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Rice Law Office Blog

This blog reviews important legal issues including: personal injury, employee compensation, workers compensation, discrimination and wrongful termination.

SCOTUS and Same Sex Marriage

SCOTUS and Same Sex Marriage

The Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage nation wide will have sweeping impacts, both immediately and in years to come. One of the immediate effects of the 5-4 ruling in favor of universal marriage rights will come in the realm of employment law. The legalization of gay marriage has necessitated policy changes for employers around the country. 

The new ruling will have immediate effects on benefits for spouses. Companies that extend spousal benefits, either because of state laws or company policy, will be immediately required to provide equal coverage for same-sex marriage spouses. Employers will need to review health insurance, tax status, and spousal leave options for same-sex married couples in the context of the new ruling. 

One specific effect is that companies must extend Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits to same-sex married couples. FMLA mandates that employers provide up to 12 weeks of leave annually for an employee who is either dealing with a serious medical condition themselves, or caring for an immediate family member (including spouse) with such a condition. Without exception, same-sex couples must now be provided equal benefits.

The ruling clears up what could have been a complicated legal situation for employees and employers alike. Some states had previously legalized same-sex marriage, while others had not—this meant that it was possible for a same-sex couple to be legally married in one state, but receive no spousal benefits if they worked in a state that did not recognize gay marriage.

With the new Supreme Court ruling, there is no lack of clarity—employers must provide same-sex married couples the same rights and access to benefits that heterosexual married couples receive.

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ACA and Contraceptive Care Following Supreme Court Ruling

ACA and Contraceptive Care Following Supreme Court Ruling

The Supreme Court chose to uphold to Affordable Care Act (ACA) in a 6-3 ruling that will have lasting impacts for President Obama’s legacy. The more immediate impact of the ruling, however, was to prevent millions of American’s from losing health insurance coverage purchased on federal exchanges. From the perspective of employers and health insurance providers, the ruling means a continuation of the status quo. Most companies have already made the necessary adjustments to comply with ACA standards, and won’t need to make any further changes.

There are, however, ongoing points of contention relating to the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, there has been some question as to whether all employers are required to cover contraceptive care for women without cost sharing. Currently, non-profit religious organizations as well as some “closely held corporations” may apply for an exemption to the contraceptive mandate.

On July 10, the government released final regulations for the coverage of preventative contraception services. Under these regulations, non-exempt employers must provide coverage without cost sharing for “all Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”

The regulations went on to define which “closely held for-profit entities” would be exempt from this requirement. Specifically, the company cannot be publicly traded and must have an ownership structure under which five or fewer individuals hold more than half of total ownership. In these cases, companies may file for an exemption, and separate coverage for contraceptive services will be provided to employees without involving the employers. 

While the ACA has likely faced its final major legal challenge, there will be ongoing questions around some of the more specific measures included under the law. Coverage of contraceptive services, in particular, remains a complicated point.

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US Supreme Court Makes Important Ruling in Religious Discrimination Case

US Supreme Court Makes Important Ruling in Religious Discrimination Case

In the case, EEOC vs. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court found that an applicant for a job at the retail store, who wore her hijab to an interview with Abercrombie & Fitch had engaged in a religious act that afforded her protection from religious discrimination.

The young woman in question, Samantha Elauf, interviewed for a position at Abercrombie & Fitch but was not ultimately hired. During her interview she was wearing a hijab, which would have violated Abercrombie & Fitch’s dress code prohibiting head coverings.

While her interviewer did not specifically ask if the hijab was worn for religious purpose, or whether this would necessitate a workplace accommodation, the company suspected that Elauf’s faith would necessitate wearing the hijab in the workplace. After the interview Ms. Elauf was determined to be a sufficiently qualified candidate, however was turned down for employment, as her hijab would have violated Abercrombie & Fitch’s dress policy.

Ms. Elauf filed suit claiming that the decision not to hire her was a violation of law.  In the initial trial the court sided with Ms. Elauf, and found that Abercrombie & Fitch’s decision constituted religious discrimination. That ruling was overturned in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, leading the Supreme Court to take up the case. Abercrombie & Fitch argued that its policy applied to all hats, and thus was not a decision made on the basis of religion. The Supreme Court, however, found that her wearing of the hijab was a religious act and therefore protected.

Employees in the United States have long enjoyed protection against religious discrimination, but this new Supreme Court ruling extends this protection even further. Under the old standard employers could not make hiring decisions based upon a prospective employee’s religious practice, but the new ruling will provide this protection even in cases where applicants have not indicated that they will require religious accommodation.

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Supreme Court Rules Employers Must Accommodate Pregnant Employees

Supreme Court Rules Employers Must Accommodate Pregnant Employees

On March 25, 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that employers must provide the same work accommodations for pregnant employees with work limitations as they do non-pregnant employees with a similar inability to work. The ruling clarifies and extends employee protections under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, requiring employers to provide “legitimate, non-discriminatory” reasons when denying accommodation to a pregnant employee.

In Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS) the plaintiff worked as a part time UPS driver, and after becoming pregnant her doctor advised that she should not lift more than 20 pounds as she had suffered several miscarriages in the past. UPS would not accommodate this restriction, and Young ultimately lost her job for choosing to stay out of work. As a result, the plaintiff lost her health insurance and was forced to take on the costs of her pregnancy without coverage. 

Young brought an action against UPS, but the company maintained that they were only required to provide work accommodations for employees that were injured on the job, had lost their Department of Transportation Certificates, or were disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act. After the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with UPS, the case was picked up by the Supreme Court, which ruled in Young’s favor.

NH law already provides pregnant employee with extensive job protection and time off with right to return to work after, this ruling clarifies accommodations for pregnant employees while they are on the job.

What does this mean? Companies that offer light or accommodated work duty for employees with work limitations have to provide similar accommodation for pregnant employees. Employers need to be proactive in updating their policies, and pregnant employees should be aware that they might have the right to accommodated work during the course of their pregnancy.

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