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Limiting Potential Liability From Your Office Holiday Party

Everyone enjoys a good holiday party. It's a way to show your staff that you appreciate their hard work this year and to get everyone revved up for next year. Yet sometimes, things get out of hand. Certain poor choices could mean liability for your business.

You can't eliminate all liability risks, but you should plan for potential problems before you hold an office event:

Reducing Compliance Costs, Enforcement Priorities For DOL in 2020

One of the major priorities of the Trump administration's Department of Labor has been deregulation. The purpose of much of the deregulation is to reduce the cost of legal compliance for employers. At the same time, the DOL still plans robust enforcement of the law, according to the Solicitor of Labor. Other priorities include community outreach, helping employers comply with the law, and ensuring that workers know their rights.

The Society for Human Resources Management obtained seven 2020 Labor Department priorities from the solicitor and the administrator of the Wage and Hour Division:

New Jersey Fines Uber $649 For Employee Misclassification

For the so-called "gig economy" to be profitable, it relies on one fundamental idea. The workers who perform the gigs are not employees of the company but independent contractors.

In theory, being an independent contractor can allow someone to pick up small tasks to fill in times when they're not busy at another job. The contractor can hire out to multiple gig companies, building out full-time hours from multiple sources. In reality, many gig workers work full-time hours for a single concern.

Wage Theft Could Amount To $15 Billion Each Year, Nationwide

In 2017, the Economic Policy Institute did a study of wage theft in the 10 most populous states. The group estimated that 2.4 million people each year lose a total of $8 billion to thefts by their employers. That $8 billion, which again only represents 10 states, was nearly half the total of the annual $16.4 billion in all other property thefts combined.

If their study is representative of all 50 states, the Institute estimates that workers lose close to $15 billion each year to wage theft.

McDonald's CEO Out After Acknowledging Relationship With Employee

Steve Easterbrook, McDonald's CEO since 2015, has been ousted by the board of directors after admitting to engaging in an allegedly consensual relationship with a subordinate. McDonald's, which has suffered from accusations of sexual harassment against many of its franchisees, has a policy forbidding managers from having any romantic relationship with a subordinate, direct or indirect.

According to the Associated Press, the board said that Easterbrook had demonstrated poor judgment. In an email to employees, the ousted CEO admitted to the relationship and said that it had been a mistake.

Use Caution When Disciplining An Employee After A Complaint

The closer in time an adverse job action occurs to an employee's discrimination complaint, the more likely it is to be considered retaliation. And, a retaliation complaint can succeed even if the initial discrimination claim was baseless, a federal court recently ruled.

The court was the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Maryland and Virginia are in the Fourth Circuit, and Washington, D.C., is in the D.C. Circuit, so the ruling doesn't apply directly here. However, the Seventh Circuit has a reputation for strictness in its application of employment law, and our circuits could easily follow the same reasoning.

Educate Your Managers About Whistleblowers' Rights

With a major whistleblower story in the news recently, now is a good time to educate your managers and supervisors about whistleblower protection laws. There are more than two dozen federal laws that protect whistleblowers in various situations, including the Whistleblower Protection Act, most anti-discrimination laws, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), the Dodd-Frank Act and others.

While whistleblowers may not be protected in all situations, the available protections are quite broad, even considering only federal law. State laws can add additional protections.

Banned In 1971, Pregnancy Discrimination Is Still A Big Problem

If you have been following the Democratic presidential race at all, you may have heard Elizabeth Warren's claim that, in 1971, she was forced out of a job as a teacher because she was pregnant. At that time, pregnancy wasn't a characteristic protected by federal anti-discrimination laws. It wasn't until 1978 that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) to prohibit pregnancy discrimination.

Have 41 years of the PDA wiped out pregnancy discrimination? No. Have things changed for the better? Almost certainly. That said, the EEOC received 2,790 charges of pregnancy discrimination last year. That number doesn't include cases that were filed with state human rights agencies, or situations where discrimination may have occurred, but no complaint was filed.

This Week, Supreme Court To Address LGBT Discrimination at Work

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination "because of sex." Does that include closely related concepts such as gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation?

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. If the high court finds that these characteristics are protected by Title VII, it would mean that discrimination against LGBT individuals would be federally illegal.

EEOC, OFCCP Vow To Continue Enforcing Anti-Discrimination Laws

In a hearing of the House Education and Labor subcommittee, lawmakers uniformly agreed that the nation's workplace anti-discrimination laws should be fully enforced. That said, some raised concerns about changes at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

Among those changes have been a reduction in the number of investigations and enforcement actions and an end to the collection of categorized pay data through the annual EEO-1 survey.

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