Our colleagues Patrick G. Brady and Julie Saker Schlegel, at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the technology industry: “Beyond Joint Employment: Do Companies Aid and Abet Discrimination by Conducting Background Checks on Independent Contractors?

Following is an excerpt:

Ever since the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) issued its August 2015 decision in Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc., holding two entities may be joint employers if one exercises either direct or indirect control over the terms and conditions of the other’s employees or reserves the right to do so, the concept of joint employment has generated increased interest from plaintiffs’ attorneys, and increased concern from employers. Questions raised by the New York Court of Appeals in a recent oral argument, however, indicate that employers who engage another company’s workers on an independent contractor basis would be wise to guard against another potential form of liability, for aiding and abetting acts that violate various anti-discrimination statutes, including both the New York State (“NYSHRL”) and New York City Human Rights Laws (“NYCHRL”) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”).

Read the full post here.

A recent blog post by Susan Fowler, a former software engineer at Uber, and the author of two books regarding software engineering, has once again drawn national attention to the issue of the underrepresentation of women in the technology industry. Her story has received extensive media coverage, and Uber has retained former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate Ms. Fowler’s allegations. Further, the allegations appear to have reinvigorated the #DeleteUber social media campaign.

Ms. Fowler’s account describes a plethora of employment law issues, in particular the risks employers face when employees lose confidence in management and HR as partners to combat workplace harassment and discrimination and take it upon themselves to police antidiscrimination compliance issues.

To summarize the allegations, shortly after joining Uber, Ms. Fowler alleges she was sexually harassed by her manager and reported the incident to HR. She found HR’s response inadequate, alleging that rather than address her concerns, HR defended the alleged harasser’s conduct saying that it was the “man’s first offense” that it was “probably just an innocent mistake” and that because he was a “high performer” they “wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him.” Ms. Fowler also alleges that she was given the option to switch teams, and that she risked being subject to retaliation if she chose not to switch. The alleged incident appears to have destroyed Ms. Fowler’s confidence in her employer’s commitment to protecting women from discrimination. She explains in her blog post that “[e]very time something ridiculous happened, every time a sexist email was sent, I’d sent a short report to HR just to keep a record going.” Ms. Fowler explains that the last straw leading to her resignation was a dispute over alleged iniquities in which employees received company branded merchandise.

As a best practices matter, employers are well-served from having employees who have been educated as to how to identify and report incidents of improper behavior. However, employees committed to carrying on unauthorized personal investigations can be problematic. By appropriately handling an employee’s first credible complaint, employers have an opportunity to build trust and allow the employee who raised the complaint to continue focusing on his or her job duties. On the other hand, if employees perceive that the investigations are not conducted appropriately, there is a risk they will take the task upon themselves. This distracts employees from their actual job functions and risks creating a more confrontational and acrimonious workplace atmosphere. Employees actively searching for evidence of workplace discrimination may interpret legitimate constructive criticism as retaliation and file further complaints to that effect. This increases the litigation risk associated with taking adverse employment actions against such employees. In short, employees who decide to conduct unauthorized investigations will likely be difficult to manage and expensive to terminate.

Employers can take steps to avoid this situation by both (1) maintaining appropriate workplace policies; and (2) adequately investigating credible complaints that these policies have been violated. These investigations must not only effectively discover the truth, they need to be viewed as fair and credible by employees. Key components of a credible investigation are:

  • Assign an objective fact-finder to lead the investigation: best practice is to assign someone to investigate who will not come in with preconceptions about the persons involved. For example, retaining outside counsel or assigning a HR representative ordinarily assigned to a different business unit demonstrates that the investigation is being undertaken with an open mind.
  • Conduct formal witness interviews: make it clear to employees that they are being asked questions in connection to a formal investigation, rather than casual or informal information gathering.
  • Provide updates regarding the progress of the investigation through a single point person: there should be a single point person the complaining employee can contact who is knowledgeable about the status of the investigation. Avoid a situation where the complaining employee feels the need to investigate the status of the investigation.
  • Proceed with reasonable speed: by conducting an expeditious investigation, employers demonstrate that they care about employee concerns and can be trusted to handle the investigation. The complaining employee should not feel responsible for prompting HR to move forward.
  • Conclude the investigation with a close-out meeting: (1) apprise the complaining employee that the investigation has been concluded and whether disciplinary action has been taken; (2) advise as to what if any steps the employer is taking to prevent improper conduct in the future; and (3) regardless of the final outcome of the investigation, reiterate the employer’s commitment to its policies prohibiting retaliation. Employers should avoid equivocating or offering excuses for misconduct or otherwise suggesting that any disciplinary actions taken as a result of the investigation reflect factors other than the gravity of the misconduct such as an employee’s status as a high performer or the employee’s large book of business.

