Workplace Investigations – and the need for them – have been in the news a lot lately.  So it seems like a good time to review some basics, such as what triggers them, who should conduct them, and why are they important.

A workplace investigation can be triggered by myriad reasons, including a complaint or report of a policy violation or other employee misconduct; employee injury; complaint filed with EEOC, CHRO, NLRB or other agency; lawsuit; or compliance audit.  Upon the occurrence of any one of these triggers, the employer, often with the assistance of counsel, should assess the allegations or issues involved and make a determination as to whether an investigation is warranted. Some situations, such as alleged violations of non-discrimination laws, or workplace accidents, require an investigation be conducted.
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The importance of training supervisors on how to recognize and deal with employee leave issues cannot be overstated. And here’s a painful example of why…

Grace, an employee at a group home where she provided support to residents with mental impairments, was unexpectedly hospitalized due to a mental health condition. Grace had her son call her employer to tell them that she was in the hospital and could not report to work. Grace’s son called the employer at least four times over the next week to advise that his mother was still in the hospital. He spoke with Grace’s direct supervisor, as well as the program manager and the HR department. Such notifications should have sounded alarm bells that Grace might have a “serious health condition” and may be entitled to leave under the FMLA. Which it did – sort of; an HR department staff person prepared an FMLA packet acknowledging that the employer had been informed Grace was on a medical leave. However, when Grace’s son informed her supervisor that Grace was able to speak, the supervisor became angry and said it was inappropriate for him to be calling on his mother’s behalf and told him not to call again. The supervisor did not ask the son any questions regarding Grace’s condition or whether there was something preventing Grace from calling herself.
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UPS recently agreed to pay a $2M to settle a disability discrimination suit brought by the EEOC relative to its maximum leave policy. The company’s policy required “administrative separation” if an employee was unable to return to work after 12 months.  The EEOC said this inflexible leave policy violated the ADA. In addition to the $2M, UPS agreed to update its policies on reasonable accommodation to include extended leaves of absence; improve implementation of its interactive process; conduct ADA training for management; and submit reports regarding its compliance for 3 years.
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In response to Hurricane Harvey’s destruction in Texas and Louisiana, employees may wish to take time off from work to participate in the cleanup efforts.  Employers may wonder what their obligations are when faced with requests for leave.

Public Sector

State employees who are certified disaster service volunteers with the American Red Cross may, with approval of the employee’s supervisor, serve for up to 15 days per year without loss of pay or paid time off.  Municipal employees have a similar opportunity for leave, with an allowance for 14 days per year with approval of the legislative body of the municipality.  Notably, the statutes authorizing this service limit it to the American Red Cross upon the agency’s request, and this leave is available only to certified disaster service volunteers.
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Starting September 18, 2017, all employers will be required to use a new I-9 Form, the form used to verify an employee’s eligibility to work in the United States.  The most recent change to the I-9 was less than a year ago, so it is important to ensure that you are using the edition dated 7/17/17.  The date appears in the lower left-hand corner of the form.

I-9s must be completed on all new hires who will perform work in the United States.  Employers may switch to the new form now or may continue using the old one until September 18.  The new form is available at https://www.uscis.gov/i-9.  (The Spanish form is available as an aid, but outside of Puerto Rico, the English form is the one that must be completed.)

The changes to the form are technical in nature.  The only change of consequence for employers is that the Consular Report of Birth Abroad was added to List C, meaning that it can be used to establish an employee’s identity.

The following is a basic explanation of the I-9 process, which is not changed by the issuance of this new form.
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Just before the end of the legislative session, Public Act 17-118: An Act Concerning Pregnant Women in the Workplace, passed and is expected to be signed by the Governor.  Effective October 1st, this Bill amends Connecticut’s existing Pregnancy Discrimination Statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60 by expanding the employment protections provided to pregnant women and requiring employers to provide a reasonable workplace accommodations unless the employer demonstrates that the accommodation would be an undue hardship. The bill also prohibits employers from (1) limiting, segregating, or classifying an employee in a way that would deprive her of employment opportunities due to her pregnancy or (2) forcing a pregnant employee or applicant to accept a reasonable accommodation if she does not need one. It also eliminates certain employment protection provisions related to transfers to temporary positions for pregnant workers.
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A pharmacist was terminated after he claimed he was unable to administer vaccinations to customers.  Christopher Stevens sued Rite Aid for discrimination, retaliation and failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other state non-discrimination laws.  The jury awarded him $2.6 million, including $900,000 in non-economic damages.

By way of background, Rite Aid revised the job description for its pharmacists to require an immunization certification and made administering vaccinations an essential function of the job. Stevens, who suffers from trypanophobia (fear of needles), claimed he was disabled under the ADA and requested a reasonable accommodation excusing him from giving injections.  Rite Aid determined that Stevens was not disabled under the ADA, and therefore, it was not required to offer him reasonable accommodation. Instead, Rite Aid informed Stevens that if he did not comply with the vaccination requirement, he would be terminated. Stevens was thereafter discharged for refusing to perform an essential function of his job. For full text of decision click here.
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What is an Oxford comma? The Oxford comma is an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list: for example, “lions, and tigers, and bears… (oh my)”.  While use of the Oxford comma has long been the subject of debate, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston has determined its absence was critical in resolving the appeal in favor of a group of truck drivers in a class action suit in Maine.  The drivers sued the company, Oakhurst Dairy, claiming the company had improperly denied them several years of overtime pay. The company claimed the drivers were exempt from overtime under state statute.  The District Court agreed with the company and granted its motion for summary judgment.  The drivers appealed to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

The sole issue on appeal hinged on whether the phrase “packing for shipment or distribution of” foods referred to a single activity involving packing or two separate activities – packing for shipment and packing for distribution.  The statute in question excluded from overtime “the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.”
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This election, seven states and the District of Columbia passed expansive marijuana laws that permitted the recreational use of marijuana or cannabinoids.    This means that within these states and the District of Columbia people can openly smoke or ingest cannabis with no criminal repercussions.

While Connecticut has not embraced this libertine attitude toward marijuana use,