EEOC Religious Discrimination Settlement – Employers, be aware!

June 18, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Posted in discrimination, EEOC, Employee, Employer, Employment Law, harassment, Legal, Religion, retaliation, Title VII | Leave a comment
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Directly from the EEOC’s website:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 14, 2017

EMPLOYER TO PAY $30,000 TO SETTLE EEOC RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT

Staffing Company Refused to Accommodate Rastafarian Employee’s Dreadlocks,

ORLANDO, Fla. – An Orlando staffing company dedicated to Central Florida’s massive hospitality industry will pay $30,000 and implement a company-wide accommodation policy to settle a religious dis¬crimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

The EEOC’s lawsuit charged that HospitalityStaff violated religious discrimination law by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to Courtnay B. Joseph, a Rastafarian, when it required him to cut his dreadlocks to comply with its client’s grooming standards in order to keep his position at an Orlando-area hotel. The EEOC said that HospitalityStaff took Joseph off his assignment and never reassigned him.

Rastafarians wear dreadlocks as part of their sincerely held religious belief, and making an employment decision because of such a religious practice violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 6:16-cv-1250-CEM-DAB) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

Under the decree, which was agreed to soon after EEOC filed its lawsuit, HospitalityStaff agreed to pay Joseph $30,000 in damages. The company will also amend its employee handbook and policy manual to include a clear policy providing for reasonable accommodations covering both disability and religious-based requests. Further, HospitalityStaff agreed to provide training to its managers and human resources personnel, and to voluntarily provide inform¬ation to EEOC concerning its handling of religious discrimination complaints for three years.

“HospitalityStaff’s decision to provide training and to implement policy changes relating to reasonable accommodations should be commended,” said Kimberly A. Cruz, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC’s Miami District Office. “These policy changes demonstrate the company’s commitment to providing reasonable accommodations to its employees with sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Robert Weisberg, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Miami District Office, added, “The Supreme Court’s opinion in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch reminds us that we must be vigilant in protecting sincere religious expression in the workplace. This is particularly important where the Commission has recognized ‘the in¬creasing complexity of employment relationships and structures, including temporary workers, staffing agencies, and independent contractor relationships’ in an ever more on-demand economy.”

One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the Commission to address selected emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving both the application of workplace civil rights protections in light of the increasing complexity of employment relationships and structures.

FROM ATTORNEY CHRISTINE SENSENIG:  Employers need to be aware that “a sincerely held religious belief” is very broadly interpreted by the EEOC.  Employers should engage with their employees about dreadlocks, beards, braids, tattoos and piercings as to any religious belief demonstrated through the wearing of dreadlocks, beards, braids, tattoos,and piercings before holding firm to a policy simply because “that’s our policy.”  Consider whether there is a legitimate safety concern or if the issue is an aesthetic one.

Reading the above blog posting does not create an attorney client relationship between the reader and Hultman Sensenig + Joshi.  If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact attorney Christine Sensenig at 941-953-2828 or via email at csensenig@hsjlawfirm.com.

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Christmas may be over, but you better watch out because DOL is “checking it twice” – and getting the Florida Department of Revenue’s assistance in their initiative to identify – and correct – independent contractor misclassification!

January 14, 2015 at 6:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Directly from the U.S. Department of Labor’s website:

News Release
WHD News Release: [01/13/2015]
Contact Name: Tania Mejia or Lindsay Williams
Phone Number: (202) 693-4686 or (678) 237-0630
Email: Mejia.Tania@dol.gov or williams.lindsay.l@dol.gov
Release Number: 15-0034-NAT
US Labor Department signs agreement with Florida Department of Revenue to reduce misclassification of employees

WASHINGTON — Officials from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Florida Department of Revenue today signed a memorandum of understanding with the goal of protecting the rights of employees by preventing their misclassification as independent contractors or other nonemployee statuses. Under the agreement, both agencies will share information and coordinate law enforcement. The MOU represents a new effort on the part of the agencies to work together to protect the rights of employees and level the playing field for responsible employers by reducing the practice of misclassification. The Florida Department of Revenue is the latest state agency to partner with the Labor Department.
In Fiscal Year 2013, WHD investigations resulted in more than $83,051,159 in back wages for more than 108,050 workers in industries, such as janitorial, food, construction, day care, hospitality and garment. WHD regularly finds large concentrations of misclassified workers in low-wage industries.
“Misclassification deprives workers of rightfully-earned wages and undercuts law-abiding businesses,” said Dr. David Weil, administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. “This memorandum of understanding sends a clear message that we are standing together with the state of Florida to protect workers and responsible employers and ensure everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”  “Working with the states is an important tool in ending misclassification,” said Wayne Kotowski, the Wage and Hour Division’s regional administrator for the southeast. “These collaborations allow us to better coordinate compliance with both federal and state laws alike.”  “By partnering with the U.S. Department of Labor we are actively working to level the playing field for Florida’s businesses to stop the misclassification of workers. Businesses that misreport workers obtain an unfair advantage over other law-abiding businesses,” said Florida Department of Revenue Executive Director, Marshall Stranburg.

