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Weintraub Tobin’s 2020 Labor & Employment Seminar and Training Schedule is Updated

Posted in Disability Discrimination, Discrimination, Employee Privacy Rights, Employment Contracts and Agreements, FMLA and Other Leaves of Absence, Harassment, Labor Law, New Legislation and Regulations, Reductions in Force, Retaliation and Wrongful Termination, Trade Secrets and Competition, Wage & Hour

Weintraub Tobin’s 2020 Labor and Employment Seminar and Training schedule has been recently updated and is now available.  Click here for a pdf version of the schedule.

If you have any questions on any of our seminars or would like to inquire about private, custom-tailored training, please contact:

Ramona Carrillo

(916) 558-6046

The U.S. Supreme Court Has Decided: LGBTQ Employees are Entitled to Protections under Title VII

Posted in Discrimination, Harassment, Labor Law, New Legislation and Regulations, Retaliation and Wrongful Termination

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic crisis that is predicted to be as bad as the great depression, and unrest over racial inequality and police brutality that is giving birth to a global movement for social change, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (Case No. 17–1618) on June 15, 2020 and announced with finality that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.   The decision was a shock to some and long overdue for others.  Regardless of one’s political or social leanings, it is without question that the decision is an important one that will have far reaching consequences throughout the country.

Summary of Facts and Lower Court Rulings.

The Bostock case is actually a consolidation of three separate cases. In each of these cases, an employer allegedly fired a long-time employee simply for being homosexual or transgender. Clayton County, Georgia, fired Gerald Bostock for conduct “unbecoming” a county employee shortly after he began participating in a gay recreational softball league. Altitude Express fired Donald Zarda days after he mentioned being gay. And R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes fired Aimee Stephens, who presented as a male when she was hired, after she informed her employer that she planned to “live and work full-time as a woman.” Each employee sued, alleging sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). The Eleventh Circuit held that Title VII does not prohibit employers from firing employees for being gay and so Mr. Bostock’s suit could be dismissed as a matter of law. The Second and Sixth Circuits, however, allowed the claims of Mr. Zarda and Ms. Stephens, respectively, to proceed. The Supreme Court granted review of the cases and its decision puts to rest the split of authority between the Circuits as to whether Title VII protects LGBTQ employees from discrimination in the workplace.

Supreme Court Analysis.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion (joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan).  In a direct and no-nonsense fashion, Justice Gorsuch said that few facts were needed to appreciate the legal question the Court faced:

Each of the three cases before us started the same way: An employer fired a long-time employee shortly after the employee revealed that he or she is homosexual or transgender—and allegedly for no reason other than the employee’s homosexuality or transgender status.

The Court said that with this in mind, their “task is clear.”  The Court had to determine the ordinary meaning of Title VII’s command that it is “unlawful . . . for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” To do so, the Court said it had to orient itself and examine the key statutory terms in Title VII when adopted in 1964, and examine the impact of those terms on the cases before them considering the Court’s precedents.

The only statutorily protected characteristic at issue in the cases and which the parties dispute was based on, is “sex.”  The employers claimed that the term “sex” in 1964 referred to “status as either male or female [as] determined by reproductive biology.” The employees countered by submitting that, even in 1964, the term bore a broader scope, capturing more than anatomy and reaching at least some norms concerning gender identity and sexual orientation. However, candidly, the Court said that the parties’ debate over the meaning of “sex” in 1964 is not the real focus of the analysis.  According to the Court, the question isn’t just what “sex” meant, but what Title VII says about it. Most notably, the statute prohibits employers from taking certain actions “because of” sex but it doesn’t matter if other factors besides sex contribute to the action.  Also, when analyzing a discrimination case under Title VII, the focus is not on class or group (men v. women) treatment, but rather individual treatment.

Prior precedent has made clear that Title VII’s message is “simple but momentous”: An individual employee’s sex is “not relevant to the selection, evaluation, or compensation of employees.” (Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U. S. 228, 239 (1989) (plurality opinion).  The Court said that the statute’s message for the cases before it was equally simple and momentous: “An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions. That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.” 

To help illustrate its reasoning, the Court provided a number of hypotheticals.

  • Consider, for example, an employer with two employees, both of whom are attracted to men. The two individuals are, to the employer’s mind, materially identical in all respects, except that one is a man and the other a woman. If the employer fires the male employee for no reason other than the fact he is attracted to men, the employer discriminates against him for traits or actions it tolerates in his female colleague. Put differently, the employer intentionally singles out an employee to fire based in part on the employee’s sex, and the affected employee’s sex is a but-for cause of his discharge.”
  • Or take an employer who fires a transgender person who was identified as a male at birth but who now identifies as a female. If the employer retains an otherwise identical employee who was identified as female at birth, the employer intentionally penalizes a person identified as male at birth for traits or actions that it tolerates in an employee identified as female at birth. Again, the individual employee’s sex plays an unmistakable and impermissible role in the discharge decision.”

