Law Firm Holiday Cards – Do’s and Don’ts

Q: Are holiday cards effective?

A:  I think that they can be considered one more nice way to stay in touch, to send a friendly communication to a large number of clients and prospects all at once.  Of course, I said that they can be effective, not that they typically are.

Holiday cards pose complex issues of database management and client ownership, combined with the logistical questions of who signs which card(s).  Through hard work and discipline, these are mightily overcome — only to become one of a dozen bland, look-alike cards depicting politically correct images like pine trees, ice skaters, snow-covered skylines, ambiguously decorated snow men, or handicapped children’s artwork — which are then sent to dead former clients.

All in the name of strengthening client relationships?

Superhero, CardDone well, the cards should reinforce your firm’s unique brand message, or at least stand out somehow, so they don’t get immediately discarded and forgotten.

When I was the marketing partner of a law firm, it wasn’t unusual for me to get as many as 25 generic holiday cards per day from vendors all wanting our business.

Glance, toss, forget.

Glance, toss, forget.

Glance, toss, forget.

It helps if you have a strong brand message to use, or at least an interesting design to leverage. 

For example, a number of years ago we used an olive-based branding theme for Florida’s Bryant Miller Olive law firm.  Here’s the cover of their olive-themed holiday card:

Holiday Card

The point is — the card represents your firm and your practice.

Don’t rub clients’ noses in your firm’s lack of creativity by doing the same thing as everyone else.  Find some way to do something different. Those that avoid the spam filters don’t generally create much goodwill.

On rare occasion, extra creativity causes one to stand above the pack and get a notice or a smile.

For example, Phoenix’s Engelman Berger law firm always goes the extra mile.

Baseball Card, LawyerEvery year they try something new, including lawyer baseball cards, comic books, TV Guides, and parodies of board games like Clue and Scrabble, Mad magazine, and a children’s book, “Are You My Lawyer?”

Finally, while I know this whole rant is making me sound like Scrooge, I’ve never been a big fan of cards that promise:

“In lieu of a personal gift to you, we’re making a donation

in your name to the following charity(ies).”

In my actual name?

Did they ask me whether I’d prefer receiving the gift?  Or at least help select the charity? Do I get a tax deduction on that money?  And because they never tell you how much they’re donating, everyone I’ve quizzed about this assumes that they’ve taken this approach because it was cheaper and easier.  (And generally, from my experience, they’re right.)

At least that’s how I see it.

Season’s greetings.

Insurance Coverage Issues for Cyber-Physical Risks

internet of thingsThe recent National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)publication of cybersecurity guidance for the Internet of Things (IoT) is a useful reminder that hacking incidents can result not only in privacy breaches, but also in bodily injury or property damage — via critical infrastructure, medical devices and hospital equipment, networked home appliances, or even children’s toys. In addition to enhanced system security engineering and preventive education efforts, insurance is an increasingly essential component in any enterprise risk management approach to cyber vulnerabilities. But purchasers of cyber insurance are finding that nearly all of the available cyber insurance products expressly exclude coverage for physical bodily injury and property damage.

These exclusions are no doubt assumed to “dovetail” with (i.e., to avoid duplicating) the bodily injury and property damage coverage traditionally afforded by general liability and first-party property insurance policies. But it is not always clear whether those more conventional policies cover bodily injury or property damage arising from a cyber-related peril (so-called “cyber-physical” risks). Unless an insurance program specifically addresses these risks, the determination of coverage for physical harm from a cyber-attack may depend on a close reading of policy language and a fact-intensive analysis of how the harm arose.

Policyholders would be well advised to understand the potential cyber-physical risks they face; to analyze all their current lines of coverage to determine whether and how each would respond to those risks; to seek clarifications in their current insurance wordings; to explore new “difference in conditions” insurance products designed to plug any gaps in coverage for such risks; and, ultimately, to expect disputes with their insurers if these novel cyber-physical harms should materialize.

© 2016 Covington & Burling LLP

EEOC Issues Guidance on National Origin Discrimination that Applies to Foreign National Employees

EEOC, National Origin DiscriminationThis week the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) released guidance regarding national origin discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).  The guidance replaces Section 13 of the EEOC’s compliance manual, with a view toward further defining “national origin” and helping employers and employees understand their legal rights and responsibilities. The guidance specifically states that Title VII applies to any worker employed in the United States by a covered employer (employer with more than four employees), regardless of immigration status, as well as any foreign national outside the United States when they apply for U.S.-based employment.

