Our Social Media Posts This Week — Apr. 6 – 12, 2014

Each Sunday I briefly review the posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) from the past week.  You can check out the full posts by clicking on the links.

First up, the post on Sunday 4/6/14 was about whether grooming standards are subject to accommodation. The School District of Philadelphia found out the answer is yes – when it was sued by the Justice Department for religious discrimination.  The grooming standard at issue prevented school police officers and security officers from having beards longer than one-quarter inch. The plaintiff had a beard longer than that for the 27 years he worked there and there was no evidence it interfered with his job performance.  The School District refused to allow the beard based on his religious beliefs.

TAKEAWAY: Many companies have grooming or dress standards, but like other areas of employment, they too are subject to accommodation for religious beliefs. Don’t say “no” out of hand (or you may find yourself being sued and handing over money to an employee).

On Monday 4/7/14, we talked about the push & pull of Title VII accommodation – motherhood (puppies and apple pie).  The simple facts were that the employee returned from maternity leave, was denied immediate access to a lactation room despite increasing discomfort, was told she had two weeks to catch up or she would be disciplined, and was told, when she became visibly upset, that she needed to go “be with her babies.”  Seems like a slam-dunk for the employee, right? Nope. The court said it was her own fault because she failed to submit paperwork for access to a lactation room, that a nurse offered her the use of a wellness room, that her supervisor’s expectations were reasonable given her department’s priorities, and that she unreasonably failed to give the employer a chance to remedy the problem she was experiencing because she quit the very day she returned. Expectations reasonable? Yes, because the supervisor expected all of his employees to keep their work current and timely completion was a high priority. The employer’s policies treated all nursing mothers and loss mitigation specialists alike.

TAKEAWAY: Employers need not be afraid to take adverse action against a seemingly-protected employee if s/he has not complied with something s/he should have.

Next, on Tuesday 4/8/14 we talked abut the proper way to request FMLA leave so as not to waive that right. The #1 rule: talk to an employment law attorney to know your rights. Whether employer or employee, know what is or is not required under the FMLA. And know that not following the law can be deemed a waiver of the right to take FMLA leave (and therefore the protections that accompany FLMLA leave).

TAKEAWAY: While no specific language is required to request FMLA leave, employers and employees should also know what language IS required; if it is not used, then the employee has no protection under the FMLA.

On Wednesday 4/9/14, the post was about what a potential employer has to tell or give applicants about background checks.  Are you familiar with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act? If you use background checks, or if you ask applicants for permission to obtain one (whether or not you actually do), then you need to know the law. There has to be a specific, separate authorization form and it cannot release liability based on the background check. If the law is not followed, there could be invalidation of the authorization, statutory damages in the amount of $1000 for each applicant, costs and attorneys’ fees, and, potentially, punitive damages.

TAKEAWAY: If you (think you might) use background checks, then you better know how to do it properly; if not, it can get ugly in so many ways.

On Thursday 4/10/14, we talked about what happens to credit union debt when someone files for bankruptcy protection.  A debt owed to a credit union is not like other unsecured (or secured debt); it plays by its own rules at times. For one thing, if someone who files for bankruptcy tries to get out of repaying a loan to a credit union, it can take any money in accounts at the credit union and refuse future services to the person. Why? Because most credit unions have agreements signed by all members that if the member causes a loss to the credit union, then it is entitled to (do) certain things.

TAKEAWAY: If bankruptcy is in the future, talk to an attorney about the ramifications relative to credit union debt.

The post on Friday 4/11/14 told you about 6 do’s and don’ts for handling gossip in the workplace.  These are all good common-sense but legal ways to deal with the mole hill before it becomes a mountain. One don’t: Tell employees to “shut and go back to work”. One do: Explain to employees that if they have issues or questions about policies in the workplace, then they need to discuss them with the appropriate person. The other do’s and don’ts are in the post.

TAKEAWAY: Gossip has no place at work; employers must handle it the proper (and legal) way so that employees can just get back to work.

Finally, yesterday 4/12/14, we talked about whether your Handbook is legally compliant. Does it include a policy similar to this:  “Any communication transmitted, stored or displayed electronically must comply with the policies outlined in {Company’s} Handbook. Employees should be aware that statements posted electronically (such as [to] online message boards or discussion groups) that damage the Company, defame any individual or damage any person’s reputation, or violate the policies outlined in the Company’s Handbook, may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination of employment.” If so, you need to talk to an employment lawyer now! As you know, the NLRB has really been cracking down lately, and it found that the above policy was too broad and violated the NLRA.

 TAKEAWAY: It is more important than ever to have your Handbook reviewed for legal compliance; the NLRA applies regardless of your company’s (non)Union status.


     Austin Law Firm LLC works with clients in the types of matters discussed in this blog and others occurring in the workplace or related to it. If you have questions or need assistance, please contact us.

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