As the Court pointed out, homosexuality and transgender status are inextricably bound up with sex. Not because homosexuality or transgender status are related to sex in some vague sense or because discrimination on these bases has some disparate impact on one sex or another, but because to discriminate on these grounds requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex. Also, it doesn’t matter that when an employer treats one employee worse because of that individual’s sex, other factors may contribute to the decision. For example, the Court said consider this hypothetical:

  • “Consider an employer with a policy of firing any woman he discovers to be a Yankees fan. Carrying out that rule because an employee is a woman and a fan of the Yankees is a firing “because of sex” if the employer would have tolerated the same allegiance in a male employee.

The Court said the same is true in the cases before it.  “When an employer fires an employee because she is homosexual or transgender, two causal factors may be in play – both the individual’s sex and something else (the sex to which the individual is attracted or with which the individual identifies). But Title VII doesn’t care. If an employer would not have discharged an employee but for that individual’s sex, the statute’s causation standard is met, and liability may attach.

Finally, an employer musters no better a defense by responding that it is equally happy to fire male and female employees  who are homosexual or transgender. According to the Court, “Title VII liability is not limited to employers who, through the sum of all of their employment actions, treat the class of men differently than the class of women. Instead, the law makes each instance of discriminating against an individual employee because of that individual’s sex an independent violation of Title VII.”

The Bostock decision ends years of conflicting decision between federal Circuit courts as to the coverage of Title VII protections against discrimination for LGBTQ employees.  For those employers who are not located in a state that already provided those protections under state law, now is the time to ensure that policies, practices, and trainings address these protections.

The employment lawyers at Weintraub Tobin have years of experience counseling, training, and defending employers in all areas of employment law, including harassment and discrimination under Title VII and California law.  Please reach out to us if we can assist you in your employment law compliance.

Business Owners – Planning Can Help Prevent Employer Liability During Civil Unrest

Posted in Labor Law

My colleague Brendan Begley blogged last week about the risks employers face due to the threat of COVID-19 in the workplace.  As he noted, employees have the right to expect employers to follow city, county, and state orders and take reasonable precautions to minimize the risk to a known “direct threat” to health and safety.

Now, in the wake of the horrific death of George Floyd 10 days ago, the citizens of our nation have risen up to demand racial equality and an end to systemic injustice.  Our nation’s pent up frustrations have boiled over, and, unfortunately, some of that frustration is being expressed violently.

In the last few days, I’ve been hearing from business owners who were focused on steps to reopen after COVID-19, but are now worried about preventing potential destruction of property, theft, and violence.  While owners work to protect their businesses, they must also not forget to take reasonable steps to protect their employees from harm.

Does Your IIPP Address Violence and Theft?

While CalOSHA recently issued guidelines that said most CA employers would need to update their Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (“IIPP”) to address COVID-19,  employers should also review their IIPP to make sure it complies with California law with respect to violence in the workplace. IIPPs are required to outline various safety protocols and policies – and one of the subjects you must cover is violence in the workplace.   Employers must assess the types of hazards likely to be faced depending on the type of business.  The hazards presented by civil unrest may or may not be something a small business owner ever considered when drafting an IIPP.  (Don’t have one? The DIR has a free Etool – to help you create one!)

Remember, employers cannot retaliate against employees who oppose or report perceived safety hazards, unsafe practices, or violations of law in the workplace.

Safety First!

Just before I sat down to write this, I drove to my favorite local restaurant to pick up lunch. Many businesses in my city were closing, or open but in the process of boarding up windows and installing barricades, hoping to prevent damage if tonight’s planned protests turn violent.

If a business does decide to stay open in the face of planned or threatened protests or looting in your area, here is some common-sense advice:

  • Be sure to have an emergency action plan and communicate your plan to employees.
  • Make sure that employees have an escape route, or that they know they are free to go home if they feel unsafe.
  • Do not violate curfews that may be put in place, and do not ask employees to do so.
  • Reinforce the message that their health and safety is the number one priority, and especially for employees who may be in danger when they leave work to go home, consider sending them home early.
  • “Call 911” may not be a sufficient response to an emergency in the face of widespread riots and looting, since the police force will likely already be out in force but may be overwhelmed.
  • Make sure employees know that they are not expected to, and should not, attempt to interfere with looters, or put themselves in harm’s way, or violate curfew. Lives cannot be replaced.

