January 18, 2012

Pepsi popped for $3.1M in background check case

Posted in Application Process, Color, Race tagged , , , , , , at 12:24 pm by Tom Jacobson

Background checks are very important tools during the hiring process, but as Pepsi Beverages (formerly Pepsi Bottling Group) recently learned, asking the wrong questions can be discriminatory — and expensive.  In a January 11, 2012 press release the EEOC reported that Pepsi has agreed to pay $3.13 million to settle a case challenging its former background checking policy.

At issue was Pepsi’s policy which rejected applicants who had been arrested and were pending prosecution.  The policy also denied employment to applicants who had been arrested or convicted of certain minor offenses.  According to the EEOC, this policy disproportionately excluded black applicants from permanent employment and that it therefore violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In addition to the monetary settlement, Pepsi also changed is background checking policy, and it agreed to offer employment opportunities to victims of its former policy, supply the EEOC with regular reports on its hiring practices, and conduct Title VII training for its hiring personnel and managers.

Although using arrest and conviction records to screen applicants is not per se illegal under Title VII, it can be when it is not relevant to the job. Therefore, employers are urged to use them cautiously.

According to Julie Schmid, Acting Director of the EEOC’s Minneapolis Area Office, “When employers contemplate instituting a background check policy, the EEOC recommends that they take into consideration the nature and gravity of the offense, the time that has passed since the conviction and/or completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job sought in order to be sure that the exclusion is important for the particular position.  Such exclusions can create an adverse impact based on race in violation of Title VII.” Schmid added, “We hope that employers with unnecessarily broad criminal background check policies take note of this agreement and reassess their policies to ensure compliance with Title VII.”

For more information about this article, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

Advertisements

January 12, 2012

Federal court reaffirms importance of harassment policies

Posted in Color, Disability, Discrimination, Employee Handbooks, Gender / Sex, Genetic Information, Harassment, Harassment, Marital Status, National Origin, Race, Religion, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Orientation tagged , , , , , , , , , at 11:07 am by Tom Jacobson

I am often asked if employers must have a written policy prohibiting sexual and other forms of unlawful harassment. The short answer is no, for there is no statute, regulation or court decision mandating such policies. However, and it is a big however, implementing such policies is clearly the best practice. And, as reaffirmed by the United States Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on January 11, 2012, having a written policy can be the key to successfully defending harassment charges.

The case is Crawford v. BNSF Railway Co. In this case, BNSF had a “zero tolerance” policy on workplace harassment. Among other things, the policy defined the prohibited conduct, instructed employees to report complaints through one of five channels (one of which was an anonymous employee hotline), explained that  allegations would be investigated “promptly, impartially, and confidentially,” included guidelines explaining the ranges of discipline BNSF might apply to offenders, and contained a provision prohibiting retaliation for reporting discrimination. BNSF also trained employees on how to report harassment.

In this case, five employees alleged that they were victims of unlawful harassment by their supervisor. Specifically, they claimed that their supervisor engaged in a long litany of inappropriate behaviors ranging from fondling and sexual comments to requests for sexual favors, mimicked sex acts, and racial slurs.

Eight months after the alleged harassment began, the employees filed discrimination charges with the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission (NEOC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  One of the employees then reported the harassment directly to BNSF. BNSF conducted an investigation, which included interviewing four of the plaintiffs. Within two days, BNSF placed the supervisor on administrative leave. After completing its investigation less than two weeks later, BNSF informed the supervisor that he was being terminated, and the supervisor then chose to resign.

The general rule in such cases is that an employer is liable for the unlawful harassment committed by its supervisors unless it can show that: (a) it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior; and (b) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm.

Noting the existence of BNSF’s zero tolerance policy and its swift action after receiving the employees’ complaint, the court concluded that BNSF had exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior. Then, noting that the employees had not availed themselves of BNSF’s complaint procedure, the court also ruled that they had  unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer. Accordingly, the court held that it was appropriate to dismiss the employees’ claims. Importantly, the court stressed that “‘distribution of a valid antiharassment policy provides compelling proof’ that an employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly harassing behavior.

Thus, the Crawford v BNSF case clearly illustrates that the best practice for employers is to implement and distribute harassment policies, for without them, employers will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to defend claims on the basis that they exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly harassment.

For more information about this article, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

January 4, 2012

NLRB’s posting requirement delayed – again

Posted in Posting & Notice Requirements tagged , , , , , , , at 1:08 am by Tom Jacobson

The National Labor Relations Board has again delayed the effective date of its new employee-rights posting requirement.  The requirement, which initially was to have gone into effect on November 14, 2011 was postponed until January 31, 2012.  Now, the NLRB has delayed the mandate again, and the posters will not be required until April 30, 2012.

In a statement issued December 23, 2011 the NRLB said that it has agreed to postpone the effective date at the request of a Washington, DC federal court which is hearing a legal challenge to the rule. According to the NRLB, “[I]t has determined that postponing the effective date of the rule would facilitate the resolution of the legal challenges that have been filed with respect to the rule.”

If the requirement ultimately withstands the pending legal challenges and goes into effect, most private sector employees will be required to post the notice which can be downloaded from the NLRB’s website.

For more information about this issue, please see my previous articles, A post about posters – new workplace posting requirement imposed by NLRB and NLRB’s posting requirement delayed, or contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

%d bloggers like this: