Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An employee must ask for ADA accommodation to receive it

HBy now, hopefully everyone reading this blog knows that the expiration of an employee’s 12 weeks of annual FMLA leave is not necessarily the end of that employee’s unpaid leave of absence for his or her own medical issues. Under the ADA, an employer must consider granting unpaid leave the exceeds the FMLA as a reasonable accommodation, provided that the employee actually requests the accommodation. As Judge v. Landscape Forms (6th Cir. 11/24/14) [pdf] makes clear, an employer is not required to offer a reasonable accommodation that an employee does not first request.

The facts of the case are relatively simply. Mark Judge took an FMLA leave to heal his shoulder after surgery from a non-work injury. At the time of his FMLA leave, he advised the company that his recovery time was 4-6 months. When his 12 weeks of FMLA leave expired, however, he did not advise of an expected return to work date, or otherwise ask for any additional unpaid time off as an accommodation.

Under those circumstances, the court concluded that the company had no obligation to provide any unpaid leave in excess of Judge’s 12 weeks of FMLA:

The EEOC regulations interpreting the ADA place the initial burden of requesting an accommodation on the employee. Once that request is made, the employer has a duty to engage in an interactive process to identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations. But if the employee never requests an accommodation, the employer’s duty to engage in the interactive process is never triggered….

Judge argues that Landscape Forms should have granted him a leave of absence until mid-November 2011, when he ultimately was released to work without restrictions. However, Judge fails to identify any statement he made before he was fired that could be construed as a request for leave until then….

Leaves of absence and reasonable accommodations are two of the trickier workplace issues facing employers. When those two issues converge with one employee, the complexities increase exponentially. As Judge v. Landscape Forms illustrates, unpaid leaves of absence are not a guaranteed entitlement, and employees must ask for for accommodation before being able to sue over its denial.

Happy Thanksgiving. I am extraordinarily thankful that you take the time to read my thoughts every day. I’ll see everyone back on Monday after a much needed long weekend.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It’s five in a row for the ABA Journal’s Blawg 100

For the fifth year in a row, I am honored that the ABA Journal has chosen the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog for the Blawg 100, its list of the 100 best legal blogs.

Last night on Twitter, another of the honorees affectionately called me an “employment law nerd” because of my selection. It is a title I wear as a badge of honor. As has been the case for the four prior years, I am thrilled to be on a list of blogs of such high quality written by lawyers who are my friends.

Now comes the shameless part. If you are so inclined, the ABA Journal is asking you to weigh in and vote on your favorites. Go to to register and vote. Voting ends at close of business on Dec. 19, 2014.

Thank you to all my readers.

Monday, November 24, 2014

There is no easy fix for the overtime-pay problem

Those of you who are long time readers know they I’ve long rallied for changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act. The law is overly complex, anachronistic, and nearly impossible for compliance by employers.

Last week, I read an article on arguing that the FLSA’s exemptions need to be rewritten to make it easier for employees to qualify for overtime pay. This is not the right solution to this country’s wage-hour problems. You don’t fix one problem by creating another, i.e., punishing small and midsize employers by requiring them to start paying groups of employees overtime en masse. What will be their solution to this newly created problem? Reverse engineering. They will look at each employee’s W-2 wages for the past years, and calculate the appropriate lower hourly wage (or salary) to play each newly overtimed employee that will result in the same annual W-2 figure with the time-and-a-half rolled in.

This is not a solution. It’s an administrative burden that will not put more money in workers’ pockets. The solution is to make FLSA compliance easier for employers by simplifying decades-old regulations.

There is one wage-hour change I can support. Pending in the Ohio legislature is a bill that would require retail employers to pay triple-time to employees who work on Thanksgiving. Dear readers, please do not shop on Thanksgiving. Retailers require employees to give up their holiday because we show up for sales like lemmings to the 25% off sticker. I understand why safety forces and medical workers need to give up their holidays. But the cashier at Target? He or she deserves the day of add much as I you and I do. So if we need a law to disincentive employment on these days, then so be it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

WIRTW #346 (the #grossatwork edition)

Gawker wants to know, “What’s the Grossest Thing You've Ever Done at Work?” Me? I very accidentally walked in on a very naked octogenarian. You? Share in the comments, or on Twitter with the hashtag #grossatwork.

