Tag Archives: employers

State Bill Would Limit Restrictive Covenants With Physicians

Contributed By Jeffrey Glass, May 11, 2021

Historically, a majority of states have allowed employers to use restrictive covenants with physicians—and only a handful of states (among them: Delaware, Massachusetts, and Rhode island) have prohibited that practice in whole or in part. However, as discussed in recent blogs, the current trend is for state legislatures to pass new laws that regulate and limit non-compete agreements, often as they relate to lower wage employees or employees below certain income thresholds.

Now, in what may be a harbinger of future legislative efforts to regulate restrictive covenants in the health care industry, the State of Louisiana is considering a bill that would specifically limit restrictive covenants for physicians.

The legislation at issue, Louisiana House Bill No. 483, would completely ban any type of contract that restricts the practice of medicine by “primary care physicians,” a term the bill defines as including doctors practicing family medicine, general internal medicine, general psychiatry, general pediatrics, obstetrics, and gynecology. It would also ban such agreements for any physician employed by the state, such as a state university hospital.

The legislation also sets limits on contracts that restrict the practice of medicine by “physician specialists,” which includes any physician not included in the definition of “primary care physician.” For “physician specialists,” a restrictive agreement would become unenforceable when the physician has put in three years of service to the employer. Practitioners sometimes call this type of arrangement a “burn off” restriction. Such restrictions are viewed as a way to allow the employer to realize the value of its investment in the employee over time, while allowing the employee to eventually be free of the post-employment restrictions.

The bill also sets limits for buy-out clauses for physician specialists. These are clauses where the physician or the new employer can pay money to the former employer to release the physician from the restrictions. The bill caps buy-out payments at the physician’s annual salary for the first year of the restriction, and provides that payments for any additional years are reduced on a pro rata basis.

Finally, the bill sets certain new rules for both “primary care physicians” and “physician specialists,” i.e., all physicians. The bill provides that, where any physician is terminated without cause by the employer, the restrictive covenant is unenforceable. It further provides that no restrictive covenant may restrict a physician from practicing within a “restricted geographic area” for a period of more than two years. “Restricted geographic area” is defined as the parish of the physician’s primary office location and up to two contiguous parishes. “Parishes” are Louisiana local government districts similar to counties.

This legislation would significantly change Louisiana law as it applies to physicians. Currently, Louisiana, like the majority of states, allows such restrictions to be used with physicians provided certain conditions are met. The new legislation would completely ban such agreements for primary care physicians and set significant limits on the use of such agreements with physician specialists.

We will keep readers apprised of further developments with the Louisiana legislation, as well as legislation in other states related to restrictive covenants in the health care industry.

IDOL on the PROWL: Looking At Non-Union Contractors to Debar for Technical Violations of the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act

Contributed By Jeff Risch and Peter Hansen, May 7, 2021

hand signing contract on white paper

Contractors beware – the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) has ramped up audits of contractors as labor unions and related organizations flood the IDOL with “complaints. Remember, under the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act (IPWA), a prevailing wage “complaint” need not be verified or even submitted to the IDOL under penalty of perjury. The IDOL will investigate each and every “complaint” regardless of merit and, while historically the main focus of the IDOL was to ensure proper and full payment of the actual prevailing wage, it is now seeking to issue violations and debar contractors for technical violations (i.e. failure to post rates or provide written notice to contractors or lower tiered contracts).

Typically, debarment from contracting for public works (for up to 4 years) occurs only after the IDOL issues two distinct formal written notices of IPWA violations to a contractor within 5 years. Until recently, the IDOL considered the severity of the violation, the contractor’s history, and whether the contractor generally complied with other IPWA obligations before issuing a violation notice. The IDOL is now moving towards a philosophy of issuing a formal notice of violation for technical violations – especially when it comes to non-union contractors.

The IDOL’s increased activity is exceptionally troubling for all contractors given the IPWA’s broad definition of “violation” under its Administrative Rules. Pursuant to the IDOL’s prevailing wage rules, a violation occurs whenever the IDOL determines that the contractor:
• failed to pay the prevailing wage to one or more employees performing work covered under a public works contract;
• failed to keep, produce, or submit accurate records demonstrating compliance with the IPWA;
• refused to comply with the certified payroll filing obligations (this now requires the use of the IDOL’s own online electronic portal system);
• refused to allow the IDOL’s access to inspect the contractor’s records;
• failed to insert a written stipulation that prevailing wage rates be paid into each subcontract and into the project specifications;
• failed to obtain a bond guaranteeing performance of the prevailing wage clause (when required by the public body to do so); or
• failed to post or communicate to the workers the applicable prevailing wage rates on the public works project site.

