Tag Archives: workplace

6 surprising health items that could disappear with ACA repeal

The Affordable Care Act of course affected premiums and insurance purchasing. It guaranteed people with pre-existing conditions could buy health coverage and allowed children to stay on parents’ plans until age 26. But the roughly 2,000-page bill also included a host of other provisions that affect the health-related choices of nearly every American.

Some of these measures are evident every day. Some enjoy broad support, even though people often don’t always realize they spring from the statute.

In other words, the outcome of the repeal-and-replace debate could affect more than you might think, depending on exactly how the GOP congressional majority pursues its goal to do away with Obamacare.

No one knows how far the effort will reach, but here’s a sampling of sleeper provisions that could land on the cutting-room floor:

CALORIE COUNTS AT RESTAURANTS AND FAST FOOD CHAINS

Feeling hungry? The law tries to give you more information about what that burger or muffin will cost you in terms of calories, part of an effort to combat the ongoing obesity epidemic. Under the ACA, most restaurants and fast food chains with at least 20 stores must post calorie counts of their menu items. Several states, including New York, already had similar rules before the law. Although there was some pushback, the rule had industry support, possibly because posting calories was seen as less onerous than such things as taxes on sugary foods or beverages. The final rule went into effect in December after a one-year delay. One thing that is still unclear: Does simply seeing that a particular muffin has more than 400 calories cause consumers to choose carrot sticks instead?  Results are mixed. One large meta-analysis done before the law went into effect didn’t show a significant reduction in calorie consumption, although the authors concluded that menu labeling is “a relatively low-cost education strategy that may lead consumers to purchase slightly fewer calories.”

PRIVACY PLEASE: WORKPLACE REQUIREMENTS FOR BREAST-FEEDING ROOMS

Breast feeding, but going back to work? The law requires employers to provide women break time to express milk for up to a year after giving birth and provide someplace — other than a bathroom — to do so in private. In addition, most health plans must offer breastfeeding support and equipment, such as pumps, without a patient co-payment.

LIMITS ON SURPRISE MEDICAL COSTS FROM HOSPITAL EMERGENCY ROOM VISITS

If you find yourself in an emergency room, short on cash, uninsured or not sure if your insurance covers costs at that hospital, the law provides some limited assistance. If you are in a hospital that is not part of your insurer’s network, the Affordable Care Act requires all health plans to charge consumers the same co-payments or co-insurance for out-of-network emergency care as they do for hospitals within their networks. Still, the hospital could “balance bill” you for its costs — including ER care — that exceed what your insurer reimburses it.

If it’s a non-profit hospital — and about 78 percent of all hospitals are — the law requires it to post online a written financial assistance policy, spelling out whether it offers free or discounted care and the eligibility requirements for such programs. While not prescribing any particular set of eligibility requirements, the law requires hospitals to charge lower rates to patients who are eligible for their financial assistance programs. That’s compared with their gross charges, also known as chargemaster rates.

NONPROFIT HOSPITALS’ COMMUNITY HEALTH ASSESSMENTS

The health law also requires non-profit hospitals to justify the billions of dollars in tax exemptions they receive by demonstrating how they go about trying to improve the health of the community around them.

Every three years, these hospitals have to perform a community needs assessment for the area the hospital serves. They also have to develop — and update annually — strategies to meet these needs. The hospitals then must provide documentation as part of their annual reporting to the Internal Revenue Service. Failure to comply could leave them liable for a $50,000 penalty.

A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE … HER OB/GYN

Most insurance plans must allow women to seek care from an obstetrician/gynecologist without having to get a referral from a primary care physician. While the majority of states already had such protections in place, those laws did not apply to self-insured plans, which are often offered by large employers. The health law extended the rules to all new plans. Proponents say direct access makes it easier for women to seek not only reproductive health care, but also related screenings for such things as high blood pressure or cholesterol.

AND WHAT ABOUT THOSE THERAPY COVERAGE ASSURANCES FOR FAMILIES WHO HAVE KIDS WITH AUTISM?

