OBAMA-ERA FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT OVERTIME RULE DEFEATED

Last year, the Department of Labor instituted a new overtime rule under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which required employers to pay a little more than $47,000 annually to qualify under the white-collar exemptions.  This rule had previously been in limbo given that a Texas Federal District Court judge prevented its enforcement last Thanksgiving.  The same judge has now recently struck down the rule permanently.  Accordingly, short of a successful appeal, employers can now feel safe that the new rule will not be implemented.

 

The FLSA requires that employers pay non-exempt employees overtime for any hours worked beyond 40 hours in a week. An employee must satisfy three conditions to be considered exempt from overtime requirements:

 

  1. the employee must be paid a fixed salary;
  2. the salary must meet a minimum threshold; and
  3. the position must meet certain duties requirements applicable to executive, administrative, or professional positions.

 

Under the Obama administration, the DOL more than doubled the minimum salary requirement, taking it from $455 per week to $915 per week. Additionally, the threshold would have been scheduled to increase again in the year 2020 under an automatic 3-year increase the rule sought to implement.

 

Overview of the Recent Decision

The judge determined that the Department of Labor exceeded its authority in promulgating a new rule, with a salary requirement so high to essentially eliminate the requirement that exempt employees perform executive, administrative, or professional duties.  The judge was clear that the Department of Labor still retains the ability to issue a salary threshold test but the Department went too far.  There is no incite from the decision as to what would be a proper threshold.  The effect of this decision is that the Department’s authority to implement a salary test is now limited.

 

Takeaway for Employers

A sigh of relief can now be taken by all employers who did not want to see the exemption salary requirements increased.  Accordingly, employers do not have to raise salaries of exempt employees to meet the rule’s new threshold or change previously exempt employees to non-exempt status where salaries fell below the threshold.  If an employer has already adjusted its compensation scheme to comply with the new rule, it can consider whether reversing course will impact the workforce.

 

Please contact Lee + Kinder LLC with any questions!

NEW OVERTIME RULES

The Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) new overtime rules take effect December 1, 2016,usdol_seal and employers should be reviewing and modifying their compensation and payroll practices in response. Here is a link to the new regulations adopted by the Department of Labor:

http://webapps.dol.gov/FederalRegister/PdfDisplay.aspx?DocId=28355

As part of this preparation, employers must consider whether and how any changes to their compensation structures will affect their employee benefit plans.

The new overtime rules increase the salary levels at which executive, administrative, and professional workers may be considered “exempt” under the Fair Labor Standard Act (“FLSA”) from overtime pay when a work week exceeds 40 hours. Initially, the standard salary level will increase from $455 to $913 per week and the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employee exemption will increase from $100,000 to $134,004 per year.  In addition to these initial compensation level bumps, additional upward adjustments are scheduled to occur every three years thereafter.

The immediate impact on this change is that currently classified “exempt” employees under the lower salary level, will no longer qualify for this status.  As a result, if an employee is no longer exempt under the FLSA, overtime must be paid for work performed beyond the 40-hour work week.

Employers need to respond to these changes in a number of ways.  Some are raising base salaries in order to classify additional employees as “exempt.”  Others are planning to simply pay overtime where necessary.  Others are planning to cap hours at 40 so that no overtime need be paid, or to meet their needs with part-time workers.

Regardless of the planned changes, effects on the employer’s benefit plans must be considered.  The DOL’s new overtime rules will require many employers to make sweeping and expensive changes to their compensation practices.  These changes may impact employee benefit plans in both intended and unintended ways.  Employers are urged to conduct a thorough benefit plan analysis before making any sweeping compensation changes.

If you have questions about the rule, or how it may affect your company, please contact us.

The EEOC’s New Wellness Program Rule

On May 16, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission US-EEOC-Seal.svg(EEOC) released its own final regulations regarding employer wellness programs.  This was in direct response to the two recent court decisions – EEOC v. Flambeau, Inc. and Seff v. Broward County.  In its recently issued regulations, which you can access HERE and HERE

The EEOC has set forth its final position on how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title II of the Genetic Information and Discrimination Act (GINA) apply to employer wellness programs that request the health information of employees and/or their spouses.  While most provisions of the final ADA rule and final GINA rule are identical to their respective proposed rules, there are some key differences, which we explain below in Q&A format below.

