Blog Archives

Employment Discrimination
EEOC Issues New Enforcement Guidance for National Origin Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently announced that it updated its enforcement guidance for national origin discrimination.  This updated guidance replaces a manual that was issued in 2002.

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In total, the EEOC issued three documents:

According to the EEOC, the updated guidance set’s forth “the agency’s interpretation of the law and explains how federal anti-discrimination laws and regulations apply to specific workplace situations….The guidance also addresses developments in the courts since 2002, as well as topics such as job segregation, human trafficking and intersectional discrimination.”

 
Can You Force Employees to Wear a Costume on Halloween?

In the Kokua Line for the Star-Advertiser, Christine Donnelly answers the question of whether an employer can fire an employee who refuses to wear a Halloween costume to work because it is against her religion.  In a nutshell, the answer is no.  And, even if you could, why would you (unless you like having angry employees)?

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You can read the full article here:  Labor Law Protects Refusal to Don Costume Due to Faith

 
EEOC Fact Sheet on Transgender Employee Bathroom Access

In what appears to be a definitive answer to the question of whether employers must allow a transgender employee to use a restroom that is reserved for the sex with which the employee identifies, the EEOC has issued a fact sheet addressing bathroom access rights for transgender employees.

In its fact sheet, the EEOC cited to federal cases which found that denying an individual equal access to a common restroom corresponding to the individual’s gender identity is sex discrimination.  Similarly, an employer also cannot require a transgender employee to use a single-use restroom (or presumably, a unisex restroom, if a single sex restroom is available).  The EEOC has defined the term “transgender” as people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from the sex assigned to them at birth (e.g. the sex listed on an original birth certificate).

Of course, this is just the EEOC’s position on the matter, and there is no guarantee federal courts will adopt the same conclusion.  Nevertheless, the EEOC’s interpretation of the law is usually given deference by the courts, so it’s a safe bet that courts will also require employers to allow transgender employees to use the restroom that corresponds to the employee’s gender identity.  In Hawaii, there is no law that directly addresses this question.  However, based on a lawsuit that was filed against the state a couple of years ago, Hawaii employers are advised to allow transgender employees to use the bathroom of their corresponding gender identity.

The EEOC’s fact sheet is in line with a fact sheet issued by the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) in 2015.

 
How to Respond to an EEOC Charge

For the first time ever, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued a memorandum on “how Respondents can draft effective position statements.”

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Oftentimes, employers who receive a charge of discrimination from the EEOC will hire an attorney to draft a position statement in response to the charge.  The attorney will normally work with the employer to gather a set of facts to be used in response to the allegations contained in the charge of discrimination, and then prepare a position statement that summarizes those facts (oftentimes refuting the allegations contained in the charge) and discusses those facts in light of the law.  The position statement should be carefully drafted to ensure that all allegations raised in a charge of discrimination are addressed, and that the employer provides a fact-based response instead of one that simply raises conclusive statements such as “we didn’t discriminate.”

Regardless of whether you hire an attorney or prepare the position statement yourself, it is strongly advised to review the EEOC’s memorandum on what constitutes an effective position statement.  The EEOC’s memorandum addresses the following issues:

  • The importance of fact-based position statements
  • Examples of supporting documentary evidence
  • Segregating confidential information
  • Providing a response by the due date
  • Requesting an extension
  • Uploading the Position Statement into the EEOC’s portal

The EEOC’s memorandum can be viewed here:  EEOC on Effective Position Statements

 
Let’s Talk About Drugs and Money, But Not in the Same Sentence (Quotes in the PBN)

Just recently, the Pacific Business News published a couple short articles where they included my thoughts about what we can expect during the upcoming legislative session.  The first article talked about possible medical marijuana legislation and the second article discussed Hawaii wage and hour law.

With regards to medical marijuana, I mentioned that we can expect to see bills that propose to expand the rights of medical marijuana patients in two ways.  First, medical marijuana is currently available only to individuals who have a debilitating condition, such as cancer, glaucoma, severe pain, or PTSD.  With the growing social acceptance of medical marijuana, we will likely see legislation opening up marijuana to conditions such as anxiety, stress, insomnia, and arthritis.  Second, we might also see measures that provide job protection for users of medical marijuana – meaning that an employer would be prohibited from firing an employee because the employee uses medical marijuana.

With regards to wage and hour law, we might see an increase in the salary threshold for Hawaii wage and hour exemption, which is currently set at $2,000 per month (in other words, an employee who is guaranteed a salary of $2,000 per month is exempt from Hawaii minimum wage and OT requirements, although they still need to comply with federal law).  Such legislation is especially likely in light of the DOL’s proposed increases to the salary basis for the FLSA’s exemptions.

You can read a copy of the articles here:  Medical Marijuana and Wage and Hour Exemption.