Connecticut Employment Law Blog

Insight on Labor & Employment Developments for Connecticut Businesses

How Will Federal Legal and Regulatory Changes Impact Connecticut Employers?

Posted in Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Labor Law & NLRB, Laws and Regulations, Legislative Developments, Wage & Hour

file101235857424For the last six years, you haven’t seen much on this blog about changes to federal employment laws because, well, there just weren’t any.  What we DID see, however, were changes to regulations and enforcement orders.

Nearly six months into the new Trump administration, we’re now starting to see significant shifts in the federal regulatory scheme too.

A lot of national employment law blogs have been starting to recap them so I’m not going to go too in depth here. Among the changes? A death-knell to the persuader rule, and, earlier this month, a pullback of guidance on joint employment and independent contractor rules.   And it looks like the overtime rule changes are still in limbo as well, with the DOL “rethinking” such rules in news articles this week.

You don’t need to have a law degree to understand that these changes will favor companies.

Last night too, the Trump administration named the final member of a new National Labor Relations Board who will, no doubt, start rolling back other labor law decisions that have favored employees and labor unions as well.

But what will the impact be in Connecticut?

It’s still a bit early to tell, but I think the impact may be muted in some ways. After all, we have a CONNECTICUT Department of Labor that still marches to its own drum.  For example, it has taken a pretty aggressive view on who is (or is not) an employee vs. an independent contractor.

Indeed, as I’ve discussed before, the Obama-era rule changes might have, in fact, helped level the playing field for some Connecticut employers who have felt that they have had to comply with stricter Connecticut rules which made them less competitive nationwide.  With the rollback of some of these rules at the federal level, Connecticut’s higher standards may come back into play more often.

That may be overstating it a bit, but Connecticut employers will have to play catchup to figure out the patchwork of federal and state regulations and the interplay between them.

Perhaps it is more fair to say that things are still shaking out this year for Connecticut employers.  The General Assembly session that just ended was more quiet than most.  But at a national level, employers shouldn’t be too quick to make too many changes because there seems to be many more aspects in flux than in years past.

The only thing I’ll predict for the next six months is that we have all the ingredients in place for a wild roller coaster ride with more changes than we’ve seen in some time.

So buckle up.   Things are just getting interesting.

The Dialogue: Sex Harassment in the Workplace — Still an Issue, but How Much?

Posted in Discrimination & Harassment, Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Manager & HR Pro’s Resource Center

The Dialogue, a online conversation between yours truly and a prominent employee-side attorney, Nina Pirrotti, returns today with another installment — this time tackling the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace.   For prior installments, check out these posts here and here.  As for the promised redesign and relaunch of the blog, it’s nearly complete. Can’t wait to share it with you soon.    

chionDan: Last time we promised to tackle a serious topic: Pizza. Given that you’re based on New Haven, surely you have thoughts on the subject. Pepe’s? Sally’s? Modern? Or something else? 

But in the meantime, I wanted to tackle a really serious topic and get your thoughts on the state of sexual harassment claims.  It feels like we’re hearing more about it of late.  It’s been about two months since Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox News amid allegations of sexual harassment, and the news this month is of a major shakeup at Uber in light of an internal investigation looking at workplace culture.  Indeed, the Uber CEO just announcement his resignation yesterday! We won’t get statistics out from the agencies that receive harassment complaints (EEOC and CHRO), but anecdotally, it feels like we’re seeing more awareness of the issue and more questions from employers.  What are you seeing from the employee-perspective this year?

nina_t_pirrotti1-150x150Nina: This is the bone-chilling reality and the reason why, even if I won the lottery tomorrow I would never give up my day job:  Sexual harassment continues to infect the workplace at the same alarming levels as it did in the days of Mad Men.  Indeed, the only aspects of it that have changed over the years is that now  men of power have much greater variety in the manner of delivery.  So in addition to groping, fondling and yes, even raping women in the workplace ala Don Draper and his C-Suite buddies, men of power these days are also sexting, Snapchatting  and otherwise exploiting social media to prime, intimidate and conquer their victims.  Hell, the president of the United States is even doing it!

