Last week, the EEOC released its latest edition of its federal sector Digest of Equal Opportunity Law, a quarterly publication featuring recent Commission decisions and federal court cases selected by EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations. This edition features an article titled, “Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment,” which is the fruition of an EEOC task force on workplace harassment. The article, which is particularly timely given the #MeToo movement, advances five core principles to deter and remedy harassment: (1) committed and engaged leadership; (2) consistent and demonstrated accountability; (3) strong and comprehensive harassment policies; (4) trusted and accessible complaint procedures; and (5) regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization.

The utility of this article is not the simple identification of these principles, which are familiar and uncontroversial, but rather its identification of practices/strategies an employer can implement to achieve these aims. These recommendations include:

  • Regularly and effectively train supervisors and managers about how to prevent, recognize and objectionable conduct that, if left unchecked, may rise to the level of prohibited harassment.
  • Direct staff to periodically, and in different ways, test the complaint system to determine if complaints are received and addressed promptly and appropriately.
  • Create a harassment complaint system with multiple avenues of complaint.
  • Conduct live, interactive harassment training on a regular basis.

Helpfully, the articles also enumerates specific statements that should be included in a harassment policy, including but not limited to, that:

  • The policy applies to employees at every level of the organization, as well as to applicants, clients, customers, and other relevant individuals;
  • Harassment based on, at a minimum, any legally protected characteristic is prohibited;
  • Employees are encouraged to report conduct that they believe may be prohibited harassment (or that, if left unchecked, may rise to the level of prohibited harassment), even if they are not sure that the conduct violates the policy;
  • The employer will provide a prompt, impartial, and thorough investigation;
  • The identity of individuals who report harassment, alleged victims, witnesses, and alleged harassers will be kept confidential to the extent possible and permitted by law, consistent with a thorough and impartial investigation;
  • The organization will take immediate and proportionate corrective action if it determines that harassment has occurred; and
  • Retaliation is prohibited, and that individuals who report harassing conduct, participate in investigations, or take any other actions protected under federal employment discrimination laws will not be subjected to retaliation.

As the article acknowledges, these practices are not legal requirements under federal employment discrimination laws. However, employers should take note of these recommendations as they may enhance employers’ compliance efforts in both the short- and long-term.

The first quarter of 2018 has already stirred up an array of legal matters that employers in the hospitality industry should be conscious of, both in their day-to-day operations and long-term planning. In February alone, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to curb lawsuits focused on the inaccessibility of brick-and-mortar business establishments and a federal appeals court ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a pilot program that will allow employers to avoid potential penalties for overtime and minimum wage violations. In addition, the #MeToo movement continues to be top of mind across all industries, and hospitality employers should be vigilant in their training and employee awareness efforts. Due diligence in change-of-ownership transactions should include labor relations issues, especially with unionized employees.

This edition of Epstein Becker Green’s Take 5 addresses important and evolving issues confronting employers in the hospitality industry:

  1. Will Congress Slam the Breaks on ADA “Drive By” Lawsuits?
  2. Expanding Sex Discrimination Protection to LGBT Employees in the Hospitality Industry
  3. Effective Compliance Training in the Hospitality Industry in the Wake of #MeToo
  4. Transactional Due Diligence Should Include Labor Relations Issues
  5. Voluntary PAID Program Permits Employers to Escape Potential High Penalties for Self-Reported FLSA Violations—but at What Risk?

Read the full Take 5 online or download the PDF.

Our colleagues , at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Health Employment and Labor blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “Sixth Circuit Finds Title VII Covers Discrimination Based on Transgender Status.”

Following is an excerpt:

In a significant decision on Wednesday, March 6, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held in EEOC v. R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes that discrimination against a worker on the basis of gender identity or transitioning status constitutes sex discrimination that violates Title VII.

In R.G. & G.R., the funeral home’s owner fired funeral director Aime Stephens after she informed him she intended to begin a gender transition and present herself as a woman at work. In finding gender identity to be covered by Title VII, the Sixth Circuit also upheld the EEOC’s claim that the funeral home’s dress code, which has different dress and grooming instructions for men and women, discriminates on the basis of sex. …

Read the full post here.

