Keeping Current – Recent Changes in Employment Laws
Is your FMLA policy up to date?
The federal Family Medical Leave Act regulations were revised in 2013, primarily to expand the circumstances under which employees can take military leaves. For example, leave is now available to care for covered veterans and for service members or veterans who aggravated an existing illness or injury while on active duty (as opposed to suffering a new injury while on duty). Qualifying exigency leave is now also available to care for a covered service member's parent.
The Department of Labor is increasing the number of complaint-driven on-site audits it conducts under the FMLA. Auditors will come in with a checklist of updates they expect to see in an employer's FMLA policy to comply with the 2008 and 2013 regulatory changes, as well as the DOL's informal guidance. Having updated policies will show an auditor or investigator that you are up to speed on the latest changes in the law and may lend credibility to your FMLA practices.
If you are a federal contractor, are you preparing to comply with the new OFCCP regulations regarding veterans and individuals with disabilities?
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance ("OFCCP") issued regulations in 2013 substantially increasing the obligations of federal contractors relating to veterans and individuals with disabilities. Many of these new requirements, including language to be included in all job postings and subcontracts, go into effect March 24, 2014. Additional requirements go into effect at the start of an employer's next plan year after March 24, 2014, but may require substantial planning in advance. For example, federal contractors will now be required to conduct statistical analysis of the number of veterans and disabled individuals in their workforce, much like what was already required for race and gender. This requires inviting individuals to self-identify as a veteran or disabled. The regulations require this invitation be made to all applicants and again to those offered jobs. It also requires that an employer's existing work force be invited to self-identify as disabled every five years. Tracking this information can be complicated, as it must be kept separate from general personnel files and treated as confidential. This is not only required by the regulations but is also essential to avoid increased risk of discrimination claims on the basis of disability.
Companies that provide products or services under contracts with the federal government should review their obligations to ensure they are complying with these new OFCCP regulations.
Was your employee terminated for misconduct or "substantial fault" on the job?
Wisconsin's 2013 Budget Bill made changes to the statutes governing unemployment insurance, which took effect January 5, 2014. Even before these changes, employees would be ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits if they were terminated for misconduct. The definition of misconduct previously came from case law. The new statute defines misconduct and includes examples, which include:
Two or more absences (without notice or without valid reason) in 120 days, unless employer policy is more generous
Falsifying business records
The statute also adds a second basis under which employees may be disqualified for benefits, if they are terminated for "substantial fault" in their performance. This still does not disqualify an employee from unemployment benefits for minor infractions or inadvertent errors, but on its face it would disqualify an employee who was terminated for major failures. This basis is largely undefined and untested, so we will have to monitor the decisions of administrative law judges and the courts to determine how it will be defined in practice. The updated statutes also narrow the circumstances in which an employee can quit his/her job and still qualify for unemployment benefits.
These changes may mean that employers are more likely to prevail if they challenge a former employee's unemployment compensation claims. This may be of particular benefit to non-profit employers who participate in the unemployment insurance system as reimbursing employers, and therefore pay dollar-for-dollar on each unemployment claim.