Long before a SunTrust recruiter made headlines when he sent a nude photo of himself to a female prospective hire, exposing his genitals and inviting her to “play,” my client, a factory worker who spoke little English, endured daily groping and sexual taunts from her assembly line supervisor.  The smoking gun in that case?  A naked photo of himself that he texted her during work hours.   That case settled quickly, and despite her paltry salary, very, very well.

The main problem I encounter is, even if by some miracle such women summon the courage to come to me (the factory worker, for example, cancelled two appointments before she showed up at my office) , they often are petrified to take it to the next level.   Even when they have damning evidence, these men have such a hold on them that they fear for their jobs and even their physical safety if they come forward.   I will never forget the time I had to meet with a client at an undisclosed location far away from her workplace and my office to consult with her on a case in which the powerful, rainmaker chief of her department was subjecting her to unrelenting sexual harassment and she had the “goods” (graphic e-mails) to prove it!  She, an otherwise rational, grounded person, was convinced he would discover what she was doing and harm her.

Is your workplace more like a locker room?

Is your workplace more like a locker room?

What makes matters worse is that too often these victims’ worst fears are reinforced by employers who fail to take swift, decisive action when sexual harassment allegations are brought to light. This is far more apt to happen when the predator is a money maker for the employer.    In the case of the harassment by the department chief, for example, several other women had complained about his conduct to no avail.  Such non-response packs two punches.  First, it emboldens the predator who now  has first-hand knowledge he can act with impunity.  Second, it chills fresh victims, like my client, from taking action to protect themselves.   At some point, the hope for we plaintiffs’ employment lawyers, though, is that the lid explodes off the boiling pot.   We have seen this time and again in the media with Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and the folks at Uber et al and, closer to home, that fearful employee who was sexually harassed by the “untouchable” chief ended up convincing four other employees to come forward (three of which were senior executives) and that case settled for well over $1 million even though the hospital finally terminated the chief and all five employees  kept their jobs.

I know your clients would never face such a predicament because they are getting advice from the best, Dan!  Perhaps you could share with us, though, how you counsel those employers who learn that an otherwise valuable employee is being accused of sexual harassment?

As for Pepes, Sally,Modern, Bar or others go, they are all great but I prefer making my own.  The secret is in my sauce . . .

Dan:  Well that’s a lot to respond to! But I don’t think it’s a fair argument to elevate rape (a horrific violent crime) into an analysis of sexual harassment cases in general.   No legitimate employer or their counsel is going to countenance sexual assault (much less outright sexual harassment either.)  Everyone agrees such conduct is wrong.    Continue Reading

Recommendations for Uber Are Roadmap for All?

Posted in Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Manager & HR Pro’s Resource Center

roadIf you had a million dollars (or more) to investigate your culture, what would you find out? (Music fans may appreciate the classic “If I Had a Million Dollars” song from the Barenaked Ladies. You’re welcome.)

Well, Uber engaged a lawfirm, Covington & Burling, and the former Attorney General Eric Holder to do just that — interviews with over 200 people, reviews of over 3 million documents — and discovered a lot.  It isn’t pretty.

Thankfully, the firm released its recommendations for all the world to see. In doing so, the report actually can serve as a bit of a road map of what to do at your company if you have some similar issues.  All for free.

You can and should review the report here.  There are some specifics that won’t be helpful — like allocating the responsibilities of the CEO.  But there are many others which show what the best practices are at companies in 2017.  Here are a few to get you started:

  • Use Performance Reviews to Hold Senior Leaders Accountable.  This recommendation is straightforward, but suggests that companies should have metrics that are tied to “improving diversity, responsiveness to employee complaints, employee satisfaction, and compliance.”  If you don’t hold senior leaders accountable, things will fall through the cracks.
  • Increase the Profile of [] Head of Diversity and the Efforts of His Organization.   This recommendation suggests something that may come as a surprise to some companies but reflects a growing shift in corporate culture, that is, that an “empowered senior leader who is responsible for diversity and inclusion is key to the integrity of” a company’s efforts.  Note the dual emphasis. As the report later explains, “It is equally important that the role address both diversity and inclusion. Diversity is generally viewed as focusing on the presence of diverse employees based on religion, race, age, sexual orientation, gender, and culture. Inclusion, on the other hand, focuses not just on the presence of diverse employees, but on the inclusion and engagement of such employees in all aspects of an organization’s operations.”
  • Human Resources Record-Keeping.  With the buzz about data, this recommendation reflections the growing wisdom that a company should have “appropriate tools, including complaint tracking software, to keep better track of complaints, personnel records and employee data.”  More than that, a company should “emphasize the importance of record-keeping to all Human Resources staff, and impose consequences for failure to adhere to record-keeping requirements.”  In other words, no longer should HR be viewed as secondary to a company’s mission. It’s front and center.
  • Training, Training, and Training.  I’m cheating a bit on this one because the report actually breaks down training at various levels, but the need for training is emphasized for senior leaders, HR staff, and managers.  And more than that, the company should also “require employees who routinely interview candidates…to undergo training on interviewing skills, conducting inclusive interviews and unconscious bias.”

