EEOC Discrimination Charges Reach Record High

By: Aaron M. Moyer

According to the EEOC’s recently released statistics, the Commission received a record number of new employment discrimination charges last year.  For fiscal year 2011, the Commission received 99,947 charges of employment discrimination.  The Commission also obtained $455.6 million in relief, another record high.  This is a $51 million increase from the previous year and continues the upward trend of the past three years.

The statistics provided by the EEOC offer employers some guidance on the hottest issues before the Commission right now:

• Charges alleging retaliation under all of the statutes enforced by the EEOC were the most numerous, accounting for 37.4% of all charges.
• The agency’s enforcement of disability claims under the ADA resulted in a total of $103.4 million of the total $455.6 million obtained.
• The most common alleged disabilities were back impairments, orthopedic impairments, depression, anxiety disorder and diabetes.
• 2011 was the first full fiscal year of the EEOC’s enforcement of the Genetic Nondiscrimination Information Act (GINA).  Only 245 GINA charges were filed, none of which proceeded to litigation.

According to EmploymentLaw360, in a January 2012 speech to the New York State Bar Association, EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum discussed the growing number of EEOC cases alleging ADA violations in the service sector, particularly the healthcare and restaurant industries.  The Commissioner cautioned employers in specific areas: one-size-fits-all attendance policies, medical questionnaires that are unrelated to the job at hand, and rescinding job offers strictly on the basis of disability.  h/t Employment Law 360 (http://www.law360.com/employment/articles/303314?nl_pk=6f740239-75f3-4574-ac7d-3486fe3ce6dd&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=employment)

The EEOC’s complete statistics can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/index.cfm.

NLRB Clarifies Standards to be Applied to Claims Involving Employee Use of Social Media

By: Jerrold J. Wohlgemuth

Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon recently issued an NLRB Report clarifying the standards to be applied to claims involving employee use of social media.  The Report, which summarized recent cases concerning employer policies restricting employee use of social media, like Facebook, as well as cases involving discipline imposed in response to postings on social media, makes clear that the Board will apply traditional analysis to issues concerning social media.

With respect to employer policies addressing the use of social media, the cases show that the Board’s focus will be on whether the policy in question “would reasonably tend to chill employees in the exercise of their Section 7 right” to engage in protected concerted activity.  Employer policies will be found to be unlawfully overbroad to the extent they directly prohibit using social media to discuss terms and conditions of employment, or could “reasonably be construed by employees as prohibiting” such discussions.  Policies that prohibit “disparaging” comments about the employer, “inappropriate” references to the work environment, and “unprofessional” or “disrespectful” postings are unlawfully overbroad because they could reasonably be construed by employees as prohibiting complaints about the work environment or discussions about the terms and conditions of employment.  To pass NLRB muster, employers should focus their social media policies on the same type of activities that are prohibited in the workplace, such as harassment, threats and discrimination, and should also include a specific savings clause to make clear that the policy is not intended to limit or interfere with the right of employees to discuss wages, hours and the terms and conditions of employment.

With respect to cases involving discipline or the discharge of employees for comments posted on social media, the Board applies traditional analysis to determine whether the comments at issue are “protected” because they concern the terms and conditions of employment as opposed to unprotected personal griping, and whether the postings are “concerted” because they seek or result in co-worker comments.  The cases cited in the Report show that postings about personal gripes at work or disparaging comments about the manner in which the employer conducts its business will not be protected, whereas comments addressed to working conditions, including the actions of supervisors and the terms and conditions of employment, are protected.  The cases also show that the Board will engage in a traditional analysis to determine whether or not a posting is “concerted” by looking at such factors as the intent or purpose of the posting (personal rant/complaint or attempt to engage other employees) and the response to the posting (whether or not co-workers participated in an on-line discussion).  An employer’s reaction to postings will also be subject to traditional “surveillance” analysis in which the Board will look at the manner in which the employer learned about the social media postings at issue; that is, whether it unlawfully obtained information about the postings surreptitiously, or lawfully learned about them because a manager or supervisor is a “friend” invited to read the postings.  All of these factors must be considered in connection with a determination to discharge an employee based on social media activity.