by Bronston McCord | Jun 18, 2020 | General, Labor and Employment, Legislation
On June 15, 2020, in the consolidated matters of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Altitude Express v. Zarda, and R.G.& G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, et al, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that an employer who fires an individual employee merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bostock began participating in a gay recreational softball league. Shortly thereafter, Bostock received criticism for his participation in the league and for his sexual orientation and identity generally. Shortly afterward, Clayton County terminated his employment. In Altitude Express, Zarda was fired days after mentioning he was gay. In Harris, an employee was fired after the employee informed the employer that the employee planned to live and work full time as a woman. The U.S. Supreme Court held that Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against any individual “because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Looking to the ordinary public meaning of each word and phrase comprising that provision, the Court interpreted it to mean that an employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual employee based, at least in part, on sex. Discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat employees differently because of their sex—the very practice Title VII prohibits in all manifestations. While it was argued that Title VII was never intended to be read with such a broad brushstroke, the Court found that the use of the word sex was unambiguous and supported its holding.
by Ryan LaFlamme | Jun 16, 2020 | General, Labor and Employment, Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ Compensation practitioners and school benefits employees alike know that temporary total disability, and particularly the concept of voluntary abandonment of employment, are difficult areas of Workers’ Compensation law in Ohio. The Tenth Appellate District could not have framed the difficulty more succinctly than it did in a recent decision wherein the Court stated the issue of the case as follows:
“Can you be accused of assaulting your boss, get fired, be convicted (by plea, no less) of the assault, be at least preliminarily barred by court order from even setting foot in that workplace, and then still gain subsequent temporary disability status under Workers’ Compensation in connection with your (former) job?
The Court’s answer: Maybe.
Temporary total disability (TTD) is a benefit provided by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) to compensate for wage loss due to an injury. Voluntary abandonment is a defense an employer may assert against a claim for TTD. An employee who is terminated for violation of a written work rule may be considered to have abandoned his or her employment. If the employer is successful in raising the defense, the TTD will be denied because the disability due to the workplace injury is not the sole reason the employee is unable to return to the former position of employment. The concept was first used in a case wherein an employee had voluntarily retired. The court held that “If the employee has taken action that would preclude him from returning to his former position of employment, even if medically able to do so, the employee is not entitled to continue to receive temporary total disability compensation, because it was the employee’s own action rather than the industrial injury which prevented him from returning to his former position of employment.” The concept has been applied to employees who are incarcerated as well as those that voluntarily retire.
However, not all separations from employment will constitute voluntary abandonment. Involuntary retirement due to the workplace injury will not preclude payment of TTD nor, to the surprise of many employers, getting a new job. The Ohio Supreme Court has held that the abandonment of employment defense applies only to claimants who voluntarily leave the labor market, not to claimants who quit their former position of employment. Employee discipline situations can fall both ways, which brings us to the importance of this case.
Termination from employment can be considered voluntary abandonment if the employee willingly engaged in acts that lead to the termination. The Supreme Court allowed the defense in a case involving the violation of a policy that prohibited the accumulation of three consecutive unexcused absences. If those absences had been due to the industrial injury that was the basis of the claim, the defense would not have been accepted.
Turning back to the case at hand, here, the employee got into a heated exchange with the employer which lead to a physical altercation. The employee reportedly lunged at the employer, pushing him and causing him to fall back. The employee was terminated and arrested for assault. The employer had a policy against fighting and a policy against criminal convictions other than minor traffic offenses. The employer asserted those policies as the basis for his termination and in turn, attempted to use the termination as grounds to cut off TTD benefits due to voluntary abandonment. At the first hearing, the District Hearing Officer granted TTD for the employee finding that the employer had not set forth sufficient evidence as to when or why the employee was terminated. On appeal, the staff hearing officer agreed and again, found in favor of the employee.