Please, stay safe and take care of each other. Don’t hesitate to call your Weintraub Tobin employment advisor if you need guidance or assistance during these unprecedented times. We are all in this together.


Inoculating Against the Coming Spread of Employee Lawsuits Related to COVID-19

Posted in Disability Discrimination, Discrimination, FMLA and Other Leaves of Absence, Labor Law, New Legislation and Regulations, Retaliation and Wrongful Termination

As workplaces begin reopening in the coming weeks, attorneys are predicting a rash of lawsuits by employees against their employers related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  It seems clear that workers-compensation preemption may immunize employers from most civil actions alleging that employees became infected with the virus on the job.  However, other types of employee lawsuits may reach fever pitch.

There does not appear to be any vaccination to alleviate many of the anticipated claims.  Still, just as good hygiene practices may help flatten the curve of the actual coronavirus, good employment practices can help reduce the incidence of such lawsuits in your workplace.  Here are four types of employment claims that are likely to spread like a contagion as employees are expected to (or actually do) return to their jobs, along with some inoculations that employers should consider:

Disability Claims

According to at least one media outlet, the head of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s New York office reported this week that charges accusing employers of failing to accommodate workers’ disabilities are outpacing any other allegation tied to COVID-19 in the Empire State.  Employers should anticipate similar developments here in the Golden State.

Indeed, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) and its federal counterpart, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), both prohibit disability discrimination and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees.  An ounce of prevention – by engaging in the interactive process (from a safe distance) with infected or otherwise disabled employees to identify reasonable accommodations – often is more economical than the pound of cure that would come from prevailing in a failure-to-accommodate lawsuit.

In this regard, employers should remember that each request for an accommodation must be analyzed independently, and that a leave of absence may constitute a reasonable accommodation.  Thus, if employees request a leave of absence, either to get over their own COVID-19 infection or to reduce the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus due to some preexisting disability that puts them at greater risk, serious thought must be given to fashioning a workable accommodation.

Some employers may find respite in the notion that a coronavirus infection might not constitute an actual disability under the ADA or the FEHA, as the illness typically impairs its victims moderately or for only a short duration of time.  But this brand of comfort is often an ineffective placebo and not a recommended treatment to prevent the spread of disability lawsuits.  That is because the effects of a COVID-19 infection may be more long-lasting or create a more severe impairment for some individuals.  Thus, it would be a mistake for an employer to assume that such an infection can never amount to a protected disability.

At the same time, both the FEHA and the ADA prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of a perceived disability.  Thus, it is foreseeable that some employers might decide to treat certain workers differently than others because they believe certain workers have some other actual or perceived medical condition (e.g., a persistent cough, or diabetes, or an immunodeficiency, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).  Employers may worry that letting such vulnerable employees return to the job or interact with coworkers might make them more susceptible to getting or spreading COVID-19.  While treating such employees differently in this manner may seem (or even might actually be) an act of caring and concern that would rival Florence Nightingale, such actions can lead to costly challenges in court (especially if they are applied in a clumsy fashion).

Disability harassment is another type of claim that employers may anticipate.  One way this type of claim may arise is when coworkers, managers or supervisors develop a notion that a particular employee was (or is) infected with coronavirus and spread (or is spreading) the sickness to the workplace.  If such coworkers, managers or supervisors are allowed to harass, insult or ostracize an employee on that basis, the employer may find itself in need of some urgent care from lawyers.

Tameny Claims

The so-called Tameny claim is named after the California Supreme Court’s decision 40 years ago in Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (1980) 27 Cal.3d 167.  Under the high court’s ruling in that case, a worker may pursue a lawsuit when he or she alleges that the employer terminated his or her employment in violation of some public policy.

It is difficult to tally how many Tameny claims are spreading in California, as the administrative agencies that handle claims of disability discrimination (or other types of discrimination, harassment or retaliation) typically are not responsible for investigating a Tameny claim.  So we may not know for many months how many Tameny claims have been filed in court; nonetheless, there is good reason to think the number will be high.

Keep in mind that California has a public policy that requires employers to “furnish employment and a place of employment that is safe and healthful for the employees therein.”  (Cal. Labor Code, § 6400.)  Also bear in mind that California has a public policy that prohibits employers from “preventing an employee from disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency,” or to a manager or supervisor, “who has authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation or noncompliance.”  (Cal. Labor Code, § 1102.5.)