Advocates for children with autism and people with degenerative diseases argued that many insurance plans did not provide care their families needed. That’s because insurers would cover rehabilitation to help people regain functions they had lost, such as walking again after a stroke, but not care needed to either gain functions patients never had, such speech therapy for a child who never learned how to talk, or to maintain a patient’s current level of function. The law requires plans to offer coverage for such treatments, dubbed habilitative care, as part of the essential health benefits in plans sold to individuals and small groups.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. This story from HKN is published under a Creative Commons license.

HRC rates companies for LGBT inclusion, 9 in Wisconsin get perfect scores

An annual report assessing LGBT inclusion in major companies and law firms across the nation gives high marks to a record 517 businesses, including some headquartered in Wisconsin.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s annual Corporate Equality Index examines corporate policies and practices related to LGBT workplace equality and found 517 businesses — spanning nearly every industry and geography — earned a top score of 100 percent and the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.”

HRC, in a news release, said that record number of perfect scores was achieved despite “demanding new criteria requiring that companies with global operations extend non-discrimination protections for their LGBT workers worldwide.”

In total, 887 companies were officially rated in the CEI, up from 851 in last year’s. The report also unofficially rated 156 Fortune 500 companies, which have yet to respond to the CEI survey about their LGBTQ policies and practices.

The average score for companies and law firms based in Wisconsin is 85 percent.

Of the 16 companies ranked in the state, nine earned 100 percent and 12 earned 90 percent and above.

“Even in the face of relentless attempts to undermine equality, America’s leading companies and law firms remain steadfast and committed to supporting and defending the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “The unprecedented expansion of inclusive workplaces across the country and around the globe not only reflects our progress, it helps drive it.  As we enter a new chapter in our fight for equality, support from the business community will be more critical than ever to protect our historic advancements over the last decade and to continue to push equality forward for workers, customers, and families around the world.”

Here’s a look at the Wisconsin rankings:

Employer Name City State 2017 CEI Score
ManpowerGroup Milwaukee WI 100
American Family Insurance Group Madison WI 100
CUNA Mutual Group Madison WI 100
Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Milwaukee WI 100
Foley & Lardner LLP Milwaukee WI 100
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP Milwaukee WI 100
Quarles & Brady LLP Milwaukee WI 100
Rockwell Automation Inc. Milwaukee WI 100
S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. Racine WI 100
Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated Milwaukee WI 95
Kohl’s Corp. Menomonee Falls WI 95
Alliant Energy Corp. Madison WI 90
WEC Energy Group Milwaukee WI 75
Johnson Controls Inc. Milwaukee WI 75
Oshkosh Corp. Oshkosh WI 20
Harley-Davidson Inc. Milwaukee WI 10

 

And here’s some key national findings in the report:

  • 517 companies earned a 100 percent in the 2017 CEI, up from 407 in the 2016 report.
  • 647 companies participating in this year’s CEI now offer transgender workers at least one health care plan that has transgender-inclusive coverage. That’s a 314 percent increase since 2012, when the CEI first included trans-inclusive health care as a requisite for companies to receive a perfect score;
  • Gender identity is now part of non-discrimination policies at 82 percent of Fortune 500 companies, up from just 3 percent in 2002;
  •  387 major employers have adopted supportive inclusion guidelines for transgender workers who are transitioning.
  • 156 Fortune 500 companies were given unofficial scores based on publicly available information.

The CEI rates companies and top law firms on detailed criteria falling under five broad categories:

  1. Non-discrimination policies
  2. Employment benefits
  3. Demonstrated organizational competency and accountability around LGBT diversity and inclusion
  4. Public commitment to LGBT equality
  5. Responsible citizenship

Federal court weighs key decision on LGBT-workplace bias

A rare full-court session of a U.S. appeals court in Chicago heard arguments this week on whether protections under a 1964 Civil Rights Act should be expanded to cover workplace discrimination against LGBT employees, as hopes dim among some gay rights activists that the question will be resolved in their favor following Republican election victories.

Several of the 11 judges at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals signaled they are ready to enter what would be a historic ruling broadening the scope the 52-year-old landmark law, with the court directing the toughest questions during the hourlong hearing at a lawyer who argued only Congress could extend the protections.

Judge Richard Posner repeatedly interrupted the lawyer representing an Indiana community college that was sued by a lesbian for alleged discrimination and at one point asked: “Who will be hurt if gays and lesbians have a little more job protection?” When attorney John Maley said he couldn’t think of anyone who would be harmed, Posner shot back, “So, what’s the big deal?”