Our colleagues Brian W. Steinbach and Judah L. Rosenblatt, at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Heath Employment and Labor blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the technology industry: “Mayor Signs District of Columbia Ban on Most Employment Credit Inquiries.”

Following is an excerpt:

On February 15, 2017, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the “Fair Credit in Employment Amendment Act of 2016” (“Act”) (D.C. Act A21-0673) previously passed by the D.C. Council. The Act amends the Human Rights Act of 1977 to add “credit information” as a trait protected from discrimination and makes it a discriminatory practice for most employers to directly or indirectly require, request, suggest, or cause an employee (prospective or current) to submit credit information, or use, accept, refer to, or inquire into an employee’s credit information. …

Read the full post here.

The United States Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) on January 17, 2017, just days before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, filed a lawsuit against Oracle America, Inc. (“Oracle”), alleging discrimination in its compensation and hiring practices, and its refusal to produce requested records and data. See Complaint. The lawsuit, filed with the Office of Administrative Law Judges, stems from a compliance review initiated by the OFCCP on September 24, 2014 at Oracle’s Redwood Shores headquarters in California, housing 7,000 employees.

As a federal government contractor, subject to Executive Order 11246, the Rehabilitation Act and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act, Oracle is contractually obligated not to discriminate in employment on the basis of certain protected characteristics, which include race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, and status as a protected veteran. In addition, Oracle is required to take affirmative action to ensure that applicants and employees are afforded employment opportunities without regard to these protected characteristics. As part of its contracts with the federal government, Oracle also agrees to allow the OFCCP to inspect its employment records to ensure the company’s compliance with its non-discrimination and affirmative action obligations.

The lawsuit seeks to redress violations of Executive Order 11246 stemming from the tech giant’s alleged “systemic compensation discrimination” against qualified women, Asians and African Americans employed in Information Technology, Product Development and Support positions (encompassing 80 job titles), and its “pattern and practice of hiring discrimination” against qualified White, Hispanic and African American applicants in favor of Asian applicants, namely Asian Indians, in the Professional Technical 1, Individual Contributor and the Product Development job groups (involving 69 job titles). The OFCCP specifically alleged that there were “gross disparities in pay” and “[statistically] significant overrepresentation” of Asians in the applicant pools and affected positions. In making its findings, the OFCCP indicated that Oracle refused to produce prior year compensation data and complete hiring data, and further refused to produce documentation demonstrating that it had performed “an in-depth review of its compensation practices” and that it had analyzed its applicant-hiring data for adverse impact.

Having found discrimination, the OFCCP issued a Notice of Violations, and three months later a Notice to Show Cause seeking an explanation for why the agency should not initiate enforcement proceedings. Seven months later, after conciliation efforts failed, the OFCCP instituted the instant action. While only Oracle and the OFCCP know what was discussed and debated in an attempt to bring about a resolution, clearly the OFCCP was not satisfied with Oracle’s explanations justifying the pay disparities and hiring practices, nor pleased with the company’s refusal to produce the additional compensation and hiring data requested. As a result, the OFCCP is seeking a decision finding that Oracle’s compensation and hiring practices violated Executive Order 11246, and an order permanently enjoining the company from failing and refusing to comply with its obligations, cancelling its federal government contracts, debarring it from entering into future contracts until remedying its prior noncompliance, and requiring it “to provide complete relief to the affected classes, including lost compensation, interest and all other benefits of employment resulting from Oracle’s discrimination.” Simply put, there are millions of dollars at stake.

