Category: Schools and Education

Illinois Workplace Transparency Act Imposes New Requirements on Employers

By: Joshua D. Herman

joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

The new Workplace Transparency Act imposes significant obligations on Illinois employers beginning January 1, 2020. The Act significantly changes the legal obligations of most employers throughout Illinois, including governments and elected and appointed officials.

The Act was passed to ensure workplaces are free from unlawful discrimination and harassment by, among other things, safeguarding employees’ rights to report wrongdoing and imposing reporting and training obligations on employers.

The Act is not applicable to collective bargaining agreements and contracts that are subject to the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act or the National Labor Relations Act.

Employers Cannot Restrict or Prevent Reporting

The Act limits employer restrictions on employee reporting of allegations of unlawful conduct to federal, state, or local officials. Employers cannot subject employees to unilateral conditions of employment or enter into agreements that prevent the employee from making truthful statements or disclosures about alleged unlawful employer practices.

Settlement and termination agreements may include promises of confidentiality, so long as the employee remains able to make truthful statements or disclosures regarding illegal misconduct.

The employer cannot prohibit or prevent an employee from reporting unlawful or criminal acts by the employer, or cooperating with any investigation or prosecution by a governmental agency.

Employers Must Protect Non-employees

Effective immediately, the Act also requires employers to prohibit and take reasonable measures to prevent the harassment of nonemployees in the workplace. A “nonemployee” means a person who is not otherwise an employee of the employer and is directly performing services for the employer pursuant to a contract with that employer. “Nonemployee” includes contractors and consultants.

The Act Imposes New Reporting Obligations on Employers

Beginning July 1, 2020, and on or before July 1 of each year thereafter, employers must make required disclosures to the Department of Human Rights if they have been subject to an adverse judgment or administrative ruling in which there was a finding of sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination against the employer in the preceding year. If the Department investigates an employer for a charge under the Act, employers must also, upon the Department’s request, make disclosures of settlements for up to the last five years regarding allegations of sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination in the workplace.

Employers are prohibited from disclosing the name of the victim of an act of alleged harassment or unlawful discrimination in any of the disclosures required by the Act.

Employers who fail to make the required disclosures may be subject to civil penalties.

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

The Act imposes new requirements on employers to provide annual sexual harassment training to employees. The Act requires the Illinois Department of Human Rights to create a model sexual harassment program, but in the meantime, employers should provide training that, at a minimum, includes:

  • An explanation of sexual harassment consistent with the Act;
  • Examples of conduct that constitutes unlawful sexual harassment;
  • A summary of relevant federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, including remedies available to victims of sexual harassment; and
  • A summary of responsibilities of the employer in the prevention, investigation, and corrective measures of sexual harassment.

After the Department establishes the model training program, employers must use it to supplement any existing program. Failure to follow these training requirements could result in a civil penalty against an employer.

New Civil Penalties

In most cases, the Act provides that employers will be given notice of violations and 30 days to cure them. Employers who fail to cure such violations will be subject to civil penalties. The Act provides that the penalties for failures to report or train will be imposed based on the size of the employer, the good faith efforts made by the employer to comply, and the gravity of the violation. Typically, for employers having fewer than four employees, the penalties shall be $500 for a first offense, $1,000 for a second offense, and $3,000 for a third or subsequent offense. For employers having four or more employees, the penalties will typically be $1,000 for a first offense, $3,000 for a second offense, and $5,000 for a third or subsequent offense.


Employers should immediately review their policies and procedures to ensure that they are in compliance with the new law before it goes into effect on January 1, 2019.

Image of cannabis leaves

Employers must tackle new Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act

Recent Amendments Clarify Employer Right to Discipline for Off-Duty Use and Possession of Cannabis

By: Joshua D. Herman

joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

Beginning January 1, 2020, it will be lawful for adults in Illinois over the age of 21 to consume and possess cannabis in accordance with the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (“CRTA”). The CRTA limits the amount of cannabis that may be possessed and prohibits its consumption in any “public place.” Meanwhile, the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act (“RPWA”) prohibits employers from taking adverse employment action against employees for their use of lawful products off-premises, during non-working hours and while not on call.  This has raised questions regarding whether employers may discipline employees for use of cannabis during non-working hours.  A recent amendment to the CRTA has attempted to address this issue.

