Houston Employment Law Blog

Blue Cross settles disability discrimination lawsuit

People with disabilities continue to struggle with discrimination in Houston and across the country. Despite the protections provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act, companies continue to engage in policies related to hiring, promotion, and workplace practices that put workers with disabilities at an unfair disadvantage or exclude them altogether. In one case, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas has agreed to pay $75,000 in order to settle a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Applicants for jobs as claims examiners with Blue Cross were given a 35-minute assessment exam as part of the process. This exam included audio portions that had no captions or other methods of accommodation for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. At least one deaf applicant contacted the company, asking for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, rather than following up with a deaf applicant, the company instead ignored her messages, despite the fact that she was highly qualified for the position. The EEOC noted that the audio application was a roadblock that prevented her from getting hired.

What employees can do if they suspect pay discrimination

It is no secret that there is still a substantial pay gap between men and women. In Texas, white women have an average annual income of $40,000 and white men make an average of $60,000. Women of color receive even less pay, with incomes averaging closer to $30,000.

The pay gap still impacts many female employees around Texas, but how do you know if you truly make less than your coworkers? And how can you prove it?

Insurance companies must abide by ERISA rules

A Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 court ruling may allow Texas residents greater access to insurance coverage for substance abuse and mental health treatment. The ruling was made by a California judge in Wit v. United Behavioral Health. The case involved 11 plaintiffs who took legal action on behalf of more than 50,000 people who said that their claims were denied because of improper review criteria.

In its ruling, the court found that UBH had created unreasonable standards for accepting such claims. Ultimately, it was found to have acted in its own financial interest as opposed to the evidence regarding best practices related to mental health and substance abuse treatment. This ruling could have an impact on employers who choose to offer medical care to their employees. It could also make it easier for individuals who suffer from anxiety, depression or alcohol abuse to get the help that they need.

New overtime rule would make more people eligible

The Department of Labor has proposed a rule that would make a large number of people in the Houston area and across Texas available for overtime pay. The rule is still subject to a comment period of 60 days, but it would change the salary cap for non-management overtime eligibility nationwide beginning in 2020. The salary cap would be raised to $35,308 from $23,660. On a weekly basis, the cap would be raised to $679 from $455.

The last time the overtime salary cap was raised was in 2004, under the administration of George W. Bush. Former President Obama attempted to raise the cap even further than the new proposed rule would, to $47,476, but that effort was judicially blocked just before it was set to take effect. The DOL came to the proposed threshold by the same formula that was used for the 2004 overtime rule. It is based on the 20th percentile of full-time payments in the South, which is the region of the country with the lowest income overall.

Walmart's newly created position may affect disabled workers

Front-door greeters working at Walmart stores in Texas will soon need to meet new job requirements established by the popular retailer. The company reportedly intends to remove about 1,000 greeter positions across America. As a result, many greeters with disabilities may lose their jobs. The reason this is happening is because the retailer is replacing its well-known greeter position with a newly created "customer host" position, which has additional physical job requirements.

Customer hosts will be required to be able to lift at least 25 pounds, gather carts and stand for extended periods of time. There are job demands that could be difficult for both disabled and elderly employees to meet. Reportedly, 1,000 stores have already been affected by the change. The Americans With Disabilities Act does allow companies to change their job requirements. However, they are still required to make "reasonable accommodations" for employees on an individual basis.

New overtime rule may be released

Workers in the Houston area may be under new guidelines regarding overtime in the future, but it is unclear how long the process will take. In May 2016, an overtime rule issued by the Department of Labor raised the minimum salary allowing so-called "white-collar" exemptions to overtime to $47,476 from $23,660. The "highly compensated" exemption level went to $134,004 from $100,000. Furthermore, every three years, there were supposed to be automatic increases.

However, these changes were subsequently found to be invalid by a federal district court in Texas later that year, and after initially appealing, the DOL decided to write a new rule instead. It is anticipated that the white-collar exemption will be in the low $30,000 range.

What to know about disclosing mental illness

Roughly 15 percent of the world's population has a disability. According to the American Health Association, approximately 75 percent of employees throughout the country have a mental health issue. However, some Texas workers may choose not to disclose their illnesses because they fear negative consequences for doing so. The downside to not disclosing a mental illness could be the impact it has on an individual's overall health.

The Americans with Disabilities Act generally requires employers to provide their disabled workers with reasonable accommodations. Therefore, disclosing a mental illness may make it possible to get the accommodations needed to do a job properly. Ideally, employers will do their part to make workers feel comfortable about disclosing their mental illness. By creating an inclusive environment for all workers, everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential. This may allow a company to reach its full potential as well.

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Warren & Siurek, L.L.P.
3334 Richmond Avenue, Suite 100
Houston, TX 77098

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