Category Archives: Employment Policies

Missouri Has Become the 28th Right-to-Work State

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, February 10, 2017

On February 6, 2017, the newly elected GOP Governor Eric Greitens, signed into law a right-to-work (RTW) bill that passed the state’s Republican-controlled state legislature.

Nuts and Bolts of the Missouri RTW law

  • Effective date:  August 28, 2017
  • Who it applies to:  Both private and public sector employers (except those in the airline and railroad industries, as well as certain federal employers).
  • What it prohibits:
    • No employee can be required to become or remain a union member as a condition of employment.
    • No employee can be required to pay dues, fees or assessments of any kind to a union (or any equivalent of a dues payment to any charitable organization).
  • Penalties for violations:  Criminal sanctions – a violation is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $750 and up to 15 days in jail. Civil sanctions – private parties may obtain injunctive relief, damages and an award of attorneys’ fees.
  • Effect on collective bargaining agreements:  For collective bargaining agreements (CBA’s) entered into before August 28, 2017, the law has no effect. However, the law will apply to any CBA renewal, extension, amendment or modification after August 28, 2017. This will likely jolt Missouri unions to seek contract extensions of existing CBA’s in order to delay the impact of the law.

Unions Continue to Battle

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Flag of Missouri

The Missouri AFL-CIO has submitted different versions of a proposed initiative petition to the secretary of state’s office that is aimed at reversing the RTW law. Basically, with enough signatures, it would present the opportunity for Missouri voters to decide in 2018 whether to adopt a constitutional amendment that would protect contracts that require employees to pay union representation fees.

Perspective

Seven of eight states that surround Missouri have existing right-to-work laws, including Kentucky, which passed a right-to-work law last month. The current tally of RTW states includes: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina,  North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming. Just last week, the New Hampshire senate passed a RTW bill, which is awaiting passage by the state House.

On a federal level, two Republican Congressmen re-introduced the National Right to Work Act last week. The bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act and the Railway Labor Act to prohibit the use of union security clauses which require union membership and payment of dues and fees.

If there was any doubt, this flurry of activity confirms that the right-to-work movement is recharged.

2017 Compliance Check Up

Contributed by Sara Zorich, January 19, 2017

We are now almost three weeks into the New Year and while it might be tempting to ease into 2017, the time is now to ensure that the required compliance updates have been made to your payroll and Form I-9 procedure to comply with the 2017 changes.

Minimum Wage

The following 21 states have updates to their minimum wage that affect your payroll for 2017:

  1. Alaska (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $9.75 to $9.80.
  2. Arizona (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.05 to $10.00.
  3. Arkansas (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.00 to $8.50.
  4. California (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $10.00 to $10.50.
  5. Colorado (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.31 to $9.30.
  6. Connecticut (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $9.60 to $10.10.
  7. Florida (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.05 to $8.10.
  8. Hawaii (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.50 to $9.25.
  9. Maine (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $7.50 to $9.00.
  10. Massachusetts (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $10.00 to $11.00.
  11. Maryland (Effective July 1, 2017) – minimum wage increases from $8.75 to $9.25.
  12. Michigan (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.50 to $8.90.
  13. Missouri (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $7.65 to $7.70.
  14. Montana (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.05 to $8.15.
  15. New Jersey (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.38 to $8.44.
  16. New York (Effective 12/31/16) –minimum wage increases from $9 to $9.70.
  17. Ohio (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.10 to $8.15.
  18. Oregon (Effective July 1, 2017) – statewide minimum wage increases from $9.75 to $10.25 (Portland Metro minimum wage increase from $9.75 to $11.25).
  19. South Dakota (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.55 to $8.65.
  20. Vermont (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $9.60 to $10.00.
  21. Washington (Effective 1/1/17) –minimum wage increase from $9.47 to $11.00.

Employers should ensure that these required changes have been conveyed to your payroll manager and payroll provider and perform an audit to ensure that the change was made effective in your payroll system.

Form I-9

As we reported on November 17, 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released the new version of the Form I-9 on November 14, 2016. NO LATER THAN January 22, 2017, employers MUST use the revised form (dated 11/14/2016 N) for all new hires and any employee that requires reverification of employment eligibility.

