Do You Have At Least 20 Employees in California?

By Pascal Benyamini

Currently, if you are an employer with 50 or more employees within 75 miles, you are required, under the federal Family and Medical Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), to provide an unpaid protected leave of absence of up to 12 weeks during any 12 month period to eligible employees for various reasons, including, for the birth or placement of a child for adoption or foster care; to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.

A pending California Senate Bill (SB), if passed, would extend some of the benefits of the FMLA and CFRA to California employers with 20 to 49 employees. SB 63, aka Parental Leave, would add Section 12945.6 to the Government Code, and prohibit employers with 20 to 49 employees within a 75 miles radius from refusing to allow an employee with more than 12 months of service and at least 1,250 hours of service with the employer during the previous 12-month period, to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement.

SB 63 would also prohibit employers from refusing to maintain and pay for coverage under a group health plan for an employee who takes this leave (assuming an employer has a group health plan). Further, under proposed SB 63, eligible employees will be entitled to utilize accrued vacation pay, paid sick time, or other paid time off during the period of parental leave.

If an employer employs both parents who are eligible for leave, SB 63 would authorize, but not require, the employer to grant simultaneous leave to both employees.

This bill would also prohibit an employer from taking any adverse action, such as refusing to hire, or from discharging, fining, suspending, expelling, or discriminating against, an employee for exercising the right to parental leave or giving information or testimony as to his or her own parental leave, or another person’s parental leave, in an inquiry or proceeding related to rights guaranteed under this bill.

Finally, SB 63 would prohibit an employer from interfering with, restraining, or denying the exercise of, or the attempt to exercise, any right provided under this bill.

It remains unclear whether SB 63 will pass and be signed into law by Governor Brown. We will continue to monitor any developments on SB 63 and other pending bills that may impact employers in California.

Challenge to Philadelphia Pay History Ordinance Dismissed, But Ordinance’s Future Remains In Doubt

By David J. Woolf

Last week, District Court Judge Mitchell Goldberg granted the City of Philadelphia’s Motion to Dismiss the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s lawsuit challenging Philadelphia’s controversial new pay history ordinance. As we have discussed previously (see Here’s What that New Philadelphia ‘Pay History’ Law Means for Your Business and Philadelphia Wage Equity Ordinance On Hold … For Now), the ordinance would make it unlawful for an employer to inquire about a job applicant’s pay history and would severely restrict an employer’s ability to base a new hire’s initial pay on his or her compensation history. The ordinance had been scheduled to go into effect on May 23, but was stayed by Judge Goldberg, with agreement of the City, pending resolution of the City’s motion to dismiss the Chamber’s lawsuit challenging the ordinance.

Judge Goldberg’s decision is likely not the last word however, as it did not address the merits of the ordinance. Rather, the Court held that the Chamber, because of the way the lawsuit was worded, did not have standing to challenge the ordinance, and it gave the Chamber until June 13, 2017 to file an amended complaint to cure those deficiencies. The Chamber is now expected to do just that.

In the meantime, the question is whether and, if so when, Philadelphia employers need to start complying with the ordinance. Despite the fact that Judge Goldberg’s decision, in dismissing the Chamber’s lawsuit, arguably lifted the stay, the City announced the following position through a spokesperson:

If the chamber files an amended complaint that cures the standing defects identified by the court, the city will adhere to its agreement not to enforce the order until the chamber’s motion for preliminary injunction is resolved. If no amended complaint is filed within the period stipulated by the court, the city will begin taking steps to enforce the ordinance….

Given this statement, we believe that the best approach is for Philadelphia employers to continue to prepare to comply with the ordinance, but to hold off on implementation until we see what the Chamber does between now and June 13. If, as expected, the Chamber files an amended complaint, we will be back to playing the waiting game for a little while longer.

We will continue to provide updates as developments occur.

California Cracks Down on Employers’ Use of Criminal Background Information

By Kate S. Gold and Jessica A. Burt

California employers using employees’ criminal convictions to make employment-related decisions should be aware of the recent flurry of new regulations and pending state legislation that place increased limitations on employers’ use of such information.