Here’s the rest of what I read this week:


Social Media & Workplace Technology

HR & Employee Relations

Wage & Hour

Labor Relations

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Don’t forget the photo authorizations for your holiday party

Are you having a holiday party for your company? Are you planning on sharing the cheer by posting photos of said party on your corporate Facebook page or other social media? If so, don’t forget to have your employees sign authorizations before you post those photos.

Like many states, Ohio has a statute that protects an individual’s name, voice, signature, photograph, image, or likeness. This “right of publicity” prohibits one from using another’s persona for a commercial purpose without written consent.

It may be sufficient to have statement in your employee handbook advising employees that, from time to time, the company may post pictures of employees on the company’s website, Facebook page, etc., and employees who wish to opt out should advise HR in writing. The overly cautious employer, though, will want this to be an opt-in process, with employees providing specific written consent for the use of their likeness in photos.

Regardless, employers should do something to ensure that they are not infringing on employees’ right of publicity with photos of employer-sponsored events. Otherwise, your holiday lump of coal might come in the form of a lawsuit by a shy, and overly litigious, employee.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jury verdicts are just numbers on a paper

On Monday, a California jury awarded a former Autozone employee $185 million in punitive damages. She had sued the company for pregnancy discrimination, claiming that the district manager who fired her was promised a promotion if he fired all of the women in his stores. Last week, the same jury awarded the plaintiff $900,000 in compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress.

While $185 million is a staggeringly huge number, this plaintiff will only ever collect a tiny fraction of it, at best. Due process tells us that punitive damages must bear some reasonable relationship to the size of the compensatory award, typically not to exceed a ratio of 9:1.

Moreover, if this case was filed in Ohio, and not California, damage caps would kick in to severely restrict the verdict. Ohio’s tort reform law caps punitive damages in state-law employment discrimination claims to two-times the compensatory award. Thus, in Ohio, this plaintiff’s punitive award would cap at $1.8 million, still a large number, but out of the nine-figure stratosphere.

Jury verdicts are headline grabbers—big splashy numbers that grab everyone’s attention. Trust me, Autozone’s attention has been grabbed. It will file a motion to reduce the jury verdict, and it will appeal, while, at the same time, this plaintiff will file motions seeking her attorneys’ fees. Ultimately, this case will confidentially settle, and we will never know the final dollars exchanged.

More damaging than the amount of the award is the negative publicity associated with it. Because of the verdict’s inordinate size, the press has labeled Autozone as a company that discriminates against women in the worst way possible—systemically and intentionally. That damage is much worse than this employee punching a lotto ticket that she will never cash.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More on data security as an unfair labor practice

A few months ago, I wrote how the NLRB was exploring new areas of potential protected concerted activity to regulate. One such area is information and data security.

According to Employment Law 360, the NLRB potentially is looking to expand its reach in the area of cybersecurity, this time investigating whether an employer was required to bargain with its labor union over the impact of a data breach on its employees:

A postal workers union has lodged a charge with the National Labor Relations Board over the U.S. Postal Service’s handling of a recent data breach, a novel move that adds union negotiations to the already sprawling list of concerns companies must contend with in their race to mitigate cyberattacks.

In a Nov. 10 charge filed with the NLRB, the American Postal Workers Union accused USPS of engaging in unfair labor practices in violation of the National Labor Relations Act, by failing to give the union advance notice “that would enable it to negotiate the impacts and effects” on employees of the cyberattack….

The union specifically took issue with USPS’ offering employees affected by the incident one year of free credit-monitoring, a decision that the postal workers characterized as a unilateral change to wages, hours and working conditions that an employer is generally not permitted to make without first bargaining with the union.

Responding to a cyber-attack is complicated and complex. The federal FTC, along with a patchwork of divergent state laws, requires quick communication of various levels of detail and complexity to individuals and regulators following a data breach. If employers need to add communications to labor unions to this list of constituents (and this issue remains very much open), it will create additional burdens on employers, which could potentially slow down a company’s other response efforts.

To avoid these issues, employers should consider bargaining these issues into the terms of collective bargaining agreements, so that you have a game plan in place before you have to respond. Otherwise, when faced with a data breach, you could be faced with running your response programs through the filter of your labor unions, which could hamper your other response efforts, and subject your company to potential liability from the cyber breach.

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