A few weeks back, I did a post about having our personal data hacked.

What if the hacker was you?

Yes you — the attorney, the employer, or someone else who has confidential information.

I was recently reviewing the online court file of an employment case in federal court for a recent blog post.  It’s available for anyone to see.

(You might be asking, Why? Because it’s always interesting to see other filings and the way cases turn out. Ok, it’s always interesting TO ME at least….).

In looking over some of the court-filed documents, I came across the college transcript of the employee/plaintiff.  It was filed by the attorney as evidence in the case.

Some newer transcripts don’t have some confidential information. But this college transcript was old school: It still contained the Social Security number of the employee AND his date of birth.

And just like that, the attorney has opened up the employee to hacking.

In case you are wondering, yes, there are rules in federal court about this. For example, Local Rule 5(e)8 requires that a party filing a document that will become publicly available shall redact Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, dates of birth and names of minor children.

Attorneys who represent employers should beware that the same rule applies to filings you submit as well.

Beyond court rules, employers have an independent legal obligations to protect Social Security numbers of its employees as well.

And so, in this age of data, it’s up to us all — attorneys and employers — to take the responsibility of protecting data seriously.

You don’t want to hack your own client or employee.

There are many confusing aspects of employment law — not the least of which is that certain laws only apply to employers of a certain size.

For example, the federal age discrimination law, ADEA, only applies to a business if it has 20 or more employees who worked for the company for at least twenty calendar weeks (in this year or last).

Now in some instances, that might not matter in Connecticut because Connecticut’s general anti-discrimination laws generally (with exception) apply to employers of three or more employees.

Why does this matter? Because there are some aspects of this federal law (and others) that don’t apply to small employers.

One prime example of this is the requirement that employers comply with the Older Worker Benefit Protection Act, which is part of ADEA.  This law requires separation agreements to have certain conditions, including 21 days for the employee to consider the release.  But employers who are under 20 employees are not covered by ADEA and thus don’t need to follow this particular legal requirement (even if it may still be a good idea).

Another area that this comes up is in FMLA coverage.  Most people are aware that FMLA only applies to employers who have 50 or more employees.

But there is a secondary requirement that is often overlooked — that the employee asking for such leave be located in an office that itself has 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius.

By way of example: Suppose an employer has 1000 employees, but only 25 located in Connecticut and there are no offices within 75 miles.  An employee has a serious health condition; is the employee eligible for FMLA leave?

The answer is no.  At least 50 employees must work for the employer within a 75 mile radius.

Practical Law had a good summary of this:  

Employers should analyze whether the employee meets the 50 employee and 75 miles requirement when the employee gives notice that leave is needed. An employee who is deemed eligible for FMLA leave continues to be eligible for the next 12 months even if the number of employees drops below 50. To determine whether an employee is eligible, the distance is based on:the employee’s physical work site using surface miles over public streets, roads, highways and waterways by the shortest route; or if an employee has no fixed work site, the employee’s work site is his home base, the site to which he reports or the site from which his work is assigned.

Now, nothing prevents an employer from giving all of its employees FMLA-leave, but they’re not required to.

Thus, employers who are in various locations should be sure to look at all the employer-size rules to figure how where they are covered and how. Because size really does matter.

chro2In yesterday’s post, I talked about how employment claims being filed are up big at the CHRO.

Indeed, in looking at the statistics further, I realized that it is the second highest number of claims being filed in the last 15 years.

So, FY 2015 was a very big year for claims.

But typically, in an improving economy, claims go down.  At least that’s the prevailing wisdom. So, what gives?

I wondered if the statistics could help explain the increase further?

In part, yes.

abacusIf you look at the “discharge” claims — that is, the claim that “I was fired because of discrimination” — those claims are basically the same (1174 for FY 2015 vs. 1164 in 2014.)

Compared with 2003 – the peak year for employment claims at 2211 — discharge claims are actually down substantially.  Indeed, in 2003, there were 1385 claims.  Thus, discharge claims are actually down 15 percent since 2003.

So, where are these claims coming from? One is from an obvious source: Retaliation claims.

