Blog Archives

Employment Discrimination
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.”

guidance

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.

 
American Payroll Association 2015 Employment Law Update

Last Friday, I presented a 2015 Employment Law Update to the Hawaii Chapter of the American Payroll Association.  The presentation was held in the sports room at Dave and Busters and it was an interesting experience being in that room with the big TVs and projection screen, but for a work function instead of watching the football or basketball games.

APA employment law update

My discussion included three main parts:  (1) Hawaii legislative updates; (2) recent actions by the United States Department of Labor and Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations; and (3) decisions from the Hawaii Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court, and the National Labor Relations Board.

For the Hawaii legislative update, the topics included:

  • E-Cigarettes
  • Porterage Charge Disclosures/Distribution
  • Non-Compete Agreements
  • Medical Marijuana

For the DOL/DLIR update, we discussed the following topics:

  • DOL’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Exempt Positions
  • Independent Contractors

Finally, my discussion on recent court and Board decisions covered the following topics:

  • Joint employer status
  • Arrest and court record discrimination in hiring
  • Age discrimination in hiring
  • Religious discrimination in hiring
 
Hawaii Insurers Council Workers’ Comp Panel

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel for the Hawaii Insurers Council to discuss current workers’ compensation trends.  The panel discussion was a part of the Insurers Council’s two-day 2015 Annual Planning Meeting.

Clearly, workers’ compensation is a very hot topic, both locally and nationally.  And, with the costs of running a business being incessantly on the rise, employers are constantly concerned about increased costs and obligations under Hawaii and federal labor and employment laws.

For this particular panel discussion, I discussed some of the hot topics I thought would be of particular interest to employers and insurance carriers.  For example, medical marijuana is currently a very hot topic, especially with the passage of Act 241 SLH 2015, which legalized medical marijuana dispensaries in the State of Hawaii.  (Although medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii for 15 years, individuals had no way of legally purchasing medical marijuana.  Rather, they either had to grow their own or purchase it from the black market.)  With medical marijuana being readily available within the next year or so, employers in Hawaii will have to face some key questions – i.e. can they terminate the employment of an employee who uses medical marijuana and are they required to cover the costs of medical marijuana for the purposes of workers’ compensation treatment?

Another topic I discussed is the possible vulnerability of the “exclusive remedy” provision for workers’ compensation cases, especially in light of such legal challenges that have been posed on the mainland.  In addition, there is also a growing trend for workers’ compensation opt-out provisions, whereby an employer can be excused from providing workers’ compensation insurance if they provide equivalent benefits in some other way.

Finally, due to the lack of time (there were four panelists total for just an hour of discussion), I didn’t have a chance to discuss issues related to the employee vs. independent contractor dichotomy in the context of the new “sharing economy” (e.g. Uber, Yelp, etc.)  This discussion is certainly worthy of its own blog post, which I will surely write one day, but one thing is clear – the way people obtain certain services is changing rapidly, and employers need to keep apprised of their legal obligations in light of such changes.