Under the CRTA as originally enacted, employers could still enforce reasonable zero-tolerance policies, including requiring random drug testing, as well as drug testing when the employer has a good faith belief an employee used, possessed or was under the influence of cannabis at work. However, it did not clearly state whether employers may discipline employees based solely on a positive drug test, without some indication the employee used, possessed or was under the influence of cannabis in the workplace, or otherwise jeopardized workplace safety.

On December 4, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed into law Public Act 101-593 (SB 1557) amending the CRTA to specify that employers may

  • implement reasonable workplace drug policies, including subjecting employees to reasonable drug testing or reasonable and nondiscriminatory random drug testing; and
  • discipline or terminate an employee or withdraw an offer of employment due to a failed drug test.

The requirement that drug policies be “reasonable” and “nondiscriminatory” suggests that testing should be random or required only under certain circumstances (such as pre-employment or following a workplace accident.)  Employers should not take this as license to test any employee suspected of consuming cannabis during non-working hours.  However, as amended, the CRTA now authorizes public employers to prohibit police, fire, and corrections officers, and paramedics from using or possessing cannabis off-duty.

Prior to January 1st, all employers should review and update their policies and employee handbooks to ensure they clearly identify prohibited cannabis-related conduct.

Employers cannot look into salary history

Equal Pay Act prohibits salary history inquiries

Employers Can No Longer Ask About or Look into Salary History

By: Joshua D. Herman

joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

Effective September 29, 2019, Public Act 101-0177 (the “Act”)  made significant changes to the Illinois Equal Pay Act affecting the equality of pay and the types of inquiries employers may make of employees.

Generally, the Act makes it unlawful for an employer to seek wage or salary history, including benefits or other compensation, from a job applicant or a job applicant’s current or former employer. Employers may not screen job applicants based on their current or prior wages or salary histories (including benefits or other compensation) by requiring that the wage or salary history of an applicant satisfy minimum or maximum criteria.

The Act does not prevent an employer from providing information about the wages, benefits, compensation or salary it offers, or from engaging in discussions with an applicant regarding their expectations with respect to wages, salaries, benefits or other compensation.

Violations of the Act could subject the employer to civil action and damages. Such damages could include:

  • Injunctive relief (requiring the employer to take or refrain from taking certain actions);
  • Special damages up to $10,000;
  • Compensatory damages to the extent they exceed special damages; and
  • Costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

The Act allows a claim for violation of these provisions to be brought within five years.

Employers should review their hiring processes and procedures to ensure they do not run-afoul of the amended Illinois Equal Pay Act.

Changes to Ashley’s Law: What Does It Mean for Medical Marijuana in Schools?

Governor signs bill expanding the administration of medical marijuana to students.

By:  Kateah M. McMasters

kateah.mcmasters@mhtlaw.com

On August 12, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill 455 expanding “Ashley’s Law”, which currently allows a parent, guardian or designated caregiver to administer medical marijuana to a student with a valid prescription on school grounds and on school buses.

The law’s expansion (Public Act 101-0370) amends Section 22-33 of the Illinois School Code to require school districts, public schools, charter schools, and non-public schools to allow a school administrator or nurse to administer a “medical cannabis infused product” (i.e. edible and topical products) to a student that is a registered qualifying patient under the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Program Act while on school grounds, at school-sponsored activities, at before or after school care on school grounds, or on a school bus.  However, the law does not explicitly require school administrators or nurses to actually administer medical marijuana to students; instead, the amendment only requires schools to allow these personnel to administer medical marijuana to a student if they are willing to do so.

The amendment also permits schools to authorize students to self-administer their own medical marijuana under the direct supervision of an administrator or nurse.  As with the change discussed above, the law does not explicitly require schools to allow its students to self-administer their medical marijuana; however, they are permitted to do so.

Additional requirements and training

In order for a school administrator or nurse to administer medical marijuana to a student, or for a student to self-administer medical marijuana, the parent or guardian must provide the following to the school:

(1) written authorization for its use, including the time where or the special circumstances under which the medical marijuana must be administered, and

(2) a copy of the registry identification card of the student (as a registered qualifying patient) and the parent or guardian (as a designated caregiver).

If a school permits self-administration by a student, the authorization must be renewed each school year.