New FEHC Regulations Prohibit Consideration of Criminal History When Doing So Has An Adverse Impact On Individuals in A Protected Class

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC) issued new regulations on employers’ use of criminal background information when making employment decisions, including hiring, promotion, discipline, and termination. The new regulations take effect on July 1, 2017, and are intended to clarify how the use of criminal background information may violate the provisions of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).  The regulations prohibit employers from seeking or using any criminal history information that has an adverse impact on an individual within a protected class, such as race, national origin or gender. The new regulations provide that an adverse impact may be established through the use of state or national level statistics or by offering “any other evidence” that establishes an adverse impact.

If an employee or job applicant can demonstrate that an employer’s criminal background check policy or practice creates an adverse impact, the burden shifts to the employer to prove that the policy or practice is nonetheless justifiable because it is: (1) job-related and (2) consistent with business necessity. The criminal conviction policy or practice must bear a demonstrable relationship to successful performance on the job and measure the person’s fitness for the specific position, not merely evaluate the person in the abstract.  An employer must demonstrate that the criminal background check policy is “appropriately tailored” to the job, taking into account: (i) the nature and gravity of the offense; (ii) the amount of time that has passed since the offense and/or since the sentence for the offense was completed; and (iii) the nature of the job the employee holds or seeks.

An employer can demonstrate that its policies or practices are “appropriately tailored” to the job by either: (1) conducting an individualized assessment of the circumstances and qualifications of the applicant or employee and providing the individual with notice (before any adverse action is taken) that he or she has been excluded based on a conviction and affording the individual an opportunity to show that the criminal history exclusion should not apply due to their particular circumstances; or (2) demonstrating that a “bright line” rule regarding conviction disqualification can distinguish between those employees who actually pose an unacceptable risk and that the convictions being used to disqualify, or otherwise adversely impact the status of the employee or applicant, have a direct and specific negative bearing on the person’s ability to perform the duties or responsibilities necessarily related to the position.

The new regulations further provide that any bright-line policy that includes conviction-related information that is seven or more years old is subject to a rebuttable presumption that the policy is not specifically tailored to meet the job-related and consistent with business necessity defense.

Under the new regulations, even if an employer’s background check policy meets the new stringent standard, employers may still be liable if an individual employee can demonstrate that there is a less discriminatory policy or practice that serves the employer’s goals as effectively, such as a more narrowly targeted list of convictions or another form of inquiry that evaluates job qualification or risk as accurately.

Employers that are required to comply with federal or state laws or other regulations that mandate a criminal history screening process or require an employee or applicant to possess or obtain a required occupational license can rely on the applicable laws as a defense to an adverse impact claim.

The Regulations Require Employee Notification of an Adverse Action and Opportunity to Present Evidence of Factual Inaccuracy

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act currently requires employers to provide notice to employees or job applicants when an adverse employment decision is made based on information obtained by an employer through a background check. In addition, the FEHC’s new regulations require that employers notify an employee or applicant of the disqualifying criminal conviction if the information was obtained from any source other than the applicant or employee (e.g., through a consumer report or internally generated search).

Under the regulations, the employee or applicant must be given a “reasonable opportunity to present evidence that the information is factually inaccurate,” and the criminal record may not be considered if the employee establishes that the information is inaccurate.

Similar Pending California Legislation

Employers should also note that pending Assembly Bill (AB) 1008 goes even further than the FEHC regulations and would make it unlawful for a California employer to: (1) include on any job application questions that seek the disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history; (2) inquire or consider an applicant’s prior convictions before extending a conditional offer of employment; and (3) when conducting a criminal background check, to consider, distribute, or disseminate information on (i) an arrest not followed by conviction, (ii) referral to or participation in a pretrial diversion program, (iii) convictions that have been sealed, dismissed, expunged, or statutorily eradicated pursuant to law, (iv) misdemeanor convictions for which no jail sentence can be imposed, or (v) misdemeanor convictions for which three years have passed since the date of conviction or felony convictions for which seven years have passed since the date of conviction.