There’s much more to the report, including additional suggestions specifically on diversity and inclusion efforts.   It’s a helpful roadmap for all companies.

 

Legislative Recap: Pregnancy Accommodations But No Paid FMLA

Posted in Highlight, Legislative Developments

capitoldas2Well, the Connecticut General Assembly ended earlier this week and, as predicted, it ended with a whimper and not a bang.  Many employment law proposals failed to receive votes, including those on minimum wage and Paid FMLA, leaving many employers (and the CBIA) breathing a bit of a sigh of relief.

I’ve previously recapped most of the bills here and here, so I’m only going to recap the session here in the interests of time.

  • The Governor is expected to sign a bill expanding the requirements for employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. Again, I’ve recapped the measure here but this is probably the most significant bill to come out of the session regarding employers.
  • There will be no minimum wage hike and the introduction of Paid FMLA failed to get enough votes this term.  There is little doubt that the split in the Senate along party lines slowed momentum down for what was going to be the Democrat party’s signature achievement this session.
  • Also not getting votes this session was a bill that would have prohibited many employers from running credit checks on prospective employees and a bill that would required employers to give advance notice to employees about their work shifts.
  • Another bill that would change whistleblower protections in Connecticut also failed to clear the House.

Some of the other technical changes, to workers compensation or unemployment compensation, offer up a mixed bag. I’ve covered them in a prior post.

A special session is still on the way and it’s possible that some measures will get plopped into an “implementer” bill for the budget like it did a few years ago.  But my gut tells me that the budget is unlike to be used this way given the significant financial issues in play.  Nonetheless, employers should continue to watch for any developments in this area until the special session is closed.

Last Regular Session Day of Connecticut Legislature: Where We Stand

Posted in Highlight, Legislative Developments, Wage & Hour

GA2Today is the last day of the Connecticut General Assembly regular session.  So it’s a good time to take a look at some of the bills pending or passed.  Strangely, things seem pretty quiet on the employment law front.  But after the dust settles, I’ll have another update. Here is where we stand as of early this morning (Wednesday).

  • Last night, the Senate approved of the measure (House Bill 6668) expanding protections in the workplace for workers who are pregnant.  It was previously passed by the House.   I’ve covered the bill in depth before but it now goes on to the Governor for his signature.  The bill, if signed, would become effective October 1, 2017.
  • The House also passed a measure last night (H.B. 6907) that exempts certain professional drivers from coverage under the state’s unemployment law.. The exemption applies to drivers under a contract with another party if the driver meets certain conditions. The measure moves to the Senate but given the backlog of bills today, final passage is definitely unclear.
  • The Senate last night passed a measure (H.B. 7132) that streamlines procedures for filing workers compensation claims.  Currently, the law generally requires private-sector employees seeking workers’ compensation benefits to submit a written notice of claim for compensation to either a workers’ compensation commissioner or their employer’s last known residence or place of business. This bill requires private-sector employees who mail the notice to their employer to do so by certified mail. It also allows employers, except the state and municipalities, to post a copy of where employees must send the notice (presumably a specific address). The posting must be in a workplace location where other labor law posters required by the labor department are prominently displayed.  Under the bill, employers who opt to post such an address must also forward it to the Workers’ Compensation Commission, which must post the address on its website. Employers are responsible for verifying that the information posted at the workplace location is consistent with the information posted on the commission’s website.By law, within 28 days after receiving an employee’s written notice of claim, an employer must either (1) file a notice contesting liability with the compensation commissioner or (2) begin paying workers’ compensation benefits to the injured employee (and retain the ability to contest the claim for up to a year). Employers who do neither of these within 28 days of receiving the notice are conclusively presumed to have accepted the claim’s compensability. Under the bill, if an employer posts an address where employees must send a notice of claim, the countdown to the 28-day deadline begins on the date that the employer receives the notice at the posted address.The bill now moves to the Governor for his review and approval.
  • The General Assembly is also continuing to review a possible Paid Family and Medical Leave insurance scheme.  This bill (S.B. 1) is definitely one to watch over the next day and over any special session as well.
  • Senate Bill 929 would expand whistleblower protections under 31-51m. It has passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote in the House.  Existing law prohibits employers from discharging, disciplining, or otherwise penalizing an employee for certain whistleblowing activities, including reporting suspected illegal conduct to a public body.  This bill additionally prohibits employers from taking such actions against an employee for objecting or refusing to participate in an activity that the employee reasonably believes is illegal. Specifically, it applies to such beliefs about violations or suspected violations of state or federal laws or regulations, municipal ordinances or regulations, or court orders. The bill also (1) extends the time an employee has to file such a lawsuit and (2) adds to the possible remedies available to employees, including punitive damages in certain circumstances.