Employers should review their Form I-9 practices, ensure they are complying by using the new form by the deadline, and train employees responsible for completing the form regarding the new form requirements.

Have You Checked Your State and Federal Law Posters Lately? If Not, You Should!

Contributed by Mike Wong, June 8, 2016

Under Federal, State and local laws, employers are required to post information regarding laws that protect workers in the workplace, including but not limited to wage laws, discrimination laws, workers’ compensation laws, unemployment law, protected leave laws and safety issues.  In Illinois these include the following:

  • IL Dept. of Labor State of Illinois Your rights Under Illinois Employment Laws
  • IL Workers’ Compensation Notice
  • IL Unemployment Insurance Benefits Notice
  • IL Emergency Care for Choking
  • IL Smoke Free Illinois Act
  • FLSA / Minimum Wage compliance poster
  • Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) poster and Supplement for Pay Transparency Non-Discrimination Provision poster (for federal contractors)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) poster
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) poster
  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) notice
  • Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) poster

An example of a local law poster, would be the poster required for the Chicago Minimum Wage.

Know the RulesWhile it is easy to post these and forget about them, it is important to review the posters as they are updated periodically. This means that you must regularly (or at least annually) check the posters to make sure that they are up to date and that all of the required posters are posted. For example, any poster addressing wages (including the state, federal and local minimum wages) should be updated any time the minimum wage is increased or changed.

This is especially important as employers can be fined for not having the correct posters up.  Indeed, the EEOC has recently again increased the fine for failing to post its posters.  Initially the fine was $100 per violation, which was increased to $110 in 1997 and then $210 in 2014.

On May 25, 2016, the EEOC announced that effective June 2, 2016, the fine for failing to have the required posters will increase from $210 to $525 for each separate offense.  This means that you could be fined up to $525 for each instance or location that you do not have the correct poster up.

Fines for failing to post the proper posters can come from investigations of charges of discrimination. However, that is not the only way that these types of violations are brought to the attention of the EEOC. In fact, the EEOC has reported that usually employers are fined after a worker reports or brings the violation to the EEOC’s attention.

Information and copies of the required posters can often be found on the state and federal administrative agency websites. Additionally, there are many vendors that offer comprehensive posters. However, if you go with a vendor’s poster, it is always important to double check the information on the poster to ensure that it covers all applicable state and federal laws, as you are the one who will be held responsible if it does not.

If you have questions, experienced labor and employment counsel can always help confirm that you have all of the required and current posters that you need to post.

Prevent Lawsuits: Implement Good Employment Policies and Gather Evidence Supporting Terminations

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, May 11, 2016

A recent federal appellate court decision underscores the importance of strong employment policies to establish the company’s expectations and potentially save the company from protracted and expensive litigation.

In Tsegay v. Amalgamated Transit Union, 1235, the court found that a union refusing to arbitrate a grievance did not breach its duty of fair representation to a union member terminated for using a mobile device while operating a passenger vehicle. No. 15-6102 (6th Cir. Apr. 27, 2016).

texting while drivingAfter passenger complaints of texting-while-driving, employer Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County Transit (“MTA”) investigated driver Tsegay’s conduct, including video footage. MTA concluded that Tsegay looked at an electronic device in his lap several times in violation of company policy, and committed other moving violations which could be separate bases for termination. MTA suspended Tsegay without pay, and then terminated him following a meeting with his union representative for misconduct as well as dishonesty.

The union proceeded through the first two stages of the grievance process: filing a written grievance, and an in-person meeting with MTA, the union president, and Tsegay. The union presented the evidence (video, passenger’s letter, and MTA policy regarding cell phones) to its members, who voted not to proceed to arbitration. Instead of appealing this decision, Tsegay sued his union for breach of the duty of fair representation.

Tsegay claimed that the union acted arbitrarily by not going to arbitration. He argued that his cell phone records demonstrated that he was not using his phone while he was driving. However, the appellate court noted that there are many uses of a mobile device that may not appear in cell phone records, such as reading old messages, browsing the internet, and playing games. The appellate court found that the union’s decision to not arbitrate was reasonable because it was based on the union members having viewed the evidence.