  1. Does the ADA’s safe harbor provision apply to employer wellness programs?

No.  The ADA’s safe harbor provision states that the ADA “shall not be construed to prohibit or restrict . . . a person or organization covered by this chapter from establishing, sponsoring, observing or administering the terms of a bona fide benefit plan that are based on underwriting risks, classifying risks, or administering such risks that are based on or not inconsistent with State law.”  42 U.S.C. § 12201(c).

The Commission made no secret about its opinion that Seff and Flambeau were “wrongly decided” (including by appealing the Flambeau decision to the Seventh Circuit).  Despite case law to the contrary and pending appeals, the Commission reaffirmed its position in the final ADA rule that “the safe harbor provision does not apply to an employer’s decision to offer rewards or impose penalties in connection with wellness programs that include disability-related inquiries or medical examinations.”  Rather, the safe harbor provision only applies “to the practices of the insurance industry with respect to the use of sound actuarial data to make determinations about insurability and the establishment of rates.”  An employer’s use of a wellness program to make employees healthier and reduce the costs of health care is not the type of underwriting or risk classification that is protected by the safe harbor provision. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.14(d)(6).

  1. What wellness programs are subject to these final rules?

Any wellness program that includes disability-related inquiries and/or medical exams is subject to the rule.  This includes wellness programs: (a) offered only to employees enrolled in an employer-sponsored group health plan; (b) offered to all employees regardless of enrollment in the employer-sponsored group health plan; and (c) offered as a benefit of employment by employers that do not sponsor group health plans/insurance.

  1. Do the final rules provide additional clarification as to what makes a wellness program “voluntary”?

Yes.  The Commission has held steadfast in its decision to apply the “30 percent rule” for incentives set under HIPAA and the Affordable Care Act to participatory wellness programs that inquire as to employee disabilities or require employees to undergo medical examinations.  In doing so, the final rule limits the size of the incentives offered by these programs to 30% of the employee’s total cost of coverage.  Many commenters wanted the Commission to adopt an “affordability standard” to protect low-income workers from incentives that prove to be large enough to render health insurance coverage unaffordable.  The Commission declined to adopt this standard however, because in its view, “this rule promotes the ADA’s interest in ensuring that incentive limits are not so high as to make participation in a wellness program involuntary.”

Additionally, in the rule’s preamble specific to 29 C.F.R. § 1630.14(d)(2)(ii), the Commission clarifies that it is of the opinion that the ADA prohibits “the outright denial of access to a benefit available by virtue of employment”, but does not prohibit “an employer from denying an incentive that is within the [30% limit] . . . nor does it prohibit requiring an employee to pay more for insurance that is more comprehensive.”  The Commission likely included this comment to further emphasize its disagreement with the Flambeau and Seff decisions – the Commission has concluded that an employer discriminates against an employee in violation of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4), when it “denies access to a health plan because the employee does not answer disability-related inquiries or undergo medical examinations.”

The final rule explaining the notice requirement, 29 C.F.R. § 1630.14(d)(2)(iv), also clarifies that it applies to “all wellness programs that ask employees to respond to disability-related inquiries and/o undergo medical examinations.”

  1. What types of incentives may be offered to employees and how can employers calculate incentive limits?

In addition to financial incentives, employers are permitted to offer in-kind incentives (e.g., employee recognition, parking spot use, relaxed dress code) and de minimis incentives to employees, despite any difficulties in valuing these incentives.

The final ADA rule, 29 C.F.R. § 1630.14(d)(3), also explains how employers can calculate incentive limits in four situations: (a) where participation in a wellness program depends on enrollment in a particular health plan; (b) where wellness program participation does not depend on employee’s enrollment in an employer-offered single group health plan; (c) where wellness program participation does not depend on employee’s enrollment in any of employee’s group health plans; and (d) where an employer does not offer a group health plan or insurance.

  1. How do these rules relate to other federal discrimination laws?

Employers should pay special attention to interpretative guidance following the final ADA rule.  In it, the Commission states:

“[E]ven though an employer’s wellness program might comply with the incentive limits set out in [29 C.F.R. § 1630.14(d)(3)], the employer would violate federal nondiscrimination statutes if that program discriminates on the basis of race, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, transgender status, and sexual orientation), color, religion, national origin, or age.  Additionally, if a wellness program requirement (such as a particular blood pressure or glucose level or body mass index) disproportionately affects individuals on the basis of some protected characteristic, an employer may be able to avoid a disparate impact claim by offering and providing a reasonable alternative standard.”