Medical marijuana to be administered by a school nurse or administrator, or self-administered by the student, may now be stored on school property, but it must be stored in the same manner as all other student medication at the school, and can only be accessed by the school nurse or an administrator.

Personnel who elect to administer medical marijuana to students must complete training on the administration of medical cannabis infused products before they may administer cannabis to students.  The training will be developed by the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health., and must be completed annually.

Finally, the new law amends Section 25 of the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Program Act to extend its immunities to school administrators and nurses who elect to administer medical cannabis to students or to assist students in self-administration under the School Code.  Such nurses and administrators are immune from arrest, prosecution, and denial of any right or privilege, including a civil penalty.  However, unlike the immunities for designated caregivers, school nurses and administrators are not immune from disciplinary action by an occupational or professional licensing board.

Next steps

The new law takes effect on January 1, 2020. Prior to the effective date schools should review their policies addressing the administration of medical marijuana as necessary. Schools without such policies should come into legal compliance by establishing them, because such policies were required when Ashley’s Law first became effective on August 1, 2018.  

Schools are encouraged to contact legal counsel to discuss the impact of the changes to Ashley’s Law and to formulate a new policy regarding the use of medical marijuana by qualifying students on school buses and school grounds that is consistent with the amendments to the School Code.

Illinois FOIA prohibits disclosure of disciplinary records older than 4 years

Disciplinary Records Older Than 4 Years Prohibited from Disclosure in Response to FOIA Request

By:  Robert B. McCoy

robert.mccoy@mhtlaw.com

Public employers have sometimes attempted to prevent the disclosure of an employee’s disciplinary records in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request under the theory that a request for such records is an unwarranted invasion of the employee’s privacy.  However, it is now settled law in Illinois that disciplinary records of a public employee, where discipline was actually imposed and which bear on the employee’s ability or fitness to do his or her work, are public records that must be released in response to a FOIA request.   But, must a public employer disclose every past reprimand or suspension of an employee, no matter how long ago the discipline was imposed?

The answer is “no.”  The Illinois Appellate Court, in the case Johnson v. Joliet Police Department, decided on June 19, 2018, ruled that, when a public employer received a FOIA request for an employee’s disciplinary records, the Personnel Record Review Act (Review Act) mandates that the employer delete those records which are more than four years old.

In the Johnson case, the Joliet Police Department denied a plaintiff’s FOIA request for records relating to the discipline of one of its employees.    This employee had been disciplined twice, but that discipline had been imposed more than four years prior to the FOIA request.

In ruling that the Joliet Police Department justifiably denied the FOIA request, the Appellate Court noted that Section 8 of the Review Act provides that “An employer shall review a personnel record before releasing information to a third party and, except when the release is ordered to a party in a legal action or arbitration, delete disciplinary reports, letters of reprimand, or other records of disciplinary action which are more than 4 years old.” (820 ILCS 40/8.)

Section 8 of the Review Act appears straightforward, but the plaintiff making the FOIA request in the Johnson case argued that Section 11 of the Review Act, which states that the Review Act is not to be construed as to diminish a right to access records already otherwise provided at law, meant that the Joliet Police Department could not limit his FOIA rights. (820 ILCS 40/11.) The Appellate Court disagreed, finding that the plaintiff’s interpretation of the Review Act rendered meaningless Section 7.5(q) of FOIA, which exempts from FOIA information prohibited from being disclosed by the Review Act.  (5 ILCS 140/7.5(q).)

Practice Tips

 If your public body receives a FOIA request for employee disciplinary records, the first step is to determine what records are responsive to the request, and whether the records are actually disciplinary records.  Not all records regarding an employee’s poor performance are disciplinary records.  For example, in the Johnson case, the Appellate Court noted that citizen complaint registers were not disciplinary records.  Records of an investigation or adjudication, to determine whether discipline should be imposed against a specific employee, are not disciplinary records.  Neither are performance evaluations.  But, letters of reprimand or notices of suspension (with or without pay) are disciplinary records.  These records must usually be disclosed, but pursuant to Section 8 of the Review Act, disciplinary records more than 4 years old must be deleted from the response to a FOIA request.  Whenever records are withheld in response to a FOIA request, the requester must be informed of the reason for the denial, while also being informed of his or her right to appeal to the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor or file a lawsuit seeking review of the denial.

