Washington Supreme Court rules that obesity can be considered a disability in an employment law setting
Today, the Washington Supreme Court issued its ruling in Taylor v. Burlington N. R.R. Holdings, Inc., in which the Court answered a distinct question about whether or not obesity is a disability for purposes of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). As we've talked about before, the WLAD protects employees from discrimination in hiring, firing, retention, and promotion by Washington employers. WLAD applies to a number of protected classes (age, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), but also to disabilities.
The Washington Supreme Court was asked if the WLAD protected obese employees in hiring decisions when a person's condition of obesity would not impact the requirements of job. Specifically, the court considered if it was okay for an employer to choose not to hire an obese potential employee who was applying for a job that would not be impacted by his weight.
In a 7-2 decision, the Washington Supreme Court held that obesity is a disability under the WLAD because it is an "impairment" that is recognized by the medical community as a physiological disorder or condition. The court went on to make clear that if an employer refused to hire an employee who the employer believes is obese, and that applicant is otherwise qualified and able to do the job, the employer is in violation of the WLAD and has unlawfully discriminated against that potential employee.
To be clear, this ruling is only limited to the State of Washington. It does not change the fact that certain disabilities, including obesity, may keep an employee from doing a job such that an employer need not hire that employee or provide an accommodation. For example, an employee who is or becomes blind is not entitled to work at a job that requires her to drive. It would not be unlawful discrimination under the WLAD for the employer to not hire that blind employee as a driver. But, this ruling is significant in that a person's actual or perceived obesity cannot be a determinative factor in an employer's hiring decisions.
Have questions about this or other employment rights in Washington or Idaho? We're happy to discuss them with you.
It's the time of year again in Washington State. The state legislature passed a number of bills that Gov. Jay Inslee has signed into law that went into effect on July 1, 2019. Here's what you need to know about some of the new laws:
1. TRAFFIC: For those of you in Western Washington, HOV or carpool lane violations have higher fines. For the simple offender, the ticket goes up an extra $50 for a first-time violation. For those of you who try to be sneaky using stuffed animals, mannequins, and other faux-passengers, the violation is $200 more.
2. Health: The personal or philosophical exception to vaccinating children against measles, mumps, or rubella (the MMR vaccine) is no more. That means that parents must vaccinate their children before sending them to school or licensed day cares. The religious exemption still exists.
3. Employment. A big win for back-to-work moms - employers now have to either provide a private place that is not a bathroom stall or work with the employee to allow her to breast feed and/or pump breast milk in a private setting.
4. Voting. All ballots in Washington will include prepaid postage for all elections to reduce barriers to voting.
5. Residential Tenants: Renters made two big wins. First, a tenant must give 14-days notice for an eviction due to non-payment of rent. This is 11 days more than under prior laws. Second, a landlord must provide sixty (60) days written notice to increase rent. Per usual, a landlord cannot increase rent while a lease is still valid. That means if you signed a year-long residential lease, you get the stated amount of rent during that year - no changes can occur to the amount of monthly rent.
This is just a portion of the new Washington laws. Remember, your city or county may have additional new laws, especially if you're in King County. As always, for our Idaho clients, we're happy to give you a rundown of your rights' in Idaho, as they often vary greatly from those in Washington. We're here to help.
Washington State's Paid Family and Medical Leave program starts January 1, 2019 with premium collection. Benefits cannot be used until January 1, 2020. Here are some quick facts you need to know:
;Are you an employer or employee in the State of Washington? Effective January 1, 2018, as a result of Initiative 1433, Washington employers will be required to pay most employees sick leave. The new laws, which will be enforced by the Washington Department of Labor & Industries, are the result of the initiative process--meaning Washington state residents (not lawmakers) voted to enact the laws. Here's what you need to know:
1. Most employees will earn/accrue sick leave at a rate of one-hour of paid leave per 40 hours worked.
2. The law covers part-time and seasonal workers.
3. Employees are entitled to be paid sick leave at their normal hourly compensation rate(s).
4. Employees can use sick leave on the 90th calendar day after the start of their employment.
5. 40 hours or less of unused leave must rollover to the next year.
