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Archive for the ‘Employment Law Blog (US)’ Category

Can You Fire An Employee While On Maternity Leave?

Posted on: June 19th, 2018

By: Jennifer Ward

An employee goes on leave and, during the leave, the employer discovers (for the first time) deficiencies in the employee’s work performance.  What can an employer do in response?

Well, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals recently found that an employer did not violate the law when it terminated an employee on the day the employee returned from leave based upon the deficiencies it discovered while she was on leave.  Bailey v. Oakwood Healthcare, Inc., No. 17-2158 (April 23, 2018).

In essence, the 6th Circuit confirmed that an employee is not shielded from termination for poor performance and other unacceptable conduct simply because the conduct was discovered while the employee was on leave.

While this opinion is good news for employers who struggle with what to do when they discover misconduct (or simply poor performance) while an employee is on leave, employers should be very cautious in using this approach.  As employees likely will be ultra-sensitive to disciplinary actions shortly after they return from leave and courts will closely scrutinize such disciplinary actions, an employer should be fully prepared to identify (with supporting evidence) the business reason the employer relied upon to terminate the employee at that time.  Be mindful, however, that even with objective evidence – such as a falsified employment application in this case – the employer could still be liable for discrimination or retaliation if, for example, it knew of other employees who engaged in similar activity but terminated only the one who took leave.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jennifer Ward at 267.758.6012 or [email protected].

Georgia’s Making a List and Long-Term Care Organizations Must Check It Twice

Posted on: May 24th, 2018

By: Will Collins

This month, Georgia’s Governor signed into effect a law implementing a comprehensive background check system in an effort to target and curb elder abuse, placing additional screening, notice, and retention requirements on long-term care organizations as well as presenting liability landmines and safe-harbors that these organizations should be cognizant of moving forward.

Effective October 1, 2019, the Georgia Long-term Care Background Check Program, requires that certain personnel are subject to both a “records check” and a “registry check,” allowing until January 1, 2021 for organizations to either submit a records check application or evidence showing satisfactory completion of a records check within the last twelve months for these personnel to the Department of Community Health (“DCH”).

The records check and registry check take substantial steps beyond Georgia’s current name-based single state criminal background check, expanding required screenings to include checks of the GCIS and FBI fingerprint databases, Georgia Nurse’s Aide Registry, Sexual Offender Registry, and the Federal List of Excluded Individuals and Entities. The Background Check Program goes further, expanding the registry check to any state where an individual resided for the previous two years when the individual has been a Georgia resident for less than two years.

Covered Organizations

The Background Check Program applies to Assisted Living Communities, Personal Care Homes, Home Health Organizations, Intermediate Care Homes, Hospice Providers, Nursing Homes, Skilled Nursing Facilities, and Adult Day Care Facilities.

Covered Personnel

The Background Check Program covers both owners active in operations as well as any applicant or current employee with direct access, which is defined as any position that will routinely:

  • Have contact with patients, residents, or clients including face to face interactions, hands-on physical assistance, and monitoring, reminding, or other stand-by activities;
  • Require the person to be alone with patient, resident, or client property; or
  • Have access to patient financial information, ranging from check books and debit cards to bank records and brokerage accounts

This includes housekeepers, maintenance personnel, dietitians, as well as any volunteer with similar access. Though the Background Check Program excludes certain types of contractors, it covers personnel that are contracted for a role “directly related to providing services to a patient, resident, or client of the facility.”

Record Retention and Notice Requirements

The Background Check Program requires that covered organizations maintain a personnel file for each employee, which shall be available for inspection and review by “appropriate enforcement agencies,” and at a minimum must include “evidence of each employee’s satisfactory determination, registry check, and licensure check.”

Organizations must also include a conspicuous notification on an application form that a state and national background check is required as a condition of employment and comply with the notification process established for denial of employment or adverse employment action based on unsatisfactory determination during the screening, including providing individuals the right to appeal the determination.