Business models that attempt to change or obscure the employment relationship through the use of independent contractors are not inherently illegal, but they may not be used to evade compliance with federal labor law. Although legitimate independent contractors are an important part of our economy, the misclassification of employees presents a serious problem. Independent contractors are often denied access to critical benefits and protections, such as family and medical leave, overtime compensation, minimum wage pay and unemployment insurance, to which they are entitled. In addition, misclassification can create economic pressure for law-abiding business owners, who often find it difficult to compete with those who are skirting the law.
Memoranda of understanding with state government agencies arose as part of the department’s Misclassification Initiative, with the goal of preventing, detecting and remedying employee misclassification. Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, Utah and Washington state agencies have signed similar agreements. More information is available on the Department of Labor’s misclassification website at http://www.dol.gov/misclassification/.
The mission of the department is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and ensure work-related benefits and rights. To learn more about the FLSA’s requirements, call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free hotline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or visit its website at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.

From Hultman Sensenig + Joshi: This is a topic near and dear to our hearts; if someone works only for you, is paid a salary, has no tools or equipment, and you control nearly every aspect of their employment, is it highly doubtful that they are a legitimate independent contractor. With this new agreement between the U.S. DOL and the FL DOR, if either Agency pays an employer a visit to review your “employees” vs. “contractors”, the other agency will soon be there to review whether civil money penalties and back taxes are owed – this is an expensive proposition. Be proactive, review the status of the people you engage vs. employ, and get some assistance if you have any questions.

There is no legal advice given through this blog, nor is an attorney client relationship created through the reading of this blog.

Directly from the Department of Labor’s website: Obama administration moves forward to implement health care law, ban discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions

November 27, 2012 at 1:28 am | Posted in Employee, Employer, Employment Law, Health Care, New employment laws/amendments | Leave a comment
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The information below is taken verbatim from the Department of Labor’s website: 

Release Number: 12-2311-NAT

Obama administration moves forward to implement health care law, ban discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration moved forward today to implement provisions in the health care law that would make it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. The provisions of the Affordable Care Act also would make it easier for consumers to compare health plans, and employers to promote and encourage employee wellness.

“The Affordable Care Act is building a health insurance market that works for consumers,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Thanks to the health care law, no one will be discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition.”

“The Affordable Care Act recognizes that well-run, equitable workplace wellness programs allow workers to access services that can help them and their families lead healthier lives,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Employers, too, can benefit from reduced costs associated with a healthier workforce.”

The Obama administration issued:

  • A proposed rule that, beginning in 2014, prohibits health insurance companies from discriminating against individuals because of a pre-existing or chronic condition. Under the rule, insurance companies would be allowed to vary premiums within limits, only based on age, tobacco use, family size and geography. Health insurance companies would be prohibited from denying coverage to any American because of a pre-existing condition or from charging higher premiums to certain enrollees because of their current or past health problems, gender, occupation, and small employer size or industry. The rule would ensure that people for whom coverage would otherwise be unaffordable and young adults have access to a catastrophic coverage plan in the individual market. For more information regarding this rule, visit
    http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2012/11/market-reforms11202012a.html.
  • A proposed rule outlining policies and standards for coverage of essential health benefits, while giving states more flexibility to implement the Affordable Care Act. Essential health benefits are a core set of benefits that would give consumers a consistent way to compare health plans in the individual and small group markets. A companion letter on the flexibility in implementing the essential health benefits in Medicaid was also sent to states. For more information regarding this rule, visit
    http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2012/11/ehb11202012a.html.
  • A proposed rule implementing and expanding employment-based wellness programs to promote health and help control health care spending, while ensuring that individuals are protected from unfair underwriting practices that could otherwise reduce benefits based on health status. For more information regarding this rule, visit
    http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2012/11/wellness11202012a.html

http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/ebsa/EBSA20122311.htm#.ULQVdxgmyRs

 

Employers need to become informed as to their responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act as employees will have questions and penalties will be assessed against eligible employers who fail to comply with the law.

 

 

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