That seems to be it so far. A lot can change though today and employers should continue to be mindful of the shifting landscape. Even bills that appear “mostly dead” sometimes come back to life at the end — and particularly in special session as well. So stay tuned.

Court: Temps May Not be “Employees” Under Workers Compensation Law, Allowing Lawsuit

Posted in Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance

As I continue to work on a major redesign and relaunch that I hope (!) to roll out by month’s end which has held up some blog posts, my colleague Gary Starr returns this morning with a new post regarding a recent Connecticut court decision and temps. 

starrEmployers who use a staffing company to supplement their employees may find themselves in for a rude awakening if the temp gets hurt at their worksite.

Ordinarily, an employee injured on the job would be covered by the workers compensation insurance.

A recent Superior Court decision rejected the idea that the temp is covered by the employer’s workers compensation insurance and is allowing a lawsuit to go forward against the employer.

The court found that the temp was an employee of the staffing company and not the employer, even though the temp accepted the assignment with the employer, the work was being done for the employer, and the temp was under the control of the employer at the worksite, and not the staffing company.

While there are several state court decisions that have found this arrangement to be a dual employment situation, other courts have rejected the concept of dual employment.  Under dual employment, the temp would have been covered under the employer’s workers compensation insurance.

Until an appellate court or the Connecticut Supreme Court rules on this issue or the legislature clarifies the statutory scheme, employers using staffing companies to fill out their employment needs, run the risk that if the temp gets hurt, they could be sued.

Such a lawsuit would present a risk of liability that could exceed the workers compensation formulas, with possible punitive damages.

Employers should be careful in their negotiations with staffing companies to try to establish a dual employment relationship with the temp, even having the temp sign a written agreement with the employer accepting the assignment with the employer.  There should also be clarification of the scope of any indemnity.  The employer should check with its workers compensation insurance carrier to ensure coverage of any temps.

While these steps may not avoid the consequences described above, it may provide a basis for arguing for dual employment and for coverage under workers compensation.

Of course, dual employment has its own set of challenges as well so employers using temps need to understand both the pros and cons in such a relationship.

Legislative Update: Pregnancy Discrimination Protections Under State Law Changing?

Posted in Discrimination & Harassment, Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Legislative Developments

pregnancy1On Tuesday, May 23rd, the Connecticut House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a measure that would greatly expand the already broad anti-discrimination provision that exist under Connecticut law.  The bill, House Bill 6668, would make several substantive changes to the protections including defining what is a “reasonable accommodation” instead of leaving that determination open.

I’ve previously written extensively about the state laws covering pregnant employees before (here and here for example) so I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the current law so you can fully understand the contemplated change. But I’ll try to break it down here.

Existing law makes it a discriminatory practice to:

  • To terminate a woman’s employment because of her pregnancy;
  • to refuse to grant to that employee a reasonable leave of absence for disability resulting from her pregnancy;
  • to deny to that employee, who is disabled as a result of pregnancy, any compensation to which she is entitled as a result of the accumulation of disability or leave benefits accrued pursuant to plans maintained by the employer;
  • to fail or refuse to reinstate the employee to her original job or to an equivalent position with equivalent pay and accumulated seniority, retirement, fringe benefits and other service credits upon her signifying her intent to return unless, in the case of a private employer, the employer’s circumstances have so changed as to make it impossible or unreasonable to do so.

