Our guest author, Lisa Hart, is a highly-trained double certified coach and member of the International Coach Federation who enjoyed a successful legal career on Wall Street as a litigator for 20+ years. Lisa excels at helping attorneys and other high performers find greater success and satisfaction, personally and professionally.  She can be reached through her website for a complimentary sample session. While her views do not necessarily reflect those of the authors or Seyfarth Shaw LLP, Ms. Hart offers a thoughtful perspective worthy of careful consideration.

Yahoo!’s recent decision to ban its work-at-home program raised concern for some about the future of telecommuting.  The good news is that most companies offer some sort of work-at-home arrangement because doing so is positively correlated with higher retention rates, lower absenteeism, and greater productivity and employee satisfaction.  Still, working at home can be challenging for both employer and employee.  The following guidelines will help both sides design telecommuting arrangements that are effective, productive and mutually satisfying.

1.    Design a Workable Plan.

Employees: You need to meet professional responsibilities and goals.  Consider what support elements you need in place in order to do that.  What are your employer’s expectations and needs?  Are there weekly meetings that you’ll need to attend in person?  Don’t commit to an arrangement that you know you’ll have difficulty sustaining. 
Employers:  Depending on your company’s size, consider telecommuting guidelines and/or policies for the sake of ease, managing  expectations and ensuring consistency in approach.


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Phyllis W. Cheng is the Director of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

A 2012 state budget trailer bill revolutionized California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the state’s preeminent civil rights law.  As of January 1, 2013, in addition to saving the state $784,000 annually, the measure further:  

  • Eliminated the former Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC), which previously conducted administrative hearings and rulemaking. 
  • Ended administrative adjudication and authorized the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH or Department), the state’s enforcement agency, to file cases directly in court.   Prior to the DFEH filing a civil action, all parties must undergo free mandatory dispute resolution in its internal Dispute Resolution Division.  
  • Authorized courts, upon the Department prevailing, to award the DFEH reasonable attorney’s fees and costs to be deposited into a special fund.   
  • Created within the DFEH the Fair Employment and Housing Council (Council) to conduct rulemaking.  Council membership is comprised of seven volunteer members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, as well as the DFEH Director as an ex officio member.   

The DFEH has swiftly moved forward on all these changes. 

Expediting Investigations: Under its new HoudiniESQ cloud-based case management system, the Department expedited complaint investigations from 11 to nine months to ensure sufficient time for mandatory dispute resolution required by the new amendments. 

Expanding Dispute Resolution Services: The DFEH expanded its former Mediation Division to a Dispute Resolution Division.  Seven experienced attorney mediators in Northern and Southern California offices now provide both voluntary and mandatory dispute resolution services.  In addition, a non-attorney mediator provides voluntary mediation services for small housing cases.  In prior years, the DFEH mediators’ successful settlement rate has been 82 percent.

Filing Civil Actions: The Department is now filing civil actions in Superior Court on investigated cases with merit findings that were not successfully resolved through dispute resolution.  No damages caps are available in civil actions.  The DFEH can be awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, including witness fees, upon prevailing.  The Department pegs its attorney hourly rate to that of the California Office of the Attorney General.


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Both federal and California law have long forbidden religious discrimination in employment, while also requiring employers to grant reasonable accommodations for religious observances.  A common accommodation is to modify a policy to enable an employee to engage in a particular religious observance (such as not working on the Sabbath).  California has now set itself apart with the recent amendments to the FEHA

Federal Law:  Since 1977 the federal law has recognized that employers need not provide accommodations that would impose more than a minimal burden on the employer’s operations.  And federal cases have also allowed employers, in enforcing personal-appearance codes, to accommodate certain grooming or dress practices by having the employee work in a designated area of the workplace.

California Peculiarities:  The FEHA amendments essentially codify cases holding that employers must reasonably accommodate religious dress and grooming practices.  But the Legislature has now made California quite distinct from federal law in two fundamental respects: 

  1. It is now clear, if it was not before, that California law, unlike federal law, requires employers to show a truly significant “undue hardship” to avoid providing a reasonable accommodation.
  2. California now categorically disallows, as a form reasonable accommodation, the practice of having the employee work in a designated part of the workplace to avoid, for example, contact with customers.

Workplace Solutions:  From a practical perspective, the new FEHA amendments will cause employers to review their policies and procedures relating to dress and grooming codes to ensure that they comply with California’s new, stricter provisions. The employer’s use of the interactive process in addressing disability accommodations could serve as a good model in addressing issues of religious accommodations, especially now that the undue hardship analysis in both kinds of cases will be essentially the same.

Another Perspective:  Our guest author, Alan J. Reinach, Esq., Executive Director of the Church State Council, was instrumental in lobbying for these new amendments to FEHA.  His legal practice emphasizes First Amendment religious freedom cases, and religious accommodation cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related state civil rights laws.  While his views do not necessarily reflect those of the authors or Seyfarth Shaw LLP, Mr. Reinach offers a thoughtful perspective worthy of careful consideration.   

California Dresses Up Religious Accommodation Law

By:  Alan J. Reinach, Esq.

On September 8, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1964 into law before a crowd of several hundred Sikh-Americans who had gathered to remember those slain at a Wisconsin temple earlier that summer.  He spoke passionately about how California is a state of immigrants representing hundreds of nations, languages, and religions.  His grandfather drove a wagon train in gold country, and only spoke German.
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