This appears to place the additional burden on the employer to examine all wellness program incentives and requirements for potential disparate impact.  The extent to which an employer must understand specific medical characteristics of every protected class on its employee roster is unknown.

  1. What changes did the Commission make in the final GINA rule?

There are four changes of note, all of which were added to the final GINA rules to clarify and/or enhance the proposed rules.

  • The final GINA rule extends the prohibition on offering inducements for information from the children of employees to all children (minor children and those 18 years of age or older).
  • Every provision of the final GINA rule now applies to all employer-sponsored wellness programs requesting genetic information.
  • There is no longer a different inducement limit threshold for employee spouses. The final GINA rule uses the “30 percent rule” when an employee and the employee’s spouse are given the opportunity to enroll in the employer-sponsored wellness program.  The final rule provides examples of how to calculate incentive limits where this is the case.  See 29 C.F.R. 1635.8(b)(2)(iii)(A)-(D).
  • Employers may not condition an employee’s or an employee’s spouse’s participation in a wellness program or their eligibility for offered incentives on the employee, the employee’s spouse, or a covered dependent agreeing to the sale, exchange, sharing, transfer, or other disclosure of genetic information or waiving GINA’s confidentiality protections.

Take Away

The final rules apply proactively – thus, are only applicable to wellness programs as of the first date of the plan beginning January 1, 2017 or thereafter.  In the meantime, we await the Seventh Circuit’s decision in the EEOC’s appeal of Flambeau regarding whether the ADA safe harbor provision applies to employer wellness programs.  Given the EEOC’s position that the provision does not apply and the growing number of courts that think otherwise, it is looking like the ultimate decision will be made by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination: EEOC Initiates its Next Title VII Challenge

A new era of discrimination lawsuits is upon employers nationwide.  Last month, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed its first lawsuits alleging sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII against employers in Pennsylvania and Maryland.  The lawsuits are the latest step by the Commission to confirm its view that “sex” discrimination under Title VII encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation. As with most discrimination cases filed by the EEOC, it seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief in both lawsuits.

Furthermore, with these lawsuits currently pending, the EEOC has also recently issued guidance on gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination.

What You Should Know About EEOC and the Enforcement Protections for LGBT Workers and

Addressing Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination in Federal Civilian Employment

This guidance is all stemming from last year’s EEOC decision in Baldwin v. Department of Transportation where the Commission held for the first time that a claim of discrimination, on the basis of sexual orientation, necessarily involved sex-based considerations under Title VII because sexual orientation discrimination: (1) inevitably involves treating employees differently because of their sex; (2) is associational discrimination on the basis of sex; and (3) necessarily involves discrimination based on gender stereotypes, including employer beliefs about the person to whom the employee should be attracted.

As such, with the filing of the two recent lawsuits in Pennsylvania and Maryland, the EEOC is seeking to have two separate courts agree with its guidance on sex-based considerations. In the first challenge, the Commission alleges that a Pennsylvania-based health care company subjected a gay male employee to harassment because of his sexual orientation.  The lawsuit alleges that employee’s manager repeatedly referred to him using various anti-gay epithets and made other highly offensive comments about his sexuality and sex life.  The employee complained to the clinic director, but the director allegedly refused to take any action to stop the harassment.  The employee eventually quit.

In the second challenge, the EEOC alleges that a lesbian employee at a recycling company was harassed by her supervisor because of her sexual orientation.  The supervisor purportedly made comments about the employee’s sexual orientation and appearance on a weekly basis.  The employee purportedly complained to the general manager and called the company’s hotline about the harassment.  She was fired just a few days after she raised complaints.

Take Away: Plaintiff firms are taking notice and it is expected that sexual orientation based discrimination suits will increase over the next year or so, particularly pending the outcome of the recent lawsuits.  Consequently, employers should prepare for the EEOC to continue its focus on investigating sexual orientation and gender identity claims and should address these types of discrimination in training materials and handbooks.  In the end, employers should treat any such complaints of discrimination just as it would for other Title VII based discrimination complaint raised internally.

Personnel Files in Colorado: Who owns the file and what privacy interests are involved?

This is a question that I repeatedly see throughout the year and it comes in a variety of contexts. Often times, personnel-file-28116_960_720employers who may have recently terminated an employee, are suddenly posed with a request from that former employee for his/her personnel file. Sometimes, within a workers’ compensation or other employment related claim, the worker is seeking copies of the personnel file in an effort to bolster his or her claims. Additionally, employers receive requests from plaintiffs or third-parties seeking copies of personnel files concerning witnesses or company representatives. Consequently, employers are often placed in a decision whether or not to disclose this information and if there are any privacy issues with disclosing the information.

