The Human Touch of Web Accessibility

Posted in Disability, Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention

Automation is the way of the future . . . or so we thought. Make no mistake, the technology at our fingertips is powerful. As we increasingly rely on it, we lose human interaction and that presents its own risks. Even in the completely digital world of web accessibility, the human touch is essential. Companies should consider utilizing vendors who perform manual (as well as automated) testing to ensure their websites comply with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although courts are still wrestling with the applicability of the ADA to websites and whether a website even qualifies as a “place of public accommodation,” companies can avoid compliance headaches and potential litigation by using the human touch offered by some vendors.

Web accessibility testing often involves an automated process to test the coding of a website to ensure that it is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust—each of which are hallmarks of accessibility. When compared to manual human testing, automated testing programs handle information much more quickly than a human can process it. However, an automated program works only as well as the person who creates it. Some estimate that automated testing alone captures only about 17-25% of accessibility errors and overlooks important website elements. For example, while automated testing can identify issues with missing alternative text for photos, only a human can assess whether the alternative text actually belongs to a specific image on the page. And, while automated captioning may conveniently allow a hearing-impaired individual to understand the spoken content of a video, the accuracy of the captioning may be compromised if one chooses to bypass human evaluation. Continue Reading

“When Do You Plan On Having A Baby?” And Other Questions Not To Ask

Posted in Disability, Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Employment Discrimination Harassment & Retaliation

Employers interviewing women of child-bearing age may be tempted to ask about plans for having a baby, but doing so poses risks. While an employer might be concerned about staffing coverage, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against a woman based on her potential or capacity to become pregnant. Taking adverse action against a pregnant employee because of her pregnancy is equally unlawful.

Nonetheless, a New York Times article in February this year bore the striking headline: “Pregnancy Discrimination Is Rampant Inside America’s Biggest Companies.”  The article indicated that, notwithstanding the law, many pregnant women were either passed over for promotions or fired when they complained.

Yet another NYT headline focused on the failure of employers to provide light duty to pregnant women: “Miscarrying at Work: The Physical Toll of Pregnancy Discrimination.” Continue Reading

Minimizing Risks of BYOD Use For Work

Posted in Employee Handbooks & Policies, Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Labor Relations

Employees seem permanently attached to their smart phones today, but allowing employees to use their personal devices to make work calls, and send and receive work emails can carry substantial risks. Before allowing employees to use their personal cell phones or other devices for work purposes, make sure you have strong electronic communications and Bring Your Own Device policies in place that cover not only the use of your company email and phone systems, but also the use of personal cell phones, tablets and laptops for work. Among the issues to be addressed: Continue Reading

Discrimination Based on Hair and Hairstyles: Protected or Knot?

Posted in Employee Handbooks & Policies, Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Employment Discrimination Harassment & Retaliation

Cornrows or locs may not fit your corporate image, but be careful: state and local legislation prohibiting workplace grooming and appearance policies that adversely impact employees of color have begun popping up around the country. And the new laws have some teeth: employers who discriminate based on hair texture or style could face penalties of up to $250,000 under one and unlimited damages under another.

New York City was the first to prohibit workplace policies that ban hairstyles associated with Black communities. The New York City Commission on Human Rights, the agency that enforces New York City’s Human Rights Law, issued guidelines in February 2019 stating that employers can impose work-appropriate appearance requirements but cannot have grooming policies that prohibit locs, cornrows, Bantu knots and other such hairstyles. The guidelines state: “Employers may not ban, limit, or otherwise restrict natural hair or hairstyles associated with [B]lack communities to promote a certain corporate image, because of customer preference or under the guise of speculative health or safety concerns,” according to the guidelines. “An employee’s hair texture or hairstyle generally has no bearing on their ability to perform the essential functions of a job.” The New York City Commission can issue a penalty of up to $250,000 and there is no cap on damages.

Next came California, the first to enact statewide legislation.  California’s law is popularly known as the CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” The Act expands the definition of “race” to include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” The remedies for violation can include backpay, reinstatement, front pay; injunctive relief, attorney’s fees and costs, compensatory damages, and punitive damages (if an employer is found to have acted with malice or reckless indifference).