When: Thursday, September 14, 2017 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Where: New York Hilton Midtown, 1335 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019

Epstein Becker Green’s Annual Workforce Management Briefing will focus on the latest developments in labor and employment law, including:

  • Immigration
  • Global Executive Compensation
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Internal Cyber Threats
  • Pay Equity
  • People Analytics in Hiring
  • Gig Economy
  • Wage and Hour
  • Paid and Unpaid Leave
  • Trade Secret Misappropriation
  • Ethics

We will start the day with two morning Plenary Sessions. The first session is kicked off with Philip A. Miscimarra, Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

We are thrilled to welcome back speakers from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Marc Freedman and Katie Mahoney will speak on the latest policy developments in Washington, D.C., that impact employers nationwide during the second plenary session.

Morning and afternoon breakout workshop sessions are being led by attorneys at Epstein Becker Green – including some contributors to this blog! Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Chai R. Feldblum, will be making remarks in the afternoon before attendees break into their afternoon workshops. We are also looking forward to hearing from our keynote speaker, Bret Baier, Chief Political Anchor of FOX News Channel and Anchor of Special Report with Bret Baier.

View the full briefing agenda and workshop descriptions here.

Visit the briefing website for more information and to register, and contact Sylwia Faszczewska or Elizabeth Gannon with questions. Seating is limited.

Complying with employment law has become increasingly difficult given that various states and municipalities have passed legislation that seemingly contradicts federal guidance.[1] One state law that has been in the spotlight is North Carolina’s House Bill 2, the “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act” (“HB2”), which was passed in an emergency legislative session on March 23, 2016, to overturn a local ordinance that was set to extend anti-discrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) individuals and would have allowed transgender individuals to use the restroom facilities that corresponded with their gender identity.

There are a number of legal challenges to these laws. Notably, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has filed a complaint, in United States v. State of North Carolina et al., against the state of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina (the largest employer in the state), and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“DPS”), alleging that they are discriminating against transgender individuals in violation of federal law as a result of the state’s compliance with, and implementation of, HB2.

Separately, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, and Equality North Carolina have jointly filed a lawsuit against North Carolina’s governor (Carcano v. McCrory), challenging HB2 in a North Carolina federal court. The complaint, brought by a student, employee, and professor at three separate North Carolina state colleges, alleges that HB2 is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment by discriminating on the basis of sex and sexual orientation and invading the privacy of transgender people. The complaint also alleges that the law violates Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex. The Carcano complaint alleges that “[e]mployers subject to Title VII also will violate the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s [EEOC’s] decree that discriminating against transgender people with respect to restroom use is impermissible sex discrimination.”

Following the news of these two lawsuits, Governor McCrory issued an executive order affirming the right of private-sector employers to establish their own restroom and locker-room policies. While this executive order alleviates the tension between state and federal law for private employers, public employers and employers that have restroom facilities for customers still face differing standards under state and federal law.

Indeed, the EEOC has offered specific guidance (“EEOC Guidance”) on restroom facility access rights for transgender employees that is contrary to the laws of North Carolina and other jurisdictions. The EEOC Guidance specifically refers to two cases addressing discrimination on the basis of gender identity, both of which offer direction for employers:

  • In Macy v. Dep’t of Justice (Apr. 12, 2012), the EEOC ruled that discrimination based on transgender status is sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.
  • In Lusardi v. Dep’t of the Army (Mar. 27, 2015), the EEOC held that denying an employee equal access to a common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity is discrimination on the basis of sex.

The EEOC Guidance states that an employer cannot condition the right to use the restroom corresponding with the employee’s gender identity on the employee undergoing or providing proof of surgery or any other medical procedure, and an employer cannot avoid the requirement to provide equal access to a common restroom by restricting a transgender employee to a single-user restroom instead. See EEOC Fact Sheet: Bathroom Access Rights for Transgender Employees Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Notably, the fact sheet states that contrary state law is not a defense under Title VII (citing to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-7).

In addition to those protections promulgated by the EEOC, OSHA also recently issued guidance indicating that restroom access is a health and safety matter. Under OSHA’s sanitation standard, 29 C.F.R. § 1910.141, employers are required to allow employees prompt access to sanitary facilities. This standard is “intended to protect employees from the health effects created when toilets are not available.”