In 2003, there were 516 claims filed. In 2014, 625. And in 2015, 753.  A 46 percent increase in the last decade or so and 20 percent over the last year alone.

Another is from a not so obvious source: from 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 such things as hiring, firing, promotions, and pay. It also means an employer may not discriminate, for example, when granting breaks, approving leave, assigning work stations, or setting any other term or condition of employment – however small.

In 2003, there were 411 such claims filed. In 2014, 782. And in FY2015 —  a spike to 941.  That translates to a 130 percent increase in such claims over the last 12 years and 20 percent over the last year alone.

In my mind, that means that many current employees are bringing discrimination claims against their employers based on the terms and conditions of their employment.

One other source? Harassment claims.  Notably, I’m not talking about sexual harassment claims which are actually down from last year and down 24 percent from 2003.

Instead, this is the catch all claim for “I’m harassed” because of some other reason.  503 claims were filed in FY 2015 vs. 380 in 2014 and just 175 in 2003.  That’s an increase of nearly 190 percent in the last 12 years and 32 percent last year alone!

Again, these are typically brought by current employees who may be dissatistifed with things at work and believe that they are being “harassed” by their supervisor.

Indeed, the notion of “workplace bullying” movement is premised, at least in part, on this idea.

So, what’s the takeaway here? You may be looking for claims in the wrong spot. Dismissal claims are fairly constant, but it is claims by current employees that are up substantially over past years.

And while we’ve talked about the increase in retaliation claims for many years, but harassment and “terms & conditions” claims are now the hot areas — at least in Connecticut.

Is there anything else to be gleaned from the statistics? Any other reasons why we’re seeing an increase? Stay tuned for the next post.

Lost sometimes amid all the aspects of discrimination cases are the technical requirements that still must be shown in order for a discrimination claim to proceed.

For example, Title VII applies only to employers with 15 or more employees each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks (But note that there may still be a state discrimination claim which only requires 3 or more employees.)

A recent federal case in Connecticut emphasizes this point.  In Jacobson v. Int’t Tours & Events LLC (download here), the court granted an employer’s motion for summary judgment were the employer said that it employed only 5 employees.

The Plaintiff asserted that other persons who worked for a separate corporate legal entity should be included but the court rejected that assertion saying she proffered no support for ignoring corporate form.

What’s the takeaway for employers? 

In defending claims of discrimination, don’t overlook the technical requirements for each statute.

Record numbers of discrimination complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to a MSNBC column:

Discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission jumped 15 percent in fiscal 2008 to 95,402 — the highest level since the agency opened in 1965, said spokesman David Grinberg. That is up from 82,792 claims filed the year before by workers who believe they were discriminated against because of age, race, religion, gender or other reasons.

Those are truly stunning statistics because the unemployment numbers for 2008 didn’t even start to spike until the last few months and this is for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008.  If you were to extrapolate that trend for 2009, it’s entirely plausible that we could hit 100,000 claims filed during 2009. 

The formal numbers will be released later this week, but already, the EEOC spokesman has his interpretation: "It’s possible we have yet to see the full impact of the recession on discrimination charge filings as the economy continues to spiral downward since fiscal year 2008,” Grinberg said.

What is the makeup of these increases? Well, according to the MSNBC report, retaliation claims are up nearly 23%, age claims up nearly 29% and gender and religion claims up 14%.  By contrast, race claims are up only 11%, while disability claims are up a mere 10%.  Interestingly, Equal Pay Act claims — which will get a boost from the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — were already up nearly 17% last year, before the passage of that bill.

What Does This Mean For Employers?

While the CHRO has yet to release its statistics for Connecticut, the EEOC numbers indicate that claims are on the rise..and in a big way.  Every decision to terminate an employee carries an even greater risk of a complaint.  With jobs becoming scarcer by the day, laid-off or terminated employees may view a complaint as their own way to stay afloat and their only option. 

These numbers emphasize the point that decisions to terminate employees should be made cautiously and carefully.  What are the consequences? You could end up being part of next year’s statistics.