Even if the 7th Circuit becomes the first U.S. appellate court to rule that the law covers sexual-orientation bias, legal experts say the issue is likely to land before the Supreme Court. Chances of a majority of justices agreeing that workplace protections should include LGBT workers will be slimmer if President-elect Donald Trump fills a high court vacancy with a social conservative.

A GOP-majority House and Senate also makes it unlikely the next Congress will amend the statute, said Chicago-based labor lawyer Barry Hartstein.

“You can’t count on Congress or the courts,” said Hartstein, who wants the act to cover LGBT workers.

President Barack Obama’s administration has taken the position that the law already prohibits discrimination of LGBT workers. It has criticized courts for a reluctance to reach the same conclusion.

The 7th Circuit decided in October to rehear the case of teacher Kimberly Hively, who claimed Ivy Tech Community College didn’t hire her full time because she is a lesbian. The full court vacated the July finding by three of its own judges that the civil rights law doesn’t cover sexual-orientation bias. A new ruling is expected within several weeks.

The hearing focused on the meaning of the word ‘sex’ in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the provision that bans workplace bias based on race, religion, national origin or sex. Multiple court rulings back Maley’s contention that Congress meant for the word to refer only to whether a worker was male or female. Given that, he said it would be wrong to stretch the meaning of ‘sex’ in the statute to also include sexual orientation.

The school’s lawyer conceded the law is imprecise, but added: “That makes it an issue for Congress.”

Several judges challenged him for arguing it’s not a federal court’s place to mandate that a law do something lawmakers didn’t originally intend for it to do.

“You seem to think the meaning of the statute was frozen on the day it passed,” Posner said to Maley. “That, of course, is false.” And the judge added: “Are we bound by what people thought in 1964?”

He and other judges pointed to bans on interracial marriage as examples of laws that changed or were expanded by courts as societal norms changed.

In his presentation, the teacher’s lawyer pointed to what he described as the absurdity of one 1980s Supreme Court finding that if workers are discriminated against because they don’t behave around the office by norms of how men or women should behave, then that does violate the Civil Rights Law. But if a man or woman is discriminated against at work for being gay that was found not to violate the Civil Rights Act.

“You can’t discriminate against a woman because she rides a Harley, had Bears tickets or has tattoos,” attorney Gregory Nevins said. “But you can if she’s lesbian.”

 

A tip sheet for workers and workplaces where pot is legal

Changing marijuana laws aren’t necessarily making weed more welcome in the workplace.

For now, many employers seem to be sticking with their drug testing and personal conduct policies, even in states where recreational marijuana use is now permitted. Others are keeping a close eye on the still evolving legal, regulatory and political environment.

Voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada voted Nov. 8 to approve the use of recreational marijuana, joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, where it had previously been legalized. (A recount of Maine’s close result is scheduled.) More than two dozen states have medical marijuana programs.

But the drug is still against federal law.

A closer look at what it all means for workers and businesses:

CAN MY EMPLOYER STILL TEST ME FOR POT?

Bottom line: You can’t come to work high. You can still be drug tested. And you can still be fired — or not hired — for failing a drug test even if you’re not the least bit impaired at work.

All the states with legalized recreational pot have exemptions for workplace drug policies.

In Massachusetts, for example, the law includes language stating that “the authority of employers to enact and enforce workplace policies restricting the consumption of marijuana by employees” is not changed.

“Yes, you may be able to have (marijuana) at home, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK in the workplace,” said Edward Yost, an HR specialist with the Society for Human Resources Management.

WHAT ABOUT WORKPLACE SAFETY?

Advocates for marijuana legalization said it was never their intention to compromise safety, a central reason offered by employers for drug testing.

“We don’t want anyone to come to work impaired on any drugs,” said David Boyer, campaign manager for the ballot initiative in Maine.

A 2013 survey by the employee screening firm HireRight found 78 percent of employers conducted drug tests either randomly, as a condition of employment, after accidents or for some combination of those reasons.

The federal government requires drug testing for some workers, including truck drivers and others in transportation.

