Tag Archives: employee handbook

UPDATED: California Bans Applicant Salary History Inquiries

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, November 8, 2017

Add salary history to the growing list of topics that may be off limits on employment applications and during interviews, depending on where your business operates.

32420632 - law gavel on a stack of american moneyCalifornia joins a growing list of jurisdictions banning salary history inquiries. On October 12, 2017, California Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 168, which prohibits employers from seeking or relying upon applicants’ salary history and using such information as the basis for establishing compensation. The new law takes effect on January 1, 2018.

Like ban-the-box legislation (banning inquiries into criminal conviction history) and sick leave ordinances, this is likely the start of a national trend enacted on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction piecemeal basis.  California joins Massachusetts, Oregon, and Delaware, along with several municipalities, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and U.S. territory Puerto Rico, to enact such legislation in an emerging national trend.  Indeed, since we reported on Illinois’s forestalled HB1462 amending the Equal Pay Act in September, the Illinois House has overridden the governor’s veto, and the bill is on its way to the Illinois Senate for similar consideration.

The Basics

Like the other jurisdictions’ laws, California’s legislation is meant to remedy past gender-based compensation discrimination.  However, given the broad language, this bill will apply to all protected classes such as (and not limited to) race, religion, military status. Under AB-168, all employers in the state of California:

  1. May not inquire directly or indirectly into an applicant’s compensation and benefits (unless publicly available as provided by other laws).
  2. May not rely on salary history as a factor in determining whether to offer employment to an applicant or what salary to offer an applicant.
  3. Must provide the pay scale for the position to an applicant applying for employment “upon reasonable request.”  Note that this is a fairly unique provision in California’s law (at least for now).
  4. May not allow prior salary alone to justify any disparity in compensation.

Notably, if an applicant “voluntarily and without prompting discloses” compensation history, the employer may then consider it as a factor in determining the salary to offer an applicant.

Compliance Made Easy

In light of these trends in the workplace, employers must ensure that they are compliant with new and emerging laws as enacted, and to also perform routine audits – including employment forms, handbooks, policies, and templates.  As it relates to these salary inquiry laws, employers should (1) ensure job applications are compliant and do not include salary/wage inquiries, and (2) review interview questions, especially “scripts” used by management, and ensure that those conducting interviews are aware of the new unlawful inquiry.

What’s the Bottom Line on Salary History Inquiry Bans? Don’t Ask.

You may not ask applicants “how much do you currently make?” But you may ask: “how much would you like to earn in this position?” or “What are your compensation expectations?” or other similar future-oriented inquiries.

Save the Date! SmithAmundsen Complimentary Webinar – November 9 – Employee Handbook Essentials for HR Pros and Business Owners

Join Amanda Biondolino on Thursday, November 9 at 8:30AM CT as she guides employers of all shapes and sizes through effectively using an employee handbook and identifies top employee handbook mistakes that could cost you. This complimentary webinar includes insight on specific topics such as:

  • Purpose of employee handbooks
  • Safety standards
  • Drug test policies
  • Privacy issues
  • And more!

Register for the webinar here!

Seventh Circuit Opinion Focuses on Employee Handbook in Determining Whether Employer had Constructive Notice of Non-Supervisory Sexual Harassment

Contributed by Allison P. Sues, August 22, 2017

Employee handbookOn August 2, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a decision in Nischan v. Stratosphere Quality, LLC providing clarity on what constitutes an employer’s “constructive notice” of harassment.

Michele Nischan worked as a project supervisor at Stratosphere Quality, LLC, a company that provides third-party inspection and quality-control services to car manufacturers. Nischan alleged that an employee of one of the client manufacturers “relentlessly” sexually harassed her by routinely rubbing himself against her and making offensive comments, amid other inappropriate actions.

Because the alleged harasser did not have supervisory authority over Nischan, Stratosphere could only be held liable for the alleged sexual harassment if it was negligent in discovering or remedying it. Normally, to prevail on this type of claim, the employee presents evidence that she made a concerted effort to report the harassment. Here however, it was undisputed that Nischan did not report the harassment during the relevant time period.

Nevertheless, an employer may be held liable even when an employee fails to report sexual harassment if the employer knew or should have known of the harassing conduct but failed to act. The Federal Appellate Court explained that constructive notice will generally attach when someone who has a duty to pass the information up the chain of command learns of the harassment.

Nischan claimed a fellow project supervisor (her peer) and an operations manager were both present when one of the incidents of harassment occurred. However she testified she was unsure whether the operations manager witnessed the harassment and he denied witnessing any conduct that constituted sexual harassment.  The lower court concluded there was no basis to impute liability to the employer because only her peer, not the higher level employee, knew of the harassment.

The Seventh Circuit disagreed.  Even though the project supervisor who witnessed the harassment held the same low level project supervisor position as Nischan and was not Nischan’s supervisor, the employer’s handbook required that any employee with any supervisory responsibility report observed instances of harassment up the chain of command or to human resources. The Seventh Circuit noted that the employer “is accountable to the standard of care it created for itself” and that because the employer’s own rules “required [the project supervisor] to report the sexual harassment that she observed, Stratosphere had constructive notice of the harassment.”

