On January 14, 2013, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued guidance further defining the meaning of “son or daughter” within the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).  The FMLA provides qualified employees up to 12 weeks of leave within a 12 month period to care for a son or daughter with a serious health condition.  Under certain circumstances, a son or daughter may include an individual over the age of 18, if that individual has a disability.  The DOL now clarifies, that a child over the age of 18 with a disability may qualify as a son or daughter within the FMLA, regardless of the individual’s age when the disability occurred.


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California’s Fair Employment and Housing Commission recently amended its regulations to the state’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law.  The new regulations provide expanded protections and clarifications with regard to employer obligations related to Pregnancy Disability Leave (“PDL”).  The regulations take effect on December 30, 2012.


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We live in a society that is obsessed with appearance, and studies show that many people equate appearance to success.  While employers may not be aware of these studies, some are trying to control appearance in the workplace by imposing weight restrictions on job applicants or employees as a condition of employment.  

Whether these policies

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Once an employer becomes aware of an employee’s disability, the ADA requires the employer to provide a “reasonable accommodation” to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job.  While the type of reasonable accommodation required can vary greatly depending on an employee’s disability and essential job functions, it was not until recently that a court found that permitting an employee to work in natural light can be a reasonable accommodation.


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On May 21, 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held in a split decision that the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) does not bar discrimination based on marijuana use unless that use is authorized under federal law.  In James v. City of Costa Mesa, No. 10–55769, the court held that even marijuana use under a doctor’s supervision in accordance with state law was not protected under the ADA.  The court held that the ADA excludes illegal drug users from its definition of qualified individuals with a disability.  Although generally-applicable California drug laws carve out an exception for uses of marijuana for medical purposes under doctor supervision, there are no such exceptions to the federal Controlled Substances Act.  Since the ADA defines “illegal drug use” by reference to federal law, and the federal law does not authorize marijuana use for medical purposes, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that discrimination in the provision of public services based on marijuana use was not prohibited by the ADA.


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In Victoria, Texas, the Citizens Medical Center prohibits hiring obese employees.  The hospital promulgated a policy that requires all potential employees to have a body mass index (BMI) of less than 35.  For example, an applicant who is 5-foot-5 could not weigh more than 210 pounds, and an applicant who is 5-foot-10 could not weigh more than 245 pounds.  All potential employees are screened by a physician to assess their fitness for duty.  According to the hospital’s policy, an employee’s physical appearance “should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a health care professional.”

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A little known law that permits the disabled to be paid sub-minimum wage is currently under attack. To foster employment opportunities for disabled workers in the mainstream workforce, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)  has contained, since its passage, a relatively unknown provision under Section 14(e) that allows employers to pay disabled workers sub-minimum wages as long as the wages are commensurate with the disabled worker’s productivity. The prerequisites to paying sub-minimum wage to the disabled are stringent and include:

  • Preparing a job description for the employee that identifies duties and responsibilities, skills required, and specifies the days and hours of work;
  • Identifying the prevailing wage for the position compiled internally or, if necessary, from similar businesses in the area;
  • Determining the productivity level of the disabled employee compared to non-disabled workers (e.g., through time/motion studies); and
  • Submitting the information on an application to the Secretary of Labor for a special wage permit allowing for the payment of sub-minimum wages.


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The EEOC recently released an informal discussion letter suggesting that employers may be obligated to do more than just maintain a separate file for employee medical records, especially when those records are in an electronic format. Both the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), as amended, and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2008 (“GINA”) require employers to maintain a confidential medical record, which is separate from the employee’s other personnel file(s), for information about the employee’s medical conditions, medical history or “genetic information.” The statutes do not, however, specify how such records are to be maintained or what level of security must be in place to protect the confidentiality of medical or genetic information.


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In recent months the federal government has announced a number of initiatives designed to increase the employment of individuals with disabilities in both the private and government sectors.  These measures send a clear message to employers: audit your practices now to ensure adequate outreach and accessibility to the disabled.

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