The new guidance defines “national origin” as an individual’s, or his or her ancestors’, place of origin, which can be a country (including the United States), a former country, or a geographic region.  In addition, “national origin” refers to an individual’s national origin group or ethnic group, which it defines as “a group of people sharing a common language, culture, ancestry, race, and/or other social characteristics.”  Discrimination based on national origin group includes discrimination because of a person’s ethnicity (e.g., Hispanic) or physical, linguistic, or cultural traits (e.g., accent or style of dress).  Discrimination based on place of origin or national origin group includes discrimination involving a mere perception of where a person is from (e.g., Middle Eastern or Arab), association with someone of a particular national origin, or citizenship status.  Title VII discrimination can take the form of unfavorable employment decisions based on national origin or harassment so pervasive or severe that it creates a hostile work environment.

In addition to clarifying the meaning of “national origin,” the guidance provides examples based on how actual courts have applied Title VII to specific facts.  For example, the guidance gives as an example of “intersectional” discrimination a Mexican-American woman who, without explanation, was denied a promotion at a company where she successfully worked for 10 years, despite two non-Mexican women and a Mexican man being selected for the same position.  The guidance also provides examples where national origin discrimination overlaps with other protected bases, such as discriminating against people with origins in the Middle East due to a perception that they follow certain religious practices.  Further, the guidance gives examples of real cases where employment decisions and harassment constituted Title VII national origin violations, as well as cases where Title VII violations were not found.  Finally, the guidance applies Title VII national origin principles to trafficking cases, where employers use force, fraud, or coercion to compel labor or exploit workers, and such conduct is directed at an individual or a group of individuals based on national origin.

Employers of foreign national workers should note that individuals with Title VII claims may also have claims under other Federal statutes, including the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  Form I-9 and the E-Verify program are two areas where discrimination claims could arise under both the INA and Title VII.

©2016 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved.

FLSA Salary Basis Increase Put On Hold For Entire Country – What Now?

salary basis“The Court finds the public interest is best served by an injunction.” With those words, a district court in Texas put on hold the implementation of the new rules applicable to the White Collar Exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The rules, originally scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 1, 2016, have been indefinitely delayed for employers throughout the United States.

In granting the injunction, the court stated that the plaintiffs (various states and business groups) challenging the rule had shown a likelihood of success in their arguments that the Department of Labor (DOL) exceeded its statutory authority in issuing the rule. As a result, the court will now spend time reviewing the arguments of both parties in depth before making a final decision.

The next big date is Jan. 20, 2017, when President-elect Donald J. Trump is sworn in as president. It is not clear what a DOL under President Trump would do with the rule. Watch for hints about what could happen with the rule in the news media over the next few weeks, especially when President-elect Trump names a nominee for secretary of the DOL.

Will the judge lift the injunction and allow the rule to be implemented before Jan. 20, 2017?

The judge has already started the process for accepting arguments from both parties, and it is possible he could make a final decision before Jan. 20, 2017. That decision, however, could be appealed no matter who wins at the district court level. During an appeal, the injunction could remain in place.

Practically, what does this mean for employers?

It means you have options. In large part, an employer’s next steps depend on the message that has been delivered to employees already and systems you have in place to implement the new rule. Has the company informed those to-be-newly-non-exempt employees that they would start receiving overtime compensation as of Dec. 1? If so, then the company will need to decide whether to roll back that promise. (Note that, if you conducted an audit and determined that, based on the employee’s responsibilities they do not meet the duties test, you should nonetheless reclassify them as non-exempt to avoid potential claims in the future). Overtime for those newly non-exempt employees may not be required any longer as of Dec. 1, but a company must balance what is required by law with the human resources impact of taking that potential benefit away from employees.

Copyright © 2016 Godfrey & Kahn S.C.

Stop! Texas Federal Court Enjoins New FLSA Overtime Rules

Texas DOL FLSA overtime rulesWe have written often in the past several months about the new FLSA overtime rules that were scheduled to go into effect in little more than a week, dramatically increasing the salary thresholds for “white collar” exemptions and also providing for automatic increases for those thresholds.

In our most recent piece about the important decisions employers had to make by the effective date of December 1, 2016, careful readers noticed a couple of peculiar words — “barring … a last-minute injunction.”

On November 22, 2016, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Texas entered just such an injunction, enjoining the Department of Labor from implementing the new rules on a nationwide basis.

