You have undoubtedly heard more and more about employees forming unions. In Utah, the big news has been Starbucks employees unionizing, beginning with the Cottonwood Heights Starbucks. After that, a barista who helped lead the union effort claims he was terminated in retaliation for leading the effort. Then a group of Starbucks employees joined a nationwide, one-day strike. The strike was on Red Cup Day (when Starbucks gives out free red cups).
Before you choke on your latte (single shot, half sweet, 2% milk for me please), there are things you can do. First, the number one step an employer can take to avoid unionization is to listen to employees and improve working conditions. Second, talk to a lawyer about what you can do legally to prevent unionization. Third, if there are moves to unionize, do not retaliate. Again, talk to a labor lawyer about what is legal and illegal.
New Tenth Circuit Law Dismissing a Discrimination Case
A new case from the Tenth Circuit (which has jurisdiction over Utah) upheld a district court’s decision to dismiss a case on summary judgment in favor of the employer, Painter v. Midwest Health, Inc., No. 21-3195, 2022 WL 17332734 (10th Cir. Nov. 30, 2022) (unpublished). In this case, the Plaintiff was a nurse at an assisted living center and brought a claim of reverse discrimination. During her employment she received several discipline warnings. The employee (who was white) felt that her boss (who was African American) discriminated against her. The employee felt that she was picked on. She was eventually terminated for failing to meet a family member’s reasonable request. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that there was not sufficient evidence for the jury to find racial discrimination.
Even though the employer ultimately won this case, it was not inexpensive. This is a good time to make sure your discrimination, harassment and retaliation policies are up to date and that your employees are trained on these topics.
Proposed Law Regarding Caregiving
Recently, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D) proposed a new law that would prohibit employers from discriminating against workers based on their caregiving responsibilities for family members. The law is called the Protecting Family Caregivers from Discrimination Act. If the law passes, we will keep you updated.
In the meantime, make sure your handbooks are up to date regarding FMLA and state leave laws.