Quest Diagnostics, which performed nearly 11 million laboratory-based drug tests for employers in 2015, said the percentage of tests coming back positive has shown a modest increase in recent years. Nearly half of all positive tests showed evidence of marijuana use.

CAN I GET FIRED EVEN IF I’M NOT HIGH?

THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis, can stay in a person’s system for days or even weeks, experts say — long after the buzz has subsided.

“It’s the equivalent of firing somebody who drank a glass of wine on Friday evening and then came to work on Monday,” said Tamar Todd, legal director for the Drug Policy Alliance, who believes employers should reconsider zero-tolerance policies in light of changing laws and attitudes.

A number of efforts are underway to develop an accurate method, akin to the Breathalyzer for alcohol, to measure actual marijuana impairment. Such a test might be useful not only for employers, but also for police and prosecutors trying to determine what constitutes driving under the influence of marijuana in states where recreational pot is legal.

WHAT SHOULD COMPANIES DO?

At a minimum, companies should review their current polices, make sure their managers are trained and make clear to employees that marijuana use on or off the job can still land them in trouble, said James Reidy, a New Hampshire-based attorney who advises clients around the country on drug testing issues.

Tina Sharby, chief human resources officer for an Easter Seals affiliate with about 1,700 employees in New England, said the organization, which provides services for people with special needs, is monitoring the evolving legal and regulatory environment but is sticking with its drug testing protocols for now.

“We have a drug-free workplace policy, and we believe that the current policy we have is effective,” Sharby said.

But drug testing and zero-tolerance rules can also make it difficult for businesses with a need to recruit young professionals who may harbor more liberal attitudes toward pot.

“We have ski industries out here, and if they really took a hard line on marijuana use, they would have to shut down,” said Curtis Graves, information resource manager for the Colorado-based Mountain States Employers Council.

After Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, surveys showed an uptick in workplace drug testing, Graves said, but that trend has begun to shift in the other direction.

“Employers who have a zero-tolerance policy maybe shouldn’t apply that to non-safety sensitive workers, because if they do testing on them, they run the risk of inviting an invasion of privacy claim,” suggested Amanda Baer, a Boston-area attorney who specializes in labor and employment issues.

WHAT DO THE COURTS SAY?

Adding to the uncertainty is the scarcity of legal precedent in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. But several cases involving employees with permits to use medical marijuana have reached the courts, and most have been decided in employers’ favor.

The most widely cited case is a 2015 Colorado Supreme Court that upheld Dish Network’s firing of a disabled man who used medical marijuana and failed a drug test. The court ruled that a state law barring employers from firing workers for off-duty behavior that is legal did not apply because pot remains illegal under federal law.

Similar rulings have been issued in other states including California, Montana and Washington.

As medical marijuana programs become more common even in states where recreational pot remains outlawed, some companies have begun to weigh accommodations for workers with permission to use marijuana for an existing health condition.

 

Workers required to have weapons at offices

The decision by the owner of a small insurance company to require his employees to carry weapons at the office has sparked a debate: Would having a gun on the job make you safer or is it inviting violence into the workplace?

Lance Toland said his three offices, based at small airports in Georgia, haven’t had problems with crime but “anyone can slip in these days if they want to. I don’t have a social agenda here. I have a safety agenda.”

When a longtime employee, a National Rifle Association-certified instructor who’s been the company’s unofficial security officer announced her retirement, Toland wanted to ensure the remaining employees were safe. He now requires each of them to get a concealed-carry permit, footing the $65 bill, and undergo training. He issues a Taurus revolver known as “The Judge” to each of them. The firearm holds five rounds, .410 shells that cast a spray of pellets like a shotgun.

“It is a weapon, and it is a lethal weapon,” said Toland, whose company specializes in aviation insurance. “When a perpetrator comes into the home or the office, they have started a fire. And this is a fire extinguisher.”

100-percent armed

No employee balked at the mandate, he said. “They all embraced it 100 percent, and they said, you know, I’m tired of being afraid,” Toland said.

An employer’s legal standing to impose such a requirement depends on several factors, foremost whether the business is high risk, a convenience store or taxi company, for example, said Carin Burford, a labor lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama.