There’s clearly a lot of room for the IDOL to issue violation notices for technical violations that have nothing to do with the actual payment of the prevailing wage to the worker. The IPWA arguably has the most complex and administratively burdensome laws in the country. That’s on purpose!

All contractors must be acutely aware of the IDOL’s increased audit activity – and unprecedented scrutiny. And, in light of Springfield’s allegiance to organized labor these days, non-union contractors are in particular need to be doing everything possible to make certain they are complying with the IPWA’s technical requirements, beyond the payment of the actual prevailing wage.

What Damages Can You Recover In A Non-Compete Case?

Contributed By Jeffrey Glass, May 6, 2021

employment law books and a gavel on desk in the library. concept of legal education.

In the typical non-compete lawsuit, an employer seeks to block the defendant, often an ex-sales representative, from calling on or doing business with the company’s clients. However, in some cases, the defendant succeeds in taking some business, thereby raising the issue of monetary damages.  So, how are damages calculated in a non-compete case? 

In a recent decision, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois addressed this issue. In Zurich American Ins. Co. v. Hill, the defendant insurance salesman admitted that he improperly did business with a certain client of the plaintiff; thus the only issue was calculating an appropriate monetary award. The court explained that, pursuant to Illinois law, the employer is entitled to recover “net lost profits” that were traceable to the defendant’s breach. Net lost profit is gross revenue based on the contract price, less any expenses necessary for plaintiff’s performance of the contract. Depending on the circumstances, a plaintiff’s expenses could include direct costs (e.g., labor, materials) and indirect costs (e.g., overhead expenses). Direct costs, along with any portion of indirect costs that can be avoided by defendant’s breach (“variable indirect costs”) are subtracted from the gross revenue. But any portion of indirect costs that cannot be reduced by defendant’s breach (“fixed indirect costs”) are not subtracted, because plaintiff already incurred and paid those costs.

Applying this framework, the employer established that the company’s overall customer retention record was over 90% and therefore the customer that the defendant “took” could reasonably have been expected to stay with the plaintiff for a year. Although the plaintiff argued that it should recover three years of net profit, the court declined this request based, among other things, on evidence that the customer in question had been somewhat inconsistent with its business in recent years. 

After holding that the employer was entitled to one year of net profit on the customer in question, the court then deducted direct costs. These were the commission that the sales representative would have received, and also insurable losses that reasonably could have been expected to have been paid out on the polices. 

Finally, there was a dispute over whether some amount of variable overhead should be deducted, which would have further reduced the employer’s net lost profit. The court stated that some type of variable overhead could only be deducted if the defendant could show that the overhead could have been avoided by the defendant’s breach. Because the defendant could not prove any such overhead, the court declined to deduct any type of variable overhead.   

Therefore, the final award represented the gross revenue that would have been received from the customer in question for one year, minus the sales representative’s commission and the losses that would have been paid out on the policy.

Illinois Lawmakers Consider Expanding Mandatory Retirement Savings Program to Small Employers

Contributed By Kelly Haab-Tallitsch, April 30, 2021

savings, hand stacking gold coins isolated on white background

The Illinois General Assembly is considering a bill (H.B. 117) that would make several amendments to the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program Act, including extending the requirement to offer employees a retirement savings plan to employers with 5 to 24 employees. H.B. 117 was passed by the Illinois House of Representatives earlier this month and is currently pending in the Illinois Senate.

Currently, Illinois employers that have 25 or more employees and have been in business at least two years are required to participate in the state-run Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program (Secure Choice Program) or offer another qualifying retirement savings plan to employees. H.B. 117 would lower the threshold to employers with 5 or more employees.

If H.B. 117 is enacted into law, Illinois employers that employed 5 or more employees during each quarter of the previous year, have been in business at least two years, and do not offer another retirement savings plan will be required to participate in the Secure Choice Program.

Covered employers are required to automatically enroll employees in the program and withhold 5% of an employee’s compensation (up to an annual IRS maximum), unless the employee elects a different amount or opts out of the program. Employers remit employees’ contributions to the state-run program. Those contributions are then deposited into Roth Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) for each participant and invested at the participant’s direction among a menu of investment alternatives. Employer contributions to the program are not permitted.

H.B. 117 includes the addition of automatic increases to employee contributions, up to a maximum of 10% of an employee’s wages, modifies penalties for noncompliance,  and makes changes to the enforcement process.

Under H.B. 117, the deadline to enroll employees would be no sooner than September 1, 2022 for employers with 16 – 24 employees, and no sooner than September 1, 2023 for employers with 5 – 15 employees. The Illinois State Treasurer’s office will notify employers directly (by mail or email) when they are required to register. Employers will receive two notifications – an early registration notice 120 days prior to the required registration date, and a second notice 30 days prior to the registration date.

