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CDLE issues Equal Pay Transparency rules under Colorado’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Act

As noted in a prior blog post, the CDLE has finalized a crop of new rules on a variety of topics. This post addresses its Equal Pay Transparency Rules, effective January 1, 2021.  The Equal Pay Transparency Rules focus on issues related to Colorado’s new Equal Pay for Equal Work Act (CEPEWA), especially its requirements for postings related to job openings and promotional opportunities. Highlights of the rules include the following:

  • Job Postings: Rule 4.1 explains the obligation to include in “all job postings, including but not limited to promotions,” help-wanted ad’s and Internet job listings, whether for an hourly or salaried position, “a range of hourly or the salary compensation, and a general description of all of the benefits and other compensation to be offered to the hired applicant,” quoting CRS 8-5-201(2). The CDLE explains this requires including:
    • If “a range thereof” is posted, then it must be no broader than “the lowest to the highest pay the employer in good faith believes it might pay.” The CDLE confirms that an employer may “ultimately pay more or less,” so long as the posted ranges was at the time the employer’s good faith estimate (rule 4.1.2).
    • And, a “general description” of “any bonuses, commissions, or other forms of compensation.”
    • And, a “general description” of all benefits, except “minor perks.” The CDLE explains anything that is tax-reportable will not be considered a “minor perk.”
  • Promotional Opportunities: Rule 4.2 explains the obligation to make “reasonable efforts” to “announce, post or otherwise make known” all “promotional opportunities” to then-current current employees.
    • Content: The information that must be provided for promotional opportunities is the same as for job postings, plus job title and the “means by which employees may apply.”
      • Confidentiality: There is a limited exception for promotional opportunities where the employer can demonstrate a “compelling need to keep a particular opening confidential because the position is still held by an incumbent employee who, for reasons other than avoiding job posting requirements, the employer has not yet made aware they will be separated” (rule 4.2.5(A)). This exception seems oriented to a situation where a company has decided to begin a search to replace a high level employee, such as a C-level officer, who hasn’t yet been told they will be terminated. This exception does not excuse notice forever, it only delays the obligation to provide notice until “any employees are told” of the opportunity; at that point all employees must be told, at least who have the minimum qualifications to do the job or who do a “substantially similar” job. And, this exception is eventually extinguished in its entirety once “the need for confidentiality ends;” in other words, once the CEO is told or the rumor mill distributes the news informally, notice must be provided.
    • To Whom: That information must be provided to all employees. An employer may not limit disclosure to only qualified employees. However, an employer may, after individuals express interest, “screen or reject candidates based on (their) qualifications” (rule 4.2.4).
    • How: An employer satisfies this obligation to “announce, post or otherwise make known” if it discloses the required information in a way that employees can effectively access within the workplace, including on the company’s intranet or by posting a hard copy on a bulletin board, so long as employees are told where to find such information and, if not all employees have access to that location, it is made known to the remaining employees in some other way.
    • When: The deadline for an employer to provide this notice is “the same calendar day and prior to making a promotion decision,” quoting CRS 8-5-201.
    • “Promotional Opportunity”: What constitutes a “promotional opportunity”? This has been one of the chief areas of speculation as employers await CEPEWA’s effective date January 1, 2021. Rule 4.2.5 brings some clarity, though there will definitely be no shortage of litigation on the issue.
      • Rule 4.2.1 defines a “promotional opportunity” as any time “when an employer has or anticipates a vacancy in an existing or new position that could be considered a promotion for one or more employee(s) in terms of compensation, benefits, status, duties or access to further advancement.” Thus a promotion is in the eye of the employee(s), not the employer, and the employee’s reason may be nothing more than a perceived sense of enhanced “status.” A promotion can exist whether it involves a position that is “existing or new.”
        • However, note, the language in rule 4.2.1 includes as an apparent requirement that the opportunity involve a “vacancy.” The importance of that word is not clear. Is it intended to mean that an increase in grade does not constitute a “promotional opportunity”? For example, assume an employee is hired into the position, Technician, at entry level, grade I, then as her skills progress and/or as she acquires seniority, she gains higher pay as a Technician level II, is that a “promotional opportunity” because there was an increase in pay and title, or is it not because there was no “vacancy” involved?
      • Rule 4.2.5(B) discusses “automatic” promotions “after (a) trial period.” No notice is required when a worker’s promotion is due to completion of a “trial period” and where the employee is guaranteed at hire, in writing, that they will be so promoted “within one year” after being hired. That guaranty can be included in any writing, to include an offer letter, an employment agreement, or a policy. The only conditions that an employer can impose are the employee’s “own performance and/or employer needs.”
        • In its prefatory Statement explaining these rules, the CDLE confirmed this exception is very limited and does not include “in-line” or “elevator” promotions. As examples of “elevator” promotions it gives the examples of elevations “from junior to senior positions, or from training to full positions.”
        • Question: Again, consider the hypothetical increase in grade (above). As noted above, there is no vacancy involved in that hypothetical, so arguably under rule 4.2.1, it does not count as a “promotional opportunity,” but does rule 4.2.5 and the prefatory Statement explaining it suggest that, even despite the lack of a “vacancy,” such an enhancement is a “promotional opportunity” for which notice must be given? As noted the progression in grade does bring with it increased compensation and arguably an enhanced sense of “status.”
        • Likewise, consider the common hypothetical that law firms will face. Typically law school graduates are hired as “associate” attorneys. Eventually, as their careers progress, some become “shareholders,” aka “partners” (depending on the firm’s legal entity, corporation or partnership). Is that elevation from associate to shareholder, a “promotional opportunity”? If so, must all law firms disclose to all employees of the firm (shareholder, associate, staff) the compensation ranges for their shareholders?  Here too there is again generally no “vacancy” involved; most firms do not limit elevations to some discrete number of vacancies in their shareholder ranks; there is however an increase in compensation and status.
      • Rule 4.2.5(C) posits an exception for “temporary, acting, or interim hires.” No promotional-opportunity notice is required before hiring a temp, or filling a vacancy with an acting or interim worker. Again though, it is a limited exception available only for 6 months and only if the person is hired without expectation to become “permanent.” “If the hire may become permanent, the required promotion posting must be made in time for employees to apply for the permanent position.”
    • Job Openings and Promotional Opportunities, Extraterritoriality: Rule 4.3 has probably received the most attention from the media. In these final rules, the CDLE walked back its proposed language regarding extraterritoriality. Now, employers need not provide either the job opening or promotional opportunity notice for “(1) jobs to be performed entirely outside Colorado, or (2) postings entirely outside Colorado.” In its prefatory statement the CDLE explains that does not include — in other words, notice is required for — each of the following situations:
      • “remote jobs” that “could be performed in Colorado” (emphasis in original),
      • “and even for (situations involving) non-Coloradoans hired for remote work (who) may move to Colorado after being hired by Colorado employers,”
      • and any “Internet posting accessible in Colorado.”