This case demonstrates how employment policies and gathering the right evidence help avoid lawsuits.  In this case MTA demonstrated:

  • A written policy prohibiting mobile device use while working and driving;
  • Complaints leading to an investigation, and
  • A proper investigation showing the likelihood of a violation.

Employment policies should be written to convey several messages including, outlining appropriate conduct, company expectations, and safety considerations. The policies should:

  • Communicate clearly to multiple audiences (employees,  managers, others working on behalf of the company, and any reviewing administrative agency or jury) of varying education and language fluency; and
  • Provide a clear understanding of what constitutes appropriate and acceptable conduct.

Enforcing reasonable and effective policies will provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory basis for discipline, avoid discrimination/retaliation lawsuits, and help employers successfully protest unemployment benefits. Policies should be reviewed by attorneys to ensure legal compliance.

Chicago Federal District Court Refuses to Apply Fifield Two Year Rule

Contributed by Jeff Glass

Readers of this update know that Illinois radically changed restrictive covenant law in Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services Inc., 2013 IL App. (1st) 120327.  In Fifield, the court required two years of at-will employment as consideration for a post-employment non-solicitation or non-compete clause entered into at the outset of employment, even if the employee voluntarily quit. The Illinois Supreme Court declined to review Fifield despite the requests of business groups and employer advocates. Since then, Fifield has remained controversial, with one appellate court and a few federal district courts declining to apply the two year rule. However, other courts have followed it and it has not been overruled, so employers ignore it at their peril.

In Traffic Tech, Inc. v. Kreiter, Case No. 14-CV-7528 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 18, 2015), the federal district court (Judge Dow) declined to grant a motion to dismiss filed on the basis of Fifield. The defendant employee had signed an employment agreement containing a non-solicitation clause when he joined the Plaintiff, but then he quit roughly a year later. Under the Fifield two year standard, the restrictive covenant should have been unenforceable. But the court denied a motion to dismiss filed on this basis, holding that “Illinois Supreme Court is not likely to adopt a two-year, bright line rule in assessing whether an employee was employed for a ‘substantial period of time’ so as to establish adequate consideration to support a post-employment restrictive covenant.” The court noted that the last time that restrictive covenants were discussed by the Illinois Supreme Court, in Reliable Fire Equip. Co. v. Arredondo, 965 N.E.2d 393, 403 (Ill. 2011), the court held that the enforceability depended on a totality of the circumstances inquiry that was inconsistent with the bright line approach established by Fifield. This view is consistent with the opinions expressed in this blog and elsewhere that were critical of the Fifield decision.

Fifield remains the law of Illinois but it is under attack. We will keep you updated in this blog.

Fifth Circuit Rules that Denial of Employee’s Attempt to Rescind Resignation Can Be Unlawful Retaliation

Contributed by Steven Jados

Last month, in Porter v. Houma Terrebonne Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (“HTHA”), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that a former employee’s claim of unlawful retaliation based on complaints of sexual harassment should proceed to trial.

Such a ruling is not necessarily unusual, but what makes this one unique is  the court held that an employer’s refusal to let an employee rescind her resignation can be an “adverse employment action”—one of the three prima facie elements of a claim for unlawful retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Tyrikia Porter, the employee at iresignationrescindssue, tendered her resignation and before her last day of work, testified in a grievance hearing that she had been sexually harassed by the HTHA’s executive director.  Both prior to and after the hearing, HTHA management encouraged Porter to rescind her resignation. Shortly after her resignation date, Porter accepted that encouragement and sent the HTHA a letter asking to rescind her resignation.  Porter’s direct supervisor forwarded the letter to the Executive Director, with the supervisor’s recommendation that Porter be allowed to come back to work. The Executive Director refused Porter’s request.

Faced with this scenario, the court repeatedly stated that the “context” of the employer’s refusal was absolutely critical in determining whether an adverse employment action occurred. That context, according to the court, showed that Porter might have legitimately expected that she would be allowed to rescind her resignation.

