It’s no secret that the NLRB is waging a war against facially neutral employment policies. You can add “no loitering” rules to its list of victims.
In EYM King of Michigan, an NLRB administrative law judge considered the following policy, implemented by a Burger King franchise:
Loitering and soliciting either inside or outside on Company premises is strictly prohibited. You should arrive some minutes before your entry hour and leave the as soon as you finish your shift. Employees are not authorized to remain in the restaurant after work. If you are not working or eating in a store, your conduct may be construed as loitering. If you are off-duty and return to the store to speak with employees who are working, your conduct may be considered loitering. Former employees who return to the store to speak with employees who are working are loitering. This policy is designed to prevent the disruption of company business due to unnecessary interaction with non-working employees or non-employees. Employees who violate this policy may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination.
The ALJ concluded that this policy unlawfully restricted employees’ rights to engage in protected concerted activity because it impeded employees’ ability to gather, and, by implication, discuss wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. The judge also was not persuaded by the employer’s professed “safety” concerns for its employees:
Respondent’s justification for its rules is that its restaurants are located in high-crime areas. To give credence to such an explanation would effectively deprive millions of the lowest-paid workers in the United States of the ability to assert their Section 7 rights….
Respondent’s professed concerns regarding safety in justifying its loitering and solicitation rules are manifestly specious. The company has made no showing as to how this rule enhances safety. In this regard, it does not prohibit customers from eating food purchased at its restaurants while sitting in their cars in the restaurant parking lot. Moreover, people are just as likely to be the victims of violent crime at Respondent’s drive thru windows as anywhere else on the exterior of the restaurant.
No employment policy that could potentially impact employees’ ability to discuss work is safe from the NLRB’s scrutiny. If you have not had a labor and employment lawyer review your handbook and other policies, you are doing your business a severe disservice, and taking a huge risk, in this hyperactive regulatory environment.
The National Law Journal reports that Texas Roadhouse has sued the EEOC, demanding background on the agency’s prior age discrimination suit against it. The restaurant chain is suing under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking the genesis of the lawsuit, which it claims the EEOC filed without first receiving a charge of discrimination.
According the the NLJ, “By law, the EEOC doesn’t have to wait for someone to come forward with a discrimination complaint. It can act on its own by filing a commissioner’s charge, or initiating a directed investigation…. In part, the agency relies on statistical evidence culled from reports that all employers with 100 or more workers (and federal contractors with 50 or more) must file annually with the agency, showing the sex and race or ethnicity of workers by job category.”
According to the FOIA complaint, “The very agency that has attempted to enforce the law against discrimination—by launching an unprovoked attack against Texas Roadhouse, then waging a media campaign declaring Texas Roadhouse guilty before a single day, indeed, a single minute, in court—is defying the law applicable to it. This cannot stand in a society governed by fundamental principles of fairness, due process, and the rule of law.”
Rhetoric aside, I question whether scouring EEO-1s for employers who appear, based on demographics alone, to discriminate, is the best use of the EEOC’s limited resources. The EEOC can do a lot of good to further civil rights opinion this country (see EEOC makes history by filing its first ever transgender-discrimination lawsuits). Cases such as this one, however, cause me to question the EEOC’s motives, and cause employers to lose confidence in what should be a worthy agency.
It seems to be common sense that if the decision maker accused of a discriminatory adverse action is also the individual responsible for earlier hiring that same person, it is unlikely that a discriminatory reason motivated the latter decision. After all, if I discriminate against people of a certain race (or gender, age, religion, etc.), why would I hire them in the first place? Wouldn’t I just not hire them to keep them out of my organization?
Courts refer to this as the “same-actor inference” — inferring a lack of discrimination from the fact that the same individual both hired and fired the employee.
A recent decision from the Southern District of Ohio applied this inference in a case in which a fast-food manager claimed discrimination after the “same actor” hired him, and, shortly thereafter, fired him:
Even Plaintiff’s theory of this case does not suggest race discrimination: it defies logic that a Caucasian manager would hire him in an attempt to replace a minority manager and then “turn the tables” four months later and fire him for being Caucasian.
This is not to say that the same actor can never discriminate. After all, Chevy Chase hired Richard Pryor after lobbing the worst kind of racial bombs across the interview desk. Indeed, in the 6th Circuit, this “same actor” inference is insufficient, in and of itself, to entitle an employer to summary judgment. But, if you are faced with a case in which the same actor is accused of firing after hiring, absent other compelling evidence of discriminatory intent, you will have a great defense to the discrimination claim.
Upon attempting to return from a medical leave of absence, an employee requests the following accommodations: an ergonomic chair, adjusted lighting in her office, and a part-time schedule for the next eight days. Instead of providing the accommodations, or even discussing their availability, the employer refuses to permit the employee to return to work, instead telling her not to return until it was with no restrictions or accommodations. The company later fires the employee (seven days after she filed an EEOC charge challenging the failure-to-accommodate), telling her that she failed to engage in the interactive process.
These are the facts of the latest ADA lawsuit filed by the EEOC. If the facts as the EEOC alleges are true, this case seems like a slam dunk for the agency.
Once an employer becomes aware of the need for a reasonable accommodation, the ADA obligates it to engage in an interactive process with the employee to identify and implement appropriate reasonable accommodations. That process requires communication and good-faith exploration of possible accommodations. An employer cannot dismiss, without discussion, accommodations proposed or requested by the employee. The employee might not be entitled to a requested or preferred accommodation, but he or she is entitled to a good-faith exploration of their possibility.
In this case, it appears that the employer did the exact opposite of what the ADA requires of it, and, to make matters worse, blamed the employee for the breakdown of the interactive process when later firing her on the heals of her EEOC charge.
This employer is going to learn an expensive lesson about the reasonable accommodation process. Perhaps you can learn something from its apparent mistakes.
According to a recent Harris Poll, men are nearly twice as likely to lose their smartphones than women (46% to 27%). Moreover, the younger you are, the more likely you are to lose your phone. For employees age 18-34, 60% of men report losing their smartphones, as compared to only 30% of women.
My own house is the exception, not the rule. Neither my wife nor I fall into the 18-34 demo (sorry, honey), and she is much more likely to be one saying, “Have you seen my phone,” as we’re trying to leave the house.
So, readers, what say you? Who loses their phones more, men or women?
Here’s the rest of what I read this week:
Social Media & Workplace Technology
HR & Employee Relations
Wage & Hour