Tag Archives: Labor and Employment Law

Proposed NLRB Election Rule Changes – Position Statements

Last week, I commented that President Obama’s recent appointments to the National Labor Relations Board could mean significant changes for employers, particularly as it relates to union organizing by employees.  As one particular example, I referred to new election guidelines that have been proposed but that have not been enacted yet.  These new rules would make organizing campaigns faster and would make it easier for unions to launch and prevail in organizing campaigns.

Today, I will highlight the first of several notable rule changes, to explain why I say that.  Let’s look first at the proposal to require pre-election hearing position statements.

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Obama “Recess” Appointments Likely to Have Significant Impact on Labor Union Organizing

It has been no secret that President Obama has enjoyed great support from organized labor and that he in turn supports efforts to make it easier for unions to organize workers. Recent appointments by Obama to fill three vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board are likely to usher in significant changes in the process for creating such workplace groups.

The President, with much fanfare Wednesday, made a “recess” appointment for the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (I put the term “recess” in quotes, because there appears to be some controversy about whether or not the Senate, which normally must approve of such appointments, was actually in recess).  With much less fanfare, though, Obama appointed three new members to the five-seat NLRB. The Board had two vacancies already, and a third vacancy was created when one member’s term expired at the end of 2011. With only two members on the 5-member board, no action could be taken.

Republicans in Congress seemed content that this Board could not act, but the appointment of three new members makes it not only possible that the Board will be able to act but also likely that it now will have enough votes to enact new union election rules that have been proposed, to union elections faster and easier for unions.

I will continue to monitor the status of those rules, which I will explain in more detail in a future post. Stay tuned, folks!


Congress Considers Bill to Amend Burden of Proof in Age Discrimination Claims

In June, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., in which the Court clarified the standard for showing age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).  In short, the Court said that a plaintiff that claims age discrimination must show that but for the employee’s age, there was no other reason the employer would have taken the adverse action complained of.

This “but for” standard is more difficult for a plaintiff to show than the “substantial and motivating factor” standard other discrimination plaintiffs must show in claims brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, national origin, etc.  Under the “substantial and motivating factor” test, a plaintiff need only show that the protected class was a substantial and motivating factor – even if not the only factor – that led to the adverse action.

To address the different standards found in Title VII and in the ADEA, some Members of Congress have introduced HR 3721, which would be known as the “Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act” (POWADA).  This bill, if passed, would amend the ADEA to provide that a plaintiff can recover in an age discrimination claim if he or she can show that age was a “motivating factor for the practice complained of, even if other factors also motivated that practice.”

President Obama made it clear that his legislative agenda included amending various employment laws to assist plaintiffs in making these types of claims, and the Administration already can take credit for one new law that overturns recent Supreme Court precedent in the area of discrimination, so it would make sense that this bill could see some support.  It is too early to tell right now, though, so I will continue to keep you posted.


Obama signs FMLA Amendments Relating to Military Caregiver Leave

Thanks again to the FMLA Blog for a quick summary of this week’s amendments to the FMLA. As I wrote last year, the FMLA was amended previously to provide certain types of leave for employees dealing with various family matters involving service in the armed forces.

The new provisions that were signed into law by President Obama this week further to expand the number and type of circumstances in which FMLA leave can be taken for military related reasons.

Employers should be sure that their FMLA policies are up to date to reflect these new military leave requirements.


Pennsylvania Legislature Considers Expansion of Human Relations Act

The PA State House currently is considering legislation to expand the coverage of Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act.  The Act, originally adopted in 1955, prohibits certain types of discrimination that is based on a person’s race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age or national origin.

The new Bill, PA House Bill 300, would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the protected classes.  Currently, neither PA state law nor federal anti-discrimination law prohibit discrimination on these bases.  Just under half of the states, however, include some protection for sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

The new law defines the term “sexual orientation” as “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homesexuality or bisexuality.”  The term “gender identity or expression” is then defined as “actual or perceived gender identity, appearance, behavior, expression or physical characteristics whether or not associated with an individual’s assigned sex at birth.”

Just like the rest of protected classes already addressed by the law, this change would apply to discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.  It would not have any formal impact on other types of rights, such as the right to marry, etc.

The definitions are obviously rather broad, however, and could serve to expand significantly the scope of the Act.  Time will tell whether there will be support for the legislation, which was narrowly approved by the House State Government Committee and now is before the Appropriations Committee.  Stay tuned for more updates, as this bill moves its way through the General Assembly.


Obama Signs First Bill – An Employment Law Change Already

I previously wrote about the impact that an Obama Administration would have on employment law.  In that article, I mentioned that Obama had vowed to sign legislation that in effect would overturn a recent Supreme Court decision that precluded a female employee from bringing an equal pay claim, since she did not bring the claim within the requisite time limit from the initial decision by the employer to begin allegedly discriminating against her with respect to her pay.

President Obama kept that promise, when he signed his first piece of legislation this week, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (named for the plaintiff in the case he sought to overturn).  The new law declares that discriminatory pay arrangements are to be considered continuing violations that occur each time the employee receives his or her pay.  This makes it much easier for plaintiffs to meet the statute of limitations.

In her case against her former employer, Ms. Ledbetter claimed that, some time ago, she was given an unfairly low salary.  She alleged that the violation occurred each time she got a paycheck that was lower than what she claimed it should have been, meaning that she could file a claim any time within 180 days of receiving one of the paychecks.  Instead, the Court found that the alleged discrimination occurred when she originally was given a lower salary, meaning that her claim had to be filed within 180 days of that original event or was lost forever.

The fact that this was President Obama’s first bill signing means little or nothing from a legal perspective, but it does perhaps signal the new administration’s focus on expanding worker rights.  Only time will tell whether or not the next four years will continue in that direction.


Did Your Employees Call In Gay Today?

Today was the “Day Without a Gay” protest organized by gay rights activists, in an attempt to show how many gay workers there are in the American workforce.

As part of the protest, gay workers were encouraged to stay home and to refrain from spending money, also to show the collective impact gays can have in the economy.

Obviously, being gay is not generally a valid excuse for an absence, though employees could be free to utilize vacation or other leave time, assuming they comply with other applicable employer policies. Additionally, an employer is permitted to enforce attendance policies with respect to employees who do not comply with such policies in attempting to “call in gay.”

I do presume that the organizers of this event believe that “calling in gay” would be a valid excuse for missing scheduled work, like calling in sick would be. However, employers certainly are free to recognize the absence if they so desire. On the other hand, if an employer does not wish to support the cause, he or she may be nervous about enforcing attendance policies with employees who clearly are in violation, for fear of a discrimination claim.

Sexual orientation is not a protected class under any federal anti-discrimination statute, though. Some states do protect sexual orientation (PA does not), and among the various employment law changes suggested by President-elect Obama is the amendment of the Civil Rights Act to include this type of protection.

I do not anticipate a significant amount of fireworks to be caused by employers attempting to figure out how to handle employees who do literally “call in gay,” but it will be interesting to see what impact, if any, the protest has on American workplaces.


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