If passed, AB 1008 would also require California employers that intend to deny employment to an applicant because of prior convictions to perform an individualized assessment of whether the applicant’s criminal history has a direct and adverse relationship to the specific job duties. The employer must then notify the applicant of the reasons for the decision and provide the applicant with 10 days to respond and challenge the accuracy of the information or provide evidence of rehabilitation, which the employer must then consider before making a final employment decision.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing before the California Committee on Labor and Employment on May 3, 2017.

Best Practices for California Employers Conducting Criminal History Checks

California employers that screen applicants and employees for criminal convictions should review and evaluate their criminal conviction policies, background check policies, and job applications for compliance with the new regulations and, potentially, for compliance with pending AB 1008.

Philadelphia Wage Equity Ordinance On Hold … For Now

By Alexa E. Miller and David J. Woolf

Earlier this year, Philadelphia became the first city to pass a law prohibiting employers from inquiring about a job applicant’s wage history and restricting their ability to consider wage history in setting new employee compensation. The pay equity ordinance was enacted to halt the perpetuation of gender discrimination in compensation practices.

As has been widely reported, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit on April 6, 2017 to challenge the ordinance, which was scheduled to go into effect on May 23, 2017. The Chamber also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the Court to enjoin the enforcement of the ordinance while its lawsuit is pending, on the grounds that the ordinance violates businesses’ free speech rights under the First Amendment and is unconstitutionally vague.  The City of Philadelphia’s apparent first response has been to question whether the Chamber of Commerce even has standing to bring a lawsuit challenging the ordinance.

On April 19, Judge Mitchell Goldberg issued an order temporarily staying the enforcement of the ordinance until he can decide the Chamber’s preliminary injunction motion. Briefing on the standing issue will extend until at least May 12, with the Court’s decision on standing and possibly additional briefing related to the ordinance itself to follow.  Thus, it is unlikely that the ordinance will go into effect on May 23 as originally planned.

Although Philadelphia employers may be tempted to delay implementing changes to their hiring practices, we recommend that they remain alert and ready to comply. Legislation restricting employers’ ability to rely on a job candidate’s wage history in setting compensation is the latest trend in equal pay laws.  We predict that this trend will continue to gain momentum in other cities and states across the country.  Most recently, the New York City Council passed similar legislation amending the New York City Human Rights Law to prohibit employers from inquiring about an applicant’s wage history, which Mayor de Blasio is expected to sign shortly.  Prudent employers should review their hiring practices (e.g., update job applications and train managers about appropriate interview questions) and be prepared to comply with the law if the Chamber’s challenge is unsuccessful.

Additional background about the ordinance is available here.  We will continue to monitor the status of Philadelphia’s wage equity ordinance and update this site as developments occur.

Recruiting and “Off-Limits” Questions about Salary History – What Employers Need to Know

By Lynne Anderson

By October of 2017, NYC employers – and their recruiting agencies – will no longer be allowed to ask about an applicant’s salary and benefits history during the interview process due to a recent amendment to the NYC Human Rights Law. This law follows Executive Orders signed in November 2016 by Mayor de Blasio, and in January 2017 by Governor Cuomo, banning questions about salary history for NYC and NY state public-sector applicants prior to a conditional offer of employment. In addition, private employers in Philadelphia as of May 2017, and Massachusetts as of July 1, 2018, will also be banned from asking applicants about their compensation history. These laws are intended to help break the perpetuation of salary inequities by prohibiting reliance on prior, possibly inequitable compensation levels, as a means to set salaries and other compensation for incoming employees. Public Advocate Letitia James co-sponsored the NYC bill after a study conducted by her office found that women in New York earn $5.8 billion less in wages than men every year, or 87 cents for every dollar that men make, and the wage discrepancies were worse for minority females.

What does the NYC law prohibit?

It will be a discriminatory employment practice to do the following.

(1) Ask an applicant, or their current/prior employer – either in writing or during the interview process – about the applicant’s wage, benefits or other compensation history. This prohibition extends to inquiries made by search firms on behalf of the prospective employer. However, applicants can be asked about their historic productivity metrics, such as their level of revenue or sales at their current or prior employers.