Liability and Safe Harbors

The good news for organizations covered by the Background Check Program is that when a denial of employment or an adverse employment action is based on a good faith attempt to comply with the screening requirements, the Program offers protection from damages or a claim, demand, cause of action, or proceeding of any nature.

Compliance with the Background Check Program similarly offers organizations both a “rebuttable presumption of due care” in negligent hiring or negligent retention claims or immunity from negligent hiring claims if certain conditions are met.

However, failure to comply with the Background Check Program’s requirements not only will subject an organization to civil monetary penalties, but may also act as evidence that the organization fell below the standard of care in negligence-based claims.

Take Away

We will closely monitor this issue as DCH develops regulations implementing the Background Check Program and can help you ensure your organization is prepared for these changes in Georgia law. For those with employees outside of Georgia, the attorneys in our Labor and Employment National Practice Section are well versed in state and industry specific screening requirements and regulations, so let us know if we can assist you assess compliance or litigate claims arising in this area.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Will Collins at [email protected].

High Court OKs Employers’ Use of Class Waivers

Posted on: May 23rd, 2018

By: Paul Derrick

Class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements are enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), says the U.S. Supreme Court in a much-anticipated decision.

The Supreme Court’s long-awaited decision resolves a circuit split on whether class or collective action waivers contained in employment arbitration agreements violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). By a 5-4 margin, the Court ruled that, under the FAA, arbitration agreements providing for individualized proceedings, rather than class or collective actions, are enforceable.

Arbitration agreements that require employees to pursue work-related claims in arbitration, rather than in court, have long been enforced pursuant to the FAA. Six years ago, however, the National Labor Relations Board decided that employers violate the NLRA when they require employees, as a condition of employment, to agree that they will resolve workplace disputes individually pursuant to an arbitration provision containing a class or collective action waiver.

The Supreme Court’s opinion makes it clear that the Board and various courts were wrong in believing that the NLRA trumps the FAA.  It noted that that nothing in a class or collective action waiver interferes with an employee’s right to participate in a union or engage in collective bargaining.

So, what does the Court’s ruling mean for employers right now?

First, they should look at their arbitration agreements and consider modifying them to include class action waivers if they are not already included.

Second, they should consider including an arbitration agreement and class waiver provision as part of their onboarding paperwork (but remember such clauses should not be included within the text of an employee handbook).

Finally, employers should expect that there is more litigation yet to come as employees and unions angle for ways to get around the Supreme Court’s decision.  Especially in states such California, there are other avenues by which employees can still maintain class and collective actions as a means of redressing their workplace disputes.  Despite these anticipated end-run attempts, employers should rest better knowing that the Supreme Court has explicitly approved the use of class action waivers in arbitration agreements.

If you have any questions or would like more information about this or any other labor law issue, please contact Paul Derrick at [email protected].

Philadelphia’s “Salary History Ban Law” Gets Banned!

Posted on: May 7th, 2018

By: Jen Ward and John McAvoy

More than a half-century after President JFK signed the Equal Pay Act, the gender pay gap is still with us. Women earn 79 cents for every dollar men earn, according to the Census Bureau.  What will it take to bridge that stubborn pay gap? Well, some believe we can and will reduce the impact of previous discrimination by not asking new hires for their salary history. Several cities and states agree with this approach and have passed legislation that prohibits employers from asking questions about an applicant’s salary history. In the cities and states where such laws have been passed, they are not without controversy.

Philadelphia passed a similar law last year. In response, Philadelphia’s Chamber of Commerce, backed by some of Philadelphia’s biggest employers, including Comcast and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), filed suit against the City of Philadelphia challenging the constitutionality of the salary history ban law, arguing the portion of the law that prevents companies from inquiring about an applicant’s wage history violated an employer’s free speech rights.

On Monday, April 30, 2018, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania made two rulings with respect to Philadelphia’s salary history ban law in the matter of Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia v. City of Philadelphia, docket no. 2:17-cv-01548-MSG (E.D. Pa. Apr. 30, 2018) (Goldberg, J.).