Action Steps Employers Should Take Now

While it is still unclear what agenda the Trump Administration will expect the OFCCP to follow, so long as the status quo remains, federal government contractors should take heed. The OFCCP clearly intends to send a message with this and other lawsuits recently filed. Contractors should therefore be proactive to ensure that their compensation practices are not causing significant pay disparities that cannot be justified. They also need to ensure that their hiring practices are such that they are considering a diverse slate of candidates drawn from well-balanced recruiting pools and making hiring decisions without regard to gender, race and ethnicity. Both can be accomplished by contractors engaging counsel to conduct self-audits to ensure that they are in compliance and meeting all of their non-discrimination/affirmative action obligations as a federal government contractor. If such action is not taken, then they may face the same level of scrutiny and consequences as Oracle.

A New Year and a New Administration: Five Employment, Labor & Workforce Management Issues That Employers Should MonitorIn the new issue of Take 5, our colleagues examine five employment, labor, and workforce management issues that will continue to be reviewed and remain top of mind for employers under the Trump administration:

Read the full Take 5 online or download the PDF. Also, keep track of developments with Epstein Becker Green’s new microsite, The New Administration: Insights and Strategies.

Our colleagues Judah L. Rosenblatt, Jeffrey H. Ruzal, and Susan Gross Sholinsky, at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Hospitality Labor and Employment Law Blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the technology industry: “Where Federal Expectations Are Low Governor Cuomo Introduces Employee Protective Mandates in New York.”

Following is an excerpt:

Earlier this week New York Governor Andrew D. Cuomo (D) signed two executive orders and announced a series of legislative proposals specifically aimed at eliminating the wage gap in gender, among other workers and strengthening equal pay protection in New York State. The Governor’s actions are seen by many as an alternative to employer-focused federal policies anticipated once President-elect Donald J. Trump (R) takes office. …

According to the Governor’s Press Release, the Governor will seek to amend State law to hold the top 10 members of out-of-state limited liability companies (“LLC”) personally financially liable for unsatisfied judgments for unpaid wages. This law already exists with respect to in-state and out-of-state corporations, as well as in-state LLCs. The Governor is also seeking to empower the Labor Commissioner to pursue judgments against the top 10 owners of any corporations or domestic or foreign LLCs for wage liabilities on behalf of workers with unpaid wage claims. …

Read the full post here.

On December 9, 2016, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed ordinances no. 184652 and 184653, collectively referred to as the “Fair Chance Initiative.” These ordinances prohibit employers and City contractors (collectively “Employers”), respectively, from inquiring about job seekers’ criminal convictions until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. Both ordinances will go into effect on January 22, 2017 and will impact all employers in the City of Los Angeles and for every position which requires an employee to work at least an average of two hours per week within the City of Los Angeles and all City contractors and subcontractors, regardless of their location.

No Criminal Inquiry Until After Offer

Specifically, these ordinances prohibit Employers from inquiring about a job applicant’s criminal history, at any time or in any manner, unless and until a Conditional Offer of Employment has been made to the applicant. Following the Conditional Offer of Employment, Employers are permitted to request information regarding the applicant’s criminal history. However, Employers can only withdraw or cancel the conditional offer as a result of the applicant’s criminal history after engaging in the “Fair Chance Process.”

New “Fair Chance Process” Required

The “Fair Chance Process” requires Employers to prepare a written assessment highlighting the specific aspects of the applicant’s criminal history that pose an inherent conflict with the duties of the position sought by the applicant. Employers must provide the applicant with written notification of the proposed withdrawal of the conditional offer, a copy of the written assessment regarding the risks posed by the applicant’s criminal history, and any other relevant documentation. The applicant is then given an opportunity to provide the Employer a response to the written assessment, including any supporting documentation. Employers must wait at least 5 business days after the applicant is informed of the proposed withdrawal before taking any action, including filling the position for which the applicant applied.