With those public policies in mind, there are two general ways to become exposed to a Tameny affliction.  One arises when an employee is fired for refusing to execute some task on the job that actually would be unlawful.  The second arises when the employee is fired for complaining about what he or she reasonably perceives to be unlawful activity in the workplace (even if the activity in question turns out to be legal).

Regarding the first variety, it is easy to foresee the following scenario developing:  An employer directs an employee to return to work and the employee refuses and is fired.  If the employer instructed the employee to return before the government lifted restrictions for that specific workplace, terminating the employee for refusing to return may violate a public policy.  Likewise, if the employer waits until the restrictions lift but then fails to enforce regulations requiring social distancing or sanitary practices or the donning of personal protective equipment (“PPE”), firing an employee for refusing to work under such conditions may also be in violation of public policy.

Turning to the second type of Tameny ailments, it is equally easy to anticipate these scenarios occurring:  An employer directs an employee to return to work either before the restrictions are lifted or after the restrictions are lifted but without implementing or enforcing policies for social distancing, sanitation, or PPE.  The employee complies, returns to the job, and performs his or her work, but not quietly or without protest.  Instead, the employee complains about the workplace conditions, either to a governmental agency or a supervisor, and is subsequently fired.  Terminating an employee for complaining about such workplace conditions may be in violation of public policy.

One aspect of many Tameny claims that make them look less severe than other types of claims is that they often do not result in the employer having to pay the employee’s attorney fees.  However, given the other undesirable symptoms and bad side-effects that such lawsuits can trigger (e.g., lost productivity due to litigation, or the risk of emotional-distress and even punitive damages), that is a bit like telling a sick patient suffering from simultaneous chills and sweats that a fever of 103.8 degrees is not as bad as one that is 104 degrees.

Leave Claims

There are a number of federal and state laws that require various employers to provide a certain amount of protected leave to covered employees; for example, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”).

The FFCRA was passed just this year to provide workers with protected leave if they have been impacted in various ways by the coronavirus and related shelter-in-place orders.  It has already resulted in what some might call an epidemic of lawsuits where employees have claimed that their employer interfered with their protected leave, denied them benefits, or fired them in retaliation for requesting leave.

Meanwhile, the FMLA and the CFRA are not geared specifically for coronavirus-related leaves, like the FFCRA is, but those laws may still protect such leaves of absence.  Making things more complicated, there may be overlap between these leave entitlements and some employers may be subject to all of these laws, while others are subject to some or none of them.

It is very probable that employers will be faced with many more leave requests, either to care for someone who has been infected with COVID-19 or to stay at home with a child whose school or daycare facility remains closed while some restrictions are lifted.  Of course, employees also may request leave to deal with other health conditions that deteriorated while they were unable to get routine medical treatment while sheltered in place.  Each leave request should be given serious consideration.

Discrimination Claims

Whereas some employers may be struggling with too many employees in need of leave, others may be grappling with having to lay off employees due to downturns in business as a result of the shelter-in-place restrictions.  In either scenario, care must be given to how such decisions are made and serious thought must be devoted to the potential results.

Such decisions may trigger claims under the FEHA or its federal counterparts, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  Those laws bar making employment decisions on the basis of certain protected categories; for instance, age, race, national-origin, gender or religion.

When deciding which employees are going to be given leaves of absence, or laid off, or assigned to certain duties, consistent procedures and rationales must be followed.  Even then, under what is called the disparate-impact type of claim, a neutral policy or practice can lead to discrimination liability if it has a statistically disproportionate impact on a certain class of workers.

Inoculate Against Such Claims

There is no vaccine that will prevent or get rid of all such claims, but the harmful effects of such lawsuits can be ameliorated by following certain precautions.

First, be sensitive to actual or perceived disabilities, do not make medical assumptions, work hard to identify and implement reasonable accommodations for disabled employees, and be vigilant in guarding against harassment of employees on the basis of some perceived or actual medical condition.

Second, take every request for a disability accommodation or leave of absence seriously and analyze each one independently on its own merits.

Third, do not violate or direct your employees to violate governmental shelter-in-place, social-distancing, sanitary or PPE restrictions or regulations.

Fourth, whenever making a termination decision, be sure it is for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the employee’s refusal to violate some public policy or the employee’s complaints about reasonably perceived violations of some public policy.

Fifth, make certain that personnel decisions have nothing to with protected classifications (e.g., age, race, gender, religion) and carefully analyze how decisions may impact protected classes of employees.