If any disciplinary records are being released to a third party, Section 7 of the Review Act requires that the employee receive prior notice before the records are released. (820 ILCS 40/7.)  When disciplinary records are being released to a third party pursuant to a FOIA request, notice to the employee can be by email; otherwise, the notice must be by first-class mail. Employees have the right to supplement their personnel file with their side of the story, and any written explanations should be released along with the disciplinary records being divulged, but employees do not have the right to veto or delay the release of their disciplinary records.

 

Janus vs. AFSCME: Unions Lose Fair Share and Agency Fees

What must public employers do after Janus?

By Joshua Herman

email: joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

Janus v. AFSCME, a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) issued June 27, 2018, reversed 40 years of law allowing governments and unions to withhold “fair share” deductions from non-union public employees without their consent to subsidize union activity – regardless of whether the employee agreed with the union, its positions, or the activity.

Following Janus, no public body or union can require or deduct an employee’s “fair share” without his free and voluntary consent.  “Fair share,” also referred to as “agency” or “shop” fees, are the costs and expenses unions claim non-union members owe for the benefit of the union’s services and representation.

Fair share deductions were previously lawful pursuant to the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Bd. Of Ed. In Abood, fair share deductions (referred to then as “agency fees”) were allowed because they helped to obtain and maintain “labor peace” and avoided “free riders.”  However, Janus held that fair share unnecessarily infringes on First Amendment rights of non-union employees.

Contradicting the “free rider” argument, the plaintiff argued that he was not getting a free ride” on a bus headed somewhere he wanted to go; instead, he was being “shanghaied for an unwanted voyage.” Thus, even assuming the union secures non-union members valuable benefits, Janus opined that this is no different than other private speech that often benefits non-speakers; however, that benefit does not allow the government to require non-speakers pay for such speech.

The true benefits and costs from this decision will not be clear for years to come. As the majority stated “[i]t is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from non-members and transferred to public sector unions in violation of the First Amendment.” However, such a “victory” comes at a cost because, as the Janus dissent notes, this decision “undoes bargains reached all over the country.” Twenty states have statutory schemes allowing or mandating fair share and it is a substantive portion of “thousands of current contracts covering millions of workers” requiring affected parties across the country to begin negotiating anew.

Next steps:  What must Public Employers do after Janus?

By its terms, the Court’s decision in Janus took effect immediately, requiring that parties should prepare for the fall out. After Janus, governments, school districts and other public bodies must take immediate action to comply with the new law and continue to meet their obligations under the existing labor law.

Stop Non-consensual Deductions. Public employers should immediately review all employees for whom they make deductions – whether for union dues or fair share – and immediately cease any such deduction that is not supported by the employee’s written consent to such deduction.

Union Dues from Union Employees. Most unions provide forms their members sign to consent to the deduction of union dues and fees. Employers should immediately notify the union of those union members who have not provided written consent and that, if unresolved, the employer may be unable to make any further deduction until a consent is provided.

Notice to Union. Public employers should immediately notify any applicable union that they intend to comply with the decision and, effective immediately, will no longer be deducting any fees from employees who have not provided a signed, written consent to such a deduction.

Duty to Bargain. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, public employers must still comply with their duty to bargain. If unions reach out to a public employer, the employer should agree to meet and hear their concerns. However, public employers have no obligation to agree to any accommodations or provisions other than those required by law, and the Janus decision imposes no greater obligation.

Memorandum of Understanding. A public employer should not wait until it has a signed memorandum of understanding before proceeding as outlined above. However, offering to enter into such an agreement with the union can help labor relations. We have prepared a draft template that can be used for this purpose. Employers wishing to pursue this course of action should consult legal counsel.

Duty of Fair Representation / Bargaining with Individual Non-union Employees. The Janus decision does not change the union’s duty of fair representation to non-union members (although non-union members may have to begin paying for certain services such as representation in the disciplinary process), nor does it alter the status of the union as all employees’ exclusive bargaining representative. Therefore, public employers are still prohibited from bargaining with non-union employees who are covered under any applicable bargaining agreement.

FOIA following Janus. Some public sector unions have also taken steps to limit bargaining and labor information available to the public, reaching out to public bodies ahead of Janus to request that FOIA requests for information related to union membership, dues, and fair share fees be withheld on the basis that such information is private or personal. Such requests appear to exceed FOIA’s exceptions; consequently, public bodies should continue to exercise their own scrutiny and judgment in responding to FOIA requests that may relate to such information.

