In Flurry of Activity, National Labor Relations Board Restores Pre-Obama Precedent

By:  Mark M. Trapp

Capitol Building

One of the most visible manifestations of the maxim that elections have consequences is illustrated by the regular oscillations in labor policy at the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) that follow elections in which an opposing party takes control of the White House. After securing the first Republican-majority Board in a decade at the end of September, the Trump administration last week saw that majority quickly act to restore several pre-Obama precedents, setting a much more employer-friendly tone at the NLRB.

In four different cases issued on December 14 and 15, a 3-2 Republican majority reversed decisions issued by the Obama-era Board, each of which upset long-established policies that had survived prior Republican and Democrat administrations. The flurry of activity came on the last two working days of NLRB Chairman Philip A. Miscimarra’s term (which expired on Saturday), for the moment leaving the Board with a 2-2 deadlock between Republican and Democrat appointees. President Trump’s next nominee will again establish a 3-2 Republican majority, so these cases are presumably a preview of things to come.

On Friday, in PCC Structurals, Inc., 365 NLRB No. 160 (December 15, 2017), the majority reinstated the traditional community of interest standard that had prevailed for many decades before the Obama-era Board changed it in 2011. The 2011 decision in Specialty Healthcare gave much more leeway to unions to select the appropriate bargaining unit when attempting to organize an employer’s employees, as the employer challenging that selection had to prove that the excluded workers shared an overwhelming community of interest with the unit selected by the union.

Overruling the Specialty Healthcare decision, the majority returned to the prior rule, under which an employer bore no such burden. Instead, the Board will determine in each case whether the employees in a petitioned-for group share a community of interest sufficiently distinct from the interests of employees excluded from the petitioned-for group to warrant a finding that the proposed group constitutes a separate appropriate unit. While employers will certainly welcome this decision, as it will likely curtail the proliferation of so-called “micro units,” the decision merely restores a standard that prevailed for most of the Board’s history.

The same is true of the other decision issued on Friday, Raytheon Network Centric Systems, 365 NLRB No. 161 (December 15, 2017). In that case, the Board majority restored 50-year old precedent upset just last year by a decision from the Obama-era Board. In Raytheon Network, consistent with other Board cases dating back to 1964, the majority held that unilateral actions of an employer do not constitute an unlawful change in terms and conditions of employment if they are similar in kind and degree with an established past practice consisting of comparable actions. Accordingly, an employer has no obligation to bargain over such changes before implementation, even if they involve some degree of employer discretion. This most often arises in employer-provided healthcare benefits, which change year over year.

These two decisions followed a pair of decisions on Thursday of last week. In the first, The Boeing Company, 365 NLRB No. 154 (December 14, 2017), the Republican majority overruled a standard placing limits on employer policies which could be “reasonably construed” to limit workers’ rights protected by the National Labor Relations Act. In its place, the Board set forth a new standard. Now, when evaluating a facially neutral policy, rule or handbook provision that, when reasonably interpreted, might potentially interfere with the exercise of employees’ NLRA rights, the Board will evaluate two things: first, the nature and extent of the potential impact on those rights, and second, the employer’s legitimate justifications for the rule. Balancing these two factors should impact many employer policies, particularly those involving confidentiality, social media and non-disparagement provisions.

The second decision issued Thursday may have received the most attention, as it overturned an Obama-Board decision significantly broadening the standard under which a company can be held responsible as a so-called “joint employer,” an issue that often arises with the use of staffing firms. In Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd., 365 NLRB No. 156 (December 14, 2017), the majority overruled a 2015 Obama-era decision, and reinstated the prior standard in place over several decades. Under that restored standard, two or more entities will be deemed joint employers only upon proof that one entity has directly and immediately exercised control over the terms of employment of the other entity’s employees. The Board also clarified that proof of indirect control, contractually-reserved control that has never been exercised, or control that is limited and routine will not be sufficient to establish a joint-employer relationship.

The now overturned 2015 decision generated much controversy among employers, and prompted the Save Local Business Act, which passed the House in November. It is unclear whether this Act will make it through the Senate

Given that Chairman Miscimarra’s term has now ended, leaving the Board with a 2-2 deadlock, these four decisions may be the only fireworks from the Board for a little while. However, because President Trump will soon get another nominee of his choosing, and the recently-confirmed General Counsel for the Board has telegraphed his intention to overturn a wide range of Obama-era precedent, these decisions are likely a sign of further pro-employer decisions to come.

