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Employment attorneys are getting swamped with calls from businesses that are unclear on how to discipline workers who skip or boycott work to attend immigration rallies popping up across the United States. And with a nationwide boycott planned for May 1, lawyers say employers are especially concerned. “Our advice is: Take a moderate course. Don’t do anything that is overbearing or over-reactionary,” said David Whitlock, who heads the business immigration practice at Fisher & Phillips in Atlanta. “And given the fact that most of the people attending [the rallies] are Hispanic, you’re wide open for discrimination claims.” Claims coming in Such claims were recently raised in Chicago and Detroit. In the Chicago case, 33 factory workers who had been fired from Universal Form Clamp after attending a rally were rehired last month following an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint. In the Detroit case, 21 immigrants at a meatpacking plant were rehired on April 13 after being fired last month for attending a protest for immigrant rights. The Wolverine Packing Co. rehired the workers a day after meeting with union officials, but the employees have rejected the offer to return to work and plan to pursue claims through the EEOC. Elena Herrada, a Detroit activist working on behalf of the fired employees, said the firings reek of discrimination. “It certainly violates their human rights and it definitely sends a strong message that if you stand up for your rights, there will be consequences,” Herrada said. According to Herrada, the fired employees were never warned that they would lose their jobs if they missed work for the rally. Had they been warned, she argued, they wouldn’t have attended the event. Officials at Wolverine Packing Co., which was forced to shut down on the day of the protest, said in an April 11 press statement that the employees were warned-both verbally and in writing-that attendance was mandatory on the day of the protest. But employers should be more sympathetic to the immigrant workers’ plight, granting them the right to participate in various events without fear of repercussions, said attorney David Grunblatt, who heads the corporate immigration practice group at New York-based Proskauer Rose from its Newark, N.J., office. However, employers must also be careful to apply workplace rules uniformly, cautioned employment attorney Leon Patricios, partner at Zumpano Patricios & Winker in Miami. Patricios noted that a company runs the risk of getting hit with a discrimination lawsuit if employees are allowed to skip work in one situation, but not another.

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