Consult counsel: Janus has created new issues in collective bargaining. For further guidance, public bodies should consult their attorney.  

(Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, Case No. 16-1466, decided June 27, 2018).

Image of cannabis leaves

Ashley’s Law: What Does It Mean for Medical Marijuana in Schools?

Illinois lawmakers pass Ashley’s Law to allow students to use medical marijuana on school grounds.

By:  Kateah M. McMasters

kateah.mcmasters@mhtlaw.com

On May 17, 2018, the Illinois Senate overwhelmingly passed House Bill 4870 (HB 4870) which, if signed by Governor Rauner, will allow students with a valid prescription for medical marijuana to administer, consume or use it on school grounds and on school buses.

HB 4870, which has been named “Ashley’s Law,” was initiated by the parents of a 12-year old student who, after exhausting all traditional medications, was prescribed medical marijuana to treat epileptic seizures caused by treatments for leukemia.  In January 2018, Ashley’s parents filed suit in federal court against the State of Illinois and Schaumburg School District No. 54, alleging that state laws and school policies prohibiting qualifying students from possessing, using, or consuming medical marijuana on school grounds and school buses failed to accommodate students with disabilities in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

While HB 4870 provides families and school districts some relief to accommodate students with disabilities, Ashley’s Law does not provide the wide-sweeping relief many would like to believe.

The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act (“Act”) currently allows qualifying patients under the age of 18, with the consent of a parent or guardian, to receive a registry identification card from the Illinois Department of Public Health in order to obtain a prescription of medical cannabis, commonly referred to as medical marijuana.  However, minors are prohibited from consuming medical marijuana in any form other than medical marijuana-infused consumable products.  In other words, qualifying patients under 18 years of age cannot smoke medical marijuana, but instead are limited to using marijuana in the form of edible or topical products.  While the Act does allow qualifying patients under 18 to use medical marijuana generally, it currently prohibits the possession and consumption of any form of medical marijuana on a school bus and on the grounds of any preschool, primary school, or secondary school.  If a student has a disability that qualifies for the issuance of a registry identification card and medical marijuana prescription, the same disability will more than likely qualify the student for an IEP or 504 plan.

Ashley’s Law amends the Act and the Illinois School Code to allow the possession and consumption of medical marijuana on a school bus and on the grounds of any school district, public school, charter school, or non-public school.  More specifically, the law  adds a new Section 22-23 to the Illinois School Code, requiring schools to authorize a parent, guardian, or designated caregiver to administer a medical marijuana-infused product to a student on school grounds or a school bus as long as the student (as a registered qualifying patient) and the parent, guardian or designated caregiver (as a registered designated caregiver) have been issued a registry identification card by the State of Illinois.  After administration, the parent, guardian, or designated caregiver must remove the marijuana product from school grounds or the school bus.

School districts dealing with medical marijuana

If passed, Ashley’s Law will require schools to allow the administration of medical marijuana to students on school grounds; however, it also provides schools with two broad exceptions.  First, a school can prohibit the parent, guardian, or designated caregiver from administering the medical marijuana to the student in any manner that would create a disruption to the educational environment or cause exposure of the product to other students.  Ashley’s Law does not define what constitutes a “disruption to the educational environment” or “exposure,” and without further guidance would appear to grant the school district substantial discretion.

Second, a school district can prohibit the administration of medical marijuana if it would cause the district to lose federal funding.  Federal law still lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, making it illegal to grow or use any marijuana product, including medical marijuana (even if it is authorized by Illinois law).  Therefore, if a school district receives any form of federal funding that is contingent upon compliance with federal law, it could be at risk for having those funds withheld by the federal agency that administers the funding.

Ashley’s Law permits the administration of medical marijuana to a student in the education setting rather than forcing the removal of a student from school in order to provide appropriate care.  At the same time, Ashley’s Law also ensures that school districts will not be prosecuted by the State of Illinois for allowing qualifying students to use medical marijuana on school grounds.  However, Ashley’s Law does not authorize any medical marijuana to be kept on school grounds as it does other student medications.  Nor does Ashley’s Law require school personnel, including school nurses, to administer medical marijuana to students as it does with other student medications.  Finally, Ashley’s Law does not provide school districts with any protection against an action by the federal government related to the use of medical marijuana on school grounds or school buses.  While several other states have passed laws similar to Ashley’s Law, it is not yet clear how the federal government intends to treat such laws.