“The court determines that the state plaintiffs have satisfied all prerequisites for a preliminary injunction,” wrote United States District Court Judge Amos Mazzant III. “The state plaintiffs have established a prima facie case that the Department’s salary level under the final rule and the automatic updating mechanism are without statutory authority.”

The state plaintiffs had argued that the Department of Labor usurped Congress’ authority in establishing new salary thresholds. Finding that the Department had overstepped its bounds, Judge Mazzant wrote, “If Congress intended the salary requirement to supplant the duties test, then Congress and not the department, should make that change.”

The injunction could leave employers in a state of limbo for weeks, months and perhaps longer as injunctions often do not resolve cases and, instead, lead to lengthy appeals. Here, though, the injunction could spell the quick death to the new rules should the Department choose not to appeal the decision in light of the impending Donald Trump presidency. We will continue to monitor this matter as it develops.

To the extent that employers have not already increased exempt employees’ salaries or converted them to non-exempt positions, the injunction will at the very least allow employers to postpone those changes. And, depending on the final resolution of this issue, it is possible they may never need to implement them.

The last-minute injunction puts some employers in a difficult position, though — those that already implemented changes in anticipation of the new rules or that informed employees that they will receive salary increases or will be converted to non-exempt status effective December 1, 2016.

Whether employers can reverse salary increases they have already implemented is an issue that should be addressed carefully with legal guidance.

As for those employers that informed employees of changes that would go into effect on December 1, 2016, they, too, should seek legal guidance as to how to communicate with employees that those announced changes will not go into effect at that time.

While the FLSA rules are now enjoined, employers must now be mindful not only of morale issues that might result from not providing employees with raises that were implemented or announced, but also of potential breach of contract claims.

©2016 Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.

Elections 2016, Trans Pacific Partnership, TTIP: Trade Talk 7-13 November 2016

meting trade globe  Trans Pacific PartnershipDonald Trump won the U.S. presidential election against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 8 November in what many are describing as an upset. President-Elect Trump’s transition team is now tasked with vetting possible Cabinet officials and lower-level appointees, receiving background briefings from the Obama Administration, and crafting policy proposals based on his campaign promises.  President-Elect Trump will be sworn-in as the 45th President of the United States on 20 January.

TPP – No-Go.  President-Elect Trump remains opposed to the TPP agreement in its current form, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle continue to express concerns with certain issues in the final deal that reportedly have not yet been addressed by the Obama Administration. Ongoing concerns with the TPP deal include longer intellectual property protections for biologic drugs and concerns with the tobacco industry’s carve-out from the deal’s investor-state dispute resolution mechanism. Shortly after the elections, Republican Congressional leaders in both chambers issued statements indicating the deal will not be brought up for a vote before the end of 2016 and must be revisited after President-Elect Trump takes office. According to a draft 100-day plan leaked by Politico, Trump advisors are proposing the U.S. withdraw from the deal soon after Trump takes office – however, other TPP countries are likely to keep advocating for the deal with the next Administration.

TTIP – On Hold.  With the uncertainty surrounding President-Elect Trump’s trade priorities, European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations on 11 November:

For quite some time TTIP will be in the freezer. What happens when it’s defrosted, I think we’ll have to wait and see.”

The EU and United States are not expecting to schedule any more formal negotiating rounds this year.

JCCT Meeting Ahead.  U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will host the 27th session of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) next week in Washington.  Vice Premier of the State Council Wang Yang will lead the Chinese delegation.  U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is also expected to join the JCCT meeting to address bilateral agricultural trade issues.  President-Elect Trump made it clear during the campaign that China’s perceived unfair trade practices will be addressed in his Administration, including labeling the country as a currency manipulator.

© Copyright 2016 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

Obama Administration Will Not Finalize Laboratory Developed Tests Framework Guidance

aboratory Developed TestsOn November 18, 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would not finalize the draft guidance entitled Framework for Regulatory Oversight of Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs) (Draft Guidance) prior to the end of the Obama administration.

As we previously reported, FDA issued the Draft Guidance on October 3, 2014. The document describes the Agency’s shift from enforcement discretion policy for LDTs to a risk-based framework under which LDTs would be regulated as medical devices pursuant to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).  In particular, the Draft Guidance outlined a phased-in approach for both premarket review and postmarket requirements, including registration and listing, medical device reporting, and Quality System Regulation (QSR) requirements.