While the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have not definitively addressed this issue head on, there is support for the conclusion that personnel files are property belonging to the employers and not the employees. In Corbetta v. Albertson’s Inc., it was the first time the Colorado Supreme Court addressed the issues of personnel files and privacy interests. The case involved a suit by a customer of Albertson’s alleging a variety of claims arising out of the plaintiff cracking several teeth on a pebble in a spinach salad she purchased. As part of discovery, plaintiff requested the entire employment files of the store manager, all assistant managers and all deli employees. Albertsons objected to the disclosure of these files invoking a right to privacy argument of the employees. The trial court ordered production of the files and concluded that while the personnel files were the property of Albertsons, disclosure was appropriate under the circumstances.

The Supreme Court overturned the trial court’s decision noting primarily that it did not appropriately balance the privacy interests involved and make appropriate factual findings and conclusions in addressing those privacy interests. However, the Supreme Court, in this decision, did not overturn the conclusion of the trial court that the personnel files were the property of the company. Accordingly, employers can rely on this decision for the conclusion that personal files are company property and not the property of the specific employee. Furthermore, while the Supreme Court did provide a right to privacy balancing test for determination of whether a personal file can be disclosed, the Court later in In re District Court, Cty and County of Denver revised this test, which now is the current law.

The case of In re District Court, Cty and County of Denver involved a former client of a law firm suing for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duties. As part of discovery, the former client requested financial information of the law firm members. The Supreme Court determined that when discovery requests implicate right to privacy interests:

  • The requesting party must first prove that the information requested is relevant to the subject of the action;
  • If shown relevant, then the party opposing the request must show that it has a reasonable expectation that the requested information or materials is confidential and will not be disclosed;
  • If the trial court finds that there is a legitimate expectation of privacy in the materials, the burden then shifts back to the requesting party to prove either that disclosure serves a compelling state interest or that there is a compelling need for the information AND that the information is not available from other sources.

There are other issues that implicate personnel files. First, employers are not required to give employees access to their personnel records. Access to personnel files and the information they contain should be restricted. Only authorized employees, supervisors or managers should be permitted to access personnel records on a “need to know” basis. Second, records regarding confidential, sensitive information unrelated to job performance, such as regarding citizenship, garnishments and any medical condition that could cause someone else to conclude the employee has a communicable disease (e.g., HIV), should be maintained in separate, confidential files. For example, if an employee suffers a workers’ compensation claim, it is highly recommended that a separate file be created to avoid confidential and private information being contained within his or her personnel file, such as medical reports.

Take Away

Personnel files are the property of the employers and thus, it is recommended that outside the scope of litigation, any such request for disclosure be denied. When requests are made as part of litigation or insurance claims, it is imperative that the right to privacy issue be properly considered and that the litigants requesting the information properly meet their burdens before a trial court.

The Ongoing Dilemma of Intermittent FMLA Leave

Intermittent FMLA leave is a giant thorn in the side of human resource professionals Familyacross the country. The struggle is that not all intermittent leave requests are equal. Here’s a look at some of the most common scenarios, and how to handle them. The FMLA allows employers some flexibility in granting different kinds of intermittent leave. Employees are entitled to take it for serious health conditions, either their own or those of immediate family members. The law also allows use of intermittent leave for child care after the birth or placement of an adopted child, but only if the employer agrees to it. It’s the company’s call. It’s not always simple, however. If the mother develops complications from childbirth, or the infant is born premature and suffers from health problems, the “serious health condition” qualifier would likely kick in. As always, it pays to know the medical details before making a decision.

Eligibility Is Not Automatic

Companies can successfully dispute bogus employee claims to FMLA eligibility. Consider this real-life example:

A female employee in Maine said she suffered from a chronic condition that made it difficult to make it to work on time. After she racked up a number of late arrivals – and refused an offer to work on another shift – she was fired. She sued, saying her tardiness should have been considered intermittent leave. Her medical condition caused her lateness, she claimed, so each instance should have counted as a block of FMLA leave. Problem was, she’d never been out of work for medical treatment, or on account of a flare-up of her condition. The only time it affected her was when it was time to go to work.