Next steps

Ashley’s Law was sent to the Governor’s desk on June 15th and is currently awaiting his signature.  If signed, Ashley’s Law will take effect immediately.  If the Governor takes no action on the bill, it will take effect 60 days after it was sent to him for signature.  If passed into law, school districts will be required to adopt a policy implementing Ashley’s Law.  School districts are encouraged to contact legal counsel to discuss the impact of Ashley’s Law and formulate a policy regarding the use of medical marijuana by qualifying students on school buses and school grounds.

Additionally, to avoid any disruption or exposure to other students, the procedure and manner of administering medical marijuana to a particular student should be discussed by the school district, the parents, and the IEP Team or 504 Team as applicable.  Such procedures should be included in the student’s IEP or 504 plan prior to the administration of medical marijuana at the school.

Court Orders New Overtime Rules Delayed

Employers Question How To Pay Overtime Now That New Overtime Rules Delayed

By Joshua Herman

email: joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

For now, implementation of new federal overtime regulations has been delayed. A federal court halted the December 1, 2016, implementation of the Department of Labor’s (“DOL’s”) new regulations doubling the minimum annual salary from $23,660 ($455 weekly) to $47,476 ($913 weekly) in order for an executive, administrative or professional employee to be exempt from overtime requirements. Following the court’s ruling in State of Nevada v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, No. 16-00731 (E.D. Tex. Nov. 22, 2016), employees exempt from overtime requirements will continue – for now – to be those receiving $23,660 annually ($455 weekly).

How this change impacts Illinois employers is less than clear.

The underlying opinion (available at http://src.bna.com/kgs) is the product of a coalition of states and businesses seeking to overturn the new rule. The coalition argued the DOL overstepped its authority because the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) enacted by Congress provides that “any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity… as such terms are defined and delimited from time to time by regulations of the Secretary” shall be exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). The FLSA overtime exemptions do not refer to any salary requirement.  In analyzing Congress’ actual language, the court found that Congress intended to exempt employees based on their executive, administrative, or professional (“EAP”) duties, not their salaries.

The court’s preliminary injunction states the new regulations are unlawful because the DOL “exceeds its delegated authority and ignores Congress’ intent by raising the minimum salary level such that it supplants the duties test.” The court explains that “[i]f Congress intended the salary requirement to supplant the duties test, then Congress, and not the Department, should make that change.”

Despite the fact that the DOL has stated it cannot evaluate overtime exemption based on salary alone, the court found that the new rules would essentially create a de facto salary-only test. The court further held that the new regulations would cause irreparable damage due to the significant expense of compliance if they were allowed to go into effect.

The court held that public interest is best-served by an injunction, stating that:

If the Department lacks the authority to promulgate the Final Rule, then the Final Rule will be rendered invalid and the public will not be harmed by its enforcement. However, if the Final Rule is valid, then an injunction will only delay the regulation’s implementation. Due to the approaching effective date of the Final Rule, the Court’s ability to render a meaningful decision on the merits is in jeopardy. A preliminary injunction preserves the status quo while the Court determines the Department’s authority to make the Final Rule as well as the Final Rule’s validity.

Consequently, the court imposed a nationwide injunction because the DOL’s regulations are applicable to all states, extending the scope of alleged irreparable injury nationwide.

The injunction prevents the DOL from implementing and enforcing the new overtime regulations; however, the impact of this ruling on Illinois employers is less than clear. The injunction is only temporary, pending further action by that court. The court can lift the injunction at any time, or if the court makes it permanent, the injunction can be reversed upon appeal. If lifted or reversed, courts dispute whether the regulations would retroactively apply to employers who delayed implementation.

Should I implement overtime changes now that new overtime rules have been delayed?

Employers have significantly invested in preparing for the new regulations, but they are now faced with the crucial question: “Should I delay implementing changes to comply with the new regulations to avoid significant and possibly unnecessary costs, or should I proceed?” If the regulations eventually become effective, employers who violate them may be fined up to twice the unpaid overtime, civil penalties, and be responsible for employees’ attorneys’ fees.