Employers in Colorado should take time to familiarize themselves with these new rules.

EEOC publishes YouTube webinar on ADA, Rehabilitation Act and coronavirus

The EEOC published a short 42-minute YouTube video on the ADA, Rehabilitation Act and coronavirus.  The webinar fleshes out the EEOC’s recent coronavirus guidance and identifies certain questions that it believes it is currently unable to answer, including the following:

  • Whether coronavirus (COVID-19) is or could be a disability protected by the ADA?

Questions addressed include, in addition to those raised in the above guidance:

  • Whether an employer can ask an employee if his/her family has tested positive for coronavirus? Here, the EEOC believes that question is too narrow, because it is limited to questions about the employee’s family and as such the EEOC says it believes the question might implicate the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA); therefore, the EEOC urges employers instead to ask if the employee has had any such contact with anyone whom he/she knows to have tested positive.
  • Whether an employer, when disclosing that someone has tested positive, can disclose that person’s identity? The EEOC repeats its position in its above guidance’s instruction that employers, upon learning of a positive coronavirus test result, have some ability to disclose the same within a true need-to-know basis, and that it may be able to disclose to co-workers that someone has tested positive, but it repeats the employer should not generally report the person’s identity. That is true, the EEOC says, even where coworkers may be guessing or attempting to guess at the person’s identity. It gives as an example that the company may report that a person is teleworking without telling his coworker’s that the reason for his absence from the workplace is a positive test result. Likewise the EEOC addresses the issue where an employer may be faced with a concern that disclosing something as general as “someone at this location” or “someone on the 4th floor” has tested positive, is not sufficient information for concerned coworkers; here too, the EEOC restates its position that, even in that situation, the employer should not disclose the person’s identity. 
  • Whether allowing workers to telework during the coronavirus crisis may be later used by a disabled worker requesting the right to telework after the coronavirus crisis? The EEOC answers flatly, no, the fact that an employer allows teleworking during this coronavirus crisis cannot be used as evidence that teleworking might be a reasonable accommodation outside the coronavirus crisis. However in an unhelpful muddling of its answer, the EEOC added that it “could” be somehow relevant to showing that telework was in general feasible at least in some circumstances, theoretically.

