There are many sound reasons why employers have zero tolerance policies and engage in drug testing of applicants and/or employees, including customer requirements, government contracting requirements (e.g.,the federal Drug Free Workplace Act), federal or state laws (including DOT requirements for transportation workers), workplace safety, productivity, health and absenteeism, and liability.
Some Washington state employers may be wondering whether any workplace implications have been created by the election day passage of voter Initiative 502, which made Washington the first state, with Colorado, to reject federal drug-control policy and legalize recreational marijuana use. The simple answer is it does not change a Washington employer’s rights.
We previously blogged a similar issue when discussing a 2011 Washington Supreme Court decision holding that Washington’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act does not protect medical marijuana users from adverse hiring or disciplinary decisions based on an employer’s drug test policy. Also previously covered in World of Employment, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that because federal criminal law preempts Oregon’s medical marijuana law, employers in Oregon do not have to accommodate employees' use of medical marijuana.
Similar concepts apply to the new Washington State marijuana legalization law. Marijuana still remains illegal for all purposes under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Employers simply do not have to condone illegal drug use, possession or influence at their workplace.
In light of state marijuana legalization efforts, to best protect themselves, employers should review their policies to make sure that illegal drug use under both state and federal law is prohibited, and that their policies prohibit any detectable amount of illegal drugs as opposed to an “under the influence” standard. Employers should also ensure that all levels of their human resources personnel know how to handle medical marijuana issues as they arise.
This issue has been getting a lot of attention in the state and national media since the election. For example, see this story in the Puget Sound Business Journal, and another article I wrote at the Law360 website (note that you need a subscription for Law 360).
On Halloween, the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) General Counsel’s Division of Advice handed out a rare treat to employers by issuing two Advice Memos (Mimi's Café, Case No. 28-CA-0844365 and Rocha Transportation, Case No. 32-CA-086799), deeming two particular (and common forms of) at-will employment policies contained in employee handbooks lawful under the National Labor Relations Act (the “Act").
Earlier this year, an Administrative Law Judge frightened many employers by ruling a particular company’s “at-will” policy violated the Act because it theoretically could make employees believe that they could not form a union or otherwise advocate to change their at-will employment status. That challenged policy stated, “I further agree that the at-will employment relationship cannot be amended, modified or altered in any way.” The case, American Red Cross Arizona Blood Services Division, Case No. 28-CA-23443 (February 1, 2012), was settled before the NLRB could review it on appeal.
The Division of Advice’s Halloween memoranda distinguished American Red Cross case from Mimi's Café and Rocha Transportation – noting that the at-will policy in American Red Cross used the personal pronoun “I” (“I further agree that the at-will employment relationship cannot be amended, modified or altered in any way”), which as written essentially constituted an impermissible waiver of any right of employees to try and change at-will status (i.e., to try to form a union). The Division of Advice also noted that the policy in American Red Cross declared that the at-will employment relationship could never be modified under any circumstances whatsoever, which could be interpreted as chilling employees’ rights under the Act to engage in protected concerted activity such as forming a union. Finally, the Division of Advice, perhaps dismissively, noted that American Red Cross had settled before getting to the Board level.Continue Reading...
In Short v. Battle Ground School District, Division II of the Washington Court of Appeals held last week that Washington’s Law Against Discrimination, which makes it unlawful for employers to discharge employees because of creed, does not require employers to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs.
Julie Short, a devout Christian, was employed as an assistant to the superintendent of the Battle Ground School District. Ms. Short alleged that the superintendent demanded that she to lie to a colleague about the existence of a meeting, even after she informed the superintendent that lying was contrary to her religious beliefs. After quitting her job, Ms. Short filed a lawsuit. One of the claims she brought was for failure to accommodate her religious beliefs. The trial court dismissed Ms. Short’s claim on summary judgment.
The Court of Appeals affirmed. It acknowledged that such a claim exists under federal law, as Title VII expressly imposes an affirmative duty on employers to accommodate their employees’ religious beliefs and practices. Washington’s Law Against Discrimination, however, pre-dates Title VII and does not contain similar language. The Court of Appeals declined to read a duty to accommodate religious beliefs into the statute without any indication from the legislature or the Washington Human Rights Commission that such a duty was intended.