Employers should consider the risks of further action and proceed on a case by case basis, seeking legal advice where necessary.

Generally, employers who have prepared no-cost solutions (such as limiting employees to 40 hours a week, or converting a salaried employee to hourly compensation at a rate that will not incur additional costs after considering overtime), should implement those solutions. Costly changes (such as raising an employee’s salary to the new threshold) can be delayed while the temporary injunction is in effect; however, employers should immediately begin to track impacted employee hours. If the injunction is lifted, or applied retroactively, these records should allow employers to adequately compensate employees in compliance with the new laws while minimizing potential risks associated with their delay.

Employers that have already implemented costly changes should exercise extreme caution before reverting to earlier practices. Not only will such actions have practical effects on current employee morale, they may also be prohibited based on collective bargaining requirements or other property rights employees may have in their new salaries.

It is uncertain whether the current exempt salary threshold will remain, increase as a compromise, or be completely eradicated. Further, it is unclear whether the incoming Trump administration will continue to push for these regulations, which were created at the Obama administration’s request. Only time will tell. Wise employers will pay close attention to developments on this matter.

For more information or to receive fact-specific advice, contact Joshua Herman and our Labor and Employment team.

Tiled sheet of $1 Bills

What Schools Need to Know Now about the New FLSA Overtime Regulations and Other Legal Developments

We invite school administrators, board members and other interested parties to review how new Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime rules will automatically extend overtime pay to over 4 million newly eligible employees. The October 26, 2016 lunch-and-learn seminar will also address new travel and expense reimbursement rules, as well as practical advice on implementing email and cell phone policies following recent Illinois Attorney General’s decisions subjecting private employee emails to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Do not wait to learn about these changes at the Illinois Association of School Boards’ conference – it could be too late!

The seminar will include materials and educate attendees as to the following:

New FLSA Overtime Rules Impact Schools as of December 1, 2016

  • What will change and how the new rules apply to your employees.
  • How to identify employees exempt from the overtime requirements after the changes.
  • How to evaluate exemptions for employees who do not work year-round.
  • Whether you can still offer compensatory time instead of paying overtime.
  • Special considerations for schools and educational institutions.
  • How to prepare for and minimize the impact of the new regulations.
  • Penalties for failure to comply with the new rules.

Illinois Travel and Expense Reimbursement Requirements (P.A. 99-604)

  • New prohibitions on reimbursement for “entertainment” expenses.
  • Required policies that must be adopted before employees, officers and officials may be reimbursed for travel, meal and lodging expenses.
  • How FOIA impacts records related to reimbursement under the new law.
  • The regularly “misunderstood deadline” for implementing the new travel expense reimbursement requirements.

School Emails and Text Messages Subject to FOIA

  • What issues and pitfalls email and text messages pose with respect to FOIA and the Open Meetings Act (OMA).
  • Important FOIA and OMA considerations that email and text-message policies should address.
  • Impacts of recent decisions regarding electronic messages, including the recent August, 2016 decision finding that employees’ private emails can be subject to FOIA.

OUR SPEAKERS

Herman presents seminar on New Overtime Rules
Joshua Herman presents seminar on New Overtime Rules

Joshua HermanJoshua concentrates in advising schools and educational institutions, focusing on labor and employment, commercial law, and related litigation. He has previously been interviewed regarding the impact of the new overtime regulations by WMBD, WYZZ, and the Peoria Journal Star. In August, Joshua also lectured on the impact of the new overtime regulations in cooperation with the Small Business Development Center at Bradley University to local Small Business Leaders. Joshua has focused on educational and local government law since 2008. He received his Bachelor’s degree in 2003 from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. After his deployment to Iraq as an Army Reservist 2003-2005, Joshua attended the Chicago-Kent and the University of Illinois Colleges of Law, graduating Summa Cum Laude.  Joshua was selected by the Illinois State Bar Association as Young Lawyer of the Year in 2011 and he is one of the 2014 Peoria 40 Leaders Under Forty.