6. Employees can use the leave to: care for themselves or family members; if their child's school or their workplace is closed for any health-related reason; and for absences that qualify under the Domestic Violence Leave Act.
Employers can make broader policies, and employers with existing paid time off or flex time policies may already fit the requirements of the new law. If you need to update your policies or handbook as a Washington employer, please contact an employment attorney familiar with the new laws.
On Sunday, July 23, Washington's new distracted driving law goes into effect. What do you need to know?
1. You are forbidden virtually all use of phones, tablets laptops, and gaming devices while driving. This includes at a stop sign or stopped.
2. You can still have a phone in a dashboard cradle for navigation, but no watching last night's "Daily Show" or any other video.
3. Hands free systems in your car are still fine.
4. The initial fine is $136. The second citation is $235.
5. Distracted driving tickets will get reported to your insurance company.
6. Grooming (makeup, hairbrushing, beard brushing) and eating are "secondary offenses," so if you are pulled over for another reason, you can be cited an extra $30 for that kind of distraction.
Keep you hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, and text when parked. Brush your teeth before you leave the house and eat your fries when you get home.
We are pleased to have been rated by Super Lawyers in the area of Business Litigation in 2017. This is the second year in a row our Principal has been named to the Super Lawyers list, and she is a previous three-time Rising Star (honoring attorneys 40 and under).
Super Lawyers uses a patented selection process that starts with nominations of attorneys from their own peers, followed by third-party research across 12 categories, a peer review from a Blue Ribbon Panel of attorneys, and a final selection for inclusion. The Super Lawyers list selects only 5% of those nominated to appear on the annual list. More info is here: superlawyers.com/selectionprocess.
Today, July 5, 2017, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed into law Senate Bill 5975, a bipartisan bill providing paid family and medical leave for Washington employees. Although the law does not go into effect until 2020, here are the key details:
1. Eligible workers can take extended paid leave for a new child, a severely ill family member, or the worker's own serious health condition.
2. Both employers and employees pay into the system, but the burden to both is expected to be low. According to the Washington State Senate, an employee making $50,000 per year would pay $2.42 per week and the employer would pay $1.42 -- less than a trip to Starbucks.
3. The weekly amount paid out is capped at $1,000. Workers earning less than $1,000 per week would receive a payment of 90% of their income while on leave.
4. Two (2) additional weeks are available for health conditions related to a pregnancy.
5. Self-employed workers will only be required to pay the employee share to receive the benefits.
6. Employers with fifty (50) or fewer employees are exempt from the employer share of premiums as well.
7. Premiums will begin to be collected on January 1, 2019 from employers and employees.
8. Total annual leave is between 12 and 16 weeks maximum, depending upon the circumstances.
Washington is the 5th state to have a paid family leave program, joining California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York. If you already have paid leave options or if you want to learn more as an employer or employee, contact an employment attorney. Note that this paid leave program is a supplement to state and federal FMLA laws.
Previously, we talked about wrongful termination in Washington. The rules in Idaho are similar, but not quite the same as in Washington. Here's a summary:
Idaho is an an at-will work state, like Washington (for more details, see our previous blog post about being an at-will employee: employment-law-101-what-is-at-will-employment.html). In general, both the employer and the employee have the right to end the employment relationship in an at will setting for no reason. Certain exceptions apply in Idaho, including, but not limited to: (1) presence of an employment contract; (2) unlawful discrimination; (3) violations of collective bargaining agreements for union employees; or (4) retaliation for asserting your rights as an employee. Since employment contracts are rare in most industries, we'll focus on unlawful discrimination.
Idaho follows federal law with regard to protected classes in employment -- groups of people who cannot be fired from a job simply because of his or her membership in that class with no other legitimate reason for the termination. Those protected classes include: age (over 40), race, color, national original, sex, pregnancy, religion, and disability. Employers with five or more employees must comply with these laws. Idaho employers can always fire an employee in one of these classes for cause, meaning the employee violated a company policy or law.
