Legal Ease: Employment Laws in 2016

Whether you are an employee or employer, one thing you probably know for sure is that employment laws are complicated. As with anything involving various governmental bodies and departments, the rules are always changing and it can be difficult to know where you stand. As an employer, you know it is critical to follow employment laws to the T, otherwise, you might end up with expensive fines, or worse, legal action against your company. If you are an employee, it can be crucial to understand the laws surrounding your employment for your own good-you want to know your rights so that you won’t be taken advantage of in the workplace. To sum it all up, there is some stuff we all need to know! Luckily for you, SVAM just recently hosted an up-to-date training, led by employment law extraordinaire Matthew Davison, attorney at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C.

Matt informed us of all things important this year in the employment laws world, and we’re here to sum up some of the high points that are important for us all to know-

  • Efforts to close the gender and minority pay gap are increasing. In a proposed amendment to a prior EEOC filing, employers with over 100 employees will need to tally the number of employees not only based on job category, race, ethnicity and sex, but also report data on the pay ranges and hours worked for employees. The stated goal of this amendment would be to better analyze employment pay data and prevent marginalized groups of employees from earning less money than their counterparts. The first data reporting would be due in September of 2017. The EEOC believes that this amendment would help ameliorate pay discrimination in those cases where the employee may not be aware that he/she is being discriminated against. Data reporting will be based on W2 earnings and will be reported in pay-bands rather than individual employee earnings. Basically, employers will need to report on how many employees they have working in each pay band. Stay tuned for the outcome of this amendment so that you can be sure to report correctly next year!
  • The pregnancy discrimination act is expanding. You may have heard about a court case, Young vs. UPS that hit the supreme court this March. In it, the plaintiff argued that UPS was violating the  Pregnancy Discrimination Act by refusing to offer her light duty throughout the duration of her pregnancy. The court has spoken, and they didn’t really have all that much to say (at least in the sense of clarifying anything). It was really one of those non-decision decisions. In summary, the supreme court said that employers do not have to accommodate every single pregnant employee’s request. However, they must adhere to the guidelines set forth by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which states that employers must treat pregnant employees the same as other employees in “similarly situated” physical positions that call for light duty. So what do you need to know? Your employer might very well need to accommodate your light duty request if you can demonstrate that the employer provides similar accommodations to other pregnant employees or workers similarly affected in their ability to work. (Employers read: YOU might need to provide accommodations for similar reasons). That said, it needs to be emphasized that the burden of proof is on the employee in this situation and that there is no automatic assumption that pregnant women will receive accommodations.
  • Sexual orientation discrimination is a hot topic that is going to continue to heat up. Two suits have been filed by the EEOC regarding sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace, so expect to hear some word come down on how sexual orientation discrimination will be treated in the future. As a point of interest, you may note that the arguments for sexual discrimination protection are rooted in the Sex Discrimination Provisions because sexual orientation discrimination is intrinsically tied to the concept of sex and gender in that a person may be discriminated against for his/her romantic preference of one gender over the other. There will certainly be more news on this issue in the coming year.
  • Another often politically charged employment law issue is religious discrimination in the workplace. Many people have heard of the Abercrombie case, in which a job applicant was not hired by the company because her hijab (head scarf) violated the company’s “look policy”. The supreme court’s ruling stated that employers could not
    “An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice,confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.” This may be indicative of what is to come regarding religious discrimination. An example of a case still to be decided is EEOC vs. UPS regarding the companies rule that drivers cannot have a beard or hair below their collar. The argument is that drivers of Muslim faith and other religions that require men to have  beards are being discriminated against through the policy. Look for  judgments in 2016 that will provide further clarification on whether employers must make accommodations to their policies to allow for employees to practice their religion.
  • White collar overtime is going to be a thing…5 million US employees are likely to become non-exempt in the near future, meaning that they will be eligible for overtime pay. The classification process isn’t as simple as a number, but one amount you may want to remember  is $50,440, which will become the new salary threshold for being non-exempt. This doesn’t mean that all employees who make under this amount are going have a status change. There are other issues at hand, mainly the job duties of an employee in Executive, Administrative or Professional positions. However, you should be prepared that a lot of employees could become non-exempt soon. It will be important for these employees to track their hours (not the norm for salaried employees) and account for any overtime hours during the week. Make sure to check if the Department of Labor proceeds with these proposed changes!

 

Was that enough information for you? We know, employment laws are a pain to navigate and it always feels like you are struggling to stay on top of things. Hopefully this list helped to highlight some of the important things to look at this year!

 

Sources:

Presentation by Matthew Davison. Significant Developments and a Look Ahead 2015-2016.

 

Get Lean: A diet and exercise plan for your business Part Two

1Last time on Profession Concession, we exposed some of the ways your company may be wasting money, time and efficiency! Some of these wastes were more obvious than others and some were the little things that add up to a lot! Well, we aren’t going to leave you hanging…today we’re here to give you some tips on how to fix some of those common issues that are the thorns in the sides of potentially successful businesses and organizations. Like most things that are worthwhile, it won’t be easy, but it will be possible. Before we give you the goods, just a reminder that you can’t change everything at once-small steps are the key to big successes. Let’s get started-

  1. Identify your problems and shout them from the rooftops! Okay, so you don’t have to go around telling the whole world the weaknesses of your company. You do however need to name your issues and internally communicate them with your entire team. So much of the inability of an organization to move beyond its problems is rooted in the lack of communication that there is a problem. Clearly identifying the root of the problem in clear, easy to understand language, is essential to this process. Think of it as the foundation of your house of efficiency. We can’t get to the good without figuring out what the bad is…One way to accomplish this step is to create a waste poster and have it located in visible spots around your company (think, the break-room or the back of restroom stalls). The point is for employees to visually confront the waste on a daily basis. After all, we can’t fix what we don’t know…
  2.  List improvement ideas. These can be daily improvements, identifying small steps that individuals and the work team as a whole can make to help propel the success of the company. Gather suggestions from unexpected members of your team to help spur fresh, new ideas. Employees should feel that they have the opportunity to express their thoughts on how changes could be made, without fear of rebuke or retribution. Having a meeting each week to present ideas in a clearly defined time-frame can relieve some of the stress of having a constant barrage of ideas flowing through. Maintaining organization in the wake of improvement is key.
  3. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your company isn’t going to change overnight. It’s super helpful to have specific changes on a “works in progress” list. This will prevent discouragement over not accomplishing all of your goals overnight. It will also remind everyone of some of the awesome ideas they’ve had in the past and that they should still be working to make those changes everyday!
  4. A little bit of back-patting never hurt anyone. People thrive on positive feedback! Did someone on your team come up with a kick butt way to curtail paper waste in your office? Recognize them! Remind your employees (and yourself) how far they’ve come. We recondition to our new reality constantly. The present is ever-shifting and it is easy to forget that, while we haven’t met all of our goals, we’ve come a long way.
  5. Keep the feedback loop rolling. It’s that simple, it is critical to keep the channels of communication open constantly. This isn’t a one time thing that you do to make everyone feel great about the intangible future! Nope. It also isn’t a single change to yell at everyone for what they’ve been doing wrong all along. Nuh uh.  The workplace will constantly change, and so too must your ability to identify and squash waste. Feedback isn’t always sunshine and roses (although that kind is great, and you should give it often!). It can be the tough conversations, the debates and the disappointed faces that you hate seeing. However, at the end of the day, you have to go back to number one: communication. That communication is constant and evolving. Like an assembly line, it never stops.