Monday, August 26, 2013

UPS Changes Employees’ Spouses’ Healthcare Coverage Because of Affordable Care Act

Employees at United Parcel Service (UPS) will not be able to receive healthcare benefits for working spouses who are eligible for coverage through their own employers, according to recent reports. UPS stated that it made this change because of rising costs caused by the Affordable Care Act.  This change is an example of ways that employers might attempt to lower costs under the new healthcare law.  However, employees should be aware of changes that might subject them to harassment, retaliation, or discrimination.

New Employee Benefit Policy

A spokesman for UPS stated that the company’s new policy is part of an effort to keep employees’ healthcare premiums from rising above current levels.  Importantly, the change would only apply to working spouses who are eligible for healthcare through their own employers.  UPS stated that the new policy was based on the fact that the Affordable Care Act requires all employers to provide health coverage to their employees, including working spouses of UPS employees.  When the change goes into effect on January 1, an estimated 15,000 to 33,000 spouses will be dropped from coverage for medical benefits, though they will still be eligible for dental and vision benefits.

Legal Ramifications?

However, according to a study done by two law professors at the University of Illinois, the Affordable Care Act might cause employers to make changes that could be unfair to employees or could even amount to harassment or discrimination.  One of the possible changes that has received the most press is that employers might slash employees’ hours so that they are not full-time employees who must be covered.

Another potential employer action might lead to discrimination against some employees.  Employers might start asking employees or prospective employees about their plans for healthcare coverage.  Employees who will receive healthcare coverage through a spouse might receive preference over employees who intend to seek coverage through their employer.

Another possibility is that employers may retaliate against employees who subject them to fines under the Affordable Care Act.  Employers will have to pay fines under the healthcare law if they do not provide coverage to employees or if they provide inadequate coverage that causes employees to purchase subsidized healthcare through the state.  Therefore, if an employee purchases healthcare through the state because an employer’s healthcare coverage is inadequate, that employer may face fines under the healthcare law and might retaliate against that employee.

The Bottom Line

The new healthcare law may cause employers to change their practices in order to keep costs down.  However, employees should not have to face harassment, retaliation, or discrimination based on the new healthcare law.  It is possible that unfair practices could lead to an employment lawsuit or other legal measures.  If you would like to learn more about this issue, feel free to contact an employment lawyer for information or advice. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Supreme Court Makes Landmark Decision in Workplace Retaliation Case

Workplace Retaliation in the U.S.

Many employees are fearful about coming forward with a complaint when they are experience harassment or discrimination in the workplace. The thought of losing workplace privileges, being subjected to worse harassment, or even being fired all cross the minds of employees who are thinking about speaking out against this conduct. However, both California and federal law prohibit an employer from taking such adverse action against an employee for asserting his or her rights against workplace discrimination or harassment.

In fact, the federal law regarding workplace retaliation claims was clarified by the Supreme Court this summer.

Landmark Retaliation Case Considered by Supreme Court

Retaliation claims—that is claims that are brought against employers or organizations for taking adverse action against an employee for asserting his or her rights, including bringing complaints for harassment or discrimination—fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law can be developed by interpretation by the courts, as it was in the most recent decision in June. The Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School reports that the plaintiff-employee in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar had originally brought a claim for retaliation after his employer denied him a position. He previously wrote a resignation letter that alleged that the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center had discriminated against him on the basis of his Middle Eastern descent.

According to the case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and a landmark decision was reached with Justice Kennedy delivering the opinion.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that when a plaintiff-employee brings a suit for retaliation under Title VII, he or she must prove that the adverse action would not have occurred “but for” the employer having a retaliatory motivation. That is, the employee-plaintiff must prove that in absence of the motive to retaliate, the retaliation would not have occurred. The Court differentiated this standard from discrimination claims, which only require that the employee-plaintiff show that a discriminatory motive was a “motivating factor” in an employment decision.

Implications of Supreme Court’s Decision

What the Supreme Court’s decision means is that it may be more difficult for employee-plaintiffs to prevail on a retaliation claim under the “but-for” analysis.

However, the dissent, in the case argued that the more onerous “but for” burden of proof should motivate Congress to enact legislation updating the Civil Rights Act.  The dissent also noted that retaliation and discrimination have always “traveled together” and that the causation standards for both should not be split.

While, at least for now, the “but for” standard may make it more difficult for plaintiff-employees to prevail on a claim for unlawful retaliation, the law still prohibits employers from firing, demoting, harassing or otherwise acting adversely to an employee based on the fact that he or she has filed a charge of discrimination or has otherwise opposed discrimination or harassment.

If you are or have been a victim of harassment or retaliation, you should immediately seek the assistance of an experienced employment law attorney. The law limits the time you have to file a potential claim, so contact the attorneys at Pershing Square Law Firm today.