We have to warn you: this month’s legal roundup isn’t exactly a basket full of puppies. No, we’ll be discussing violence and its impact on employment law, sexual harassment and the finer points of disabilities. Plus retirement accounts, which sound positively cheery by comparison.
Last month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration published an enforcement directive to let employers know that the definition of workplace violence has been expanded to include threats of violence. Henceforth, when the agency investigates workplace violence, they’ll include threats and allegations in their examinations.
And while we’re in depressing-ville, federal legislation has been reintroduced to “allow employees to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to address acts of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking aimed at themselves, a spouse (including domestic partner and same-sex spouse), parent or child.” If the bill passes, employers could request certification that the employee is using the leave for qualified activities, but would be required to keep the certification information confidential.
Drifting upward through the levels of Hades from violence to harassment, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that federal civil rights laws protect certain classes of volunteers from discrimination at work. (The case was originated by a female volunteer firefighter who charged that she was sexually harassed at the fire station.) The court ruled that although the firefighters were volunteers, they also had “worker’s compensation coverage, insurance coverage, gift cards, personal use of the Department’s facilities and assets, training, and access to an emergency fund,” which made them classifiable as employees.
And speaking of harassment, here’s a great article from TLNT.com that highlights the differences between sexual harassment and garden-variety harassment (i.e., that isn’t sex-based or sexual in nature), and provides three takeaways for managers.
Now we move into disability-based decisions. Yay? The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers could be compelled to accommodate a disabled employee’s commute. A disabled employee in New York City was transferred from Queens to Manhattan (a promotion, by most estimates), but requested that she be transferred back to Queens because it was closer to her home. The court specified that this ruling won’t apply to all employers and urged employers to consider the individual transportation and commute needs of their disabled employees.
“Disabled employees” could be a larger category than previously thought. A recent case brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against a Texas employer charges that morbid obesity can be considered a disability, based on how major life activities are affected. The case is still in process, so it will be interesting to see the direction the ruling takes.
Finally, let’s finish on an up note: the IRS has slightly increased the contribution limits for pensions, 401(k)s and some other retirement plans! Partay!
What are your thoughts on these rulings? Let us know in the comments!