The Court denied her claim for FMLA eligibility and indicated that intermittent leave is granted when an employee needs to miss work for a specific period of time, such as a doctor’s appointment or when a condition suddenly becomes incapacitating. That wasn’t the case here, the judge said – and giving the employee FMLA protection would simply have given the woman a blanket excuse to break company rules.
Cite: Brown v. Eastern Maine Medical Center.

Designating Leave Retroactively
In order to maximize workers’ using up their allotted FMLA leave, employers can sometimes classify an absence retroactively. For example, an employee’s out on two weeks of vacation, but she spends the second week in a hospital recovering from pneumonia. Her employer doesn’t learn of the hospital stay until she returns to work. But she tells her supervisor about it, who then informs HR. Within two days, HR contacts the woman and says, “That week you were in the hospital should be covered by the FMLA. Here’s the paperwork.” The key here is that the company acted quickly – within two days of being notified of the qualifying leave. The tactic’s perfectly legal, and it could make a difference in the impact FMLA leave time could have on the firm’s overall operation. It’s also an excellent example of the key role managers play in helping companies deal with the negative effects of FMLA.

Using Employees’ Paid Time Off
Employers should never tell workers they can’t take FMLA leave until they’ve used up all their vacation, sick and other paid time off (PTO). Instead, companies can require employees to use their accrued PTO concurrently with their intermittent leave time. Employers can also count workers’ comp or short-term disability leave as part of their FMLA time – but in that case, employees can’t be asked to use their accrued PTO.

The Transfer Position
Companies can temporarily transfer an employee on intermittent leave, to minimize the effect of that person’s absence on the overall operation. The temporary position doesn’t need to be equivalent to the original job – but the pay and benefits must remain the same. And, of course, the employee must be given his old job – or its equivalent – when the intermittent leave period’s over.

There is one large restriction – the move can’t be made if the transfer “adversely affects” the individual. An example would be if the new position would lengthen or increase the cost of the employee’s commute. This would adversely affect the employee. Instead, such transfers need to be handled in such a way as to avoid looking like the employer is trying to discourage the employee from taking intermittent leave – or worse yet, is being punished for having done so.

Cooperation
Although FMLA is certainly an employee-friendly statute, employers do have some rights when it comes to scheduling intermittent leave. For instance, employees are required to consult with their employers about setting up medical treatments on a schedule that minimizes impact on operations. Of course, the arrangement has to be approved by the healthcare provider. But if an employee fails to consult with HR before scheduling treatment, the law allows employers to require the worker to go back to the provider and discuss alternate arrangements.

The Firing Question
Yes, companies can fire an employee who’s on intermittent FMLA leave. Despite the fears of many employers, FMLA doesn’t confer some kind of special dispensation for workers who exercise their leave rights. Obviously, workers can’t be fired for taking leave, but employers can layoff, discipline and terminate those employees who violate company policies or perform poorly. When an employee on FMLA leave is terminated, the DOL decrees that the burden’s on the employer to prove the worker would have been laid off, disciplined or terminated regardless of the leave request or usage.

Reductions in Force
When an employer has a valid reason for reducing its workforce, the company can lay off an employee on FMLA leave – as long as the firm can prove the person would have been let go regardless of the leave. However, companies again should be prepared not only to prove the business necessity of the move, but to show an objective, nondiscriminatory plan for choosing which employees would be laid off.

Misconduct or Poor Performance
Employees on FMLA leave – of any type – are just as responsible for following performance and behavior rules as those not on leave. However, companies that fire an employee out on FMLA will be under increased pressure to prove that the decision was based on factors other than the worker’s absence. As such, courts might well pose employers a key question: Why didn’t you fire this person before he/she took leave? This is not an easy answer to explain before a jury if liability is threatened at trial. The good news is that a number of courts have upheld employers’ rights to fire employees on FMLA leave, even when the employee’s problems were first discovered when the employee went off the job. Nevertheless, companies should move cautiously if they are to terminate an employee currently out on leave due to misconduct or poor performance existing prior to the leave, but discovered after the leave begins.

Colorado Supreme Court Tackles Medical Marijuana

Down_with_Brown_ID

 

The Colorado Supreme Court, one-week ago, issued a highly anticipated decision implicating employment law related decisions as they pertain to employees using lawful medical marijuana for activities outside the course and scope of employment. In the decision of Coats v. Dish Network, the Colorado Supreme Court, for the first time, provided its position on whether employers could make adverse employment actions against its employees who are lawfully using medicinal marijuana away from work. The Court held that even though medical marijuana is “lawful” activity in Colorado, such activity is not “lawful” under the federal law. As a result, employees may not assert protections under the Colorado Lawful Activities Statute.

