Category Archives: Employment

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.

Employing Students in the STEM OPT Program Just Got Much More Complicated for Employers

Contributed by Sara Zorich

On March 11, 2016, the new rules regarding the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) OPT program were posted in the Federal Registrar and will take effect on May 10, 2016.

The new STEM program allows students to be approved for work authorization for 24 months vs. the previous 17 month program and allows current students to apply for an additional 7 months of work authorization.

job training, classroomWhile the additional work eligibility is good news for both students and employers, the new rules subject employers to heighten compliance requirements including:

  • Employers and students will be required to create and abide by a training plan for each STEM OPT student. This plan must include:
    1. Details about the assignments and tasks the student will carry out and how they relate to the student’s degree
    2. Specific skills, knowledge and techniques the student will learn and how those goals will be achieved
    3. Explanation of employer oversight of the student
    4. Information about the measures and assessments of the student’s acquisition of new skills
  • The student and employer representative responsible for the student must sign an annual evaluation report, mid-point evaluation and final evaluation.
  • The student and employer must complete the new Form I-983 as part of the application process. As part of completing the Form I-983, an employer must attest that:
    1. It has sufficient resources and trained personnel available to provide appropriate training in connection with the specified opportunity
    2. The student will not replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker
    3. The opportunity will help the student attain his or her training objectives
  • Employers hiring STEM OPT students can be subjected to Department of Homeland Security site visits to verify whether the employer is meeting the program requirements and employer notification requirements.

Furthermore, the rule retains the requirement that the employer be registered with E-Verify in order to employ a STEM OPT student.

Any applications filed by a student for participation in STEM OPT on or after May 10, 2016 are subject to the new rule. Therefore, employers must analyze their current and future participation in the STEM program and should consider the following:

  • Does the company want to participate in the STEM OPT program going forward? If yes, is the company prepared for the additional compliance requirements?
  • How is the company going to address students who want to apply for the additional 7 months requiring the current employer to comply with the new rules/requirements?
  • What the company can and cannot say during the hiring process to potential employees regarding the company’s position on employment based sponsorship of employees.

Through this new rule, the Government has sent a clear message that it is making it much more complicated for employers to hire foreign workers. Employers should contact immigration and employment counsel to address the application of this new rule to their company.

 

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.

Can Employment Discrimination Plaintiffs Survive Summary Judgment?

Contributed by Julie Proscia and Steven Jados

The Seventh Circuit recently affirmed summary judgment for the employer in Miller v. St. Joseph County, a race discrimination case, and in doing so applied what may prove to be a streamlined standard for determining whether employment discrimination plaintiffs can survive summary judgment.

The plaintiff in Miller was a long-time employee of the county’s police department who sought several promotions which he did not receive. He alleged, among other things, that the promotion denials, a temporary assignment he disliked (but which did not change his compensation, benefits or rank), and the fact that he did not receive certain other promotions for which he apparently did not even apply, were all the result of race discrimination.

The court, while noting that it could not overrule the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting method of proof, and its prima facie elements, instead applied a brief three-part test as a substitute for what the court called the “cumbersome” indirect and direct methods of proof. The three parts are: (1) membership in a protected class; (2) an adverse employment action; and (3) evidence from which “a rational jury could conclude that the employer took that adverse action on account of . . . protected class, not for any non-invidious reason.”

Applying that test, the court noted that there was no evidence of racial slurs or other manifest racial hostility; no evidence that the plaintiff was more qualified than the individuals hired into the positions plaintiff sought; and no evidence that race played a factor in the temporary assignment the plaintiff disliked. In short, the court looked at the evidence the plaintiff presented and saw nothing that could lead a rational jury to conclude that race discrimination occurred—and the court affirmed summary judgment in the employer’s favor as a result.

Now, what does this mean as a practical matter for human resources and management professionals?  It appears to signal the court’s interest in adjudicating discrimination cases on a common-sense basis.  That sounds simple, but whether it actually streamlines the litigation of discrimination cases—especially a case based heavily on circumstantial evidence—remains to be seen.