Conn Maciel Carey Welcomes Chicago Partner, Mark Trapp!

Mark M. Trapp (3)

Conn Maciel Carey LLP is pleased to announce that Mark M. Trapp, an attorney with extensive experience defending employers in a broad range of litigation before federal and state courts, the NLRB and other agencies, has joined the firm as a partner in its Labor & Employment Practice Group, in Chicago, Illinois.

 

Mr. Trapp joins the firm with seventeen years of experience, during which he has represented employers in all types of labor disputes, from union campaigns and collective bargaining to grievances and arbitrations. Mr. Trapp has defended employers before administrative agencies and in litigation brought under the ADA, ADEA, Title VII and other federal anti-discrimination laws. 

In addition, Mr. Trapp’s experience with multiemployer pension withdrawal liability has been recognized across the country and his articles on withdrawal liability and other labor and employment issues have been published in respected legal publications.

“I have worked with Mark for over a decade at various law firms, so I am excited that he has joined our boutique practice that focuses on positive client solutions and effective client service.  His unique knowledge of traditional labor issues and multi-employer pension disputes is unparalleled and he has proven to be a creative and out-of-the-box adviser when counseling clients,” Kara M. Maciel, Chair of the Labor & Employment Practice reported.  

Mr. Trapp said “I am thrilled to again have the opportunity to work with the top-notch legal professionals at Conn Maciel Carey.” According to Mr. Trapp, the expertise of a boutique firm focused on OSHA and other labor and employment matters “complements my experience handling labor and employment issues and provides a solid platform for my withdrawal liability practice. I look forward to helping strengthen the team’s ability to provide exceptional knowledge and insights to labor and employment clients, and expanding the firm’s presence in the Midwest.” 

Welcome to the firm, Mark!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#MeToo and Workplace Harassment: A Letter to my Daughter

Dearest Daughter,

In October 2017, more than four dozen women stood up against workplace harassment by a man of power in the entertainment industry.  Then, the #MeToo Movement was born where people of all races, ages, backgrounds, and geographic regions, working in different industries, stood up and voiced that they too have been sexually harassed and/or sexually assaulted.  Unfortunately, these are not the first national headlines related to workplace harassment in the past several months and major companies have found themselves on the front page for not taking stronger steps to prevent and address complaints of harassment.

That this behavior is still occurring in the workplace in 2017 and has not prior garnered a national outcry is astonishing.  Just last year, the EEOC received a record level of 91,503 charges of discrimination filed with the agency.  My hope for you – my three year old daughter – is that you never will be someone who needs to say #MeToo.  However, if you do, and it happens in the workplace, let me give you some advice: Continue reading

The Impact of Workplace Violence as it relates to Employment Laws and OSHA [Webinar Recording]

On September 20, 2017,  Kara M. Maciel and Andrew J. Sommer of Conn Maciel Carey’s national Labor & Employment and OSHA – Workplace Safety Practices presented a webinar regarding The Impact of Workplace Violence as it relates to Employment Laws and OSHA.

Workplace Violence Slide.PNG

Approximately 1 million workers experience violent acts at work annually. Violence in the workplace is a major concern for employers especially given the events that took place in 2016 in San Bernardino Inland Regional Center shooting massacre and in Hesston, Kansas.  Events like these illustrate that workplace violence can occur at any place at any time. The obvious and most important threat it poses is to the health and safety of anyone caught in the path of violent co-workers or third parties. But, workplace violence can have many other cascading, and negative effects such as reputational harm, and it can result in costly lawsuits ranging from negligent hiring or supervision of its employees to OSHA citations. If violence occurs in your workplace, it is vital that employers have strong workplace violence policies in place to help prevent workplace violence but also to respond to it if and when it does occur.

Here is a link to the recording of the webinar.

This webinar is part of Conn Maciel Carey’s 2017 Webinar Series.  Click here for the full schedule and program descriptions for the 2017 series, and click here to send us an email request to register for the entire 2017 series.

If you missed any of our prior webinars in the 2017, here is a link to Conn Maciel Carey’s Webinar Archive.

Hurricanes Headaches:  HR FAQs for Employers

Hurricane.jpgHurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose have hit, are hitting, and will soon be hitting 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 Harvey, Irma, and Jose.  In addition, the information may be applicable to other crises and disasters, such as fires, flu epidemics and workplace violence.