While the Short case is a victory for employers, the question of whether Washington’s Law Against Discrimination requires employers to accommodate their employees’ religious beliefs will not be resolved definitively unless and until the Washington Supreme Court takes up the issue. It declined to do so in Hiatt v. Walker Chevrolet Co., a case decided almost 20 years ago, and has not readdressed the issue since. In Hiatt, the Court recognized that Washington’s Law Against Discrimination did not expressly provide for a failure-to-accommodate claim but noted that it might implicitly require such accommodation. The Court declined to address the issue without more briefing, stating that it was an “important and complex question” that could have “constitutional implications.”
It is also well-settled that Title VII requires employers with 15 or more employees to reasonably accommodate their employees’ religious beliefs and practices, unless to do so would create an undue hardship upon the employer.
In response to two federal court cases we previously blogged about here and here, the NLRB has indefinitely postponed implementation of its notice posting rule pending appeals in both of those cases. The bottom line is that no employer needs to post the notice for the time being.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear the NLRB’s appeal of an emergency injunction that court issued against the rule, but the hearing will not occur before September 2012. In the trial court ruling in that case, the judge found the NLRB's posting rule valid, but its enforcement provisions invalid. The NLRB is also appealing the South Carolina federal trial court decision we previously blogged about, in which a judge deemed the NLRB's entire posting rule invalid. No schedule has yet been set for the South Carolina appeal.
See the NLRB’s statement about this issue here.
The NLRB’s new posting rule, which would apply to virtually all private sector employers, was scheduled to go in effect on April 30, 2012. Yesterday, we blogged about a South Carolina federal trial court decision striking down the posting rule. More good news for employers arrived today, as the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued an emergency injunction preserving the “status quo” and delaying implementation of the NLRB’s posting rule until that Court of Appeals determines its validity. The D.C. trial court had previously determined the posting rule was valid (contrary to the South Carolina case) but that its remedies were invalid. Oral argument in the D.C. appellate case is currently estimated to occur in September 2012. A copy of the D.C. Court of Appeals injunction decision is here.
We now have two courts that have stymied the NLRB posting rule. It is still unknown whether the NLRB will appeal the South Carolina and D.C. Court of Appeals decisions. But for now, absent an emergency appeal, it appears that the NLRB’s posting rule will, at a minimum, be delayed for several months. We will keep you “posted” as developments occur.
As previously blogged here, a federal court located in the District of Columbia upheld the National Labor Relations Board's (“NLRB”) rule requiring nearly all private sector employers, whether unionized or not, to post a notice to their employees about certain employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act. While upholding the rule, that federal court did at least strike down the rule’s main enforcement provisions. A copy of that federal court decision is here. As we blogged then, another legal challenge to the NLRB’s rule was also pending in a South Carolina federal court. That decision is now here, and it is a good one for employers.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce challenged the NLRB’s rule. On April 13, 2012 (perhaps Friday the 13th from the NLRB’s perspective), the federal judge in that South Carolina case ruled that the NLRB’s entire posting rule is invalid, finding the NLRB exceeded its authority when it required employers to post notices explaining workers’ rights to form a union. In his ruling, the South Carolina federal judge said the NLRB lacked the legal authority to issue the notice and thus the rule was not lawful. “Based on the statutory scheme, legislative history, history of evolving congressional regulation in the area, and a consideration of other federal labor statutes, the court finds that Congress did not intend to impose a notice-posting obligation on employers, nor did it explicitly or implicitly delegate authority to the Board to regulate employers in this manner,” the court ruled.
Many labor law professionals feel that the NLRB has become overly aggressive in supporting and expanding union rights during the Obama administration. This sentiment is especially strong in a conservative state like South Carolina, which also was at the center of a now-settled dispute between the NLRB and Boeing over Boeing’s decision to move production of its 787 Dreamliner airplane from Washington State to South Carolina. The South Carolina federal judge appears to agree that the NLRB is becoming overly aggressive, stating, “The Board also went seventy-five years without promulgating a notice-posting rule, but it has now decided to flex its newly-discovered rulemaking muscles.” A copy of the South Carolina decision is here. Its authority is technically legally limited to that particular court, but because of its import we expect it to have an effect nationally as the NLRB seeks to regroup and rethink what it will do. If the NLRB does not appeal the South Carolina court’s decision, the ruling will stand and, from a practical perspective the posting requirement will be invalidated nationally. But most pundits anticipate that the NLRB will file an appeal over the South Carolina decision.
The bottom line is that we now have two conflicting federal court rulings on the issue, and await the NLRB’s decision on whether it will appeal the South Carolina ruling, and/or delay implementation of its previously stated April 30, 2012 posting deadline. Stay tuned.