In reaching that conclusion, the court noted that several HTHA representatives actually asked Porter not to go through with her resignation, and that her direct supervisor recommended that the Executive Director accept the rescission.  There was also evidence that the Executive Director had never before made a separation decision contrary to the direct supervisor’s recommendation. The court also noted that Porter had already asked—and been allowed—to continue working for a month longer than her originally-planned resignation date.

With those facts in mind, the court ruled that it was both reasonable for Porter to believe she would be allowed to rescind her resignation, and that she might have been dissuaded from complaining of sexual harassment had she known it would affect whether or not she was allowed to rescind her resignation.

Employers should note that this decision does not change the fact that courts generally have not accepted refusals to rescind resignations as adverse employment actions for discrimination claims, as opposed to retaliation claims. But employers must also remember that courts have, for many years, ruled that the definition of an adverse employment action is much broader in retaliation claims, as compared to discrimination claims. Bearing all of that in mind, the Fifth Circuit’s ruling is a clear warning to employers across the country that mixed signals from management and deviations from prior practices—whether in the context of a resignation or any other employment action—may give rise to unlawful retaliation claims.

Hospital’s Second Bite at the Apple Violated Unionized Employees’ Rights for Open Positions Between Facilities

Contributed by Heather Bailey

Last week, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) – although divided – affirmed that Southcoast Hospitals Group violated unionized workers’ rights under Section 8(a)(3) and (1) of the National Labor Relations Act when the hospital created an open position hiring and transfer policy that gave unrepresented workers preference over unionized employees at the non-unionized hospitals.

Southcoast, located in Massachusetts, was comprised of 3 hospitals and 20 ancillary locations. The unionized employees made up 215 of the 550 employees who worked at one of the three hospitals, Tobey. The employees, unionized or not, were allowed to cross-pollinate between the three hospitals for open positions.  Since 1996, the parties’ collective bargaining agreement gave unionized employees the leg up when it came to hiring and transferring to open positions at Tobey and were to be given the “most senior qualified” preference for these positions. Somewhere around 1997-98, the hospital tried to negotiate and change this language to the “best qualified” which would have put the unrepresented employees at the same advantage as the unionized workers. This, of course, was rejected by the Union.

In 1999, the hospital decided to unilaterally change its written human resources policy to the following:

  • Upon application, regular status employees who are beyond the introductionary [sic] period will be given first consideration for job postings providing the regular status employee’s qualifications substantially equal the qualifications of external candidates. Employees in a union will be considered internal candidates if the collective bargaining contract provides reciprocal opportunity to employees who are not members of the union for open positions at the unionized site. Temporary and per diem status employees will be considered prior to external applicants . . . . Employees in a union whose collective-bargaining contract does not provide reciprocal opportunity to employees who are not members of the union will be considered external candidates.

The hospital defended its actions by stating 1) it was trying to head off unrepresented employee complaints of being shut out of represented employee positions (yet, the hospital did not bring one complaining employee or applicant forward) and 2) it was trying to “level the playing field” for the unrepresented employees at the other two hospitals to that of the unionized employees at Tobey. However, the underlying judge noted that the union employees only comprised of 215 of the 550 positions. Thus, the unionized employees were discriminated against and hindered in job advancement for being in the union because the unrepresented employees now had a much higher disproportionate amount of open positions that they were getting preferential treatment for over the unionized employees.

Ultimately, the NLRB agreed that neither of the reasons gave the hospital a “legitimate and substantial business justification” to thwart the unionized employees’ Section 7 NLRA rights that would outweigh the impact this HR policy had against unionized employees who had collectively bargained for rights at their hospital. Among other edicts of back pay and tax consequences and the requirement to reconsider passed over unionized employees for the positions at the non-unionized hospitals, the hospital was ordered to rescind its HR policy and notify all of the employees of same.

Practice Tips: NLRB scrutiny of employer policies is at an all-time high. Any employment policy or practice that makes a distinction between employees based on union member status must be scrutinized for any potential (or actual) adverse effect on the union members and potential (or actual) advantage provided to the non-union employees. If the change is going to give the unionized employees less rights, less opportunities, etc., it is better to be creative and think of a different approach (or get the union’s blessing before making the change). Whenever going against a collective bargaining agreement, it is best to run the change by your labor counsel first.