Workplace and weapons

More than 400 people on average are killed in the workplace each year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Just last week, a gunman with a criminal record who had just been served with an order to stay away from his former girlfriend began a shooting spree, eventually landing at the lawn mower parts factory where he worked. Authorities say he killed three people and wounded 14 others before a police officer shot and killed him.

About half of U.S. states have laws allowing people to keep firearms in their cars at work. There are companies that allow employees to bring firearms to the office. But it’s rare to hear of an employer making it a requirement.

Kevin Michalowski, executive editor of Concealed Carry Magazine, said he hasn’t heard of any companies issuing a mandate, but he’s increasingly hearing from companies, churches and schools seeking training so they’re prepared to deal with a workplace shooting.

He said while workplace shootings don’t happen every day, when they do happen, people should have the ability to protect themselves — particularly before police are able to respond.

“The gun-free-zone sign isn’t going to stop anyone. In fact, it makes people more vulnerable,” said Michalowski, who is a part-time officer in Wisconsin for a county sheriff’s department and a rural police department. “The good people who could stop things are disarmed.”

One person who isn’t convinced is Charles G. Ehrlich, an attorney in California. He was working for the Pettit & Martin law firm in California on July 1, 1993, when Gian Luigi Ferri, a failed entrepreneur and former client of the firm, arrived at the high-rise office building with multiple weapons, killing eight people and injuring six before killing himself.

Ehrlich was lucky. A meeting he was attending went long, and he didn’t end up down the hall in a conference room that was Ferri’s first target. “I heard the shouting and the noise” but had just moments earlier left the floor.

“It’s not like it is on TV or at the movies where the good guy just shoots the bad guy,” said Ehrlich, the former president of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “It’s very difficult to shoot a gun accurately, even when you’re not under pressure.”

Ehrlich also worries about the pressure cooker that exists in many workplaces — and that arming more employees might actually lead to more workplace shootings.

“Conceivably, someone who was well-trained — an ex-Green Beret or something like that — could’ve run down the hall, pulled out a weapon and fired a shot,” he said of the shooting at the firm. “But would he have prevented anyone from being killed? No. Unlike John Wayne who is always faster than the other guy, this guy got off the elevator and just started shooting.”

Playing in the back of Toland’s mind was something personal: A beloved uncle who had adopted him as a child was killed in 1979 during a nighttime robbery at the convenience store where he worked. Three men robbed him of less than $100. It was the first day he hadn’t brought a firearm to the store.

Andrea Van Buren, an agent with Toland’s firm for the past two months, was already comfortable with firearms. She carried a Glock nearly every day for the past decade and practices at a range every week.

When she hears about workplace shootings elsewhere, among her first thoughts is: “I’m glad it’s not happening here and then the second part is, it could happen here, and then I think, at least I’m prepared,” she said. “It’s sad. It’s heartbreaking.”

The revolver Toland is providing his employees isn’t exactly ideal for concealment. It weighs two pounds and is more than 9 inches long. By contrast, a Beretta Nano 9mm handgun is more than a third lighter and measures less than 6 inches. Van Buren said she’s not bothered by the impracticality. “I liken it to, I have an office computer and I have an office gun.”

She understands that not everyone wants to work for a company that requires having a weapon. “Gun ownership isn’t for everybody. It’s a huge responsibility,” she said. “If you’re carrying, you’ve got to be willing to use it.”

LGBT buying for ‘equality’ index delivered for Black Friday

Just in time for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, the Human Rights Campaign released its consumer guide to hundreds of American companies rated on their LGBT-inclusive policies and practices.

The Buying for Workplace Equality guide, first issued more than a decade ago, provides consumer information based on company scores reported in HRC’s annual Corporate Equality Index, as well as HRC-researched data on additional well-known companies and their brands.

Through the CEI, the HRC Foundation proactively rates Fortune 500 companies and top law firms on LGBT-inclusive workplace policies and practices, and urges smaller companies to also participate. This year, new CEI criteria required that all participating  companies extend explicit LGBT non-discrimination protections to their employees worldwide.  

