NLRB Seeks to Change Joint Employer Test by Rulemaking

By:  Mark Trapp

On September 14, 2018, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Notice”). In its Notice, the Board states its belief that the “rulemaking will foster predictability and consistency regarding determinations of joint-employer status in a variety of business relationships.” At base, the Notice is an attempt to return the Board to its pre-2015 standard, which the Obama-era NLRB overruled in the controversial Browning-Ferris decision issued that year.

If enacted, the rules would provide a stronger degree of clarity and predictability to business owners and tighten the standard for finding one business to be a joint employer of another employer’s employees. Moreover, by enacting the standard through rulemaking, rather than adjudication, the NLRB decreases the likelihood of the standard being overturned by a later Board. Continue reading

Hurricanes Headaches:  HR FAQs for Employers

It’s hurricane season again in the US! Be prepared!

The Employer Defense Report

Hurricane.jpgHurricane Florence is approaching the United States, and first and foremost, employers need to make sure their employees, customers, and guests are safe from the storm.

Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes have posed unique human resource (HR) challenges from wage-hour to FMLA leave and the WARN Act. The best protection is to have a plan in place in advance to ensure your employees are paid and well taken care of during a difficult time.

Although no one can ever be fully prepared for such natural disasters, it is important to be aware of the federal and state laws that address these situations. Our guidance can be used by employers in navigating through the legal and business implications created by events such as hurricanes.  In addition, the information may be applicable to other crises and disasters, such as fires, flu epidemics and workplace violence.

Frequently Asked Questions 

If…

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US DOL Issues FMLA Opinion Letters Clarifying No Fault Attendance Policy Rules and…Organ Donation

By: Aaron R. Gelb

Until last week, the US Department of Labor (the “DOL”) had not issued an Opinion Letter regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”) since George W. Bush was packing up and preparing to leave the White House in January 2009.  DOL Iterp Letter ImageOn August 28, 2018, Bryan Jarrett, the Acting Administrator of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (the “WHD”) issued two Opinion Letters—one addressing an important consideration facing employers with no-fault attendance policies and another that addresses whether organ donation surgery can qualify as a “serious health condition” under the FMLA for the purposes of taking leave.  While the answer to the latter question will likely not surprise anyone who regularly deals with employee requests for leave under the FMLA, the WHD’s opinion regarding whether and how points should be removed from an individual’s record while they are on protected leave does indeed provide much needed clarity on that topic.

But first, a bit of background regarding why the mere issuance of these letters is significant.  An opinion letter is an official, written opinion issued by the Wage and Hour Division of the DOL explaining how a certain law applies in specific circumstances described by an employer, employee, or other entity requesting the opinion. The DOL noted in a June 2017 press release that the Wage and Hour Division had been issuing opinion letters for more than 70 years until the Obama administration replaced them with general guidance memoranda in 2010.  “Reinstating opinion letters will benefit employees and employers as they provide a means by which both can develop a clearer understanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act and other statutes,” said Secretary Acosta in the press release. “The U.S. Department of Labor is committed to helping employers and employees clearly understand their labor responsibilities,” said Secretary Acosta, explaining that such letters would enable employers to “concentrate on doing what they do best: growing their businesses and creating jobs.”

Turning to the two opinion letters issued on August 28, 2018, we will first address the leave for organ donation, then consider no-fault attendance policy rules. Continue reading

At the NLRB, Big Labor’s Clock Has Not Yet Struck Midnight

By: Mark M. Trapp

shutterstock_424794466As part of an apparent package deal to move through the Senate numerous Trump judicial and other nominees, President Trump on Tuesday re-nominated Democratic member Mark Gaston Pearce for another term on the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”). Pearce, who has served on the Board since 2010 (when he received a recess appointment from President Obama), saw his latest 5-year term expire at midnight on Monday, only to be renominated within 24 hours.

Pearce served as Chairman of the Agency for nearly six years until President Trump installed his own Chairman in early 2017. His renomination by Trump comes in the face of sharp criticism from the business community and Republicans, upset that in his more than eight years on the NLRB, Pearce was a consistent vote for pro-union outcomes, including the controversial Browning-Ferris joint-employer decision in 2015. An August 17th editorial in the Wall Street Journal summarized the business community’s complaints against Pearce as follows:

Among other labor hits, Democrats allowed graduate students to unionize; required employers to disclose to unions the names, phone numbers and email addresses of workers; and protected workers who vilify their employers on social media. Mr. Pearce also ruled that employees who had resigned their union membership after their labor contract expired could be dunned for back dues. A D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals panel overruled his decision in June. As chairman, Mr. Pearce snubbed Republican colleagues. GOP member Brian Hayes told a member of Congress in 2011 that Mr. Pearce wasn’t sharing information and public comments on the board’s “quickie election” rule that trampled employers’ due process rights. Mr. Pearce then accused Mr. Hayes of threatening to resign to deny the board a quorum, which prompted an investigation by the board’s Inspector General. Mr. Hayes was exonerated, but Mr. Pearce jammed through the election rule anyway without letting him vote. A federal judge appointed by Mr. Obama blocked the rule because the board lacked a quorum.