First, the court found that the law as written violated the First Amendment free speech rights of Philadelphia employers. In sum, the court’s ruling is that employers can ask salary history questions.

Second, the court upheld the ‘reliance provision’ of the salary history ban law, which makes it illegal to rely upon that wage history to set the employee’s compensation.  This means that Philadelphia employers can ask salary history but cannot use it as a basis to set salary.  The purpose of this is to encourage employers to offer potential candidates what the job is worth rather than based on prior salary which could have been set based on discriminatory factors.

There is a prevailing trend nationwide for salary history ban laws. To date, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon, Puerto Rico, New York’s Albany County, New York City, and San Francisco have enacted salary history ban laws, and at least 14 other states are considering following suit.  Although we anticipate future and continued legal challenges, it seems likely that laws banning salary history inquiries will continue to gain ground, particularly in more progressive states or areas where the pay disparity directly impacts a large segment of eligible voters. As such, prudent employers should prepare themselves to address this new workforce right through smart planning and proper training of employees, including managers, supervisors and HR personnel responsible for ensuring a lawful hiring process.

Want to learn more about what Philadelphia’s salary history ban law means for your business? Let us help you by analyzing your hiring practices. Please call or email the employment experts Jen Ward (267.758.6012 [email protected]) and John McAvoy (215.789.4919 [email protected]). Our firm motto and goal is “Your Problem Solved!”

Not Just for Trust Fund Babies Anymore

Posted on: May 3rd, 2018

By: Bryce M. Van De Moere

Even with the existence of the Affordable Care Act, the preferred way to get health benefits is still through your employer.  Health insurance packages have become an integral part of employee compensation.  As employers continue to offer health benefits to their employees, liability for employers has also increased exponentially; not only in terms of how to shoulder the premium increases brought on by the utilization of an aging workforce but also exposure to legal action brought on by perceived deficiencies in the quality of the benefits.

Welfare Benefit Plans are described in Title 1 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) which governs any plan, fund or program that provides (among other things), “medical, dental, prescription drugs, vision, psychiatric, long term health care, life insurance or accidental death or dismemberment benefits.” Regulation of these plans is federally governed and penalties for violation of the regulations can be severe. Further complicating an already difficult area, many employers are approaching health insurance carriers and contracting with them directly.  They are a signatory to a contract to offer benefits to an employee group and as such can be liable for claims made by their employees.   As such, when representing employers, especially those in the public sector, such as Municipalities and School Districts who have a unionized employee base with whom they are required to collectively bargain, it is of vital importance that those employers be shielded from liability, not only from their own employees but also from the penalties associated with failure to comply with state and federal laws that govern those benefit plans and the agencies that enforce those penalties.

One option employers should consider is banding together and pooling their employees by forming or joining a VEBA, or Voluntary Employee Benefit Association. A VEBA is an Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(7) Trust that is generally tax exempt and defined as “a mutual association of employees providing certain specified benefits to its members or their designated beneficiaries which may be funded by the employees or their employer.”  VEBA’s are legal entities that take the place of the individual employer.  Much like incorporation protects your personal assets, a VEBA can protect the employer’s business.

A VEBA is guided by a Board of Trustees made up of the member employers (and sometimes union representatives.)  The Trust is now the signatory to the contract.  The employer and their employees become a part of a much larger group or “pool” buying benefits in bulk which helps promote price stabilization and increases negotiation power. The Board of Trustees is also allowed to delegate the responsibilities of the Trust, which means they can hire a Trust ERISA counsel and Trust auditor to ensure regulatory compliance and a Trust Benefit Administrator to manage the claims of the benefit plan members.  This further shield’s the employer from responsibility and liability.

This is just one of the vehicles available for the management of employee benefit plans. If you have questions about this or other options available under the Internal Revenue Code, feel free to contact me at [email protected].