“Our annual Buying for Workplace Equality guide provides quick, user-friendly help in selecting everything from groceries to cars with LGBT equality in mind,” said Deena Fidas, director of HRC Foundation’s workplace equality program. “With the LGBT community’s buying power in the U.S. edging close to $900 billion, it just makes good business sense to embrace LGBT workplace inclusion.  Every year we hear from members of  the LGBT community and many other fair-minded consumers who want to choose brands that align with their priorities of workplace fairness. They check the buyer’s guide to ensure that their dollars go to businesses that support equality.”

The guide sorts businesses by sectors, assigning them a score ranging from zero to 100 based on LGBT workplace equality, as measured by the CEI and HRC-researched data.

The categories include:

  • Apparel & Accessories
  • Banking & Finance
  • Food & Beverage
  • Home & Garden
  • Restaurants
  • Technology

Businesses and their products are divided based on their rating into red, yellow and green categories so that consumers can easily determine which brands support LGBT workplace equality:

  • Green (80-100): Businesses/brands with the highest workplace equality scores.
  • Yellow (46-79): Businesses/brands that have taken steps toward a fair-minded workplace and receive a moderate workplace equality score.
  • Red (0-45): Businesses/brands that receive our lowest workplace equality scores

The new guide includes more than 570 companies — 449 of those are rated in the CEI and an additional 121 have been independently researched by the HRC Foundation. A total of 5,496 affiliated businesses and brands are featured in this year’s report. Companies independently researched have declined invitations to actively participate in the CEI; their scores are based on publicly-verifiable information.

Smoking in Wisconsin annually costs $3 billion in health care, $1.62 billion in lost productivity

Smoking in Wisconsin annually costs $3 billion in health care expenses and $1.62 billion in lost productivity, according to the 2015 “Burden of Tobacco in Wisconsin” study by UWM’s Center for Urban Initiatives and Research.

The total cost of $4.62 billion marks an increase of $100 million dollars from the last “Burden” report released in 2010. 

The report estimates that more than 7,300 people die annually in Wisconsin from smoking-related diseases — that’s 15 percent of all deaths among people aged 35 and older. 

“When it comes to the prevalence of cigarette smoking, however, Wisconsin has been making progress,” says Karen Palmersheim, an epidemiologist and lead author of the report. The adult smoking rate is now 18 percent, which is down 2 percentage points from 2012. “This is an all-time low for the state,” adds Palmersheim. “Fewer high school youth are smoking too, with a dramatic decrease from 33 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2014.” 

Experts attribute the drop in smokers to a combination of the state’s comprehensive tobacco prevention program, smoke-free workplace law, and higher cigarette taxes. 

“But the costs continue to increase because of the long-term, chronic conditions caused by smoking, especially among those who become addicted at a young age,” says Palmersheim. 

Most of those deaths each year are associated with cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and smoking-related cancers — 6,700 deaths, according to the report. But nearly 10 percent are deaths caused by exposure to secondhand smoke and smoking-related fires. 

“These numbers are still very sobering, given that these deaths are preventable,” says Palmersheim. “If we hope to improve the situation, it’s imperative that programmatic efforts continue to prevent kids from ever starting to smoke and help smokers quit. If the rate of smoking continues to go down, we should see the number of related deaths and health care costs go down too.” 

The research was supported by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Division of Public Health, Bureau of Community and Health Promotion, Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. 

On the Web

The report: https://www4.uwm.edu/cuir/ 

Saks claims Title VII doesn’t apply to transgender employees

The Human Rights Campaign on Jan. 8 suspended Saks Fifth Avenue’s Corporate Equality Index score. The action was taken following Saks’ claims in response to a lawsuit that Title VII protections don’t apply to transgender employees and that the company is not legally bound by its own LGBT equality policies.

While HRC said in a news release that it honors the right of the company to defend itself against allegations of misconduct, the arguments made in Saks’ court filings go well beyond arguing the veracity of the allegations.

Leyth Jamal, a transgender former employee of Saks, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 alleging discrimination and harassment/hostile work environment based on her gender identity.

In a motion to dismiss the case and in contrast to clearly established positions of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Saks claimed that the “Plaintiff’s discrimination and harassment claims fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because transsexuals are not a protected class under Title VII.”

