to issue regulations that would protect transgender applicants and employees in New York. Continue Reading
In the classic 1980’s comedy “Say Anything,” the iconic high school senior Lloyd Dobler articulates his career goals as follows:
“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”
A cursory Google search reveals that this 25 year old quote still resonates with much affection. But what may be deemed a charming lack of ambition from a teenaged movie character can be the death knell of a First Amendment case brought by a plaintiff who turns this quote into a veritable workplace mantra. Continue Reading