Frequently Asked Questions 

If a work site is closed because of the weather or cannot reopen because of damage and/or loss of utilities, am I required to pay affected employees?

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay their non-exempt employees only for hours that the employees have actually worked. Therefore, an employer is not required to pay nonexempt employees if it is unable to provide work to those employees due to a natural disaster.

An exception to this general rule exists when there are employees who receive fixed salaries for fluctuating workweeks. These are nonexempt employees who have agreed to work a specified number of hours for a specified salary. An employer must pay these employees their full weekly salary for any week in which any work was performed.

For exempt employees, an employer will be required to pay the employee’s full salary if the work site is closed or unable to reopen due to inclement weather or other disasters for less than a full workweek. However, an employer may require exempt employees to use available leave for this time.

Is it lawful to dock the salaries of exempt employees who do not return to work when needed after an emergency or disaster?

The U.S. Department of Labor considers an absence caused by transportation difficulties experienced during weather emergencies, if the employer is open for business, as an absence for personal reasons. Under this circumstance, an employer may place an exempt employee on leave without pay (or require the employee to use accrued vacation time) for the full day that he or she fails to report to work.

If an employee is absent for one or more full days for personal reasons, the employee’s salaried status will not be affected if deductions are made from a salary for such absences. However, a deduction from salary for less than a full-day’s absence is not permitted.

We recommend caution, however, in docking salaried employees’ pay and suggest that you first consult with legal counsel. Moreover, many employers instead require employees to “make up” lost time after they return to work, which is permissible for exempt employees. This practice is not allowed for nonexempt employees, who must be paid overtime for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

What other wage and hour pitfalls should employers be aware of following a hurricane or other natural disaster?

On-call time: An employee who is required to remain “on call” at the employer’s premises or close by may be working while “on call,” and the employer may be required to pay that employee for his “on call” time. For example, maintenance workers who remain on the premises during a storm to deal with emergency repairs must be compensated — even if they perform no work — if they are not free to leave at any time.

Waiting time: If an employee is required to wait, that time is compensable. For example, if employees are required to be at work to wait for the power to restart, that is considered time worked.

Volunteer time: Employees of private not-for-profit organizations are not volunteers if they perform the same services that they are regularly employed to perform. They must be compensated for those services. Employers should generally be cautious about having employees “volunteer” to assist the employer during an emergency if those duties benefit the company and are regularly performed by employees.

Can employees affected by a hurricane seek protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

Yes, employees affected by a natural disaster are entitled to leave under the FMLA for a serious health condition caused by the disaster. Additionally, employees affected by a natural disaster who must care for a child, spouse or parent with a serious health condition may also be entitled to leave under the FMLA.

Some examples of storm-related issues might include absences caused by an employee’s need to care for a family member who requires refrigerated medicine or medical equipment not operating because of a power outage.

If a work site or business is damaged and will not reopen, what notice must be provided to affected employees?

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, a federal law, imposes notice requirements on employers with 100 or more employees for certain plant closings and/or mass layoffs. However, an exception exists where the closing or layoff is a direct result of a natural disaster.

Nonetheless, the employer is required to give as much notice as is practicable. If an employer gives less than 60 days’ notice, the employer must prove that the conditions for the exception have been met. If such a decision is contemplated, it is advisable to consult with legal counsel about the possible notice requirements to ensure compliance with the WARN Act.

Our HR department has been disrupted, and it may be weeks before things are back to normal. Will the government extend any of the customary deadlines governing employer payment for benefits, pension contributions and other subjects during this recovery effort?

During previous natural disasters, particularly Hurricane Sandy and Katrina, many governmental agencies and entities extended the deadlines for certain reports and paperwork. Therefore, it is expected that with future natural disasters, the government will provide some deadline extensions, but, as with every natural disaster, the government’s response will vary.

Regardless of what extensions may be granted, employers should be fully aware of state laws and implement any policies or plans necessary to minimally interrupt the payment of wages to their employees.

Employees from other states want to donate leave to affected employees. Is this lawful?

Yes. Employers can allow employees to donate leave to a leave bank and then award the donated leave to the affected employees.