New Posting and Recordkeeping Requirements

Additionally, Employers’ job postings must now include a notice stating that they will consider all qualified applicants regardless of their criminal histories, in compliance with these ordinances. Employers must also conspicuously post a notice regarding the “Fair Chance Initiative” in a location in the workplace visible to all job applicants; this notice must also be sent to each union or workers’ group with which the employers have any agreement that governs over employees. Further, Employers must retain all job application documents for three years. Penalties for violations of these ordinances may be assessed at up to $500 for the first violation, up to $1,000 for the second violation, and up to $2,000 for subsequent violations. The City may then, at its discretion, distribute a maximum of $500 from that penalty directly to the applicant. The penalty provision of the ordinances will not go into effect for employers in Los Angeles City until July 1, 2017. However, the penalty provision for City contractors is effective immediately.

Exceptions from these ordinances include: (1) employers who are required by law to seek a job applicant’s criminal history; (2) positions for which an applicant would be required to possess or use a firearm; (3) positions which, by law, cannot be held by an individual with a criminal history; and (4) employers who are prohibited, by law, from hiring persons with criminal convictions.

Employers with operations in the City of Los Angeles should:

  1. Remove questions regarding criminal history from job applications;
  2. Ensure future job postings include required equal employment notices;
  3. Defer inquiries regarding criminal history until making conditional job offers; and
  4. Ensure the Fair Chance Process is followed before denying employment based on criminal history.

Big Data People Magnifying GlassHow, and to what extent, should “big data” analytics play a role in workforce recruitment, development, and retention?  These were some of the questions asked on October 13, 2016  at a meeting convened by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the use of big data analytics in the workplace.  Based on the exchange with the panel of seven experts, it is clear that the EEOC is cautiously approaching companies’ use of big data in informing employment decisions, and is beginning to think about its role in overseeing big data analytics as applied to the workforce.

Big data analytics in the workplace (sometimes referred to as people analytics) is the pairing of large data sets, comprising information gleaned from a variety of sources, with machine learning techniques in order to make successful, efficient, and non-discriminatory employment decisions.  But panelists cautioned that big data analytics is not a panacea.  Panelist Kelly Trindel, Chief Analyst of the EEOC’s Office of Research, Information, and Planning, expressed concern that the use of big data analytics may inadvertently perpetuate discrimination if the training set on which the analytical algorithms are based comprise a group that itself was the product of discriminatory decision-making.

Commissioner Charlotte A. Burrows suggested that while big data analytics may reduce subjectivity in employment decisions, errors in the data sets or flawed assumptions underlying the algorithms may compound discriminatory effects.  Employers using or considering the use of big data analytics should be careful to take appropriate safeguards in designing (or working with a vendor to design) programs that will rely upon big data in order to make employment decisions.  Such precautions may include validation of any such programs over time, conducting appropriate job analyses, ensuring the variables considered adequately correspond to the representative population, training managers to properly interpret the data and results, and informing candidates whenever big data analytics will be used in hiring, said panelist Kathleen Lundquist, an organizational psychologist.

Appropriate precautions are especially important given the EEOC’s likely focus on this topic going forward.  Chair Jenny R. Yang announced the formation of an internal working group to study big data analytics in the workplace.  Commissioner Chai R. Feldblum suggested that, in the future, EEOC may convene additional panels to further discuss the implications of big data analytics in the workplace, and may play an educational role, among other things.

Complete statements of all of the panelists can be found on the EEOC website.  In addition, the EEOC will hold open the meeting record for 15 days, and members of the public are invited to submit written comments on any issues or matters discussed at the meeting.  If you are interested in contributing, public comments may be mailed to Commission Meeting, EEOC Executive Officer, 131 M Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20507, or emailed to: Commissionmeetingcomments@eeoc.gov.

Any employer considering the integration of the use of big data analytics into its workplace management practices should discuss the implications of such usage, and development of best practices for same, with experienced counsel.

Employers Under the Microscope: Is Change on the Horizon?

When: Tuesday, October 18, 2016 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Where: New York Hilton Midtown, 1335 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019

Epstein Becker Green’s Annual Workforce Management Briefing will focus on the latest developments in labor and employment law, including:

  • Latest Developments from the NLRB
  • Attracting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce
  • ADA Website Compliance
  • Trade Secrets and Non-Competes
  • Managing and Administering Leave Policies
  • New Overtime Rules
  • Workplace Violence and Active-Shooter Situations
  • Recordings in the Workplace
  • Instilling Corporate Ethics

This year, we welcome Marc Freedman and Jim Plunkett from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Marc and Jim will speak at the first plenary session on the latest developments in Washington, D.C., that impact employers nationwide.

