Category Archives: Employment Law

More New Parents Have Access to Job-Protected Leave in California

Late last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that will expand job-protected leave for new parents. Over 2.5 million California employees will now have the right to be reinstated to their jobs after taking up to 12 weeks of unpaid bonding leave. The law takes effect on January 1, 2018.

Until now, only employees who worked for employers with 50 or more employees could be eligible for job-protected leave to bond with a new child in California. Employees who worked for smaller employers could still receive paid family leave benefits from the state when taking time off for these purposes, but they did not have the right to job reinstatement when their leave was over.

The new law, called the New Parent Leave Act, requires employers with between 20 and 49 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave each year to bond with a new child. At the end of their leave, employees must be reinstated to the same job or a comparable one. They also have the right to continued group health care coverage during their leave.

Employees must meet the same eligibility requirements under the FMLA and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA): The employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year prior to the claim, and work at a location where the employer has at least 20 employees in a 75-mile radius.

The New Parent Leave Act extends job-protected leave only to employees who are taking family and medical leave to bond with a child arriving by birth, adoption, or foster placement. It doesn’t apply to employees taking FMLA or CFRA leave for their own serious health conditions or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Those employees must still work for an employer with at least 50 employees in order to take job-protected leave.

Texas Federal Court Invalidates Overtime Rule

Late last week, a Texas federal court judge struck down the Obama-era overtime rule that would have extended overtime pay to millions of workers.

In 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) passed a final rule to increase the minimum salary required for employees to qualify as exempt from receiving overtime. By raising the annual salary requirement from $23,660 to $47,476, the DOL estimated that 4.2 million employees would become eligible to receive overtime pay. However, several states and business groups filed legal challenges in court to block the rule from taking effect. In November of 2016, a federal court judge in Texas delayed the rule from taking effect until it could be reviewed and decided upon.

Last week, the same judge ruled that the DOL overstepped its legal authority by raising the salary threshold so high. To be exempt from overtime, an employee must not only earn the minimum salary, he or she must also perform certain types of work—for example, executive, administrative, or professional work. (To learn more, see our article on the white-collar exemptions.) The judge held that the DOL’s rule placed too much importance on a worker’s salary rather than his or her job duties, effectively weeding out millions of workers based on salary alone.

Signs point to the DOL considering a new rule that would create a minimum salary that is higher than the current threshold of $23,660, but lower than $47,476. The Department of Labor has already issued a request for information so that it can seek input from the public on the matter. This is typically the first step in the rulemaking process. While it’s unclear what the new threshold will be, it will likely be a much more modest increase. Earlier this year, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta stated that he would support a salary threshold around $33,000.

Seventh Circuit Rules: Sexual Orientation Discrimination Illegal Under Title VII

Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit became the highest court in the country to rule that sexual orientation discrimination is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While Title VII does not explicitly include sexual orientation as a protected class, the court held that discriminating on the basis of sexual preference is a form of gender stereotyping that qualifies as illegal “sex” (or gender-based) discrimination.

Title VII has long prohibited employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating on the basis of certain characteristics, such as sex. Over the years, some courts have expanded the definition of what qualifies as sex discrimination. For example, the Supreme Court has held that same-sex harassment is illegal (a man harassing another man, or a woman harassing another woman).  And some federal circuit and district courts have held that discrimination based on gender stereotypes—such as a woman not being feminine enough or a man being too effeminate—qualifies as illegal sex discrimination.

Based on these legal precedents, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has started to pursue claims against employers for discriminating against gay and lesbian employees. However, the EEOC’s interpretation is not authoritative, and not all courts agree that sexual orientation discrimination is prohibited by Title VII.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently sided with the EEOC, holding that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of illegal sex discrimination until Title VII. This decision is contrary to the recent holdings of the Eleventh and Second Circuits, which decided that sexual orientation discrimination is not illegal under Title VII. As a result, there is now a split of authority among federal appeals courts—which could mean that the issue will make its way up to the Supreme Court.

Several states and cities already expressly prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. To learn more, see our state articles on employment discrimination.

EEOC Offers New Online System for Discrimination & Harassment Charges

Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) launched a new online tool to help employees who are considering filing discrimination or harassment charges. The Online Inquiry and Appointment System is available in five EEOC locations to start, with the goal of making it available nationwide by late 2017.

Filing an EEOC claim is a long-standing prerequisite to filing a discrimination or harassment lawsuit under federal law. Historically, the claims filing process has been initiated in person, by mail, or by phone. An EEOC representative would then contact the employee for an intake interview and draw up a formal charge for the employee to sign.

Employees can now get the process started online if they live within 100 miles of one of the following five cities: Charlotte, Chicago, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Seattle. They can use the system to submit an online inquiry and schedule an intake interview by phone or in person. Employees who don’t live near these five cities can still use the online tool to determine whether they have a potential claim and mail in an intake questionnaire. Either way, the employee typically must sign a formal charge drafted by the EEOC in order to complete the process.

The EEOC anticipates that the online tool will make it easier for employees to file claims and streamline the claim filing process. The EEOC also hopes that the system will cut down on administrative time. The EEOC reports that less than half of current inquiries lead to formal charges because they don’t meet the legal requirements. The online tool helps weed out claims that don’t fall under the EEOC’s jurisdiction—for example, because the type of discrimination is not illegal under federal law or because the employer is too small. To learn more, visit the EEOC’s Online Inquiry System page.

Minimum Wage Increases for 2017

With the start of the new year, the minimum wage has increased in 19 states (along with a few increases scheduled for later in the year). The federal minimum wage remains at $7.25; this is the lowest hourly amount that employers can pay employees in the United States. However, if a state has a higher minimum wage, the employer must pay the higher amount. Likewise, if a city or county has a higher minimum wage than the federal or state rate, the employer must pay the higher amount.

As of January 1, 2017, the minimum wage increased to the following amounts:

  • Alaska: $9.80
  • Arizona: $10
  • Arkansas: $8.50
  • California: $10 (employers with up to 25 employees) and $10.50 (employers with 26 or more employees)
  • Colorado: $9.30
  • Connecticut: $10.10
  • Florida: $8.10
  • Hawaii: $9.25
  • Maine: $9
  • Massachusetts: $11
  • Michigan: $8.90
  • Missouri: $7.70
  • Montana: $8.15
  • New Jersey: $8.44
  • New York: $9.70
  • Ohio: $8.15
  • South Dakota: $8.65
  • Vermont: $10
  • Washington: $11

On July 1, 2017, the minimum wage will increase in the following states:

  • Maryland: $9.25
  • Oregon: $10.25

On December 31, 2017, the minimum wage will increase in the following state:

  • New York: $10.40

Employers and employees should check with their city or county to find out if there is a local minimum wage. For more information about the rules in your state, see Your Right to Minimum Wage.