Blog Archives

Employment Discrimination
Got Questions About Medical Marijuana?

These past few months, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about medical marijuana.  And no, the questions haven’t been about how to get medical marijuana!  Rather, companies and the media have been asking me various questions about the rights of businesses when it comes to medical marijuana usage, either by employees or even customers.  It appears these questions have become more and more common because medical marijuana dispensaries will be opening shortly here in Hawaii.

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Recently, the Kokua Line – a column for the Star Advertiser – wrote a couple of brief articles addressing some of the questions that are commonly raised by businesses.  You can read the articles on the following links:

There were also several bills relating to medical marijuana moving through this year’s legislative session.  Only one bill is still alive, however, and that measure would expand the reasons for which an individual could qualify for a medical marijuana card.  Under current law, an individual qualifies for medical marijuana usage if s/he has a “debilitating condition” – which currently includes cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDs, or a chronic or debilitating disease or condition that involves cachexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or PTSD.

For further information about Hawaii’s medical marijuana laws, you can read the applicable statutes here:  HRS Chapter 329.

 
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