 

Richard M. Joseph
Richard M. Joseph

Richard JosephRick has authored on the subject of the new Illinois Local Government Travel Expense Control Act and regularly advises units of local government on related matters. Rick has over 30 years’ experience in representing public bodies in all areas of practice, including experience with acquisition and sale of real estate, procurement, construction matters, public and bond financing, taxation, open meetings and public records laws, review and revision of policies and assisting public officials and employees with understanding their roles and duties, including legal  and ethical standards and assisting key staff members in fulfillment of their responsibilities.  Rick received his Bachelor’s degree in 1982 from the University of Notre Dame and his Juris Doctor from Marquette University, Cum Laude, in 1985.

 

Christopher Oswald
Christopher Oswald

Christopher OswaldChris has 14 years of experience counseling public bodies, and those interacting with public bodies with respect to FOIA and the Open Meetings Act.  Chris’ practice is focused on assisting local governments and private clients as general counsel and in structuring transactions relating to real estate, development incentives, construction, taxation, finance, acquisitions, and special matters unique to public bodies.   Chris received his Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Economics with honors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his Juris Doctor, Cum Laude, from Northern Illinois University College of Law.

Join us for this informative lunch and learn on October 26, 2016

12:00 p.m.  – 1:30 p.m.
Jump Trading & Simulation Center, OSF
1306 N. Berkeley Avenue • Peoria, Illinois 61603

Cost: $35 (includes handouts and lunch)
11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.:    Registration and lunch
12:00 p.m. –  1:30 p.m.: Presentation, Q & A

Keyboard overlayed with wheelchair handicap symbol

Do You Comply with Website Accessibility Laws?

Recent OCR Investigations Stress Importance of School District Website Accessibility by Individuals with Disabilities

By Kathleen M. Carter

Email: kathleen.carter@mhtlaw.com

Thousands of complaints are made to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) each year regarding disability discrimination by educational institutions. Recently, a focus of those complaints has been on the accessibility (or lack thereof) of school districts’ websites for individuals with disabilities.

Specifically, complainants are alleging that websites of many school districts and educational institutions violate the law because they present barriers to users who are visually impaired, hearing impaired, cognitively impaired, and those with disabilities affecting fine motor control. In response, OCR is aggressively investigating the accessibility of such websites. Indeed, a recent press release from OCR describes just some of the settlements that have been reached recently with school entities following such OCR investigations, each of which involves extensive policy implementation and review, training, auditing, reporting, and development of a proposed corrective action plan. It goes without saying that cooperation with the OCR investigation in each instance came at a substantial cost and time for the educational entities involved.

The underlying basis of the OCR investigations is an analysis of whether public entities’ websites are in compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, both of which prohibit people from being excluded from participation in, being denied the benefits of, or otherwise being subject to discrimination by public entities or recipients of financial assistance. This prohibition against discrimination applies to all programs, services, and activities, which includes a school district’s website. Examples of accessibility violations include:

  • Websites not using “alt tags,” or text descriptions, for images, which present difficulties for individuals with visual impairments using screen readers to navigate a website;
  • Use of certain text font, size, and color that makes text difficult to read for individuals with visual impairments;
  • Website content only accessible by use of a computer mouse, which presents difficulties for individuals with visual impairments or disabilities affecting fine motor control; and
  • Audio content without accurate captions and transcripts, inhibiting individuals with hearing impairments from accessing web content.

Despite a clear indication by OCR that public school districts’ websites must address these issues and otherwise be accessible to individuals with disabilities, to date there has been no final rule or regulation issued by the DOJ as to how public entities should ensure that their website is accessible to individuals with disabilities.

In the absence of official guidance and regulation, the OCR has used as its “benchmarks for measuring accessibility,” the privately developed Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Web Accessibility Initiative Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (WAI-ARIA), both of which can be found on the Web Accessibility Initiative Website . While these guidelines are not legally binding, in the absence of official guidance, they provide the best standard by which to measure website compliance. Another important resource is the Section 508 Standards, which Federal Agencies must follow for their own web pages and which can be found on the United States Access Board Website.

School districts should take affirmative steps to ensure the accessibility of their website.  While there are numerous technical issues that need to be taken into account for website accessibility, one way to begin to identify common accessibility problems is through “WAVE,” a free online tool to evaluate website accessibility. It can be found at http://wave.webaim.org/.  Upon review and identification of any accessibility issues, school districts should work with their IT Departments to ensure not only that the website pages are accessible, but also that proper training is given to any staff who add content to the website and that additional content is accessible.