Bottom Line: This case serves as a reminder that each company’s unique employee policy may guide the court in determining an employer’s legal obligations. Employers should review their harassment and reporting policies and ensure that all employees that fall under its scope receive proper training on identifying harassing behavior—even if it is directed at another—and promptly reporting it.

You CAN Ask Your Employees To Be Happy! Federal Appeals Court Reins In National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, August 17­, 2017

Labor LawMuch has been written and discussed about the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) attack on handbook policies over the past several years. The NLRB has found what many consider to be run-of-the-mill, standard policies that have, for many years, raised no issues or controversy, to be violative of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Last year, the NLRB struck down various policies in a handbook issued by T-Mobile, including one that encouraged employees to be professional and maintain a “positive work environment” in T-Mobile USA, Inc. v. NLRB, No. 16-60284 (5th Cir. 2017). In its decision, the Board reasoned: “[w]e find that employees would reasonably construe the rule to restrict potentially controversial or contentious communications and discussions, including those protected by Section 7 of the [NLRA], out of fear that the [employer] would deem them to be inconsistent with a ‘positive work environment.’” T-Mobile appealed the NLRB’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Specifically, T-Mobile challenged the Board’s determination that the following provisions from its employee handbook violated the NLRA because they discouraged unionizing or other concerted activity protected by the Act. Provision (1) encouraged employees to “maintain a positive work environment”; (2) prohibited “[a]rguing or fighting,” “failing to treat others with respect,” and “failing to demonstrate appropriate teamwork”; (3) prohibited all photography and audio or video recording in the workplace; and (4) prohibited access to electronic information by non-approved individuals.

On July 25, the Fifth Circuit held that the Board erred in finding that a reasonable employee would construe policies (1), (2), and (4) to prohibit protected activity. The Court reasoned:

In this case, where the record does not suggest that the rules have been applied in the context of union or collective activity, the ‘reasonable employee’ is a T-Mobile employee aware of his legal rights but who also interprets work rules as they apply to the everydayness of his job. The reasonable employee does not view every employer policy through the prism of the NLRA. Indeed, ‘[the Board] must not presume improper interference with employee rights.’

The Court did agree with the Board’s finding that a reasonable employee would construe policy (3) to prohibit protected activity. It reasoned that unlike the other policies such as the “workplace conduct” policy and “commitment –to-integrity” policy, the recording policy blanketedly forbids certain forms of clearly protected activity. For instance, it would prohibit an off-duty employee from taking a picture of a wage schedule. Notably, last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a similar NLRB decision on workplace recordings.

Bottom line: This federal appeals court decision in T-Mobile USA Inc. v. NLRB gives employers and their counsel additional basis for defending legitimate personnel policies in the face of numerous NLRB decisions issued over the past several years that have been viewed as an attempt to diminish management’s right to set basic employee standards in the workplace. However, it seems that blanket policies prohibiting workplace recordings continue to require careful wording and business justification.

The NLRB’s Latest Target? Dress Codes and Already Rescinded Policies

Contributed by Suzanne Newcomb, July 13, 2016

The Federal Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently upheld a National Labor Relations Board decision finding a car dealership’s dress code ban on “pins, insignias, and message clothing” was, in and of itself, an unfair labor practice. The case is another in a long line of NLRB decisions striking down policies as unfair labor practices because, the board claims, employees might interpret them as infringing upon their right to unionize or engage in other concerted activity protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

The board concluded the dealership’s interest in maintaining its public image did not justify the outright ban. Adding insult to injury, the Board found a second violation for the dealership’s failure to properly repudiate overly restrictive policies contained in an earlier version of its handbook.

Employee handbookThe NLRB had earlier challenged several provisions in the dealership’s handbook. The dealership worked closely with the NLRB to draft new NLRA-compliant policies and issued a whole new handbook. In fact, the NLRB’s own General Counsel stipulated that, with the exception of the dress code policy, the new handbook was NLRA-compliant. So, even though the employer rescinded the offending policies and replaced them with policies the NLRB explicitly approved, the employer was still found to have engaged in an unfair labor practice because it had previously maintained policies the Board viewed as overly restrictive and the employer did not properly repudiate those policies.

The Board ordered the employer to issue a notice that specifically addressed the policies it found to be unlawful, advised employees of their Section 7 rights, and assured employees there would be no future interference with those rights. The Federal Appeals Court upheld the Board’s ruling, concluding that to be relieved of liability for unlawfully restrictive policies, even policies that have since been discontinued or appropriately revised, an employer must “signal unambiguously to employees that it recognizes it has acted wrongfully, that it respects their Section 7 rights, and that it will not interfere with those rights again.”

Notably, no employees were alleged to have actually suffered discipline or any other adverse action under the ban. The policies alone formed the basis for finding the employer liable for two distinct unfair labor practices.

In light of the NLRB’s aggressive approach, employers are again reminded to review handbooks and employment policies regularly. Anything the Board believes employees could reasonably interpret as improperly constraining Section 7 activity could form the basis for an unfair labor charge. If any of your policies are questionable, consult legal counsel to determine how best to revise those policies to bring them into compliance and, if necessary, to devise a strategy to effectively repudiate any policies that run afoul of the Board’s broad interpretation of Section 7 rights.

