FMLA’s New Definition of “Spouse” Halted in Four States

The Department of Labor’s revised definition of “spouse” under the FMLA was recently struck down in Texas. On March 26, 2015, in Texas v. United States, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas granted a request made by the states of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Nebraska for a preliminary injunction with respect to the Department of Labor’s Final Rule that revised the regulatory definition of “spouse” to include same-sex partners under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

After the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) in United States v. Windsor, which defined spouse under federal law, as a person of the opposite sex, President Obama called for a review of all relevant federal statutes to implement the decision. Under the then-existing FMLA regulation defining spouse, eligible employees in same-sex marriages recognized in their “state of residence” could take FMLA leave to care for a same-sex spouse with a serious health condition. However, this definition did not allow an eligible employee to take FMLA leave on the basis of the employee’s legal same-sex marriage if the employee lived in a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage.

On February 25, 2015, in order to provide FMLA rights to all legally married same-sex couples consistent with the Windsor decision, the Department of Labor issued a Final Rule revising the definition of spouse under the FMLA. Essentially, the Rule provided that any eligible employee who is in a legal same-sex marriage can take FMLA leave to care for his or her spouse, regardless of the state in which that employee resides. To determine who could be considered a spouse, the revised definition looks to the law in the “state of celebration,” that is, the jurisdiction in which the marriage was entered into, instead of the law of the state in which the employee resides. The Rule was to be effective March 27, 2015.

On March 18, 2015, the State of Texas filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and Application for Temporary Restraining Order, arguing that the Final Rule should be enjoined because Texas law does not recognize same-sex marriages. On March 25, 2015, Texas amended its Complaint to add Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska as plaintiffs. The other plaintiff states have similar restrictions on state recognition of same-sex marriages. The court granted the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, holding that Congress intended to preserve a state’s ability to define marriage without being obligated under the laws of another jurisdiction which may define it differently. The court concluded that the DOL exceeded its authority in changing the definition because it forced employers to choose between complying with the FMLA and with other certain state laws prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriages.

The DOL’s Final Rule has been temporarily stayed in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska. While the preliminary injunction remains in effect, the DOL cannot take any action to enforce the “state of celebration” rule in those four states.

What is the bottom line for employers? Employers outside of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska should review their FMLA policy to ensure that it includes the new definition of “spouse.” Employers should also make sure that human resources personnel, supervisors and managers are aware of the new definition and its impact on employees requesting leave under the FMLA. Employers doing business in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska should monitor the developments in Texas v. United States to determine if the new definition of spouse will be implemented in those states.




EEOC Takes on Transgender Discrimination under Title VII

On April 21, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that the EEOC may proceed with sex discrimination claims on behalf of a transgender plaintiff. This litigation is one of two actions filed by the EEOC in September 2014 alleging that employers violated Title VII by discriminating against transgender employees on the basis of sex.

While the EEOC acknowledges that transgender status is not explicitly protected under Title VII provisions, the Commission has taken the position since 2012 that discrimination against an individual because that person is transgender nevertheless constitutes sex discrimination under the theory of sex-stereotyping, i.e., taking an adverse action against an employee on the basis of that person’s nonconformance to sex- or gender-based preferences.

Federal Courts Permit Transgender Plaintiffs’ Claims under Sex Stereotyping Theory 

The Commission’s two federal complaints, EEOC v. Lakeland Eye Clinic, P.A. (No. 8:14-cv-2421) in the Middle District of Florida and EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. (No. 2:14-cv-13710) in the Eastern District of Michigan, both involve transgender women who allege they were fired soon after notifying their employers that they would begin transitioning from presenting as a man to presenting as a woman. The parties settled the Florida case, but the Michigan litigation is continuing after the court’s denial of the employer’s motion to dismiss. While reiterating that “transgender” is not a protected status under Title VII, the court noted a Sixth Circuit decision holding that an employer’s treatment of a transgender employee in consideration of the employer’s sex- or gender-based preferences, expectations, or stereotypes, i.e., sex stereotyping, is actionable under Title VII. District courts in the Third, Fifth, and D.C. circuits have also held that sex stereotyping is a viable theory for transgender employees and allowed those employees’ Title VII claims to survive dismissal. 

Employer Takeaways 

Given the EEOC’s increased focus on transgender workers’ rights, employers should revisit their policies, such as dress code and grooming policies, to consider how they may affect transgender employees. In addition to prohibiting discriminatory treatment of transgender employees with respect to hiring, firing, and compensation decisions, employers should also develop, or improve upon, their protocol for handling an employee’s gender transition. A recent EEOC administrative decision (in which it found that the Army discriminated against a transgender employee) provides guidance on the type of employer actions that are likely to constitute unlawful discrimination against a transitioning employee: 

• An employer should not limit a transgender employee’s access to a single stall restroom, even if equal in quality to the common restrooms.