In Coats, the Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Dish Network for discharging him for his use of medical marijuana, green-cross-thmbR medical marijuana to treat painful muscle spasms caused by his quadriplegia.   Between 2007 and 2009, the Plaintiff worked for Dish Network as a telephone customer service representative. In May 2010, the Plaintiff tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) during a random employee drug test. The Plaintiff informed Dish Network that he was a registered medical marijuana patient. Dish Network terminated the Plaintiff for testing positive for THC as a violation of the company’s drug policy.

The Plaintiff alleged a wrongful termination claim against Dish Network, pursuant to C.R.S. 24-34-402.5, which generally prohibits employers from discharging an employee based on his or her engagement in “lawful activities” off the premises of the employer, during nonworking hours. The case was dismissed by the trial court finding that, while medicinal marijuana was legal under state law, it was still illegal under federal law and thus, not a lawful activity. The Colorado Supreme Court has affirmed this decision and agrees with this conclusion.

Accordingly, the take away for Colorado employers is simple. Colorado employers may continue to enforce their drug policies against their employees who use medicinal marijuana and any adverse employment actions taken against them will not violate Colorado’s Lawful Activities Statute. It should be noted that this decision specifically did not address use of recreational marijuana, which Colorado has also made lawful. Nevertheless, it would be anticipated that the Court would treat recreational use no differently.  In other words, because both medical and recreational uses are still illegal under federal law, such activities still will not be “lawful” to support a claim under the Lawful Activities Statute.

For those interested in reading the opinion, please click the link below:

https://www.courts.state.co.us/userfiles/file/Court_Probation/Supreme_Court/Opinions/2013/13SC394.pdf

Recent U.S. Supreme Court Decision – Is there Now a Duty to Accommodate Pregnant Employees?

In a pattern of ongoing protections for employees, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) along with the United States Supreme Court has taken head-on the issue of pregnancy discrimination. For the first time in over 30 years, the EEOC in July 2014 issued Enforcement Guidance regarding pregnancy disability.  In general, the Guidance explains Title VII’s prohibition against pregnancy discrimination, describes individuals to whom the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) applies and discusses how the expanded definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies.
In sum, the Guidance advises employers to apply the same work place accommodation policies, leave of absence policies, medical benefits, and seniority/retirement benefits to all employees, regardless of whether a request for leave of absence, workplace accommodation, or medical benefit is due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or any other disability. The EEOC concedes that pregnancy is not a “disability” under the ADA, but points out those pregnant workers may have impairments related to their pregnancies that qualify as disabilities under the ADA, even though these disabilities are temporary.

Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court in Young v. United Parcel Service, articulated a high legal burden that employers would have to meet in order to justify policies that provide accommodations to some categories of employees, but not to pregnant women. The Court stated that it was not persuaded by, and noted a number of problems with, the EEOC’s July 2014 guidance, stating “[w]ithout further explanation, we cannot rely significantly on the EEOC’s determination.” The Court ultimately decided employers need to offer the same or similar accommodations to its pregnant employees as it does to its disabled employees.

The Court held that “a plaintiff alleging that the denial of an accommodation constituted disparate treatment under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act’s second clause may make out a prima facie case by showing, as in McDonnell Douglas, that she belongs to the protected class, that she sought accommodation, that the employer did not accommodate her, and that the employer did accommodate others ‘similar in their ability or inability to work.’” In other words, the Court determined that a Plaintiff can get to a jury trial and avoid summary judgment by providing sufficient evidence that the employer’s policies impose a significant burden on pregnant workers and that the employer’s “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons” are not sufficiently strong to justify the burden, but rather give rise to an inference of intentional discrimination.    ​

The ultimate take away from this recent decision is that while an employer is not automatically required to provide all pregnant workers the same accommodations it offers to others 100% of the time, employers should be prepared to justify any differences in their accommodation decisions, which may be difficult to do. Employers should also keep the ADA in mind, given that the Court specifically referenced the expanding definition of “disability” under the 2008 amendments to the ADA.

Practical Pointers for Guidance Compliance:

  • Review policies related to light duty and reasonable accommodation requests to ensure they are in line with legitimate business needs and not based on cost and convenience.
  • Examine accommodation requests granted and denied over the recent past, and on an ongoing basis, to determine if pregnant women are being treated disparately.
  • Train managers and HR professionals on the need for individualized inquires in granting or refusing requests for accommodation.