The EEOC says that, while teleworking, HR professionals and others with a need-to-know medical information must store information, even at home, in a confidential manner, including not leaving notes where they can be seen. In a frankly absurd moment, the EEOC actually recommends HR professionals consider writing their notes while teleworking “in code.”

The EEOC noted that, during the coronavirus crisis, employers may be having difficulty obtaining doctor’s notes related to ADA accommodation requests and suggests that employers consider whether other documentation might suffice — arguably at least until a doctor’s note becomes available — such as a “health insurance record” or “a prescription.”

While not particularly robust or helpful on some of those difficult questions — and adding to the confusion on some questions — the webinar is nonetheless recommended for HR professionals to review as soon as possible.

EEOC issues guidance re Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace

The EEOC issued a guidance entitled Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act. While the guidance does not answer some of the more difficult questions posed in the current coronavirus crisis, it does provide guidance on at least some questions employers are facing and are likely to face, including the following:

  • Before an influenza pandemic occurs, may an ADA-covered employer ask an employee to disclose if he or she has a compromised immune system or chronic health condition that the CDC says could make him or her more susceptible to complications of influenza?

No. …

  • Are there ADA-compliant ways for employers to identify which employees are more likely to be unavailable for work in the event of a pandemic?

Yes. …

Below is a sample ADA-compliant survey that can be given to employees to anticipate absenteeism.

ADA-COMPLIANT PRE-PANDEMIC EMPLOYEE SURVEY

Directions: Answer “yes” to the whole question without specifying the factor that applies to you. Simply check “yes” or “no” at the bottom of the page.

In the event of a pandemic, would you be unable to come to work because of any one of the following reasons:

    • If schools or day-care centers were closed, you would need to care for a child;
    • If other services were unavailable, you would need to care for other dependents;
    • If public transport were sporadic or unavailable, you would be unable to travel to work; and/or;
    • If you or a member of your household fall into one of the categories identified by the CDC as being at high risk for serious complications from the pandemic influenza virus, you would be advised by public health authorities not to come to work (e.g., pregnant women; persons with compromised immune systems due to cancer, HIV, history of organ transplant or other medical conditions; persons less than 65 years of age with underlying chronic conditions; or persons over 65).

Answer: YES______ , NO_______

  • May an ADA-covered employer send employees home if they display influenza-like symptoms during a pandemic?

Yes. …

  • During a pandemic, how much information may an ADA-covered employer request from employees who report feeling ill at work or who call in sick?

ADA-covered employers may ask such employees if they are experiencing influenza-like symptoms, such as fever or chills and a cough or sore throat. Employers must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA. …

  • When an employee returns from travel during a pandemic, must an employer wait until the employee develops influenza symptoms to ask questions about exposure to pandemic influenza during the trip?

No. …

  • During a pandemic, may an ADA-covered employer ask employees who do not have influenza symptoms to disclose whether they have a medical condition that the CDC says could make them especially vulnerable to influenza complications?

No. …

Employers should take the time to review the EEOC’s guidance and familiarize themselves with the nuances of the EEOC’s carefully worded answers. In the foregoing summaries, for brevity’s sake, only the EEOC’s conclusions (like “No”) are cited, but the EEOC’s answers, as indicated by the ellipses (“…”) proceed to qualify its answers.

In another reversal, NLRB holds employers can issue so-called “gag orders” to protect the confidentiality of workplace investigations

The NLRB has ruled that employers can issue so-called “gag orders” to protect the confidentiality of workplace investigations. A typical “gag order” would be an instruction by the company to employees (and other witnesses) not to discuss matters relevant to an on-going investigation.

The decision triggered a heated dissent from one Board member who argued it will allow employers, in #MeToo type matters, to further keep secret wrongful matters, such as the details of sexual harassment.

In issuing its decision the Board held that such “gag orders” will, still, draw individualized case-by-case scrutiny from the Board when they are “not
limited on their face to open investigations
.”

In reaching its decision, the Board applied its new more permissive approach to analyzing handbooks and policies.

Source: Apogee Retail, 368 NLRB No. 144 (12/17/19).