• An employer should not condition recognition of a transgender employee’s gender identity (i.e., the name or pronoun used when addressing the employee) on that individual’s completion of certain surgical procedures that render the individual physically male or female.

• An employer may be held liable for harassment if supervisors or coworkers refuse to address the transgender employee by his or her transgender name and/or by pronouns that are associated with that individual’s desired gender identification.

Labor Laws for the New Year

If only the Beatles’ call to “Let it Be” was heard by the California Legislature. Instead, employer regulation is on the rise again. In 2014, 574 bills introduced mentioned “employer,” compared to 186 in 2013. Most of those 500-plus bills did not pass, and several that did pass were not signed into law by the governor. One veto blocked a bill that would have penalized employers for limiting job prospects of, or discriminating against, job applicants who aren’t currently employed.

A sampling of significant new laws affecting private employers, effective Jan. 1, 2015, unless otherwise mentioned, follows.

Shared Liability for Employers Who Use Labor Contractors

AB 1897 mandates that companies provided with workers from a labor contractor to perform labor within its “usual course of business” at its premises or worksite will “share with the labor contractor all civil legal responsibility and civil liability” for the labor contractor’s failure to pay wages required by law or secure valid workers compensation insurance, for the workers supplied.

The law applies regardless of whether the company knew about the violations and whether the company hiring the labor contractor (recast by the new law as a “client employer”) and labor contractor are deemed joint employers. This liability sharing is in addition to any other theories of liability or requirements established by statutes or common law.

The client employer will not, however, share liability under this new law if it has a workforce of less than 25 employees (including those obtained through the labor contractor), or is supplied by the labor contractor with five or fewer workers at any given time.

A labor contractor is defined as an individual or entity that supplies, either with or without a contract, a client employer with workers to perform labor within the client employer’s usual course of business, unless the specific labor falls under the exclusion clause in AB 1897. Excluded are bona fide nonprofits, bona fide labor organizations, apprenticeship programs, hiring halls operated pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, motion picture payroll services companies and certain employee leasing arrangements that contractually obligate the client employer to assume all civil legal responsibility and civil liability for securing workers’ compensation insurance.

This bill is a significant expansion of existing law—which is limited to prohibiting employers from entering into a contract for labor or services with a construction, farm labor, garment, janitorial, security guard or warehouse contractor—if the employer knows or should know that the agreement does not include sufficient funds.

In light of the new law, labor services contractor engagements should be evaluated with an eye toward limiting the risk of retaining non-compliant contractors, including indemnity, insurance, termination provisions and compliance verification protocols.

Wage and Hour Changes

California’s $9 hourly minimum wage is due to increase to $10 Jan. 1, 2016. Defeated by the California Legislature, however, was a bill to raise the hourly minimum wage to $11 in 2015, $12 in 2016, $13 in 2017 and then adjust annually for inflation starting in 2018.

Undeterred, several municipalities have increased their respective minimum wage for companies who employ workers in their jurisdiction. For example, employees who work in San Francisco more than two hours per week, including part-time and temporary workers, are entitled to the San Francisco hourly minimum wage, which increased Jan. 1 from $10.74 to $11.05 and will increase to $12.25 by May 1. Hourly minimum wages also increased Jan. 1 in San Jose ($10.30).

The minimum wage will increase in Oakland March 2 ($12.25) and in Berkeley Oct. 1 ($11). Many other cities have either enacted, or have pending, minimum wage laws.

Federal minimum wage continues to lag behind California, but no longer for federal contractors. President Obama issued Executive Order 13658 in 2014 which established that workers under federal contracts must be paid at least $10.10 per hour. This applies to new contracts and replacements for expiring federal contracts that resulted from solicitations issued on or after Jan. 1, 2015, or to contracts that were awarded outside the solicitation process on or after Jan. 1, 2015. There are prevailing wage requirements for many state and local government and agency contractors as well.

Employers should monitor each of the requirements, including those in the jurisdiction in which they do business, to assure compliance.

Paid Sick Days Now Required

Effective July 1, AB 1522 is the first statewide law that requires employers to provide paid sick days to employees. The new law grants employees, who worked at least 30 days since the commencement of their employment, the right to accrue one hour of paid sick time off for each 30 hours worked—up to 24 hours (three days) in a year of employment. Exempt employees are presumed to work a 40-hour normal workweek; but, if their normal workweek is less, the lower amount could be used for accrual purposes.

An employer may cap accrual at 48 hours (six days) and also may limit the use of paid sick days in a year to 24 hours. Unused paid sick days normally carry-over from year to year, though no carry-over is required if 24 hours of paid sick days is accrued to the employee at the beginning of a year. No payout is required at termination of employment.