Just as there presently is no medicine that is sure to eradicate the current pandemic, there is no one-size-fits-all regimen that will completely wipeout such employment claims.  Even these steps cannot completely immunize employers against all these types of lawsuits, yet failing to adopt such protective measures probably will increase the risk of exposure to these afflictions.

Finally, it seems obvious that getting prompt medical attention may stem the more serious effects of a disease; by the same token, obtaining early legal advice may decrease the incidence or cost of these exorbitant types of lawsuits.

The DFEH’s Free On-Line Sexual Harassment Prevention Training For Non-Supervisors is FINALLY Available

Posted in Labor Law, New Legislation and Regulations

On May 20, 2020, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) announced that it has finally launched free anti-sexual harassment training for non-supervisory employees. The online training, which is available through DFEH’s website – – will meet an employer’s obligation to provide training to non-supervisory employees by January 1, 2021.

Section 12950.1 of the California Government Code requires employers with five or more employees to provide at least one-hour of classroom or other effective interactive training and education regarding sexual harassment prevention to all non-supervisory employees in California.

According to the DFEH’s announcement, its new training is interactive and optimized for mobile devices and is accessible for persons with disabilities. The training is currently available in English and will be available in five additional languages in the coming months (Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Korean).

The DFEH said that it is planning to launch a similar online training for supervisors in California in the coming months to help employers meet their obligation under Government Code section 12950.1 to provide supervisors with two hours of training by January 1, 2021.

The full DFEH announcement can be found at:

The Labor and Employment attorneys at Weintraub Tobin continue to wish you and your family good health during these unsettling times.  If we can assist you in any of your employment law needs, feel free to reach out to one of us.

California Continues to Work With Counties for the Slow Re-Opening of the State

Posted in Labor Law, New Legislation and Regulations

This is a follow up to our previous blog regarding California’s gradual entry into Stage 2 of the State’s re-opening plan – termed the “Resilience Roadmap.”  As Governor Newsom announced on Tuesday, May 13, 2020, counties are able to, and are, submitting their attestations to the State to speed up the reopening of certain businesses within their counties.  As such, the gradual reopening of businesses in Stage 2 is a fluid and rapidly evolving process driven not only by the State’s decisions on what businesses can and cannot reopen (on a modified basis) at this time, but also on what counties are doing to help move the process along for their businesses.  However, it is important to note, that the State has made very clear that if counties have more restrictive shelter-in-place orders in place, they may continue to enforce them even if the State’s order is modified to reduce certain restrictions.

The evolving re-opening plan around the State is being regularly updated on the State’s website.  Because the updates are happening in real time, it is important for businesses to regularly check the California Department of Public Health’s website to determine the current status of the State and county orders that apply to their business location(s). The website can be found here:

The Labor and Employment attorneys at Weintraub Tobin continue to wish you and your family good health during these challenging times. If we can assist you with your employment law needs, please reach out to any one of us.


EEOC Again Updates its Guidance & FAQ’s Regarding COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws

Posted in FMLA and Other Leaves of Absence, Labor Law, New Legislation and Regulations

The EEOC has updated its COVID-19 Guidance once again by adding a number of new FAQs to address issues related to the anticipated re-entry into the workplace.  The new FAQs discuss things like: an employer’s right to screen employees before entering the workplace to avoid a “direct threat” to the health and safety of employees; documentation to support an employee’s request for an accommodation; and “undue hardship” considerations when denying an accommodation based on the impact of COVID-19 on the business.  Below is a list of the updated/new FAQs.  The complete EEOC’s Guidance and FAQs can be found here.

A.6. May an employer administer a COVID-19 test (a test to detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus) before permitting employees to enter the workplace? (4/23/20)

The ADA requires that any mandatory medical test of employees be “job related and consistent with business necessity.” Applying this standard to the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers may take steps to determine if employees entering the workplace have COVID-19 because an individual with the virus will pose a direct threat to the health of others. Therefore an employer may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before they enter the workplace to determine if they have the virus.

Consistent with the ADA standard, employers should ensure that the tests are accurate and reliable. For example, employers may review guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about what may or may not be considered safe and accurate testing, as well as guidance from CDC or other public health authorities, and check for updates. Employers may wish to consider the incidence of false-positives or false-negatives associated with a particular test. Finally, note that accurate testing only reveals if the virus is currently present; a negative test does not mean the employee will not acquire the virus later.

Based on guidance from medical and public health authorities, employers should still require – to the greatest extent possible – that employees observe infection control practices (such as social distancing, regular handwashing, and other measures) in the workplace to prevent transmission of COVID-19.