We are also excited to have Dr. David Weil, Administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, serve as the guest speaker at the second plenary session. David will discuss the areas on which the Wage and Hour Division is focusing, including the new overtime rules.

In addition to workshop sessions led by attorneys at Epstein Becker Green – including some contributors to this blog! – we are also looking forward to hearing from our keynote speaker, Former New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton.

View the full briefing agenda here.

Visit the briefing website for more information and to register, and contact Sylwia Faszczewska or Elizabeth Gannon with questions. Seating is limited.

Throughout 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC” or “Commission”) has been examining initiatives to identify and attempt to rectify a perceived lack of diversity in the workplace. The EEOC has, in particular, identified the technology industry as an area where significant strides can be made to create a more diverse workforce.

Following a May 18, 2016, public meeting on diversity in the technology industry, the EEOC issued a “Diversity in High Tech” report (“Report”) summarizing research on the lack of diversity in the “high-tech sector,” defined as industries that employ a high concentration of employees in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) occupations and the production of goods and services advancing the use of electronic and computer-based production methods. The Report highlighted several demographic trends within the industry, generally showing that the high-tech sector is still predominantly white, male, and under 40 years old. Citing the high-tech sector as “a major source of economic growth fueling the U.S. economy,” the Report also identified demographic differences among the types of positions within the industry, noting that African Americans and Hispanics were disproportionately underrepresented in leadership positions in technology jobs.

According to the Report, the lack of diversity in the labor force within the high-tech sector can be attributed to the demographics of graduates with STEM degrees. Nearly 70 percent of graduates in engineering, mathematics, and computer science are men. While the Obama administration has included STEM education as a priority, the current graduates in STEM fields are significantly less diverse than in the general labor market.

Further, more than half of the women working at STEM companies in the high-tech sector eventually leave or do not advance within the STEM industry. The Report attributed women’s exit from the high-tech sector to an “inhospitable” work culture, isolation, work styles incompatible with the “firefighting” style generally rewarded, long hours and travel, and a glass-ceiling effect.

While the high-tech sector originated in Silicon Valley, the scope of this industry has grown across the United States. To see whether the diversity statistics differed at the epicenter of high tech, the Report further analyzed the labor force within Silicon Valley. The labor force generally in Silicon Valley is split evenly between men and women; however, within the tech industry, it becomes a 70-30 split in favor of men. While Asian Americans fared better within Silicon Valley than across the national survey for professional jobs, white men “dominated” leadership positions across the nation and even more significantly in Silicon Valley.

While the Report is valuable in highlighting changes that are necessary to create a more diverse workforce within the technology industry, the EEOC’s public meeting made clear that the Commission expects technology companies to address what it perceives to be the implicit and unconscious biases leading to the current demographics. In many technology start-ups, hiring practices and human resources policies are generally among the last concerns in growing companies; thus, companies recruit via word of mouth or weed out certain categories of candidates, such as older workers, leading to a more homogenous workforce. The findings stated in the Report and at the public meeting should encourage emerging companies to consider employee issues at the forefront, rather than as a secondary concern.

In Silicon Valley, where the lack of diversity is amplified within the high-tech sector, changes in California law may encourage employers to recruit from a more diverse pool of candidates. At the end of June, the California Legislature passed an amendment to the Equal Pay Act that, if signed by the governor, would provide a cause of action for a differential in pay on the basis of race or ethnicity unless the employer can show that the difference is based on a bona fide factor other than race or ethnicity. (The California Equal Pay Act was also recently amended to protect women more strongly against pay differentials.)

In addition to the Report, recently proposed EEOC guidance on national origin discrimination and the EEOC’s updated proposed rule to include salary bands on the annual EEO-1 report demonstrate the Commission’s commitment to encouraging a more diverse and inclusive workforce. The EEOC’s in-depth look at the high-tech sector should induce technology employers to review hiring practices and audit the diversity within their workforce, as the EEOC’s enforcement of systemic discrimination has increased significantly over the past 10 years.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Take 5 newsletter “Five Trending Challenges Facing Employers in the Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Industry.”