Those provisions would remain unchanged under the bill.

Existing law also makes it a discriminatory practice to:

  • fail or refuse to make a reasonable effort to transfer a pregnant employee to any suitable temporary position which may be available in any case in which an employee gives written notice of her pregnancy to her employer and the employer or pregnant employee reasonably believes that continued employment in the position held by the pregnant employee may cause injury to the employee or fetus;
  • fail or refuse to inform the pregnant employee that a transfer pursuant to subparagraph (E) of this subdivision may be appealed under the provisions of this chapter; or
  • fail or refuse to inform employees of the employer, by any reasonable means, that they must give written notice of their pregnancy in order to be eligible for transfer to a temporary position; 

The bill would delete those three rules and instead expand existing law to make it a discriminatory practice to:

  • limit, segregate or classify the employee in a way that would deprive her of employment opportunities due to her pregnancy;
  • discriminate against an employee or person seeking employment on the basis of her pregnancy in the terms or conditions of her employment;
  • fail or refuse to make a reasonable accommodation for an employee or person seeking employment due to her pregnancy, unless the employer can demonstrate that such accommodation would impose an undue hardship on such employer;
  • deny employment opportunities to an employee or person seeking employment if such denial is due to the employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation due to her pregnancy;
  • force an employee or person seeking employment affected by pregnancy to accept a reasonable accommodation if such employee or person seeking employment (i) does not have a known limitation related to her pregnancy, or (ii) does not require a reasonable accommodation to perform the essential duties related to her employment;
  • require an employee to take a leave of absence if a reasonable accommodation can be provided in lieu of such leave; and
  • retaliate against an employee in the terms, conditions or privileges of her employment based upon such employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation.

The changes don’t end there.  The bill creates definitions now for “reasonable accommodation” and “undue hardship”.

  • Under the bill, “Reasonable accommodation” means, “but shall not be limited to, being permitted to sit while working, more frequent or longer breaks, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring, light duty assignments, modified work schedules, temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work, time off to recover from childbirth or break time and appropriate facilities for expressing breast milk.”
  • And under the bill, “Undue hardship” means an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as (A) the nature and cost of the accommodation; (B) the overall financial resources of the employer; (C) the overall size of the business of the employer with respect to the number of employees, and the number, type and location of its facilities; and (D) the effect on expenses and resources or the impact otherwise of such accommodation upon the operation of the employer.

Contrast that with the ADA’s definition of those terms. If passed, the confusion for employers in interpreting these phrases are going to be plentiful.  The ADA, for example, does not define it so precisely in the law and leaves it to regulations to provide further guidance.  The undue hardship definition tracks closer but still differs:

The term “reasonable accommodation” may include (A) making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities; and (B) job restructuring, part-­time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

A) In general. – The term “undue hardship” means an action requiring significant difficulty or expense, when considered in light of the factors set forth in subparagraph (B).

(B) Factors to be considered. – In determining whether an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on a covered entity, factors to be considered include – (i) the nature and cost of the accommodation needed under this chapter; (ii) the overall financial resources of the facility or facilities involved in the provision of the reasonable accommodation; the number of persons employed at such facility; the effect on expenses and resources, or the impact otherwise of such accommodation upon the operation of the facility; (iii) the overall financial resources of the covered entity; the overall size of the business of a covered entity with respect to the number of its employees; the number, type, and location of its facilities; and (iv) the type of operation or operations of the covered entity, including the composition, structure, and functions of the workforce of such entity; the geographic separateness, administrative, or fiscal relationship of the facility or facilities in question to the covered entity

You will now have the same words mean different things.

Two other notes: First, the bill creates a broad definition of “pregnancy” by not just including the pregnancy and childbirth but also any “related condition, including, but not limited to, lactation”.   Contrast this with the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act which defines pregnancy to just related medical conditions.

And second, the bill would create a new poster regarding pregnancy discrimination that employers would need to add to their facilities.

