Employment law is critical for both workers and employers. If you're an employee, you need to know your legal rights, and want to be treated with the fairness you deserve in workplace decisions. If you're an employer, it's important to stay in full compliance with the law, and defeat any potentially costly lawsuits that do not have merit.
Employment law is constantly evolving, and the past several months have been no exception. A number of new court decisions from Colorado's federal trial and appellate courts will have implications for employers and employees throughout the rest of 2013 and beyond.
Several wins for employers, but also important expansions of Colorado employee rights
Disabilities were one issue that came up at the federal appellate level. In one decision, Sanchez v. Vilsack, the Tenth Circuit ruled that an employer might have to provide a transfer to a disabled worker so that the worker could obtain better treatment by specialists in a different city. This decision was important because typically employers are not required to transfer a worker who becomes disabled if the disability does not prohibit the worker from performing the essential functions of his or her current job.
In a separate case, the Tenth Circuit issued a ruling that was not as favorable to disabled workers. The case EEOC v. Picture People Inc. involved a deaf employee. In this case, the court ruled that the employer was not required to provide a sign language interpreter at staff meetings, and that eliminating essential functions of the job to accommodate the deaf employee was not a "reasonable accommodation" under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Dafiah v. Guardsmark LLC and Turner v. Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. were both cases out of Colorado's federal trial court that came down in favor of employers. In Dafiah, the court decided an employer did not violate civil rights laws by discharging foreign-born employees who spoke with an accent because clear verbal communication in English by radio was an integral part of their job as security workers. In Turner, an employer violated company policy by recording conversations in support of her pending claim for lost pay; since she could have been legally fired for making the recording, her actions precluded her claim.
Employers may not retaliate against employees in employment decisions as "punishment" for reporting a legitimate violation of their workplace rights. In Bertsch v. Overstock.com, Colorado's federal appellate court decided that placing an employee on a performance improvement plan was an adverse employment action significant enough to trigger a retaliation claim - an important reversal of previous case law.
Finally, another Tenth Circuit case, Hernandez v. Valley View Hospital Association, potentially expanded the range of circumstances in which an employee may bring a claim for wrongful termination. In the case, an employee complained repeatedly that her supervisors were racially disparaging. Although the employee quit, the hostile work environment created by her employer may have been enough to constitute a constructive discharge; therefore, the Tenth Circuit allowed the employee to proceed with her wrongful termination claim.
Questions about employment law? Contact a Colorado attorney
Employment law is clearly complex, and is constantly changing. If you have questions about your legal rights or obligations at the workplace, it is important that you seek legal help. Get in touch with a Colorado employment law attorney today to address your employer-employee legal issues.