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Washington Update: News from the NLRB, EEOC and USCIS

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources

The New Year often brings a flurry of activity from the many federal government agencies that address employment issues, and 2008 is no exception. We’ve got good news on employers’ control over workplace e-mail, bad news for employers who discriminate and mixed news for those who want to hire foreign workers.

NLRB: You can ban union talk in employees’ e-mail

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) dealt a big defeat to unions recently by ruling that employers can ban their employees from using company e-mail for union-related business. The 3-2 decision ruled that it’s legal for employers to prohibit union-related e-mail as long as they had a policy barring employees from sending e-mail for “non-job-related solicitations” for any outside organization. (The Guard Publishing Co., 351 NLRB No. 70)

“An employer has a ‘basic property right’ to regulate and restrict employee use of company property,” the NLRB’s majority wrote. You can read the board decision here (click on opinion 351-070).

EEOC record race-bias case sends ‘powerful message’

Lockheed Martin agreed last month to pay $2.5 million to settle a race discrimination suit brought by a black employee who was subjected to racist graffiti and verbal harassment, including use of the “N” word and threats of lynching.

The settlement is largest award ever obtained by the EEOC for a single person in a race bias case. It “sends a powerful message that racism cannot and must not be tolerated,” said an EEOC spokesman.

Racial harassment charges filed with the EEOC have more than doubled since the early 1990s, reaching about 7,000 claims last year. Race remains the top basis of discrimination charges, accounting for 36% of the EEOC’s caseload. Last year, the agency launched its E-RACE (Eradicating Racism and Colorism from Employment) education and enforcement initiative. Read details about E-RACE here.  

For more on E-RACE, see HR Specialist’s “Record $2.5M Race-Discrimination Settlement Highlights New EEOC Crackdown.”

File H-1B visa applications on April 1; H-2B visa quota already met

Employers interested in hiring foreign workers, clear your calendar on April 1. That’s the day U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting new H-1B visa applications. Be prepared to file that day, because all H-1B visa slots will likely fill up by close of business. That’s what happened last year, and USCIS officials don’t expect demand to lessen any in 2008.

The H-1B visa program allows U.S. employers to seek temporary help from skilled foreign workers who hold college degrees and are qualified for specialized work. Each year, USCIS issues 65,000 H-1B visas. Last year, it received 150,000 applications.

A random drawing of eligible applications received on April 1 will likely determine who gets H-1B visa slots this year.

If you’re looking to hire foreign workers to fill seasonal jobs before Oct. 1, 2008, you’re out of luck. USCIS announced on Jan. 3 that it had already received more than its quota of 33,000 H-2B visa applications for the second half of FY2008, which ends on Sept. 30.

H-2B visas allow employers to hire skilled and unskilled foreign workers on a seasonal or intermittent basis. Employers often rely on H-2B visa workers to fill food service, housekeeping, life guard, ski lift and grounds keeping jobs

For information on both H-1B and H-2B visas, see the USCIS’s fact sheet How Do I…Hire a Foreign National for Short-Term Employment in the United States?

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