Section 1143 of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA) required FDA to provide notification to Congress of its intent to finalize the Draft Guidance at least 60 days prior to the issuance of a final guidance. Although agency officials had stated that FDA would finalize the Draft Guidance by the end of 2016, the Agency had not provided this notification to Congress.  Had the Obama administration intended to move forward with a final guidance before the end of the administration, the notification required by FDASIA would had to have been issued by November 19, 2016.  At the same time, lawmakers had threatened to use the Congressional Review Act to block FDA from finalizing guidance documents imposing the FDCA on LDTs.

On Friday, an FDA spokesperson confirmed that the Agency would not finalize the Draft Guidance during the Obama administration:

“The FDA believes that patients and health care providers need accurate, reliable, and clinically valid tests to make good health care decisions — inaccurate or false test results can harm individual patients. We have been working to develop a new oversight policy for laboratory developed tests, one that balances patient protection with continued access and innovation, and realize just how important it is that we continue to work with stakeholders, our new Administration, and Congress to get our approach right. We plan to outline our view of an appropriate risk-based approach in the near future. It is our hope that such an approach will help guide continued discussions.”

© 2016 Covington & Burling LLP

New Form I-9 Must Be Used By January 22, 2017

USCIS Form i-9This week, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a new version of its Form I-9, the Employment Eligibility Verification form. All U.S. employers must begin using the new Form I-9 after January 22, 2017.

Currently, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducts over 3,000 I-9 employer audits annually, and immigration enforcement is anticipated to increase due to the Trump presidency. In January, Holland & Hart will host a webinar explaining the changes to the Form I-9 and discussing what immigration reforms employers should expect in a Trump presidency.

Form I-9 Changes

The new version of the Form I-9 includes some clarifications as well as some changes designed to make the form easier to fill out electronically. Completing the Form I-9 electronically will require downloading the latest version of Adobe Reader. Form I-9s completed electronically will still need to be printed and signed by the employee and employer agent by hand. One of the changes is in Section 1 which now asks for “other last names used” rather than “other names used.”

Enhancements for easier completion of the form include drop-down lists and calendars for entering dates, the addition of prompts to help ensure that information is entered properly, on-screen instructions for each field, and easy access to the full instructions. It also includes an option to clear the form and start over. Other changes you’ll find on the new I-9 include:

  • Question regarding whether a preparer or translator was used

  • Space to enter multiple preparers and translators

  • A supplemental page for the preparer/translator

  • Creation of a QR code once the Form I-9 is completed electronically

  • A field to enter additional information such as E-Verify confirmation numbers, termination dates and correction notes, and

  • Separating the full instructions from the form itself.

Reminder of I-9 Process

As you may know, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), prohibits employers from hiring employees, including U.S. citizens, without first verifying their identity and checking that they have proper authorization to work in the United States. The Form I-9 ensures that you have completed this necessary verification for all new hires. USCIS provides the following useful graphic to show the proper timing and process for completing Form I-9s for each newly hired employee:

Labor, Chart

What You Need To Do

You have just over two months to switch to the new Form I-9, so it is best to put procedures in place now to make that switch for all new hires to ensure compliance.

Copyright Holland & Hart LLP 1995-2016.

Election 2016, Title VII and Sexual Orientation, DOL Persuader Rule: Employment Law This Week – November 21, 2016 [VIDEO]

dol persuader rule employment lawElection 2016: New Laws Impacting Employers

Our top story: Election Day brings a wave of new laws affecting employers. While all eyes were on the battle for the White House, voters in a number of states approved new legislation that will directly impact employers. Arizona and Washington will soon require paid sick leave for workers, as well as minimum wage increases. Medical marijuana is now legal in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota, while recreational use was approved in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. The new laws in Arkansas and Maine explicitly prohibit employment discrimination against medical marijuana users.

Federal Court Agrees with EEOC: Title VII Covers Sexual Orientation

In another move toward sexual orientation protections in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania has denied a motion to dismiss a sexual orientation case brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), one of several claims that the agency is pursuing across the country. The employer in this case had argued for dismissal because it claimed that Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination does not apply to sexual orientation discrimination. The court found that sexual orientation discrimination is a “subset of sexual stereotyping” covered by Title VII. This same issue is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Second and Seventh Circuits, in cases where the district courts ruled that sexual orientation discrimination is not prohibited by Title VII.

