Every now again I get to do something nice for people I like. Today is one of those days. EmployeeScreenIQ is conducting its 6th annual Employment Background Screening Survey.
According to the company:
In its 2015 survey, EmployeeScreenIQ again sets out to capture the various influences on employers' hiring practices and how they respond when adverse information is revealed. What type of criminal history or resume discrepancy is egregious enough to disqualify a job candidate? How are employers handling job applicants when red flags arise? The threat of lawsuits over discriminatory hiring practices, complex and confusing "ban the box" laws, resume distortion and social media overreach are among the serious challenges that continue to vex the HR community when conducting employment background checks.
All participants will receive a copy of the published results, along with an entry for a $250 Amazon gift card (not that anyone is bribing you).
The survey is available here.
Given the proliferation of FCRA class action lawsuits, along with EEOC’s stepped-up enforcement against the use of criminal histories in hiring, this survey is well worth your time.
There exists an inherent tension between open-door and other self-reporting policies and the EEO laws.
Consider, for example, a recent $100,000+ jury verdict against a trucking company for disability discrimination. The company maintained a written “Open Door” policy, and an unwritten policy that prohibited any driver who self-reported alcohol abuse from ever returning to driving. The EEOC sued after an employee who availed himself of the Open Door policy to self-report an alcohol addiction was banned from any future driving for the company. Even though the company offered the driver a part-time dock position as an accommodation, the EEOC successfully argued that the employer failed to “make an individualized determination as to whether the driver could return to driving and provide a reasonable accommodation of leave to its drivers for them to obtain treatment,” and that “to maintain a blanket policy that any driver who self-reports alcohol abuse could never return to driving—with no individualized assessment to determine if the driver could safely be returned to driving—violates the ADA.”
Employees need to be able to engage in protected activity without any retribution or other negative consequences. In this case, the employer learned of a disability and failed to engage in the interactive process for a reasonable accommodation. In others, employers might retaliate against an employee who uses an open-door policy to complaint about discrimination or harassment.
Open-door policies are laudable. They foster the communication that is necessary between employees and management necessary for a healthy (and hopefully union free) work environment. With that openness, however, comes responsibility—the responsibility to learn information without retaliating. Employees need to train management so that they know what to do with protected information once they learn it, and how to act without violating any of our EEO laws. Without this training, employers are setting up their open-door policies and programs for a litigation fail.
The full press release about this jury verdict is available here.
The FMLA does not provide leave benefits to all employees of all employers. First and foremost, it only covers employers with 50 or more employees. And, only a subset of employees of a covered employer is eligible for FMLA leave.
An employee is eligible for FMLA leave from a covered employer if the employee—
- was employed by the employer for at least 12 non-consecutive months;
- worked 1,250 hours during the 12-month period preceding the start of the requested leave; and
- works at a location where the employer employs 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.
Employees who fails to meet any one of these criteria are not eligible for FMLA leave … unless the employer tells them otherwise.
In Tilley v. Kalamazoo County Road Commission (6th Cir. 1/26/15) [pdf]
, the employer maintained the following FMLA policy:
Employees covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act are full-time employees who have worked for the Road Commission and accumulated 1,250 work hours in the previous 12 months.
The employer, however, denied Tilley’s request for FMLA leave because he did not work at a location that employed 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. Based on the employer’s unambiguous policy, however, the court concluded that the employer waived any ability to rely upon the 50-employee threshold.
This is an unambiguous and unqualified statement that Road Commission employees, like Tilley, who have logged 1,250 hours in the year before seeking FMLA leave are covered by the FMLA and are eligible to apply for FMLA benefits….
The Road Commission could have qualified its statement concerning employee eligibility by adding that its full-time employees would only be covered by the FMLA if they worked at, or within 75 miles of, a site at which the Road Commission employed at least 50 employees. That is precisely what other employers have done….
And we are unwilling to conclude as a matter of law that Tilley was unreasonable in relying on the Manual’s statement that employees in his position were eligible to apply for FMLA benefits. Simply put, a reasonable person in Tilley’s position could fairly have believed that he was protected by the FMLA.
Bottom line? Courts will hold you to your word if you mis-represent FMLA eligibility to an otherwise ineligible employee. If you, as an employer, do not want to go beyond the FMLA’s baseline requirements, you need to check, and then double-check, your leave policies, to make sure you are not promising your way into more coverage than intended.
If you’re a long time reader of my blog, you might recall a story I shared a few years ago about a co-worker at one of my high-school jobs, who held some interesting opinions about Lee Iacocca, Satan, and the end of the world. At the time, I made a point about taking the path of least resistance with reasonable accommodations.
Apparently, Consol Energy is not a blog subscriber.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette brings us the story of Beverly Butcher Jr., an employee at its Robinson Run, West Virginia, mine, and an Evangelical Christian, who refused to use the company’s hand scanner to clock in an clock out, because he believed it would imprint him with the “mark of the beast.” Instead of working with Butcher, or providing him an alternative way to track his time, the company mandated his use of the hand scanner. He quit, the EEOC sued on his behalf, and, last week, a federal jury ruled in his favor, awarding him $150,000 in compensatory damages on his religious discrimination claim. Later this year the court will rule on back pay, front pay, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.
Whether or not an employee is entitled to a religious accommodation is not dependent upon whether or not you happen to agree with the employee’s religious beliefs. Instead, it hinges solely on whether the beliefs are sincerely held, and, if so, whether you can provide the accommodation without it imposing an undue hardship. While this employer could make a credible undue-hardship argument based on the need for accurate time tracking, and uniformity among employees, it it worth it. Denying the requested accommodation—not using the hand scanner and tracking time in and time out with a different tool—is not worth the headache and associated costs of a federal lawsuit (verdict included).
Requests for accommodations (whether for religious or disability purposes) are not the demarcation on a battleground. Instead, they are a call for a middle ground. Employers need to recognize this truth, and starting wars that simply are not worth fighting.