The OSHA standards, which laws such as HB2 appear to directly conflict, hold that employees should not be required to use a segregated facility apart from other employees because of their gender identity or transgender status. OSHA guidance also has several “model practices” that “all employees should be permitted to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identity.” OSHA advises that the best policies also provide additional options, which employees may choose, but are not required, to use. These include the following:

  • Single-occupancy gender-neutral (unisex) facilities
  • Use of multiple-occupant, gender-neutral restroom facilities with lockable single occupant stalls

The District of Columbia Office of Human Rights issued guidance in early June addressing restroom usage for transgender and cisgender employees. Washington, DC, enacted a law requiring that all single-stall restrooms be gender neutral. Even though this option is available to all employees, the DC guidance reiterates the position of the EEOC and OSHA that employers may not direct transgender employees to use only single-stall restrooms.

What Hospitality Employers Should Do Now

  • Comply with federal law even though it may contradict some state and municipal laws and until there is resolution in either United States v. State of North Carolina et al. or Carcano v. McCrory.
  • Consider creating policies or practices regarding transgender employees’ use of restroom facilities (including following OSHA’s guidance providing numerous restroom options, such as single-occupancy gender-neutral (unisex) facilities), and the use of multiple-occupant, gender-neutral restroom facilities with lockable single occupant stalls.
  • Conduct training for human resources and line managers so that they are aware that they may not require transgender workers to use a particular restroom.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Take 5 newsletter “Five Key Issues Facing Employers in the Hospitality Industry.”

[1] While this article focuses on restroom facilities access for transgendered workers, please note that in the hospitality industry, these issues are also relevant with regard to the appropriate use of restroom facilities for customers.

Our colleague Nancy L. Gunzenhauser has a Technology Employment Law blog post that will be of interest to many of our hospitality industry readers: “Three States Seek to Bolster Fair Pay Laws.”

Following is an excerpt:

Following on the tails of recent updates in New York and California’s equal pay laws, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California all have bills pending in their state legislatures that would seek to eliminate pay differentials on the basis of sex and other protected categories. …

While states are leading the charge with updates to equal pay laws, the EEOC is also stepping up equal pay enforcement with their proposal to modify the EEO-1 forms to include pay information. This push to gather more information regarding pay among various categories may lead to an increase in pay-related claims over the next few years. To help avoid such claims, employers should consider auditing job titles and compensation methods to ensure compliance with each jurisdiction’s equal pay laws.

Read the full post here.

Our colleague Laura A. Stutz has a Retail Employment Law Blog post that will be of interest to many of our hospitality industry readers: “EEOC Implements Nationwide Program to Disclose Employer Position Statements and Supporting Documents.”

Following is an excerpt:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently implemented nationwide procedures for the release of employer position statements to Charging Parties upon request. The new procedures raise concerns about disclosure by the EEOC of non-public personnel and commercial or financial information the employer may disclose to support its position with regard to the Charge.

Before releasing the supporting documents to the Charging Party, the EEOC will review the employer’s submissions and withhold only information the Commission decides should be considered confidential. The type of information considered confidential by the EEOC includes:

  • Sensitive medical information (except for the Charging Party’s medical information)
  • Social Security Numbers
  • Confidential commercial or confidential financial information
  • Trade secrets
  • Non-relevant personally identifiable information of witnesses, comparators or third parties, e.g., dates of birth in non-age cases, residential addresses, personal telephone numbers, personal email addresses, etc.
  • References to Charges filed with the EEOC by other Charging Parties

Read the full post here.

My colleagues Nancy L. Gunzenhauser, Kate B. Rhodes, and Judah L. Rosenblatt at Epstein Becker Green have a Retail Labor and Employment Law blog post concerning a recent EEOC modification to employment discrimination protection: “EEOC Rules Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation Illegal Under Title VII.”

Following is an excerpt:

The EEOC held that “[s]exual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee’s sex.”  The EEOC noted that sex-based considerations also encompassed gender-based considerations under Title VII. This ruling, if accepted by federal courts, would extend protection under Title VII to decisions made on the basis of sexual orientation. While only the Supreme Court can issue a final, definitive ruling on the interpretation of Title VII, EEOC decisions are given significant deference by federal courts.

Read the full original post here.