NLRB Strikes Down Employee Handbook’s No-Recording Rules

Contributed by Steven Jados

The NLRB has, once again, struck down work rules the Board deemed overly broad. This time, the employer is Whole Foods Market, and the rules at issue essentially barred employees from photographing or making audio or video recordings during working hours—that is, when employees were being paid to do their assigned work. These rules did not apply while employees were on break.

Readers may remember that the NLRB’s rationale for striking down various employer policies in recent years has hinged on protecting employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act to engage in “concerted activity for mutual aid or protection.”  For example, the NLRB has struck down rules barring employees from discussing their wages because those discussions, in the NLRB’s eyes, are concerted activity protected by law.

Now, no employee was actually disciplined for violating the rules at issue in this most-recent case—and there is no accusation that the rules actually infringed on any employee’s right to engage in concerted activity for mutual aid or protection.  There also was no evidence that any employee even believed that the rules prohibited protected concerted activity.  Nevertheless, the NLRB felt it necessary to ban these rules based on the possibility that employees might believe the rules prohibited the recording of, for instance, picketing or unsafe working conditions—things that may generally be considered protected concerted activity.

No CameraOne of the more interesting aspects of the decision, aside from the fact that no one was harmed by the rules at issue, is that the NLRB dodged the issue of whether the rules would be enforceable in states in which at least some of the prohibited recording is illegal under state law. Whole Foods argued that in some of the states in which it does business, it is illegal to record a private conversation without the consent of the parties involved in the conversation. The NLRB, apparently having no interest in issuing a decision with any nuance, rejected that argument (with no acknowledgement of the irony) because such laws were not in effect in all of the states in which Whole Foods operated.

Also interesting is the fact that the NLRB did not overrule prior precedent in which no-camera rules were upheld in a hospital setting.  The rationale for that prior precedent was essentially that the privacy of hospital patients and their medical information outweighed potential concerns over employees’ protected concerted activity.

With all of that in mind, it is likely that some no-recording rules could survive NLRB scrutiny.  The key to drafting enforceable rules will be making them apply to a narrow set of circumstances—circumstances that, ideally, are already protected by existing laws on consent for recording, or which can be tied to significant privacy interests, like medical patient privacy or, perhaps, the protection of trade secrets—although the NLRB’s decision is unclear as to whether the protection of trade secrets would be a valid basis for a no-recording rule.

The bottom line is that employers implementing broad no-recording policies that could be misconstrued to cover protected employee activity face a considerable risk that those rules will be deemed unenforceable by the NLRB.  As such, we recommend that employers work closely with experienced legal counsel to craft no-recording rules that closely align with operational needs and other applicable laws, and at the same time make clear that the rules will not infringe on employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

Finally, we note in closing that Whole Foods appealed this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on January 5, 2016.  We will monitor that action closely, and provide updates here with any further information as it becomes available.

The NLRB Issued Employee Handbook Guidance With All You Need To Know In A Single Source?

Contributed by Steven Jados

Not exactly—but it is quite useful, nonetheless.

Recently, the Office of the General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board issued a report on lawful and unlawful employee handbook rules.  And while the information provided in the report does not have the force of law, the guidance is quite detailed and it provides insight into what, for the moment, is the board’s approach to enforcement on employee handbooks.

What the report makes clear is that context is key to determining whether an employee handbook provision will be considered lawful or not.  For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to have a policy that states: “Do not make negative comments about our customers in any social media.”  However, if an employer prohibited “negative” comments about the employer, itself, or its management personnel, that would almost certainly be considered unlawful.

Similarly, while a policy that generally prohibits “derogatory comments” is likely to be found unlawful, a ban on derogatory comments that is included within a policy prohibiting sexual harassment is likely to be acceptable.  The report includes guidance like this on several categories of employee handbook policies, including: treatment of customers, competitors, and the public; treatment of confidential and proprietary business information; harassment in the workplace and online; and employee communication with the media.

The report also provides specific examples of actual employee handbook language that the NLRB considers unlawful, along with a brief explanation of why the language is considered unlawful.  Following that, the report then provides examples and explanations of similar policies that are facially acceptable.

As one would expect, the report is not perfect, and it does not have the force of law—which is to say that reliance on the report will not be an absolute defense to an unfair labor practice charge.  This is especially so in light of the fact that the acceptable policies included in the report are considered “facially” lawful, which means, essentially, that the board believes those policies can and should be interpreted in a way that does not unlawfully restrict employee rights.

However, if an employer enforces what would be a facially valid policy in a way that is unlawful (e.g., enforcing a facially valid confidentiality policy by terminating employees who discuss their pay rates), the employer should not be surprised to find itself charged with an unfair labor practice.

That said, despite any flaws the report may have, the report is the most comprehensive and extensive guidance issued by the NLRB on this subject, and it is a good starting point for employers who have not yet revised their policies in response to the NLRB’s increased enforcement in this area over the past several years.