(2) Conduct internet or other searches of public records in an effort to determine the candidate’s salary history. Employers are still permitted to conduct background checks of applicants, but if the background check discloses an applicant’s salary history, the employer may not rely on such disclosure for purposes of determining an applicant’s compensation.

(3) Rely on the compensation history of an applicant in determining what to offer the applicant with regards to salary, benefits or other compensation, unless the applicant “unprompted” and “willingly” discloses that information. However, this exception is not necessarily that helpful as employers can expect that the issue of whether a disclosure was truly “willing and unprompted” to be the subject of much debate.

What are the penalties for violations?

The NYC Commission on Human Rights will enforce the prohibition, and may impose a civil penalty of up to $125 for an intentional violation, and up to $250,000 for an “intentional malicious violation.” Plaintiffs’ employment lawyers will also file private cause of actions, and will likely seek discovery related to recruiting practices in an effort to ferret out potential violations they will cite to as evidence in support of disparate impact sex discrimination claims.

What should employers do now?

Employers are watching to see if these laws will be challenged before implementation. For example, Philadelphia’s law is currently being challenged in a federal lawsuit filed in early April by The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia seeking to block implementation of the law on ground of violation of First Amendment rights. The NYC law is also expected to face a challenge from industry groups, although the Bronx Chamber of Commerce has publicly supported the new law.

Until a challenge is successful, employers should consider the following action items with regards to the NYC law:

  • Remove salary history questions from job applications, including online applications.
  • Provide notice, in writing, to recruiting agencies and background check companies, to exclude salary history inquiries as part of their process, and direct them not to provide salary history information to your company as the potential employer. You can also work this into contract renewals and any Statement of Work or recruiting search request, along with an indemnification obligation if a lawsuit ensues due to an agency’s failure to comply.
  • Train HR, internal recruiters and other employees who interface with job applicants not to ask about salary/benefits/compensation history, but to explore other permissible areas. For example, the NYC law allows employers to discuss an applicant’s compensation expectations, including with regards to unvested equity or deferred compensation that an applicant would forfeit if they left their current employer to accept a new job offer. Interviewers are also still able to ask questions to probe the candidate’s level of experience and proficiency such as performance results, management experience, etc.
  • Train these same individuals about the need to document, in writing, when a candidate makes an unprompted disclosure of his/her salary history.
  • Consider posting salaries, or salary ranges, for open jobs. The new NYC law does not require this, but the bill suggests to businesses that they post salaries for jobs instead of relying on salary history to set compensation.
  • Don’t ignore ongoing obligations to audit to protect against potential pay inequities. As we have been discussing, all private employers with 100 or more employees will likely have to report pay data broken down by gender and race as part of the new federal EEO-1 reports due in March 2018 for 2017 data, and California employers must comply with record keeping requirements imposed by California’s Fair Pay Law in effect since 2016. California’s Fair Pay Law was also amended, effective January 1, 2017, to provide that prior salary will not, by itself, justify a disparity between the salaries of similarly situated employees.

Also, keep in mind that while removing prior salary history from the hiring process may help limit perpetuation of wage gaps, the practical reality is that a candidate’s ability to negotiate a higher salary will likely still drive salary differentials. Employers will need to protect against unintended pay inequities resulting from the recruiting process.

Get Ready to Comply: All Signs Point to Enforcement of the Enhanced EEO-1 Form and Reporting Obligations

By Alexa E. Miller and Lynne A. Anderson

For approximately fifty years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has collected workforce data about race, gender, ethnicity and job category from all businesses with 100 or more employees, using the EEO-1 report.  In an effort to combat pay discrimination, last year the EEOC announced that it finalized regulations expanding the information collected in the annual EEO-1 report to include pay data.