The employee testified that he did not assault the employer. Rather, he acted in self-defense when the employer came towards him. When the employer approached, he put his arms up to stop him and the employer said, “you just assaulted me.” The employee testified that he plead guilty to avoid excessive legal fees and jail time. The staff hearing officer rejected the employer’s position that the employee had willingly engaged in fighting. It appears the employer did not bring any additional witnesses to testify and the hearing officer found the employee to be more credible than the employer. The staff hearing officer also rejected the termination was based on a criminal conviction because it came long after the termination.
The employer appealed the matter to court but by then, it was too late to improve its case. Once on appeal, the court must accept the findings of the hearing officer unless the decision is an abuse of discretion because the hearing officer did not have “some evidence” to reach its conclusion. It is a high bar to overcome. The court noted that the hearing officer is charged with assessing the weight of evidence and the credibility of witnesses and is entitled to deference by the court. The employer lost the appeal.
The moral of the story is to never underestimate the importance of the BWC hearing. These hearings are brief and informal and it can lull an unwary employer into essentially “winging it” when they think they have a strong case. Any and all documentary evidence should be prepared and submitted, and any and all witnesses should be brought to testify. The employer has only one, perhaps two, chances to influence what goes into the record of proceedings (the hearing officer’s decision) and that record sets the basis for a court’s review in the future. Make sure that “maybe” becomes a “yes.” If you have any BWC related questions, please reach out to one of our Workers’ Compensation team members.
State ex rel. Welsh Ents., Inc. v. Indus. Comm., 2020-Ohio-2801
by Pamela Leist | May 5, 2020 | COVID-19 (Coronavirus), General, Labor and Employment, School Management
April 30th, 2020, the Ohio Department of Health Director, Dr. Amy Acton, issued
two revised orders that will impact school operations at least in the short
term. These orders will cover school operations through June 30th at a minimum.
It’s a wrap
– concluding school operations for 2019-2020.
The first order directs schools to remain
closed to students through June 30th, 2020. However, the Director clarifies
that the order does not prohibit administrators, teachers, staff, vendors, or
contractors from showing up for work. Rather, administrators are tasked with
determining who will have access to the buildings and are encouraged to promote
practices such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. The order
encourages administrators to consider remote work options when possible.
order also specifically excludes a number of activities and events that may
occur at schools, such as voting, food services, health services, and
charitable works, as well as “targeted” and other educational programs and
activities. While schools have the discretion to determine what types of
programs and services may be provided, it should do so with caution and only
after consulting with the local health department and legal counsel. Further, a
school district must obtain written approval from the local department of
health before the activities may be held and then must submit a copy of the
written approval to both the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department
are expected to follow the social distancing guidelines published by the Ohio
Department of Health while conducting activities. Local law enforcement and
other officials who are tasked with enforcing the order are also directed and
encouraged to contact local health departments with questions and for opinions
there are many practical and legal implications as you determine what
operations will resume, it is very important to consult with your
administrators, local health departments, and legal counsel as you make plans. Click here to review the order.
as Usual? Not so fast!
The second order, which will remain in effect
through May 29th, 2020, addresses how residents and the majority of businesses
will operate during much of May. The stay-at-home requirement remains for
residents, although they are permitted to engage in business activities
authorized by the order. Individuals who are returning to the state are
encouraged to self-quarantine for fourteen days.
order allows most businesses to resume operations as long as they meet
workplace safety standards. These standards changed several times, but as of
May 1st included the following:
must wear face masks or “face coverings” at all times unless an exception
applies; it is recommended that visitors do as well.
and employees will conduct daily health assessments to determine if someone is
“fit for duty.”
who report for work will maintain social distancing (people will stay 6 feet
apart) and will also sanitize and wash hands regularly.
will be cleaned throughout the workday (for high touch surfaces), as well as at
the close of each day or between shifts.
meet social distancing guidelines, buildings will limit the number of visitors
and employees to 50% of the building capacity established by the fire code.