This week the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals provided some help to employers seeking to balance the need to accommodate disabled employees with the need to enforce regular attendance policies. In Samper v. Providence St Vincent Medical Ctr, the Ninth Circuit held that the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) did not require an Oregon hospital to exempt a neo-natal intensive care unit (“NICU”) nurse, whose fibromyalgia caused frequent absences, from its attendance policy. The case helps illustrate both when employers should be flexible in accommodating disabilities that could affect attendance, and also when they may be entitled to require stricter adherence to attendance policies.
The Facts Of Samper
The defendant in Samper, St. Vincent Hospital in Portland, Oregon, had little trouble demonstrating that strict adherence to its attendance policy was essential for NICU nurses, who care for a very vulnerable patients, need to be in the NICU to do their jobs, and must be able to respond quickly in emergency situations. The NICU nurse job description specifically identified attendance as an essential job requirement. Further, NICU nurses have specialized training making it more difficult to find replacements during absences. And despite the need for good attendance, the hospital policy nevertheless “generous[ly]” allowed nurses up to five unexcused absences per year.
The plaintiff, Ms. Samper, worked as a part-time NICU nurse since about 2000. From early on, she was disciplined or received multiple poor performance reviews in part because of unexcused absences in excess of the policy's 5-day per year limit. In 2005, she began suffering from fibromyalgia, which caused more absences. St. Vincent initially was able to accommodate her disability; first, it allowed her to call in on bad days and move her shift to another day. Later, it adjusted her schedule so she would not work on consecutive days. The hospital also provided Samper numerous extended leaves of absence, including for personal reasons unrelated to her disability. Ultimately, however, in 2008 St. Vincent terminated Ms. Samper’s employment for, among other reasons, her continued unexcused absences in excess of the policy. Ms. Samper sued, claiming in part that the hospital failed to reasonably accommodate her disability by not exempting her altogether from the 5-day limit under the attendance policy.
The Ninth Circuit found that her Ms. Samper’s request to be exempted from the attendance policy was not a reasonable accommodation as a matter of law. In reaching its conclusion, the Court first noted that the hospital’s written job description stated in several places that attendance and punctuality were essential functions. The Court also surveyed a number of other cases where courts found attendance to be an essential function, such as where employees must work in a team with other employees, where they regularly must interact with customers or clients (such as teachers and airline ticket agents), or are required to be on-site to work with special equipment (such as in a manufacturing environment). Ultimately, the Court found that attendance for NICU nurses was even more essential than in any of those other situations, considering the importance of their “specialized, life-saving work” and the difficulty of finding replacements due to the specialized training NICU nurses receive.
When Is Attendance An Essential Function Under the ADA?
The reasoning in Samper probably provides a mixed bag for other employers trying to balance attendance and accommodation needs. On the one hand, the case provides a ringing endorsement for the general principle that attendance can be an essential function of most jobs, absent evidence it is not, in fact, necessary. Indeed, the Court stated as a general “rule” and matter of “common sense” that: “Except in the unusual case where an employee can effectively perform all work-related duties at home, an employee who does not come to work cannot perform any of his job functions, essential or otherwise.” (emphasis added)
On the other hand, the detailed discussion of the facts and overall subtext of the case suggest that the court’s holding may not be as broad as employers might hope. For example, the fact that NICU nurses provide care to vulnerable infants fighting for their lives probably helped tip things in the hospital’s favor; few other jobs will be able to demonstrate such urgency. In addition, for positions that don’t require as much specialized training as NICU nurses, attendance may be less essential if the employer can more easily find qualified replacements on short notice when a disabled employee is absent.
Perhaps most importantly, the hospital demonstrated flexibility in applying its attendance policy and had a demonstrated track record in accommodating Ms. Samper in the past. It did not enforce its attendance policy too strictly; instead, it allowed up to five unexcused absences per year. In addition, the hospital made “Herculean” attempts to accommodate Ms. Samper over a nearly eight-year period, including allowing absences in excess of the policy, providing numerous leaves of absence, and adjusting her schedule several times. The Court only found that her final request—to be exempted from the attendance policies altogether—was unreasonable. While those efforts are technically distinct from whether attendance is an essential function of a job, the Court obviously believed the hospital had already bent over backwards repeatedly to try to accommodate Ms. Samper. Had the hospital terminated her employment for a first time attendance violation or without the accommodation history, the case could have come out differently. In that sense, Samper could serve as a reminder that employers often cannot do enough to engage in the interactive process and attempt accommodation where reasonable.