If confirmed by the Senate, Pearce will not upset the recent 3-2 Republican majority on the NLRB, which is traditionally staffed by three members of the president’s party and two members of the minority party. But many Republicans and business advocates remember the precedent set during the Obama presidency, which repeatedly left open Republican seats when those members’ terms expired, including once for a full two years. This allowed the Obama-era Board to utilize lengthy 3-1 Democrat advantages to reverse over 4,500 years of NLRB precedent, according to one study.

Now with Trump in office, many business owners and Republicans hope to reverse as many as possible of the Pearce-led changes, a task which would become much easier were Pearce’s seat to remain vacant. Many cases are decided by random three-member panels, and if the Board is 3-1 Republican, no such panel will have a Democratic majority, and cases decided without dissent can move more quickly through the NLRB’s internal processing. In addition, the Democrats have been pushing to force the recusal of Republican members John Ring and William Emanuel on the joint-employer issue. A Pearce confirmation combined with the recusal of these two Republicans would give the Democrats a 2-1 majority on perhaps the biggest issue to many business owners.

It will be interesting to see whether Pearce can make it through Senate confirmation as, for now, it does not appear that the nomination is a “done deal” in that Chamber. In the meantime, the Board will operate with four members. Many employers and business owners large and small would like to see this period extended as long as possible, even if Pearce is ultimately confirmed. If and when Pearce is again confirmed, he would serve until August 27, 2023.

Of course, we here at Conn Maciel will be keeping an eye on this issue of importance. For now, for employers it’s “four-speed ahead!”

Free In-Person OSHA and Labor & Employment Client Briefing in Chicago – September 25, 2018

Join Conn Maciel Carey for an In-Person OSHA and Labor & Employment Briefing in Chicago on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, and stay for a reception to celebrate the launch of our Chicago Office.

This complimentary program will feature panel discussions with representatives from EEOC, NLRB, and OSHA addressing key policy trends and regulatory developments.  They will be joined by senior corporate counsel from multinational corporations and Conn Maciel Carey’s own Labor & Employment and OSHA specialist attorneys.  There will also be moderated breakout roundtable sessions covering issues of concern to various industry segments.


Agenda

1:00 PM – Registration and Networking

1:30 PM – OSHA Panel

  • Angie Loftus (OSHA Area Director – Chicago North Area Office)
  • Nick Walters (Former OSHA Regional Administrator – Region 5) Continue reading

EEOC Attacks “No Fault” Attendance Policies as ADA Violations

As you know,shutterstock_policies and procedures the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against disabled employees and job applicants in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, and promotion.  It also provides rules for employers regarding the extent to which they may inquire about an employee’s physical or mental health, and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to covered employees, unless such accommodations would cause undue hardship.  Whether an accommodation is reasonable or would cause undue hardship on the employer is very fact-specific and is usually determined on a case-by-case basis, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) seems to have taken a hardline approach on employer policies related to certain types of accommodations.

One type of accommodation often requested is leave (which also tends to implicate the Family and Medical Leave Act).  Employers frequently receive such a request where an employee suffers a disabling injury, such as a broken bone, that requires him to miss work for an extended period of time to recover.  In this context, the employee will normally request leave for an extensive, but certain amount of time with at least a tentative end date, usually in accordance with his doctor’s recommendation.  Although most circuit courts agree that employers need not provide employees with indefinite leave, enforcement guidance provided by the EEOC states that company policies setting a finite limit on the length of leave violates the ADA’s requirement for employers to engage in the interactive process to discuss reasonable accommodations.

So, what happens if an employer implements a blanket “no fault” attendance policy, whereby employees are assigned points for absences, regardless of reason, and are terminated for not being able to return to work after 180 days of leave?  Employers might think this is an effective way to maintain neutrality and avoid asking employees about their reasons for taking leave – it gives employees the power to manage their leave as they see fit and takes management out of the picture.  But, the EEOC disagrees.  In fact, the EEOC would call this a form of “systemic discrimination against employees with disabilities” in violation of federal law, as demonstrated by a recent July 2018 consent decree entered into by the EEOC and Mueller Industries, Inc.

In EEOC v. Mueller Industries, Inc., the EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California against Mueller Industries, Inc., a global metal goods manufacturer, claiming disability discrimination.  It charged the company with terminating employees and/or failing to provide reasonable accommodations for those exceeding its maximum 180-day leave policy.  The EEOC also stated that the company violated federal law by implementing its attendance policy in a way that assigned points for absences, regardless of reason.  Essentially, the EEOC took issue with the fact that the “no fault” policy did not allow for the type of individualized assessment that the ADA requires.  Through the interactive process, employers and covered employees are meant to discuss the types of accommodations needed to allow the employee to perform his essential job functions, and to permit employers to determine whether the accommodations discussed are reasonable.  Although the burden of raising the need for an accommodation rests on the employee, once an accommodation has been requested, or the need for an accommodation has been identified, it is the responsibility of the employer to initiate the interactive process and determine a reasonable accommodation for that individual employee.  The EEOC’s enforcement guidance and July 2018 consent decree seem to direct that a “one-size-fits-all” leave policy simply does not work.