are specific rules about face coverings and masks, including when employees are
not required to wear them in the workplace. The exceptions include the
are prohibited by law or regulation.
are in violation of a documented industry standard.
are not “advisable” for health reasons.
violate a business’s documented safety policy.
are working alone in an area and coverings are therefore not necessary.
is a practical/functional reason why an employee should not wear a covering or
a minimum, facial masks or coverings should be made of cloth and should cover
an individual’s mouth, nose, and chin. An employer must be able to provide
written justification for any exception if requested to do so.
are expected to “immediately report” when any employee is diagnosed with COVID-19
and will work with the local department to identify others who may have been
exposed. They are also expected to send employees home when they show signs of
the illness. When possible, a building site will be closed until it can be
professionally cleaned. Buildings may be reopened in consultation with the
local health department.
20 of the order contains a more specific list of steps that businesses are
expected to comply with as operations resume, broken down by type of business.
The order specifies requirements for manufacturing, construction, consumer
retail and services, and general office environment. Of course, schools are
governed by the separate order summarized above.
the order includes a list of businesses that must remain closed for the time
being, including schools (at least as to student attendance), most childcare
services, beauty salons, entertainment and recreation facilities, and
restaurants/bars. These businesses may only engage in minimum basic operations
as defined by the businesses.
Click here to review the order.
Challenge to Orders Being Proposed in the House
State Rep. John Becker
of Clermont County plans to introduce a bill that would repeal the current
health orders, and make any future orders issued by the Director of Health
advisory unless and until those orders are approved by the General Assembly.
The bill would focus on speeding up Ohio’s return to normal business
operations. Stay tuned for more information about this and other efforts to change
the state’s direction.
We Can Help!
Many challenges and opportunities continue to present themselves during this pandemic – it is critical that you rely on credible sources of information to remain up-to-date. It is also important for you to consider your district’s specific needs as you develop plans, and remember that there is no “one size fits all” approach. Make sure you discuss your details and situation with legal counsel to determine how you can effectively implement these and other orders that arise.
by Ryan LaFlamme | Mar 27, 2020 | COVID-19 (Coronavirus), General, Labor and Employment, Unemployment
Districts should expect to see a rise in unemployment claims due to the current pandemic. Ohio received 187,000 claims during the week of March 15-21. Substitutes, in particular, are likely to make claims during this time.
Governor DeWine has issued an order (EO 2020-03D) to ease the process of obtaining unemployment benefits. Employees who are ordered to stay home or isolated by an employer or public health authority, whether infected or not, will qualify for benefits so long as the employee is otherwise eligible. The basic requirements for eligibility for benefits are that a claimant has worked a sufficient number of hours and has earned a sufficient amount of pay during a period referred to as the “base period.” The base period is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters at the time the claim is filed. (Claims filed in March would be calculated on the four quarters beginning October 1, 2018, through September 30, 2019.) Individuals must have at least 20 weeks of employment and an average weekly wage of $269 during the base period of the claim.
ODJFS issued a mass-layoff number (2000180) that employees can use to expedite the handling of their claim. Employees subject to RIF due to COVID-19 can use this form and reference number. http://www.odjfs.state.oh.us/forms/num/JFS00671/pdf/.
Substitute employees may file claims for lack of work due to the ordered shutdown of the school to students. Outside of the context of a shutdown, districts may attempt to challenge lack of work claims by substitutes, due to the nature of the assignment not having guaranteed hours or days of work per year. Many substitutes pick and choose their own assignments. Those arguments will not be applicable, where, as here, there are no assignments for the substitute to choose from. Therefore, such employees are much more likely to receive benefits under these circumstances.
Additional benefits of the order are that certain benefit recipients will not be subject to the work search requirement during the period of the emergency. All claimants, however, will continue to be required to be “able and available for work,” in order to receive benefits.
Finally, penalties against employers for failing to provide reports or make payments during the emergency declaration period.