Just last month, New York State joined the trend, amending its Dignity Act to expand the definition of race to include natural hair and hairstyles. The Act protects “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles,” which includes, but is not limited to, locs, cornrows, braids, afros, and “the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.”

Similarly, New Jersey has also introduced legislation (Senate Bill 3945) which would expand the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles,” such as like braids, locs and twists.

What Does This Mean For Employers?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that “race” is not limited to the color of one’s skin and includes other physical and cultural characteristics associated race.  Therefore, according to the EEOC, a particular hairstyle, or the texture of an employee’s hair, has no correlation to any bona fide occupational qualification.

However, some courts have rejected the EEOC’s position.  For example, in U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which serves Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, held that Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination law, does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of hairstyle, such as locs, which the court considers a “mutable characteristic.” The court distinguished discrimination based on race from discrimination based on hairstyles, stating that hairstyles only have a cultural link to race or blackness, rather than being an immutable trait of one’s race.  Last year, the United States Supreme Court declined to review the decision.

Likewise, in Ewing v. United Parcel Service Inc., a federal district court last year in Kansas found that an employee who was terminated for wearing bright colored hair was not terminated from employment on the basis of race but rather for violating the employer’s personal-appearance guidelines. The court found that the employer had consistently applied and enforced its guidelines, which mandated that “hairstyles and hair color should be worn in a businesslike manner,” prohibited hair colors such pink, purple, crimson, and burgundy.

These cases show that employers still may implement dress code and grooming policies, but should take steps to ensure that the policies and their enforcement do not disproportionately impact persons of color, particularly in New York, California, and New Jersey.

Best Practice Tips

Employers in states like New York, California, New Jersey should immediately review their grooming policies to provide protection for natural hair and hairstyles historically associated with the Black community. Employers in other states should also review their grooming policies and to ensure the policies are race-neutral and uniformly enforced.  Along those same lines, employers should always be mindful of other physical characteristics that can be associated with an employee’s race, and develop and enforce policies accordingly. Employers also should ensure that they uniformly apply any rules that require employees to secure their hair for bona fide security, safety, and hygienic reasons.

Employers should ensure that their anti-discrimination training for managers and supervisors covers discrimination based on traits that are historically associated with race.

If you have any questions about these new laws and their impact on your company, contact your Akerman Labor and Employment attorney.



NLRB Proposes Employer Friendly Changes to Union Election Rules

Posted in Labor Relations

Employers may find it easier to remain union-free based on new rules proposed last week by the National Labor Relations Board for bringing unions into and out of the work place. Citing the National Labor Relations Act’s (Act) purpose of safeguarding the freedom of employees to choose to unionize or to remain union-free, the NLRB proposed to change its rules on blocking charges, the voluntary recognition bar, and the way collective bargaining relationships are formed in the construction industry. Continue Reading

Deadline Approaches for Submitting New Pay and Hours Data

Posted in Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Wage & Hour

The EEOC portal is now open and employers who had 100 or more employees in 2017 or 2018 have until September 30, 2019 to submit the earnings and hours data required by the new Component 2 part of the EEO-1 form. As we have previously reported here the EEO-1 form was revised to require employers with 100 or more employees to report earnings and hours worked within 12 pay bands, in addition to reporting race, ethnicity, and sex. The collection of this information had been stayed since 2017, but resumed this year pursuant to the recent decision in National Women’s Law Center, et al., v. Office of Management and Budget, et al., Civil Action No. 17-cv-2458 (D.D.C.).  The Department of Justice has appealed this decision, but the appeal does not stay employers’ filing obligations, and a decision is not expected until well after the September 30 deadline. Continue Reading

Anticipated Changes to Employment-Based Green Card Processing

Posted in Immigration Planning & Compliance

U.S. employers and foreign workers could soon face significant additional burdens and years-long delays in the employment-based green card process. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 (H.R. 1044), which seeks to eliminate the per-country limit on employment-based immigrant visas (i.e., “green cards”). The legislation proposes instead to treat all foreign nationals equally, regardless of country of birth. If enacted, the proposed changes could take effect as soon as September 30, 2019, with a three-year transitional period to offset the immediate impact to the U.S. immigration system and labor market.

