Biden Administration Impact on the Workplace

Just one week into his administration, President Biden has signaled that he will take a fresh look at current issues affecting American workers and workplaces. His recent executive orders and memoranda include the following actions:

  • Halt Final Rules governing tip pools and independent contractors: This Executive memorandum stays pending final rules that have been published but which had not yet taken effect to allow the Biden Administration to review their impact. This also directs that any rules which had been sent to the Federal Register but had not yet been published must be immediately withdrawn for review. This results in a stay of the Independent Contract Final Rule and the new Tip Pooling Rule. As a result, the Department of Labor has withdrawn 3 opinion letters related to those rules. See Lake Effect’s previous blogs on the Independent Contractor Final Rule, the Tip Pooling Final Rule, and two of the tip pool opinion letters.
  • Expand COVID-related unemployment benefits: This Executive Order permits employees who refuse work based on COVID health-related concerns to receive unemployment benefits.
  • Promote racial equity: This Executive Order directs the Biden administration to conduct equity assessments of its agencies and reallocate resources to “advanc[e] equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”
  • Reaffirm gender equity: This Executive Order expands protections against discrimination based on sex in federal agencies to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. This does not have a direct impact on private employers, but does follow the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (see Lake Effect’s blog here).
  • Enhance COVID-related workplace safety: This Executive Order requires administrative agencies to take “swift action to reduce the risk that workers may contract COVID-19 in the workplace.” This will most likely result in action from OSHA setting forth “science-based guidance to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure, including with respect to mask-wearing; partnering with State and local governments to better protect public employees; enforcing worker health and safety requirements; and pushing for additional resources to help employers protect employees.”

The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect will continue to closely monitor the Biden administration’s executive actions, legislative developments, and their impact on workplaces.

U.S. Supreme Court to Rule on LGBTQIA Workplace Protections

The United States Supreme Court recently announced that it will hear three cases that address whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act applies to workplace discrimination claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Two consolidated cases from the 2nd Circuit (CT, NY, and VT) and 11th Circuit (AL, FL, and GA) involve discrimination claims based on sexual orientation and transgender issues. In Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., the Second Circuit held that sexual orientation discrimination is motivated by sex and thus is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. In Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners, the Eleventh Circuit reached the opposite conclusion, ruling that “[d]ischarge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII.” Bostock, 723 F. App’x 964, 965 (11th Cir. 2018).

The third case that will be heard by the Supreme Court comes out of the Sixth Circuit. In Equal Employment Opportunity Comm’n v. R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., 884 F.3d 560 (6th Cir. 2018), the court ruled that Title VII bars discrimination based on a person being transgender. The court explained, “It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.” Equal Employment Opportunity Comm’n, 884 F.3d 560, 575 (6th Cir. 2018).

According to recent polling by PRRI, 69% of Americans favor anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBTQIA employees from discrimination in the workplace. The current administration, however, opposes any such protection. In the face of this tension, the Supreme Court’s upcoming decisions in these cases will be closely watched. They will likewise have sweeping impact across the county, much like Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark civil rights case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry extends to same-sex couples.

Employers in Madison will likely welcome greater certainty on this issue at the federal level. The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act, which is the state-wide statute covering workplace discrimination and harassment, considers discrimination based on sexual orientation to be a form of sexual discrimination, but does not yet prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. The Madison Equal Opportunities Ordinance is more expansive and expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to assist and advise if you have questions related to workplace discrimination, or you want assistance with professional development or respectful workplace training. Contact us here or call 844-333-5253 (LAKE).

Lake Effect HR & Law, LLC
(844) 333-5253 (LAKE)
info@le-hrlaw.com

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