Additionally, Saks claims that it is not bound by its own corporate non-discrimination policies because “employee handbooks are not contracts as a matter of law.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded in 2012 that sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes discrimination based on gender identity. The decision makes clear that transgender people across the country who have experienced workplace discrimination can file a claim with the EEOC under existing federal sex discrimination law.

Likewise, in December 2014, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the U.S. Department of Justice will recognize transgender discrimination as sex discrimination.

“Saks’ arguments are hugely concerning to us,” said Deena Fidas, director of HRC’s Workplace Equality Program. “In its court filings, Saks attempts to secure a motion to dismiss Ms. Jamal’s allegations by simultaneously calling into question the validity of its own non-discrimination policy and the larger, crucial protections afforded by Title VII. The policies our CEI advances are not window dressings for any company to prop up or disregard in the face of individual allegations of misconduct. Saks is publicly undercutting  the applicability of its own policies reported in the CEI and we must suspend Saks’ CEI score until further notice.”

HRC has contacted Saks and asked them to clarify the two issues and amend their legal filings.

6 Wisconsin businesses earn perfect scores on equality ranking

Of the 14 Wisconsin companies ranked on the equality index compiled by the Human Rights Campaign, six earned perfect scores. Four other companies scored 80 percent or above.

Overall, the Wisconsin companies averaged a 79 percent ranking on the 2015 Corporate Equality Index released this week by the HRC, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization.

As the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices related to LGBT workplace equality, the 2015 CEI shows that a record 366 businesses — spanning nearly every industry and geography — earned a top score of 100 percent and the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.”

In total, 781 companies were officially rated in the 2015 CEI, up from 734 in the 2014 report.

The report also unofficially rated 190 Fortune 500 companies that have yet to respond to the CEI survey about their LGBT policies and practices.

HRC president Chad Griffin, in a news release, said, “At every turn, from advocating for marriage equality to providing vital support for transgender employees, this country’s leading companies have asked, ‘what more can we do?,’ and they’ve worked tirelessly to achieve new progress. That kind of leadership changes countless lives around this country, and sets an important example to other companies around the globe.”                                          

Griffin cautioned, however, that LGBT workers still face major obstacles: “Too many companies still don’t guarantee these vital workplace protections, and too many LGBT people–transgender people in particular — face high rates of unemployment and discrimination in hiring, keeping them from ever getting a foot in the door in the first place.”

The report shows:

• 366 companies earned a 100 percent in the 2015 CEI, up from 304 in the 2014 report, and 189 2 years ago.

• 89 percent of participants now cover gender identity in their non-discrimination policies, up from 86 percent last year.

• 66 percent of all Fortune 500 companies have gender identity protections, up from 61 percent last year.

• 418 companies participating in this year’s CEI offer transgender workers at least one health care plan that has transgender-inclusive coverage. That’s a 22 percent increase since 2012, when the CEI criteria first included trans-inclusive health care as a requisite for companies to receive a perfect score.

The CEI rates companies and top law firms on detailed criteria falling under five broad categories:

• Non-discrimination policies.

• Employment benefits.

• Demonstrated organizational competency and accountability around LGBT diversity and inclusion.

• Public commitment to LGBT equality.

• Responsible citizenship                                          

In Wisconsin, the companies earning perfect scores include Foley & Lardner LLP, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, Quarles & Brady, Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated, Rockwell Automation Inc., and S.C. Johnson & Son Inc.

Alliant Energy Corp., American Family Insurance Group, ManpowerGroup and Michael Best & Friedrich LLP scored 85 percent.

CUNA Mutual Insurance Group and Johnson Controls Inc. scored 50 percent and Wisconsin Energy Corp. scored 45 percent.

Kohl’s Corp. scored a 15 on the index.

On the Web…

http://www.hrc.org/campaigns/corporate-equality-index 

World on track to close gender gap — in 81 years

The world has seen only a small improvement in equality for women in the workplace in nine years of measuring the global gender gap. And, with all else remaining equal, it will take 81 years for the world to close the equality gap, according to a report by the World Economic Forum.

“Much of the progress on gender equality over the last 10 years has come from more women entering politics and the workforce,” said Saadia Zahidi, head of the gender parity program at the Geneva-based nonprofit and the lead author of the report. “While more women and more men have joined the workforce over the last decade, more women than men entered the labor force in 49 countries.”