Current U.S. federal immigration law places a numerical cap on the total number of employment-based green cards issued each year. Of this annual quota, nationals of any single country can receive no more than seven (7) percent of the total number of available employment-based green cards. Critics argue this policy is disadvantageous for nationals of heavily populated countries that have a higher number of applicants for U.S. permanent residence. Under the present law, nationals of China and India face green card waitlists that can be decades long because the demand from these countries far exceeds the available number of immigrant visas. The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 attempts to dramatically change the distribution of green cards by eliminating the seven (7) percent per-country cap on all employment-based immigrant visas. Continue Reading

Avalanche of New Laws Create Additional Requirements for Illinois Employers

Posted in Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Employment Discrimination Harassment & Retaliation, Wage & Hour

Illinois employers must be cognizant of new Illinois laws including bans on salary history inquiries, restrictions on artificial intelligence interview programs, mandatory sexual harassment prevention training, limitations on non-disclosure and arbitration provisions, increasing minimum wage, implications of the new cannabis law and, within the City of Chicago, predictive scheduling.

Workplace Transparency Act (WTA)

Effective January 1, 2020

The WTA’s purpose is to prevent unlawful discrimination and harassment in the workplace. To further its goal, the WTA: Continue Reading

Federal Judge Rejects New York Law Prohibiting Mandatory Pre-Dispute Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Claims

Posted in Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Employment Discrimination Harassment & Retaliation, Employment Investigations & Audits, Employment Litigation

New York’s ban on pre-dispute agreements requiring employees to use arbitration to resolve sexual harassment claims is invalid, a federal judge in Manhattan has ruled. In a decision from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote held, in Latif v. Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC, that Section 7515 of New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR), which prohibits mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims is inconsistent with the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), and therefore, invalid and unenforceable.

By way of background, the 2018-2019 New York State Budget, signed into law in April 2018, contained several sweeping provisions addressing workplace sexual harassment in direct response to the #MeToo movement, including a prohibition on pre-dispute agreements to arbitrate sexual harassment claims, codified in CPLR 7515. Following the enactment of this legislation, we noted in a prior blog post here that disputes over the validity of this state law would likely make their way into the courts, particularly given its tension with the FAA’s liberal policy favoring arbitration. This is precisely the issue that the Latif court addressed.    Continue Reading

DOL Issues Guidance on Payroll Rounding, Overtime Calculations, and Certain Paralegals

Posted in Employment Counseling & Workplace Claims Prevention, Employment Litigation, Wage & Hour

Employers looking for guidance on payroll rounding practices, classification of certain highly compensated paralegals and calculating overtime where employees receive non-discretionary bonuses will be glad to know the Department of Labor has issued three new Opinion Letters on those subjects. DOL Opinion Letters are issued by the Wage and Hour Division of the DOL and offer insight into the DOL’s interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act as applied to given set of facts. Employers facing wage claims may avoid liability for liquidated damages if they can show they acted in good faith by relying on a DOL Opinion Letter.

Payroll Software and Rounding Practice Accepted:

In Opinion Letter FLSA2019-9, the DOL considered the permissibility of the payroll rounding practice used by a non-profit that employed individuals with disabilities under government contracts subject to the Service Contract Act, which uses principles applied under the FLSA to determine hours worked. The DOL stated that the payroll software that rounds employees’ hours to two decimal points and was neutral on its face complies with the FLSA. In this case, the payroll software converted hours for each work period on each working day to calculate a numerical figure for daily hours and extended the time out to six decimal points. The software rounded the number to two decimal points—if the third decimal was less than .005, the second decimal stayed same (e.g., 6.784999 hours worked rounds down to 6.78 hours); but if the third decimal was .005 or greater, the second decimal rounds up by 0.01 (e.g., 6.865000 hours worked in a work day rounds up to 6.87 hours). The payroll software then calculated the daily pay by multiplying the rounded daily hours number by the SCA prevailing wage. Continue Reading