DOL’s Amended Persuader Rule Is Permanently Blocked

A federal court in Texas has permanently enjoined the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) from enforcing its 2016 amended Persuader Rule, after concluding that the amended rule is unlawful. The decision applies nationwide, making permanent a preliminary injunction that the court issued in June. The rule would have required employers to report payments made to consultants, including lawyers, in connection with even indirect efforts to influence employees’ opinions on labor unions and a wide range of employment matters.

Fourth Circuit Rules That Nursing-Home Nurses Are Not “Supervisors”

The Fourth Circuit recently upheld a conclusion by the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) that registered nurses and licensed practical nurses at a nursing home in South Carolina can unionize because they do not exercise enough independent judgment to be supervisors. The Fourth Circuit deferred to the NLRB’s position that employees do not exercise independent judgment because their decisions are controlled by company policies or rules. Because the nurses’ supervision mainly consisted of making sure that nursing assistants followed written rules and did not discipline assistants on their own, the nurses did not exercise independent judgement and, therefore, were not supervisors.

Tip of the Week

Lenora Billings-Harris—Diversity Strategist, an award-winning international speaker, and the author of The Diversity Advantage—is here with some advice on how to combat unconscious bias.

©2016 Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.

Same Sex and LGBT Protection Rights Flourish – Except in Workplaces?

In the last 20 years, the legal landscape has shifted dramatically for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) individuals. In 1996, the Supreme Court used the Equal Protection Clause to invalidate an amendment to Colorado’s Constitution that would have prevented any branch or political subdivision of the state from protecting individuals against sexual orientation discrimination.1 Several years later, the Court determined that individuals’ rights to liberty under the Due Process Clause gave them the full right to engage in private consensual sexual conduct without the government’s intervention.2 Then, in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, finding that it violated the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment.3 And finally, just last year, the Supreme Court ruled that under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, same-sex couples had the right to marry in every state.4

While each of these decisions had a profound impact on the lives of many Americans, none increased the workplace protections of LGBT employees under federal anti-discrimination laws. As a panel of the Seventh Circuit recently pointed out, “[m]any citizens would be surprised to learn that under federal law any private employer can summon an employee into his office and state, ‘You are a hard-working employee and have added much value to my company, but I am firing you because you are gay.’”5

In fact, every circuit court that has been asked whether Title VII – the federal law that prohibits discrimination against an employee because of his race, color, religion, sex or national origin – covers discrimination based on sexual orientation has answered the question “no.”6 However, in reaching this conclusion, every court has unequivocally condemned the practice of sexual orientation discrimination as unwise, unfair and immoral. So why the disconnect?

As most courts see it, the issue is that Title VII does not explicitly prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, and Congress has attempted for decades to pass legislation that would expand Title VII to cover sexual orientation discrimination but has come up short.7 Also, most states have not passed legislation that covers such discrimination.

But all of this is not to say that LGBT employees are without recourse. Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, Title VII has covered claims by employees who were discriminated against because they did not conform to traditional gender stereotypes.8 In Price Waterhouse, Ann Hopkins failed to make partner at her accounting firm and was told she could improve her chances next time if she would walk, talk and dress more femininely, get her hair styled, and wear jewelry. The Supreme Court said this sort of gender stereotyping constitutes discrimination because of sex under Title VII.9

What arose from Price Waterhouse is a line of cases that protect LGBT employees from gender stereotyping discrimination but not from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The courts following this approach are forced to distinguish between behavior that would fall into the gender stereotyping category and be protected from those which would fall into the sexual orientation discrimination category and not be. At best, this is a difficult task. At worst, it’s an exercise in futility.

Some courts, unwilling or unable to differentiate between the two categories, have discarded this approach all together. For these courts, if it appears that the employee is trying to recast a sexual orientation discrimination case as one for gender stereotyping, they will deny all relief. In other words, these courts reject employees’ claims of gender stereotyping, as meritorious as they may be, when it appears the claims are intertwined with a sexual orientation discrimination claim.10

This could be primed for a change, though. While courts seem confused as to Title VII’s scope, the EEOC has no doubt: sexual orientation discrimination is, the EEOC says, discrimination because of sex. In Baldwin v. Foxx,11 the EEOC came to this conclusion for three main reasons. First, it concluded that “sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee’s sex.”12 To make its point, the EEOC gave the example of a woman who is suspended for placing a photo of her female spouse on her desk, and a man who faces no consequences for the same act. Second, it explained that “sexual orientation discrimination is also sex discrimination because it is associational discrimination on the basis of sex,” in which an employer discriminates against lesbian, gay, or bisexual employees based on who they date or marry.13 Finally, the EEOC described sexual orientation discrimination as a form of discrimination based on gender stereotypes in which employees are harassed or punished for failing to live up to societal norms about appropriate masculine and feminine behaviors, mannerisms and appearances.14 In emphasizing this last point, the EEOC rejected the numerous court decisions that have tried to distinguish between gender non-conformity claims and those for sexual orientation discrimination.