The revised EEO-1 form requires employers to collect aggregate W-2 earnings and report the number of employees in each of the twelve pay bands (spanning from $19,239 and under to $208,000 and over) for the ten EEO-1 job categories (Executive/Senior Level Officials and Managers; First/Mid Level Officials and Managers; Professionals; Technicians; Sales Workers; Administrative Support Workers; Craft Workers; Operatives; Laborers and Helpers; Service Workers) and classified by race, sex and ethnicity.  The revised EEO-1 form has been largely criticized by employers claiming that the collection of W-2 earnings, without any context to explain legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for pay disparities (e.g., education, training, experience, tenure, merit, etc.) will unnecessarily open the door to increased scrutiny and investigations.  To make matters worse, the EEOC has not been very forthcoming about how the information would be analyzed and used, other than as a “screening tool” to identify pay discrimination.

With the post-election transfer of power completed, many practitioners were unsure whether the EEOC would move forward with collecting summary pay data under the new administration.  Indeed, one of President Trump’s first actions was to issue a government-wide regulatory freeze halting any new and pending regulations from taking effect.  Moreover, the newly appointed acting chair of the EEOC, Victoria Lipnic, confirmed that the revised EEO-1 forms are precisely the intended regulations targeted by Trump’s directive to halt and re-evaluate new and pending rules.  That stance coupled with the President’s executive order requiring that for every new federal regulation implemented, two must be rescinded, left many within the employment law community predicting that the new EEO-1 form would fall victim to the new administration’s chopping block.

However, with the passage of time, it appears that the revised EEO-1 form is likely here to stay.  Unlike some other agencies, the EEOC operates by majority vote.  Acting Chair Lipnic voted against the new pay data reporting requirements, but she was outnumbered 3 to 1.  Therefore, any changes to the new EEO-1 report would require a majority vote from the commission.  Trump will have an opportunity to nominate two more Republican commissioners later this year, which, if the nominees are confirmed by the Senate, could tip the balance in favor of rolling back the revised EEO-1 form.  However, that type of ideological shift among the EEOC commissioners would not occur until at least the Fall of 2017.  Although Lipnic indicated that the enhanced pay data collection requirements may be re-evaluated in the future, she has also stressed that equal pay remains a priority for the EEOC.  Given the timing of any new appointments and the upcoming filing deadline (March 31, 2018), it’s more likely that we will see a proposal to modify the revised EEO-1 form, rather than a complete repeal of the collection of pay data.

Thus, employers with more than 100 employees would be wise to gear up for compliance. The EEOC recently issued guidance to assist companies with the new reporting obligations by answering questions from the agency’s employer webinars about the revised EEO-1 report. The EEOC’s guidance instructs employers to reference an employee’s wages as reported in his or her W-2, Box 1 for the calendar year, which includes wages, tips and other compensation, to identify the correct pay band.  The EEOC clarified that employers cannot reference gross annual earnings instead of W-2, Box 1, earnings.  Employers should then count and report the total number of employees in each pay band for the job category on the new EEO-1 form.

The revised EEO-1 form also requires employers to report the total hours worked during the year, which will help explain partial year or part-time employment. The new EEO-1 form follows the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) definition of hours worked.  Therefore, employers are not required to include paid leave, such as sick leave, vacation leave, or paid holidays as hours worked.  For non-exempt employees, employers should use the number of hours worked under the FLSA during the reporting year.  For exempt employees, employers can choose to either report the designated proxy hours of 40 per week for full-time employees or 20 hours per week for part-time employees multiplied by the number of weeks worked that year, or, alternatively, report actual hours worked, as defined by FLSA, if the employer already maintains such records.  Employers are not required to create or retain any new records of hours worked for exempt employees.

Other noteworthy changes in the new EEO-1 report include the new workforce snapshot period, which was previously a pay period in between July 1 and September 30, but is now a pay period between October 1 and December 31, and the new filing deadline every March 31, beginning March 31, 2018 and continuing thereafter. Employers are reminded to report pay and hours worked for the entire year for employees who are on the payroll during the workforce snapshot period.  The job categories and demographic data remain the same.

“Ensuring equal pay protections for all workers” remains a substantive priority for fiscal years 2017-2021, as set forth in the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan. Therefore, it is important that employers are fully ready to comply with the new reporting obligations.  Prior to compiling and reporting its 2017 EEO-1 data, we recommend that companies conduct an internal audit to identify any pay disparities and then consult with legal counsel to analyze the bona fide business reasons for any discrepancies.