The WEF has been measuring the gaps between men and women worldwide since 2006, and the ninth edition of their Global Gender Gap Report was released in late October, measuring 142 countries. The report measures gender equity in four areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival.

That last category features the narrowest gap, 96 percent, meaning women live 4 percent fewer healthy years than men worldwide. That gap has been closed entirely by 35 countries, three of which did so within the past 12 months.

The next narrowest is the educational attainment gap,  measuring literacy and educational enrollment rates worldwide. Women have 94 percent of the academic opportunities afforded men, with 25 countries having closed the gap entirely. 

No country has closed the gender gap in economic participation or political empowerment, and both gaps remain wide. Economic participation narrowed by four percentage points to 60 percent worldwide, meaning women get six-tenths of the income and labor force opportunities of men.

By far the largest gap is political. Women have 21 percent of the representation men have in legistlative and executive positions. Only two countries, Iceland and Finland, are even above 60 percent.

Zahidi said, “In the case of politics, globally, there are now 26 percent more female parliamentarians and 50 percent more female ministers than nine years ago. These are far-reaching changes. … However, it is clear that much work still remains to be done, and that the pace of change must in some areas be accelerated.”

With no one country having closed its overall gender gap, Nordic nations remain the most gender-equal societies in the world, according to the survey. Last year’s leading nations — Iceland (1), Finland (2), Norway (3) and Sweden (4) — are joined this year by Denmark (5).

Nicaragua climbs four places to 6 and Rwanda enters the index at 7, Ireland falls to 8, the Philippines declines four places to  9 and Belgium climbs one place to 10.

The United States climbs three places to 20, after narrowing its wage gap and improving the number of women in governmental positions.

Region to region

Countries from Europe and Central Asia occupy 12 of the top 20 positions in the index. Of that region’s major economies, Germany climbs two places to No. 12, France leaps from 45 to 16, while the UK falls to 26 from 18.

France’s gain is mostly due to increases in the number of women in politics and narrowing wage gaps.

The UK’s lower position can be mainly attributed to changes in income estimates.

In Asia and the Pacific, the Philippines remains the region’s highest-ranked country, followed by New Zealand and Australia. 

Japan moves one place to 104. China falls 18 places to No. 87 — largely due to its uneven sex ratio at birth, an indicator of male preference. And India slumps to No. 114, one of the few countries where female labor force participation is shrinking.

Ranked at 6, Nicaragua reinforces its position as the gender parity leader for Latin America and the Caribbean. This is due to strong performance in eliminatingw health, education and political gaps.

Among the larger economies, Brazil declines to 71 in spite of having closed both its educational attainment and health and survival gender gaps.

Mexico’s drop to 80 is a result of reduced female representation in politics, but is partially offset by improvements in labor force participation and income gaps.

In the Middle East and North Africa, Kuwait, at 113, is the highest-ranked country. The United Arab Emirates falls to 115 but shows major improvement on economic and political participation and remains the second highest-ranked country in the region. The region is also home to the lowest-ranked country in the index, Yemen, which, at 142, has remained at the bottom of the index in every single year.

Sub-Saharan Africa, meanwhile, boasts three countries in the top 20 of the index. The highest, Rwanda, scores well in economic and political participation and is the top developing country in the index. Next is Burundi, which climbs five places to 17, followed by South Africa. Nigeria, the region’s largest economy, falls 12 places to 118.

Nine years of data

Progress has not been even. Although many countries have reached parity in educational attainment and health and survival, the trend is actually reversing in some parts of the world. Nearly 30 percent of the countries have wider education gaps than they did nine years ago, and over 40 percent have wider health and survival gaps than they did nine years ago.

Also, of the 111 countries continuously covered in the report, 105 have narrowed their gender gaps, but another six — Sri Lanka, Mali, Croatia, Macedonia, Jordan and Tunisia — have seen prospects for women deteriorate. 

In the Americas, no country has widening gender gaps.

“Achieving gender equality is obviously necessary for economic reasons,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the forum. “But even more important, gender equality is a matter of justice. As a humanity, we also have the obligation to ensure a balanced set of values.”

On the Web

For more information, visit the World Economic Forum’s website, weforum.org.