The CBIA initially expressed concern about this bill increasing the number of lawsuits and suggesting that “we should consider whether adequate enforcement of existing law is better than making businesses risk endlessly litigating what ‘could have been provided’ to employees in the past.”

For employers, this is a bill that warrants close attention; these have the potential to bring the most significant changes to this area of law in well over a decade.

In Firing Employees, A Bit of Humanity Still Helps

Posted in Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Manager & HR Pro’s Resource Center
What Would Clooney Think?

What Would Clooney Think?

Your employee that you are firing should not hear about his firing from a television report first.

I suppose that would seem an obvious rule to follow. But apparently not.

Let me back up.

Earlier today, the President fired FBI Director James Comey — an act that really is more for politics blogs, than an employment law blog.

But as the details of the firing trickled out in the evening, one detail jumped out at me — James Comey found out he was fired through the television.

From The New York Times:

Mr. Comey was addressing a group of F.B.I. employees in Los Angeles when a television in the background flashed the news that he had been fired.

In response, Mr. Comey laughed, saying he thought it was a fairly funny prank.

Then his staff started scurrying around in the background and told Mr. Comey that he should step into a nearby office.

Now, I’m sure there are many who don’t feel sorry for Mr. Comey; but still, where’s the humanity in firing someone via television?

Of course, this kind of schtick isn’t reserved just for politics. I remember back in 2009, I gave the following tip as well: Do not do layoffs or firings via e-mail. Period. (And last year, I wrote about how to conduct firings without getting sued too.)

So, for employers that are having to conduct firings, let me offer five suggestions for the actual informing of employees that they are being fired.

  1. Do it in person if possible, and have a witness.  If it’s not possible (distance, other circumstances), a phone call is a backup option.
  2. Do it in private.  Pick a time perhaps near the end of the day (or beginning) and perhaps in a location in the office that is away from crowds.
  3. Be brief and direct.  And plan in advance, what you are going to say.  Don’t draw it out, and don’t use wishy-washy language.  Some employers start with the “I have some bad news for you today.”
  4. Don’t argue with the employee or get into lengthy discussions regarding the termination. Be clear that the decision is final.
  5. Be sensitive.  Yes, firing an employee is typically hard on the employer, but guess what? It’s harder on the employee. Always.  Acknowledge the employee may disagree with the decision but be consistent with your message.

There is obviously a lot more to a termination meeting than this. Successful meetings are the result of preparation and practice.

But just remember: Your employee should find out he is being fired first from you — not a third party.

Citing Statistics, Yankee Institute Critical of CHRO — Again

Posted in CHRO & EEOC, Discrimination & Harassment, Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance

numbersThis week, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, a self-described “free market” think tank, issued an article suggesting that Connecticut had nearly the same number of discrimination complaints as our neighboring state, Massachusetts.

(This isn’t the first time it’s been critical of the CHRO.)

In doing so, the Yankee Institute claimed that these statistics raise “questions as to whether Connecticut is simply more litigious or if the policies at the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities are encouraging more claims.”

The basis for its analysis is a raw look at the statistics of claims filed — something I covered way back in December 2016 in two posts here and here.

I noted back then that the statistics only told part of the story and unfortunately here, the Yankee Institute’s arguments fall into this trap of relying too heavily on just a few statistics.

For example, yes, discrimination complaints have risen in the last few years as the Yankee Institute argues, but the types of complaints being filed are changing.  The Yankee Institute’s article lumps them all together as if they are fungible.

For example, as I noted in December: If you look at the claims involving termination of employment, there were 1216 filed in FY 2016, which is actually down from historical peaks in 2003, when there were 1385 such claims.

Instead, a different type of claim is being filed over the last 15 years — with huge increases in the “terms and conditions” area.

That is, employees who claim that they are being discriminated against in the “terms and conditions” of their employment when it comes to things like hiring, promotions and pay.  It could also mean an employer is not approving leaves, or granting breaks or any other term or condition of employment, however small.

In 2003, there were 411 such claims filed.  In 2014, there were 782.  By FY 2016, however, that number has skyrocketed to 1056!

In my mind, that likely means that more current employees are bringing discrimination claims against their employers.

chro99This is bolstered by a look at the “harassment” statistics. Notably, I’m not talking about sexual harassment claims, which continue to trend noticeably downward.  Just 135 such claims were filed in FY 2016, down from 185 the prior year and the lowest number by far in the 15+ years of available data.

