Happy birthday Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC turns 50 today. While the agency and I have not always seen eye-to-eye on how it enforces our nation’s civil rights laws, we do agree on why it was founded—because all people are created equal and should enjoy the right to an equal workplace. These past few weeks—with the mass shooting in an African-American church and hateful protests over LGBT rights—serve as a stark reminder that while we have traveled a long way in the past 50 years, we still have a long way to go to achieve true equality.
And now, a birthday song
Here’s the rest of what I read this week:
Social Media & Workplace Technology
HR & Employee Relations
Wage, Hour, & Safety
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Young v. UPS
, the EEOC has updated its administrative guidance on pregnancy discrimination. The updated guidance includes Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination And Related Issues
, a Q&A
, and a Fact Sheet for Small Businesses
The most notable inclusion is updated guidance on an employer’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to a pregnant worker.
From the Q&A:
May an employer impose greater restrictions on pregnancy-related medical leave than on other medical leave?
No. Under the PDA, an employer must allow women with physical limitations resulting from pregnancy to take leave on the same terms and conditions as others who are similar in their ability or inability to work. Thus, an employer:
Must an employer provide a reasonable accommodation to a worker with a pregnancy- related impairment who requests one?
- may not fire a pregnant employee for being absent if her absence is covered by the employer's sick leave policy;
- may not require employees limited by pregnancy or related medical conditions to first exhaust their sick leave before using other types of accrued leave if it does not impose the same requirements on employees who seek leave for other medical conditions;
- may not impose a shorter maximum period for pregnancy-related leave than for other types of medical or short-term disability leave; and
- must allow an employee who is temporarily disabled due to pregnancy to take leave without pay to the same extent that other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work are allowed to do so.
Yes, if the accommodation is necessary because of a pregnancy-related impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. An employer may only deny a needed reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability who has asked for one if it would result in an undue hardship. An undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense.
Examples of reasonable accommodations that may be necessary for someone whose pregnancy-related impairment is a disability include:
- Redistributing marginal or nonessential functions (for example, occasional lifting) that a pregnant worker cannot perform, or altering how an essential or marginal function is performed;
- Modifying workplace policies, such as allowing a pregnant worker more frequent breaks or allowing her to keep a water bottle at a workstation even though keeping drinks at workstations is generally prohibited;
- Modifying a work schedule so that someone who experiences severe morning sickness can arrive later than her usual start time and leave later to make up the time;
- Allowing a pregnant worker placed on bed rest to telework where feasible;
- Granting leave in addition to what an employer would normally provide under a sick leave policy;
- Purchasing or modifying equipment, such as a stool for a pregnant employee who needs to sit while performing job tasks typically performed while standing; and
- Temporarily reassigning an employee to a light duty position.
As the new guidance makes abundantly clear, while an employer cannot compel a pregnant employee to take an accommodation (such as a leave) if she is able to perform her job, it must allow women with physical limitations resulting from pregnancy to take leave (or other accommodations) on the same terms and conditions as others who are similar in their ability or inability to work. Thus, the EEOC has confirmed, as I’ve consistently said (here
, for example), that if employers grant employees accommodations under the ADA, Title VII will almost certainly compel them to do the same for pregnant employees.
Last night, on the Huffington Post
, President Obama blogged his intentions to announce long-awaited new overtime regulations later today.
In a post entitled, “A Hard Day’s Work Deserves a Fair Day’s Pay
,” the President wrote:
Right now, too many Americans are working long days for less pay than they deserve. That’s partly because we’ve failed to update overtime regulations for years—and an exemption meant for highly paid, white collar employees now leaves out workers making as little as $23,660 a year—no matter how many hours they work.
This week, I’ll head to Wisconsin to discuss my plan to extend overtime protections to nearly 5 million workers in 2016, covering all salaried workers making up to about $50,400 next year.
So, what do we know about these new regulations?
- The salary-level at which employees will qualify for either the administrative, executive, professional, and computer employee exemptions will increase from $23,660 a year (or $455 per week) to $50,400 (or $969.23 per week) (could they not make it an even thousand?)
- The earliest these new regulations will take effect is sometime next year.
These rules are not final. They still must first undergo a public-comment period. Nevertheless, this announcement is the first concrete details about these long-rumored rules, and could become a key part of President Obama’s legacy, which, unlike the Affordable Care Act, will be done without Congressional approval.
These new rules will change the pay structure for millions of American workers. Yet, they may not result in the sweeping pay increases envisioned by the White House. American businesses, many of which already run leanly, need not absorb increased payroll from the switch of workers from exempt to non-exempt status. Instead, a company could simply calculate how much to pay an employee, on an hourly basis (anticipated overtime included), to reach the employee’s current salary level. Or, a company could ban overtime altogether. Thus, gross compensation probably will not change. What will change, however, is the flexibility salaried workers enjoy. Will Johnny Manager appreciate having to punch a time clock, especially if his 2016 W-2 reads the same as his 2015 W-2? And will that change undermine the authority certain employees need to have to effectively perform their jobs?
While the White House has laudable aspirations to “strengthen the middle class” and “commit to an economy that rewards hard work, generates rising incomes, and allows everyone to share in the prosperity of a growing America” in reality, it will likely be “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
The DOL has made available various resources (hat tip: Lawffice Space
Friday was certainly exciting. SCOTUS surprised everyone by releasing Obergefell v. Hodges [pdf] a day earlier than expected.
In case you missed it, in a 5-4 opinion authored by swing-vote Justice Kennedy, SCOTUS held that gay marriage as a nation-wide fundamental right:
The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry…. State laws challenged by Petitioners in these cases are now held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.
It follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.
What is getting all the press, however, is the beautifully poetic closing paragraph of Justice Kennedy:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
What is next for LGBT rights? The right to be free from employment discrimination.
Shortly after Obergefell’s publication, Wonkblog published a stirring post calling for the end of all workplace discrimination against LGBT individuals. In that post, Wonkblog was kind enough to share this map (created by the Human Rights Campaign) of the current state of LGBT workplace-discrimination laws:
Where are we on this issue?
- 21 states and the District of Columbia ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
- 18 of those states also ban workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
- Per Executive Orders, the federal government, along with its contractors and subcontractors, are also prohibited from discriminating against their employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
- 89 percent of the Fortune 500 include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies.
We have come a long way in just the past few years. Indeed, I believe that a majority of Americans now support the extension of all civil rights to the LGBT community. Yet, Congress has consistently failed to act on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would extend Title VII’s coverage to sexual orientation and gender identity. SCOTUS’s ruling in Obergefell is a huge step in the right direction. Let’s hope it is a step that will lead Congress to passing the ENDA sooner rather than later.
Special bonus on this fine summer Friday. If you missed my appearance on Stossel
two weeks ago, Fox Business has posted the episode on its website.
Watch the latest video at video.foxbusiness.com
You can watch it here
. My segment starts at 18:39.