In Idaho, the Idaho Commission on Human Rights (IHRC) investigates claims of employment discrimination based on Idaho state law. Federal law discrimination violations are handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEOC). If an employee in Idaho is alleging discrimination as the basis for his or her wrongful termination (or other negative employment decision, like failure to promote), she may be required to file a complaint with the IHRC, the EEOC, or both.
There are other instances in Idaho where an employee may have been wrongfully terminated, including filing for workers' compensation benefits, whisteblowing (reporting violations to a governmental agency), military leave, jury duty, and family and medical leave.
Employees: if you believe you have been wrongfully terminated in Idaho, talk to an employment attorney licensed in your state as soon as possible. Certain strict timelines exist for you to take action. The consultation with an employment attorney should be free. Employers: if you have questions about hiring and firing an employee who may be in a protected class, contact an Idaho employment attorney to avoid wrongful termination claims.
Last week, we talked about at-will employment. In general, in Washington, your employer can terminate your employment for any reason or no reason, if you are an at-will employee.
But, what if you think the reason you were terminated was wrong? What exactly is wrongful termination. In Washington, wrongful termination will generally fall under the following categories: (1) employment discrimination; (2) retaliation for filing a complaint; and (3) permissible leave or time off. The following is a short summary of what these categories mean:
1. Employment Discrimination. State and federal law prohibit adverse employment actions (not hiring someone, firing someone, or not promoting someone, for example) based on discrimination. In Washington, employers cannot discriminate based on the following categories: age (over 40), race, gender, sexual orientation, sexual or gender identity, pregnancy, veterans status, religion, ethnicity, and marital status. If your membership in one of these groups is the reason for your adverse employment action, you may have a legal claim for damages.
2. Retaliation for Complaints. A variety of Washington state and federal laws protect employees from being fired for reporting wage or hour claims or for reporting violations of codes or laws (like reporting an employer for not following required environmental policies when disposing of chemicals). It is not retaliation to be terminated for challenging an employer's policies that are lawful, but you do not like.
3. Permitted Leave or Time Off. Employers in Washington are required to provide unpaid leave for sick employees and family members under the FMLA. Some counties require employers to allow employees paid leave for illness or domestic violence situations (including Spokane County). Employees in the military are permitted leave or time off for required military duty. Employers are also required to provide unpaid leave for jury duty and pregnancy.
Wrongful termination is not: being fired for being late or violating employer policy or being fired for disagreeing with your boss.
These are only general categories, and we'll delve further into the above categories in future Employment Law 101 posts. If you suspect you've been wrongfully terminated, you should contact an attorney because you have varied timelines to pursue an action.
Up next: Wrongful Termination (Idaho)
In employment settings, you often hear the term "at will" or "at will employee," but what does that really mean? It means that your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at any time without any notice, so long as the real reason for firing you as the employee is not unlawful in some way. Almost every state has some iteration of at will employment laws. At will employment also means that the employee can leave when she or he wants as well.
Exceptions to at will employment include:
1. Employees with employment contracts (this is rare in Washington and Idaho)
2. Union employees bound by a collective bargaining or union agreement
3. Independent Contractors
If you are an at will employee, you are usually notified of that upon hiring, in an employee handbook, and in employer-led trainings. You should assume that if you are an employee in Washington or Idaho, and you don't fit one of the above-three exceptions, you are at will. Your termination is only unlawful (or, wrongful termination): (1) if you've been unlawfully discriminated against as a member of a protected class (veterans, women, persons of color, religion, sexual orientation); (2) if you've reported a violation of a local, state, or federal violation of a law or regulation; or (3) if your employer failed to follow its handbook procedures in terminating you (such as failure to follow progressive discipline policies that are in writing). We'll talk more about unlawful termination in our next Employment 101 post.
In the meantime, if you are an employee or employer with questions about being terminated or terminating, GIANTlegal is happy to help.
All blog posts are written by members of the GIANTlegal team, unless otherwise indicated. Information contained in our blog does not constitute legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.