Instead, this is a catch all claim for “I’m harassed” because of some other reason.  Just 175 such claims were filed in 2003, though that number was up to 380 in 2014.  For FY 2016, that number is up to 545.

That’s a more than 210% increase in over a decade!

Is the CHRO to blame for this trend? Without more critical analysis, I am hesitant to place the blame on the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

Anecdotally, I hear more arguments that employees are throwing around the phrase “hostile work environment” — not understanding that having a difficult boss is not illegal harassment.

The Yankee Institute’s article is also critical of the CHRO’s closure rate for “No Reasonable Cause” at 54 percent, compared to 87 percent of the Massachusetts claims closed for a lack of probable cause.

The CHRO issued a statement of their own on Facebook this week, with its own explanation for the discrepancy:

Many companies in Connecticut choose to resolve those matters prior to going through the full investigation process, by mediating those claims. Mediation works to the benefit of both parties, allowing for faster resolution and less time and money spent on investigations. These cases are frequently closed in fewer than six months from filing.

Here too, I think there is a danger than just looking at the numbers.  Both sides have some merit to their arguments.

As the Yankee Institute correctly notes, complaints ARE more costly and employers sometimes feel that they should pay something on even meritless claims to avoid the cost of litigation.

But the CHRO can also point to the fact that it has been dismissing more cases of late on Early Legal Intervention, giving employers more opportunities to avoid the cost of the CHRO process.  And the CHRO has been using mediation more effectively in the past — even if cases are getting through Case Assessment Review that probably shouldn’t.

Statistics are helpful; but when a state agency or a think tank starts using the numbers without providing context, reader beware.

Is Calling Your Boss “a Nasty Mother******” Protected Activity?

Posted in Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Labor Law & NLRB

starrMy colleague Gary Starr returns today with a decision from the Second Circuit (which covers Connecticut) that may just surprise you. Then again, if you’ve been following this line of reasoning, perhaps not.

There are outer limits to insulting speech, but a recent decision seems to indicate that it is really really far out there.

The questions up for consideration: When can an employer fire an employee for profanity during a union organizing drive?  When does the employee who stoops to insult not only his supervisor, but his mother, lost the protection of the National Labor Relations Act?

The Second Circuit faced these questions and provided a glimmer of hope for employers.

During the course of a nasty union organizing drive at a catering company, an employee became very upset at what he considered the employer’s continued disrespect for the employees.

In response, Perez used his iPhone during a work break to post the following:  “Bob [his supervisor] is such a NASTY MOTHER F****R don’t know how to talk to people!!!! F*** his mother and his entire f***ing family!!!! What a LOSER!!!! Vote YES for the UNION!!!!”

Perez had about ten other employees as friends on Facebook, but the post was also available to the public. Management learned of the post, investigated, and then fired Perez, just days before the election.

An administrative law judge found that the firing violated the law as Perez was engaged in protected, concerted activities.  This decision was upheld by the NLRB.  The case was then appealed to the Second Circuit.

At the court, the question was whether the post exceeded the bounds of protection by using profanity and insulting the supervisor’s mother.

While the Court in NLRB v. Pier Sixty was disturbed by the language and by the Labor Board’s failure to adequately take into account the employer’s interests in assessing how to evaluate a social media posts, it nonetheless, found a violation of labor law by the employer.

The Court noted that the employer had not disciplined many others for profanity in the past, even though profanity was a common occurrence in the kitchen,  that the language was not used at a catered event or in front of customers, that the message focused on matters that are protected, concerns about respect, that the message concluded by urging readers to vote for the union, and that the discharge occurred two days before the voting.

While the Second Circuit upheld the Labor Board’s decision, it sent a message that these facts are on the “outer-bounds of protected, union-related comments.”   It cautioned the Labor Board that it needed to be sensitive to employers’ legitimate disciplinary interests and to properly balance the competing interests of employees, unions and employers.

The facts in this case presented the court with hurdles it could not get over.  Profanity was common in the workplace, employees had not been disciplined for using profanity in the past, and the incident was almost on the eve of the union vote.  The employer was unable to show that the posting online had harmed its business.  But in another context, using union organizing as a shield to insult supervisors’ mothers may not work.