Update: A federal trial court in the District of Columbia has upheld the notice posting requirement in the National Labor Relations Board's (“NLRB”) recently issued final rule requiring nearly all private sector employers, whether unionized or not, to post a notice to their employees about certain employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act. To view the Court's decision, click here. The court also held, however, that the rule’s main enforcement provisions, including making an employer’s failure to post a per se unfair labor practice, are invalid. Unless this decision is overturned or another court finds the rule to be invalid, the notice posting requirement will still take effect April 30, 2012. An appeal is likely in the District of Columbia case, and at least one other court challenge is pending in South Carolina.
For additional information regarding the NLRB's rule and posting requirement, including links to the rule and the poster employers must post, see our prior discussion on this topic by following this link.
In order to allow more time for legal challenges to its notice-posting rule to be resolved, the National Labor Relations Board has again postponed the rule's effective date, this time to April 30, 2012. Stay tuned.
For additional information regarding the NLRB's new rule and posting requirement, including links to the new rule and the poster employers must post, see our prior post on this topic by following this link.
Your bulletin board full of required workplace postings just got more crowded. The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) has issued a final rule that will require nearly all private sector employers, whether unionized or not, to post a notice to their employees about certain employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). The notice must be posted by no later than November 14, 2011 (now postponed until January 31, 2012, see update below). The new rule is one of many new developments arising from the current NLRB’s implementation of the Obama administration’s labor policy.
This new notice is a form designed by the NLRB. Among other things, it contains:
· A summary of employee rights under the NLRA, including the right to discuss wages and working conditions with co-workers or a union, form or join a union, take collective action to improve working conditions, and engage in other protected activities.
· Examples of violations of those rights, and an affirmation that unlawful conduct will not be permitted.
· Information about the NLRB, the NLRB’s contact information, and details on how to file an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB.
· A statement about the employer's obligation to bargain in good faith if a union has been selected by employees.
This new rule applies to almost all employers except public sector employers, very small employers below the NLRB’s jurisdictional standard for impacting interstate commerce, and other limited classes of employers outside of the NLRA’s jurisdiction. The NLRB may find that an employer’s failure to post the notice constitutes an unfair labor practice. The remedy for a violation may not be severe because the NLRB cannot impose fines – but much worse, a violation can be evidence of unlawful motive and prevent the running of the statute of limitations.
The full text of the actual required notice is available here. Private sector employers will be required to post this notice in conspicuous places, including where they customarily post other workplace notices. In addition, employers who customarily post personnel policies and rules on an internet or intranet site must include this new notice there or provide a link to the NLRB’s website section containing the notice. If an employer has employees working at another employer’s site, it will also need to determine whether it can post notices at that site if the other employer does not already have the notice posted. If 20 percent or more of an employer’s employees are not proficient in English and speak the same foreign language, the notice must also be posted in that language. The NLRB will provide translations in such circumstances. Copies of the required 11x17 posters will be available at no cost from the NLRB upon request, and will also be downloadable from the NLRB’s website, www.nlrb.gov. A federal contractor will be regarded as complying with the NLRB’s new posting requirement if it already posts the notice required of federal contractors by the U.S. Department of Labor. See our earlier discussion of those posting requirements here.
The NLRB fact sheet with further information about the rule is available here. There are likely to be legal challenges to the NLRB’s new notice posting rule, and at least one bill has already been introduced in Congress seeking to invalidate it. For now, employers will need to be prepared to comply with the new posting requirement. While already unionized employers will likely see little impact from the new rule other than the actual posting requirement itself, non-unionized employers may be faced with employees raising questions about their rights under the NLRA. Because such questions will invariably be directed toward their immediate supervisors, it is important for non-unionized employers to make sure that supervisors are properly trained regarding how to maintain a union-free environment without violating the NLRA. Non-unionized employers might also be tempted to post their own notice alongside the new NLRB poster, advising employees why a union is not needed. As with all such efforts, missteps can lead to challenges before the NLRB, so employers should consult with their Stoel Rives labor attorney.
UPDATE: On September 14, 2011, the NLRB made available the poster that employers must post. The link to that poster is here. The NLRB recently postponed the implementation date for its new notice-posting rule by more than two months in order to allow for enhanced education and outreach to employers. See here. The new effective date of the rule, and the date by which the new notice must be posted, is January 31, 2012.