The merits of each claim are fact dependent and may be subject to challenge even in light of the order. Please do not hesitate to contact an attorney at Ennis Britton to discuss your particular claim.
by Robert McBride | Mar 26, 2020 | Labor and Employment, School Finance, School Management, Unemployment
Many public employers are considering staffing adjustments in light of the coronavirus and its impact on available work. For those employees not covered under contracts that must be paid in the case of an “epidemic or other public calamity” pursuant to RC 3319.08(B) and 3319.081(G), layoffs are being contemplated. In order to have all the information on the financial impact of such a decision, the public employer should consider whether it is a “contributory employer” or a “reimbursing employer.”
Generally speaking, public employers are reimbursing employers. Essentially, reimbursing employers are self-insured and will be billed dollar-for-dollar by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services for claims paid. Public entity employers who have elected to become a contributory employer have paid unemployment tax. Contributory employers will have their claims mutualized with other employers in the state and will not have to reimburse on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Determining if the public entity is a contributory employer or a reimbursing employer will be necessary to determine how much will be saved via staffing reductions.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and
Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) provides that reimbursing employers may
be reimbursed for one-half of the amounts paid into a state unemployment trust
fund between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2020.
If you have any questions regarding unemployment compensation issues, please reach out to any of the Ennis Britton lawyers.
by John E. Britton | Feb 3, 2020 | General, Labor and Employment, Unemployment, Workers’ Compensation
employees in Ohio are eligible to receive unemployment benefits if they are
laid off from their place of employment. However, under Ohio law, if you are an
“independent contractor,” you are precluded from receiving those benefits. The
Eleventh District Court of Appeals recently held that a truck driver was an
independent contractor as opposed to an employee and therefore, was not
entitled to unemployment compensation.
Roach Express, L.L.C. v. Dir., Ohio Dept. of Job & Family Serv.,
2019-Ohio-5414, a truck driver claimed that he was an employee and entitled to
receive unemployment benefits. The Ohio Department of Job & Family Services
(“ODJFS”) initially issued a determination allowing him to receive benefits,
which the employer appealed to the court.
At issue in
the appeal was whether the truck driver was really an independent contractor,
rather than an “employee” separated from his job due to a lack of work. In
making the determination of employee versus independent contractor, the
Unemployment Review Commission will generally look to the list of twenty
factors outlined in Ohio Adm. Code 4141-3-05(B). Though these factors may be
used by the Commission, they are not necessarily determinative of whether the
individual was or was not “subject to direction and control” over their
services — the primary metric in the analysis of deciding independent
case, the truck driver’s agreement actually stated that he was an independent
contractor and not an employee of the company. Though this fact supports a
finding that he was an independent contractor, the court looked to the totality
of the circumstances in order to determine whether the employer actually had
the right to control the driver’s work.
argued that “control” existed because the employer paid the driver weekly,
approved his time-off requests, owned the delivery truck and paid for its
repairs, required him to turn in logbooks, and continued a working relationship
with the individual for eight years.
however, noted that the driver was paid based on how many loads he accepted as
opposed to the number of hours he worked. Additionally, the claimant was able
to decide which routes he wanted and was able to set his own schedule, all of
which led the court to conclude that the company did not exercise nor retain a
right to control the individual’s work. Therefore, the driver was considered to
be an independent contractor and was not eligible to receive unemployment
should remind us that in the service-oriented nature of public education, there
are limited opportunities to truly employ “independent contractors” for daily
operations of districts. In teaching, feeding, counseling, transporting,
and operating buildings, districts maintain control of personnel in the
delivery of those services — and for good reason. The factors for establishing
a true independent contractor are important to know, particularly when
attempting to defeat a claim for unemployment. While this case is
instructive, should you want to question a request for unemployment
compensation on this basis, it is advisable to contact an Ennis Britton
attorney to review your realistic options.