The paid sick days may be used for the employee’s own health condition or preventative care; a family member’s health condition or preventative care; if the employee is a victim of domestic assault or sexual violence; and stalking. “Family member” means a child, regardless of age or dependency (including adopted, foster, step or legal ward), parent (biological, adoptive, foster, step, in-law or registered domestic partner’s parent), spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild or siblings.

The law applies to all employers, regardless of size, except for a few categories of employees that are not covered—such as those governed by a collective bargaining agreement that contains certain provisions, in-home supportive services providers and certain air carrier personnel.

Employers must keep records for at least three years, a new workplace poster is required and employers are barred from retaliating against employees who assert rights under this new law.

Failure of an employer to comply with AB 1522 can result in significant monetary fines and penalties in addition to pay for the sick days withheld, reinstatement and back pay if employment was ended, and attorneys fees and costs.

Employers should beware to integrate city specific paid sick leave laws with the new state law. For example, the pre-existing San Francisco paid sick day law has some provisions that are similar and some that are different from AB 1522. As a general rule, where multiple laws afford employee rights on a common topic, the employee is entitled to the law benefits that favors the employee most.

Discrimination Law and Training Requirements Expanded

AB 1443 amends the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to make its anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and religious accommodation provisions apply to unpaid interns. It also amends FEHA’s anti-harassment, and religious belief or observance accommodation provisions, to apply to volunteers. This new law appears to respond to, and trump, courts that have not classified these workers as employees and, in turn, found them not eligible for legal protections afforded to employees.

Prior law requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles to commence issuing special drivers licenses in January to applicants who meet other requirements to obtain a license, but cannot submit satisfactory proof of lawful presence in the United States. AB 1660 amends FEHA to prohibit discrimination against holders of these special drivers licenses; adverse action by an employer because an employee or applicant holds a special license can be a form of national origin discrimination. Employer compliance with any requirement or prohibition of federal immigration law is not a violation of FEHA.

Since 2006, employers of 50 or more employees have been required to provide supervisors with two hours of classroom or other effective interactive anti-sexual harassment training, every two years. New supervisors are to receive the training within six months after they start a supervisory position. This is commonly known as “AB 1825” training.

In apparent response to societal concerns about the impacts of bullying in general, AB 2053 requires that AB 1825 training include a component on abusive conduct prevention. Under the new law, abusive conduct means “conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.

Abusive conduct may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse—such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults and epithets; verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating or humiliating; or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance. A single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious.”

The new law does not make abusive conduct unlawful in and of itself, but it’s common for plaintiffs’ counsel to try, in attempts to win cases, to tether abusive behavior by a supervisor to conduct that is alleged to be unlawful.

SB 1087 requires farm labor contractors to provide sexual harassment prevention and complaint process training annually to supervisory employees and at the time of hire and each two years thereafter to non-supervisory employees. The new law also blocks state licensing of farm labor contractors who have been found by a court or administrative agency to have engaged in sexual harassment in the past three years, or who knew— or should have known—that a supervisor had been found by a court or administrative agency to have engaged in sexual harassment in the past three years.

Child Labor Laws Enhanced

AB 2288, the Child Labor Protection Act of 2014, accomplishes three things.

1. It confirms existing law that “tolls” or suspends the running of statutes of limitation on a minor’s claims for unlawful employment practices until the minor reaches the age of 18.

2. Treble damages are now available—in addition to other remedies—to an individual who is discharged, threatened with discharge, demoted, suspended, retaliated or discriminated against, or subjected to adverse action in the terms or conditions employment because the individual filed a claim or civil action alleging a violation of the Labor Code that arose while the individual was a minor.

3. For Class “A” child labor law violations involving minors at or under the age of 12, the required range of civil penalties increases to $25,000 to $50,000. Class A violations include employing certain minors in dangerous or prohibited occupations under the Labor Code, acting unlawfully or under conditions that present an imminent danger to the minor employee, and three or more violations of child work permit or hours requirements.

Immigration and Retaliation

Several new California laws involving immigration issues surfaced last year. All were premised on existing law that all workers are entitled to the rights and protections of state employment law regardless of immigration status, and that employers must not leverage immigration status against applicants, employees or their families.

This year, AB 2751 adds to and clarifies these existing laws.

For example, actionable “unfair immigration- related practices” now include threatening or filing a false report to any government agency. The bill also clarifies that a court has authority to order the suspension of business licenses of an offending employer to block otherwise lawful operations at worksites where the offenses occurred.

What’s Next?

Employers should consider how these new laws impact their workplaces, and then review and update their personnel practices and policies with the advice of experienced attorneys or human resource professionals.


*Originally published by CalCPA in the January/February 2015 issue of California CPA.