D.12. Do the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act apply to applicants or employees who are classified as “critical infrastructure workers” or “essential critical workers” by the CDC? (4/23/20)

Yes. These CDC designations, or any other designations of certain employees, do not eliminate coverage under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act, or any other equal employment opportunity law. Therefore, employers receiving requests for reasonable accommodation under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act from employees falling in these categories of jobs must accept and process the requests as they would for any other employee. Whether the request is granted will depend on whether the worker is an individual with a disability, and whether there is a reasonable accommodation that can be provided absent undue hardship.

G.3. What does an employee need to do in order to request reasonable accommodation from her employer because she has one of the medical conditions that CDC says may put her at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19? (5/5/20)

An employee – or a third party, such as an employee’s doctor – must let the employer know that she needs a change for a reason related to a medical condition (here, the underlying condition).  Individuals may request accommodation in conversation or in writing.  While the employee (or third party) does not need to use the term “reasonable accommodation” or reference the ADA, she may do so.

The employee or her representative should communicate that she has a medical condition that necessitates a change to meet a medical need.  After receiving a request, the employer may ask questions or seek medical documentation to help decide if the individual has a disability and if there is a reasonable accommodation, barring undue hardship, that can be provided.

G.4. The CDC identifies a number of medical conditions that might place individuals at “higher risk for severe illness” if they get COVID-19.  An employer knows that an employee has one of these conditions and is concerned that his health will be jeopardized upon returning to the workplace, but the employee has not requested accommodation.  How does the ADA apply to this situation?

First, if the employee does not request a reasonable accommodation, the ADA does not mandate that the employer take action.

If the employer is concerned about the employee’s health being jeopardized upon returning to the workplace, the ADA does not allow the employer to exclude the employee – or take any other adverse action – solely because the employee has a disability that the CDC identifies as potentially placing him at “higher risk for severe illness” if he gets COVID-19.  Under the ADA, such action is not allowed unless the employee’s disability poses a “direct threat” to his health that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.

The ADA direct threat requirement is a high standard.  As an affirmative defense, direct threat requires an employer to show that the individual has a disability that poses a “significant risk of substantial harm” to his own health under 29 C.F.R. section 1630.2(r). A direct threat assessment cannot be based solely on the condition being on the CDC’s list; the determination must be an individualized assessment based on a reasonable medical judgment about this employee’s disability – not the disability in general – using the most current medical knowledge and/or on the best available objective evidence. The ADA regulation requires an employer to consider the duration of the risk, the nature and severity of the potential harm, the likelihood that the potential harm will occur, and the imminence of the potential harm.  Analysis of these factors will likely include considerations based on the severity of the pandemic in a particular area and the employee’s own health (for example, is the employee’s disability well-controlled), and his particular job duties.  A determination of direct threat also would include the likelihood that an individual will be exposed to the virus at the worksite.  Measures that an employer may be taking in general to protect all workers, such as mandatory social distancing, also would be relevant.

Even if an employer determines that an employee’s disability poses a direct threat to his own health, the employer still cannot exclude the employee from the workplace – or take any other adverse action – unless there is no way to provide a reasonable accommodation (absent undue hardship).  The ADA regulations require an employer to consider whether there are reasonable accommodations that would eliminate or reduce the risk so that it would be safe for the employee to return to the workplace while still permitting performance of essential functions.  This can involve an interactive process with the employee.  If there are not accommodations that permit this, then an employer must consider accommodations such as telework, leave, or reassignment (perhaps to a different job in a place where it may be safer for the employee to work or that permits telework).  An employer may only bar an employee from the workplace if, after going through all these steps, the facts support the conclusion that the employee poses a significant risk of substantial harm to himself that cannot be reduced or eliminated by reasonable accommodation.

G.5. What are examples of accommodation that, absent undue hardship, may eliminate (or reduce to an acceptable level) a direct threat to self? (5/5/20)

Accommodations may include additional or enhanced protective gowns, masks, gloves, or other gear beyond what the employer may generally provide to employees returning to its workplace.  Accommodations also may include additional or enhanced protective measures, for example, erecting a barrier that provides separation between an employee with a disability and coworkers/the public or increasing the space between an employee with a disability and others.  Another possible reasonable accommodation may be elimination or substitution of particular “marginal” functions (less critical or incidental job duties as distinguished from the “essential” functions of a particular position).  In addition, accommodations may include temporary modification of work schedules (if that decreases contact with coworkers and/or the public when on duty or commuting) or moving the location of where one performs work (for example, moving a person to the end of a production line rather than in the middle of it if that provides more social distancing).