The case concluded when the parties entered into a consent decree, which will remain in effect for two-and-a-half years and applies to all Mueller facilities nationwide.  It provides for $1 million in monetary relief, as well as broad injunctive relief.  Namely, the consent decree requires that Mueller reinstate any affected individuals, revise its written policies and procedures regarding its complaint system, appoint an ADA coordinator, create and maintain an accommodation log, post a notice for its employees about the case, provide training to all employees on the ADA, develop a centralized tracking system for accommodation requests, and submit annual reports to the EEOC verifying compliance with the decree.  This can be a pretty hefty price for employers to pay, all over one policy.

In light of the EEOC’s guidance and apparent enforcement posture, employers should review their attendance procedures and make sure they are not implementing such blanket “no fault” leave policies that do not make room for employers and disabled employees to engage in the interactive process.  Leave policies should always be developed and written with the ADA in mind.  This is especially true in today’s enforcement climate where the EEOC has announced that addressing emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA, is one of its six national priorities identified in its Strategic Enforcement Plan.

Court Finds that Restaurant Complied with California Law by Requiring Employees Purchasing Discounted Meals to Eat their Meals on Premises

By:  Megan S. Shaked

In California, generally an employer may not employ a non-exempt employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period that may be taken off the premises. Yet, in the restaurant industry employers often provide employees free or discounted meals to be eaten on the premises. Such perks are provided for countless reasons, including to allow employees to enjoy the dishes being offered to customers, to build morale and productivity, and to discourage theft.

In Rodriguez v. Taco Bell Corp., the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit considered whether a restaurant violated California law by requiring employees purchasing meals from the restaurant at a discount to eat their meals on the premises.

In Rodriguez, a restaurant employee filed a class action lawsuit against Taco Bell claiming she was entitled to be paid a premium rate for the time she spent on the employer’s premises eating the discounted meal during her meal breaks. She argued that because the employer required the discounted meal to be eaten in the restaurant, that the employee was under sufficient employer control to render the time compensable.

At the time, the restaurant offered thirty-minute meal breaks that were fully compliant with California requirements, but with an offer that employees could purchase a meal from the restaurant at a discount. The catch? Employees were not required to purchase the discounted meal, but if they chose to they could only get the discount if they ate the meal in the restaurant. The policy was intended to prevent theft.

The court, applying the meal period standard set out by the California Supreme Court in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, reasoned there was no violation of California law because the employer relieved employees of all duties during meal breaks and exercised no control over their activities. Employees were free to use the thirty minutes as they wanted, and the employer did not interfere with the employees’ use of the break time. Employees were not required to purchase any restaurant products.

The court in Rodriguez distinguished cases where employers exercised control over employees even though they were not performing work by, for example, requiring employees travel to work on employer provided transportation. Where employees were compelled to participate, compensation was required. On the other hand, where employers offered a benefit or service that employees could choose, compensation was not required. The court further distinguished cases where employers exercised control over employees during their breaks by, for example, subjecting them to “on-call” restrictions. In such cases employees were subject to performing duties for their employer during breaks and thus entitled to compensation for such time.

The court also rejected an additional claim by plaintiff that the discounted value of the meal should be added to her regular rate of pay for overtime purposes. Since the court held plaintiff was not entitled to be paid for her time eating the discounted meals, it likewise held she was not entitled to overtime pay for it either.

Background on Meal Periods  

In general, non-exempt employees who work more than five hours in a day are entitled to an unpaid meal period of not less than 30 minutes. The meal period must begin no later than the fifth hour of work. Yet, if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee.

A second meal period of not less than 30 minutes is required if non-exempt employees work more than ten hours in a day. The meal period must begin no later than the end of the tenth hour of work. If the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and employee only if the first meal period was not waived.

Wage Order 5, which governs meal periods, rest periods and overtime in the restaurant industry, requires employees be relieved of “all duty” during the meal period. The failure to provide a required meal period can be a costly mistake for employers. Employees are entitled to premium wages of one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for each workday that the meal period is not provided.

Prior to the decision in Brinker, there was uncertainty over what it meant for an employer to provide a meal period. Brinker clarified that an employer is obligated to relieve the employee of all duty for the designated period. Although employers are not required to police employees to ensure no work is performed, employers must relinquish control over employee’s activities, must permit them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and must not impede or discourage them from doing so. In discussing the history of meal periods, the Brinker Court agreed with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement’s historic interpretation of the wage order that generally employees must be free to leave the premises during their meal period.

Takeaways for Businesses

Rodriguez sanctions a common practice in the restaurant and food service industries to offer employees free or discounted meals eaten on the premises. It remains true that employees not falling within this exception must be permitted to leave the work place for a proper off-duty meal period. The key will be, as it was in Rodriguez, that the employee voluntarily chooses to purchase a discounted meal and the employer does not interfere with the employee’s activities while on break.

This case is a good reminder for businesses to ensure their meal period policy is up to date and that managers are adequately trained to ensure compliance. Care should be taken so that employees are not discouraged from taking their uninterrupted, duty-free meal periods.