President Obama Signs Two Executive Orders to Limit Workplace Discrimination

On April 8, 2014, at an event commemorating National Equal Pay Day (an annual public awareness event that aims to draw attention to the gender wage gap), President Obama signed two executive orders designed to limit workplace discrimination.  The first prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their salaries with one another, while the second instructs the Department of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including breaking down the data by gender and race.

The protections offered by the anti-retaliation Order overlap with many already existing under state and federal law.  For example, the NLRA protects employees’ right to engage in “concerted activities” and thus already prohibits employer discipline against employees who discuss their wages.  Further, some state laws, such as California Labor Code §232, already preclude an employer from disciplining an employee who discloses the amount of his or her wages.  Nonetheless, the Order may add to these protections, such as by expanding them to management employees (who are not protected by the NLRA), and providing an alternative option for bringing retaliation claims (i.e., through the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs rather than the NLRB).

The effects of the Order requiring the collection of compensation data will be unclear until the regulations themselves are formulated.  Based on the Order’s mandate to “avoid new record-keeping requirements and rely on existing reporting frameworks to collect the summary data” and to develop regulations that “minimize, to the extent possible, the burden on Federal contractors and subcontractors,” it is possible that the federal government will require that the data be submitted along with a federal contractors’ annual EEO-1 Report.

The President’s signing of these Orders appears to tie into the White House’s previously announced plans to accelerate change in areas it believes are within the authority of the Executive Branch, without the need for legislation.  Indeed, the Orders’ provisions mirror parts of the Paycheck Fairness Act (“PFA”), a proposed piece of legislation that would add procedural protections to the EPA and the FLSA to address male–female income disparity.  (The PFA came up for a vote in the U.S. Senate on April 9, 2014, where it was blocked by a Republican filibuster).  Similarly, in February 2014, President Obama issued an Order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, at a time when Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) were urging a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and index it to inflation.  Then, in March 2014, President Obama directed the Labor Department to revamp regulations governing which types of employees business may classify as overtime-exempt “executives” or “professionals.”  With regard to the Order requiring the collection of compensation data, the OFCCP has been working internally on releasing a proposed compensation data collection tool for the past three years.  See (publicizing the OFCCP’s August 10, 2011 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding a new compensation data collection tool).

The high profile nature of the Orders provides yet another impetus for employers to evaluate their existing policies, and plan for the future.

Philadelphia Pregnancy Accommodation Law: Notice Requirement Begins on April 20, 2014

On January 20, 2014, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed into effect an amendment to the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance: Protections Against Unlawful Discrimination that expressly includes pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition among those categories protected from unlawful discrimination.

The city law covers employers who do business in Philadelphia through employees or who employ one or more employees.  Before this amendment, employers’ obligations under city, state, and federal antidiscrimination laws only required them to treat employees with pregnancy-related issues no worse than any other disabled employee with respect to accommodations.  Now employers are not only prohibited from denying or interfering with an individual’s employment opportunities on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, but employers also are required to make reasonable accommodations on these bases to an employee who requests it.  The legislation’s non-exhaustive examples of reasonable accommodations include restroom breaks, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time, assistance with manual labor, leave for a period of disability arising from childbirth, reassignment to a vacant position, and job restructuring.  Employers have an affirmative defense under the law for failing to accommodate an employee if such accommodations would cause an undue hardship.

Employers should take note that this law increases the burden on them to provide reasonable accommodations, since examples like reassignment and job restructuring have traditionally not been required under similar federal and state laws that mandate accommodations for individuals with disabilities.  Thus, employers should review their policies and other written materials regarding employee accommodations to ensure that they reflect the increased protections afforded by the amendment.  Employers were required to provide written notice to its employees of the protections under this amendment by April 20th or post the notice conspicuously at its place of business in an area accessible to employees.  The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations has provided a model notice to employees, which can be found at:

Proposed California Paid Sick Leave Law Will Require Employers to Provide Paid Sick Leave to Employees

Are you a California employer currently providing paid sick leave to your employees?  You may soon have to!  California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) recently introduced legislation (Bill AB1522) approved by the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee requiring employers in the State of California to provide their employees with paid sick leave.

This bill would enact the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 to provide, among other things, that an employee who works in California for 7 or more days in a calendar year is entitled to paid sick days to be accrued at a rate of no less than one hour for every 30 hours worked.  An employee would be entitled to use accrued sick days beginning on the 90th calendar day of employment.  And employers would be subject to statutory penalties as well as lawsuits, including the recovery of attorneys fees by the aggrieved employee against employers, for alleged violations.

It is important to note that this type of bill is not new in California, as the San Francisco Paid Sick Leave Ordinance became effective on February 5, 2007 and all employers must provide paid sick leave to each employee — including temporary and part-time employees — who performs work in San Francisco.

The California Chamber of Commerce as well as other employer groups are opposed to this bill and view it as a job killer.

Stay tuned….


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