These are only a few ideas.  Identifying an effective accommodation depends, among other things, on an employee’s job duties and the design of the workspace.  An employer and employee should discuss possible ideas; the Job Accommodation Network ( also may be able to assist in helping identify possible accommodations.  As with all discussions of reasonable accommodation during this pandemic, employers and employees are encouraged to be creative and flexible.

The Labor and Employment attorneys at Weintraub Tobin continue to wish you and your family the best through this unprecedented time.  If we may be of assistance to you in your employment law needs, feel free to reach out to any of us.


Governor Newsom Announces the Gradual Beginning of Stage 2 of California’s Re-Opening Plan

Posted in Labor Law, New Legislation and Regulations

On May 7, 2020, Governor Newsom announced the plan to gradually move into Stage 2 of the State’s Re-opening Plan beginning May 8, 2020.  In addition to the Governor’s announcement in his press conference, the California Department of Public Health issued industry-specific guidance and checklists for phased reopening under the State’s “Resilience Roadmap.”

Under the current State Shelter-in-Place Order, only essential businesses and workplaces are permitted to be open.  However, the State says that as of May 8, 2020, the following businesses can open with modifications:

  • Curbside retail, including but not limited to: Bookstores, jewelry stores, toy stores, clothing stores, shoe stores, home and furnishing stores, sporting goods stores, antique stores, music stores, florists. Note: this will be phased in, starting first with curbside pickup and delivery only until further notice.
  • Supply chains supporting the above businesses, in manufacturing and logistics sectors.

Although there is no specific date provided yet, the State says that the following businesses can open later in Stage 2:

  • Destination retail, including shopping malls and swap meets.
  • Personal services, limited to: car washes, pet grooming, tanning facilities, and landscape gardening.
  • Office-based businesses (telework remains strongly encouraged).
  • Dine-in restaurants (other facility amenities, like bars or gaming areas, are not permitted).
  • Schools and childcare facilities.
  • Outdoor museums and open gallery spaces.

Regardless of when a business is permitted to open (with modifications), the State is requiring all facilities to first perform a detailed risk assessment and implement a site-specific protection plan.

Finally, Governor Newsom and the Department of Public Health recognize that some communities may be able to move through Stage 2 faster and thus are implementing a system in which the counties can certify that they have made greater progress in meeting readiness criteria established by the California Department of Public Health. More information about this State-county system is expected to be released by the State on May 12, 2020.

For more information about the latest developments on the phased-reopening of California via the State’s Resilience Roadmap, go to

The Labor and Employment attorneys at Weintraub Tobin continue to wish you and your family good health during these unsettling times.  If we can assist you in any of your employment law needs, feel free to reach out to one of us.




California Employers Likely Immune To Employee COVID-19 Lawsuits, But More Susceptible To COVID-19 Workers-Compensation Claims

Posted in Labor Law, New Legislation and Regulations, Wage & Hour

Recent news reports, like this one from the Los Angeles Times, indicate that Congress is hotly debating a proposed law to immunize employers from lawsuits alleging that their workers contracted COVID-19 illness on the job.  While business owners in California may suffer headaches or congestion from other types of lawsuits related to COVID-19 in the workplace, exposure to employee lawsuits of this kind is probably not a feverish worry.

That is because, with very few exceptions, California employees who suffer a work-related injury or illness cannot sue their employer in civil court.  Instead, such employees must pursue relief through a workers-compensation claim.

Even though there probably won’t be a rash of employee lawsuits related to COVID-19, California employers should anticipate an increase in workers-compensation claims related to that coronavirus.  Such claims typically would assert that an employee was exposed to the contagion on the job and became ill, unable to work, and in need of medical attention and treatment.

Indeed, California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week mandated a presumption that an employee’s COVID-19-related illness is work-related under certain circumstances.  In Executive Order N-62-20, signed on May 6, 2020, Gov. Newsom directed that “[a]ny COVID-19-related illness of an employee shall be presumed to arise out of … the employment for purposes of awarding workers’ compensation benefits if [specified] requirements are satisfied.”

Under that executive order, the presumption only arises if the employee tested positive for, or was diagnosed by a qualified physician as having, COVID-19 within 14 days after performing work directed by the employer at the employee’s place of employment.  The presumption does not arise if the employee worked from home during that timeframe, or if he or she was otherwise not on the job on or after March 19, 2020.