Disaster Preparation Checklist

  • Identify and notify those employees whom you believe should be deemed “emergency services personnel” and will be required to work during a storm or evacuation order. Make arrangements for providing these employees with food and shelter. Make sure to have procedures in place for the evacuation of these employees if the hurricane or other disaster causes the workplace to become unsafe.
  • Identify your “essential employees.” These are employees whom you cannot require to be at work during a natural disaster but you believe are vital to the continued operations of your company. Determine what incentives you can provide to these employees to entice them to work during a disaster or to return to work as soon as possible. These incentives can include shelter, hot meals, fuel and arrangements for family members.
  • Establish a contingency plan to address the needs of those employees who may be temporarily living in company facilities during a storm or disaster. Ensure that you can provide such necessities as gas, food and shelter to these employees.
  • Review your existing policies to determine how to distribute paychecks to employees who cannot come to work because of adverse weather conditions or a lack of power.
  • Establish a communication plan. This will include identifying ways to keep the lines of communication open with your employees even if power is out in the local community. Collect primary and secondary contact sources from your employees. Consider establishing a toll-free phone line, through which employees can obtain updated information regarding the company’s status during an emergency.
  • Review applicable leave policies and procedures to address and allow for disaster-related leave requests, including how such leave will be treated (i.e., paid or unpaid).
  • Formulate a team of decision makers who will have authority to make crucial decisions related to other human resource matters in the midst of the hurricane or other disaster. This team should establish a method of communicating with each of its members during the hurricane.
  • Review any existing employee assistance programs and ensure that employees know how to utilize these programs during the aftermath. A successful program can promote the fast and efficient return of your employees.
  • Remember to be sensitive to the needs of your employees who have experienced extensive property damage or personal devastation. Always keep in mind that human life and safety trumps all other business necessities.

Natural disasters can pose a myriad of HR challenges for employers. While many employers are working around the clock on recovery efforts, other employers find themselves unable to function for extended periods of time because of damage or loss of utilities.  The economic effects of a natural disaster will have long-term consequences on businesses in the affected region.

 

Restrictive Covenants Enforceability from a Global Perspective 

shutterstock_243668662Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion with my fellow IR Global members to discuss the use and enforceability of restrictive covenants in employment contracts, and how different countries across the Globe view such covenants.

Every company has information, customer goodwill, and other valuable assets that are considered both integral and invaluable to its success. Limiting the use of this information by employees and protecting goodwill after the term of their employment contract can be vital to the protection of a market position. An accepted method of providing this protection is to include restrictive covenants in employment contracts, which are designed to prevent certain information being used by competitors, while providing for damages should those agreements be breached.

 For companies with operations in multiple locations, understanding this is of critical importance. It is also important to acknowledge that restrictive covenants will only be enforceable if they are deemed to be reasonable in terms of their scope and the fairness of the restrictions they place upon an employee.

In this feature article, we discuss valuable insight into how these protections are applied across a range of jurisdictions, and assess the enforceability of contracts containing restrictive covenants, options in the event of a breach of covenant and best practices to avoid any potential problems before they occur.

Conn Maciel Carey LLP is a proud member of IR Global in the Employment Law Group. IR Global is a multi-disciplinary professional services network that provides advice to companies and individuals across 155+ jurisdictions. Their Virtual Series publications bring together a number of their network’s members to discuss a different practice area-related topic. The participants share their expertise and offer a unique perspective from the jurisdiction they operate in.

Cybercrime and Data Breach a Rising Threat to all Employers

By:  Bryan Carey

shutterstock_217014265Over the past six months, we have observed a significant uptick in inquiries about data breach and other cyberthreats from area businesses.  We are asked about pursuing claims for recovery of funds lost due to fraud by hacking, state notification procedures in the event of a data breach affecting employees, and general questions about how to prepare or respond to other IT security problems. The whole subject area is a complex mix of technical and legal issues and it touches nearly every aspect of the current business environment. Moreover, the costs to companies that are the victims of cybercrime and data breach are significant and, unfortunately, it is no longer uncommon for the costs to bankrupt small and medium-sized businesses within a short time after the breach is discovered.

Types of cybercrime incidents                                                           

Data breach and other cyberthreats come from all quarters and they affect individuals and organizations of all sizes. Given the recent news about the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency being the subject of now infamous data thefts, including the CIA losing control of its own toolbox of hacking tricks, many employers are likely to think that there is little that can be done when the government agencies tasked to defend our country’s cybersecurity and armed with a government-sized budget have proven vulnerable. But the size and scope of cyberthreats are not exaggerated and require vigilance and defenses regardless of your organization’s size. Continue reading