Use Independent Contractors? DOL Says Almost Everyone Is An Employee Under the FLSA

Contributed by Steven Jados

On July 15, 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued an Administrator’s Interpretation addressing the distinction between employees and independent contractors in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The DOL has aggressively pursued potential misclassifications of employees as independent contractors in recent years. Indicative of that aggressive approach, the interpretation states that most workers are employees under the FLSA. While that statement is walked-back somewhat in other parts of the interpretation, businesses that rely heavily on independent contractors should take this message to heart and reassess whether their independent contractor relationships will truly survive scrutiny by the DOL and other government agencies. The consequences of independent contractor misclassification may be severe and include liability for unpaid taxes, wages, and other damages and costs.

Much of the interpretation covers old ground, but nevertheless there are several interesting insights. Among them is the interpretation’s discussion on workers who are able to choose how many hours they work in a day or week, or when and where they perform their work. In short, the interpretation states that such freedom should not weigh heavily in favor of an independent contractor relationship if the workers are not exercising managerial skills in a way that affects the workers’ opportunities to realize profits or losses. However, if a worker negotiates the rate at which customers paid for the worker’s services, then that would indicate independent contractor status.Independent contract

The interpretation reiterates that an independent contractor relationship cannot be established by a contract between a business and worker declaring the worker an independent contractor. Instead, the DOL uses a six-factor “economic realities” test in conjunction with the FLSA’s “suffer or permit” standard (which is intended to make the FLSA’s coverage as broad as possible) to analyze whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. The interpretation phrases those six factors as:

(A) the extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business; (B) the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss depending on his or her managerial skill; (C) the extent of the relative investments of the employer and the worker; (D) whether the work performed requires special skills and initiative; (E) the permanency of the relationship; and (F) the degree of control exercised or retained by the employer.

In the end, the question of whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor will generally boil down to whether a worker is truly “in business for him or herself”—and therefore an independent contractor—or whether the worker is “economically dependent on the employer” and an employee. That said, if your business treats workers who are economically dependent on your business as independent contractors, we strongly recommend seeing advice of counsel to determine if changes can be made to ensure a strong defense against litigation or other enforcement actions by the DOL or the independent contractors themselves.

Is Your Contractor Really Independent?

Contributed by Noah A. Frank

Recently, a California labor commissioner found that an Uber driver was an employee and not an independent contractor (“IC”), awarding the driver over $4,000 in expenses (Uber Techs., Inc. v. Berwick, CGC-15-546378 (Cal. Sup. Ct. June 16, 2015)). Similar lawsuits, including class action matters, are being filed around the country.  The implications for Uber are huge: unemployment taxes, workers’ compensation insurance, minimum wage, overtime, and third-party tort liability to start.

What is so surprising about this ruling is that Uber drivers seem to epitomize the IC relationship. They enter into explicit IC agreements, work when and where they want, accept the fares they want, supply their own vehicle, pay their own gas and maintenance costs, and work for competitors (i.e., Lyft and traditional taxi services). Uber generally requires drivers to complete an application, be safe drivers, and be knowledgeable about the city’s geography. Uber processes the fare, deducts its fee, and pays the remainder to the driver.

How did the IC relationship become so complex?  Well, the law favors the employer-employee relationship as the default.  It ensures workers receive minimum and overtime wages, are covered by workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits when the relationship ends. Of course, this also means that the government receives taxes (rather than hope an IC actually pays taxes), and will not become the guarantor of an unemployed or uninsured individual through social welfare programs like Medicaid.

ContractIt’s not so simple after all.  Here are five tips for engaging an Independent Contractor:

  • First, consider whether the IC arrangement is really best for your business. For example, if you want a lot of control versus an end product, it may be better to hire employees.
  • Second, will you be engaging individuals or companies?  Most employment law tests favor the IC arrangement when the two parties are independently established businesses.
  •  Third, have a good, tailored contract.  While not conclusive, contracts are meant to provide black-and-white evidence of the parties’ intent (which, by its nature, is drafted when things are going well to protect them for when things go south).
  • Fourth, perform an audit of the relationship under the various substantive laws governing your industry (e.g., special rules for construction, trucking, and temporary labor to name a few) before entering into the IC relationship.  The key is: would the relationship satisfy an administrative agency’s test if an IC complained?
  • Finally, seek the advice of counsel to ensure that the four steps above are conducted with an objective eye towards protecting your business now and going forward.  While most business deals can be made, upfront review may save costly legal fees in litigation and otherwise.