Just because such a presumption arises, that does not mean the source of the employee’s infection is beyond dispute.  On the contrary the executive order confirms that the presumption “is disputable and may be controverted by other evidence.”  Moreover, if “an employee has paid sick leave benefits specifically available in response to COVID-19, those benefits [must] be used and exhausted before any [workers-compensation] temporary disability benefits … are due and payable.”

Of course, employees who file such claims may also allege that their illness was caused by the employer’s serious and willful misconduct.  If a worker were to succeed on such a claim, it could result in the “amount of compensation otherwise recoverable [being] increased [by] one-half” under section 4553 of the California Labor Code.

To prevail on such a claim, the infected employee would have to prove that the employer maliciously (not just negligently) engaged in such misconduct.  Simply opening up for business after the government said it was ok to do so, by itself, almost surely wouldn’t amount to serious and willful misconduct – but opening sooner than that might.  Employers also may face greater risk of liability under such a claim if they maliciously (not just carelessly) fail to provide necessary protective gear or enforce social-distancing or sanitary guidelines.

Therefore, absent some unanticipated development, any presumed action that Congress may take in passing a federal law to shield employers from such lawsuits probably won’t have much of an impact in the Golden State.  Still, employers here should be mindful of the new presumption that an employee’s COVID-19 infection may be an industrial illness covered by workers-compensation laws.  To inoculate against potential claims that a COVID-19 infection was caused by serious and willful misconduct, California employers should consult with competent legal counsel to prepare for reopening their business in the coming weeks and months.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave Now Available for Employees of Large Employers in California’s Food Supply Sector

Posted in FMLA and Other Leaves of Absence, Labor Law, New Legislation and Regulations

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government recently passed emergency legislation making up to two weeks of paid sick leave benefits available to employees who are forced to miss work for reasons relating to COVID-19. We previously blogged about the paid sick leave made available under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) here and here. The FFCRA’s paid sick leave, however, is not available to employees of large employers, defined as those with at least 500 employees. California has now stepped up to fill that gap for employees in the food supply sector who work for these larger employers.

On April 16, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-51-20, which provides two weeks of paid sick leave to food supply sector employees who are unable to work due to any of the following:

  • A quarantine or isolation order in place by the federal, state, or local government related to COVID-19;
  • Being advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
  • Being prohibited by a hiring entity from working due to COVID-19 concerns.

The order applies to “Food Sector Workers,” which includes farmworkers, agricultural workers, workers who can, freeze, preserve, or harvest food, grocery store and restaurant workers, and delivery drivers. The leave is available to any of the above workers who perform work for a “hiring entity,” which is defined as any entity that has 500 or more employees in the United States.

The Order provides up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for any workers who an employer considers to be full time or those who worked or were scheduled to worker at least 40 hours per week, on average, in the two weeks preceding the date the worker began using the sick leave. In turn, part-time employees are entitled to take up to the average number of hours they are normally scheduled to work over two weeks. If a part-time worker has a variable schedule, they are entitled to take up to 14 times the amount of daily hours they averaged over the preceding 6 months.

The leave is available to all qualifying workers immediately upon either oral or written request. Sick leave hours must be paid at the higher of the workers’ regular rate of pay, the state minimum wage, or the local minimum wage where the worker performs work, but in no event will a worker be entitled to more than $511 per day or an aggregate cap of $5,110.

The intent of the Order is to fill the gap left under the FFCRA that provides similar paid sick leave only to employees of employers with fewer than 500 workers, rather than to provide additional leave to employees who already qualify.  The amount of paid sick leave available, and the floors and caps on the amount of pay are identical to those set forth in the FFCRA’s paid sick leave. In addition, employers are not required to provide additional leave under the Order to those employees who are already entitled to equivalent paid sick leave under the FFCRA or as a discretionary benefit from the employer.

There is, however, one key distinction between the FFCRA leave and the paid sick leave available under Executive Order N-51-20. Whereas employers are entitled to a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for all sick leave paid under the FFCRA, no such tax credit language was included in the State Order. Unless further legislation is passed covering this discrepancy, large employers paying sick leave under this Order will not be reimbursed for it from the State.

In addition to making the sick leave available, employers must post notice to employees of their leave rights under the Order. The Labor Commissioner’s office has created a notice for this purpose, a copy of which can be found here.  Finally, in addition to the paid sick leave discussed above, the Order requires that all food sector workers be permitted to wash their hands every 30 minutes and additionally as needed. Should any employer fail to comply with the order, employees may file complaints with the Labor Commissioner.

California employers should continue to monitor our blog for future updates concerning employment developments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We also advise employers to seek legal advice to determine whether Executive Order N-51-20 applies to their business, and if so, what steps to take to ensure compliance.