In its guidance on the subject, the EEOC has tracked the Baldwin decision and said that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal under Title VII. In litigation involving the EEOC, it has pushed this tripartite approach with varying success. While no circuit court has followed Baldwin or the EEOC’s guidance, a number of district courts have taken notice. Courts in Alabama, the District of Columbia, California, Oregon and Pennsylvania have all sided with the EEOC’s position and found that Title VII does prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.15 So, at least in these courts, an employer may be held liable for discrimination based on sexual orientation, just like any other protected category under Title VII.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has not weighed in on this important topic to resolve the tension between the circuit courts and the EEOC (and certain district courts). It’s hard to say whether the Supreme Court will decide this issue soon, but the Court’s interest in cases addressing LGBT rights, such as the Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. case (involving issues of a school district’s obligations to a transgender student) that will be addressed this term, makes it likely that this issue will come before the Court eventually.

So until the Court decides whether Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination, what’s an employer to do? After all, a mistake here –- even one made in good faith — could cost an employer Here are three things employers can do right now to minimize their liability:

  • Update your anti-harassment policy to include sexual orientation. While the weight of legal authority says that LGBT employees do not have claims for sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII, that trend is shifting. The EEOC’s position is clearly at odds with most of the case law, but as the agency enforcing federal discrimination laws, it has the authority to file lawsuits against employers who thumb their noses at it. A number of lower courts have listened, holding that Title VII does prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. Even if you disagree with the EEOC’s position, do you want to be the long and expensive test case that goes to the Supreme Court?

  • Train your employees on your policies. A written policy isn’t any good unless your employees –– particularly your managers –– know about it. It’s smart to periodically train your employees on sexual and other types of harassment. Make training on sexual orientation discrimination part of it. Ensure your employees know that your company prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation just as it does discrimination on other protected bases.

  • Make sure to follow through. It’s easy to talk the talk, but make sure you walk the walk. Just as you should not tolerate racial slurs and derogatory comments about women in the workplace, employees need to know that offensive comments about gay, lesbian and transgender individuals are also out of bounds. If someone makes a complaint of sexual orientation discrimination, management should investigate and take prompt remedial action, just as it would with any other type of complaint.

When it comes to LGBT rights and protections, the legal world is in a state of flux. For employers, that means a lot of uncertainty, but you don’t have to be held captive by uncertain times. Be proactive now and help limit the potential of future liability.

1. Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996). 

2. Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 578 (2003). 

3. United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013). 

4. Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2696 (2015). 

5. Kimberly Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, No. 15-1720, slip op. at 33 (7th Cir. Aug. 1, 2016). 5.  

6. Id. at 6. 

7. See, e.g., Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013, H.R. 1755, 113th Cong. (2013). 

8. 490 U.S. 228, 251 (1989).

9. Id. at 251. 

10. See, e.g., Vickers v. Fairfield Med. Ctr., 453 F.3d 757 (6th Cir. 2006). 

11. EEOC Appeal No. 0120133080, 2015 WL 4397641 (July 16, 2015). 

12. Id. at 5. 

13. Id. at 6. 

14. Id. 

15. Isaacs v. Felder Services, LLC, 143 F. Supp. 3d 1190 (M.D. Ala. Oct. 29, 2015) (holding claims of sexual orientation-based discrimination cognizable under Title VII); Terveer v. Billington, 34 F. Supp. 3d 100 (D.D.C. 2014) (same); Heller v. Columbia Edgewater Country Club, 195 F. Supp. 2d 1212, 1222 (D. Or. 2002) (“Nothing in Title VII suggests that Congress intended to confine the benefits of that statute to heterosexual employees alone.”); Videckis v. Pepperdine Univ., 150 F. Supp. 3d 1151 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 15, 2015) (finding sex discrimination necessarily includes sexual orientation discrimination under Title IX); Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Scott Medical Health Center, No. 16-225 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 4, 2016) (denying defendant’s motion to dismiss and finding that allegations of sexual orientation discrimination are covered by Title VII).