H.B. 117 is still pending in the Illinois Senate, but based on the strong support for the bill, it appears likely H.B. 117 will pass and be signed into law.

Employers that offer another qualifying retirement savings plan are exempt from the Secure Choice Program. As such, small employers should begin examining the options available to determine whether implementing a qualified retirement savings plan, such as a Simplified Employee Pension, SIMPLE IRA, or 401(k) plan may be a better alternative than the Secure Choice Program.

SmithAmundsen’s employee benefits team will continue to monitor the status of H.B. 117 and provide additional information as it becomes available.

Illinois Legislature Considering Freedom To Work Act Amendments That Target Non-Compete And Non-Solicitation Clauses

employment law books and a gavel on desk in the library. concept of legal education.

Contributed By: Jeffrey Glass, April 19, 2021

In recent years, many states have enacted legislation directed at employment contracts containing non-compete and non-solicitation clauses. Illinois first did so in 2016 with the Freedom to Work Act (the Act), which bans certain Illinois employers from entering into non-compete agreements with low-wage employees.

Now, the Illinois General Assembly has taken the matter up again with additional proposed amendments to the Act.

Although the new legislation has not been finalized, some provisions that appear likely to be included in the final version are: income thresholds for employees who are not “low wage,” a requirement that the employer provide the employee with a copy of the contract in advance of signing it, employee-friendly attorney’s fee-shifting provisions, and exemptions for union workers.  While the legislation primarily is geared toward protecting employees, it also helps employers by clarifying the state of the law on several issues, including clearer standards for the enforceability of non-compete clauses.

The amendments are projected to take effect on June 1, 2021, and will not apply to contracts entered into before that date.  Employers should contact their employment counsel to make sure any agreements entered into on or after the effective date comport with the new law. SmithAmundsen attorneys are working closely with employer-side groups on the legislation and will update readers of this blog as further developments arise.

EEO-1 Report Portal Opening Soon – Deadline is Set

hand with pen over form

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, April 16, 2021

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) EEO-1 Component 1 Online Filing System is set to open on Monday, April 26, 2021. Private employers with at least 100 employees, and federal contractors with at least 50 employees and a contract worth $50,000 or more, must file their EEO-1 data for years 2019 (previously postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and 2020, by Monday, July 19, 2021. Employers will be required to first file for 2019, then file for 2020 – after the 2019 report is submitted and certified.

As a reminder, EEO-1 reports require data from a “workforce snapshot period,” which is any single pay period during the last quarter of the year (October through December), as selected by the employer.  Employers may select different workforce snapshot pay periods for 2019 and 2020. 

Employees who telework must also be included in the EEO-1 report for the establishment to which they report. Practical tip: Do not include home addresses for these remote employees as a company location.

The 2019 and 2020 reports will only include “Component 1” data, which is comprised of the same workforce demographic information that has long been required on the EEO-1. As of right now, the controversial “Component 2” pay data information does not need to be reported to the EEOC. Last year, the EEOC did not renew its authority to collect the pay data information and is still evaluating the Component 2 data that it received for FY 2017 and 2018 to determine whether or not the information is useful, and whether or not the data collection form needs to be revised. 

It should also be noted that the U.S. Congress also could act on legislation pending in the form of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would require the EEOC and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) to initiate pay data collection.

In the meantime, some states have implemented their own pay data collections. California has completed its first round of collection under the state’s pay data collection law, and Illinois has enacted a law that requires employers in the state to submit pay data starting in 2023 (and obtain an equal pay registration certificate by March 24, 2024). Notably, Illinois employers who are required to file a federal EEO-1 report, will also be required to file similar information with the Secretary of State, making the data publicly available.    

Bottom line: Employers should be prepared to begin submissions of their EEO-1 reports for 2019 and 2020 as soon as possible. Don’t stop there. Evaluate your EEO-1 data and strongly consider pay equity analysis, with the goal of identifying and correcting any potential issues, sooner rather than later.

Can I Ask My Employees If They Have Been Vaccinated?

Male doctor hand wears medical glove holding syringe and vial bottle with COVID-19 vaccine

Contributed by Heather A. Bailey, April 6, 2021

The short answer is: Be careful what you wish for!  During this COVID-19 pandemic, vaccinations have been at the front of everyone’s mind. Now, with the mass rollout of vaccinations across the country, employers’ main questions have been: i) Can we mandate vaccinations for our workforce or, alternatively, ii) can we ask employees whether they have been vaccinated or not (and to show proof of vaccination)? Our Labor & Employment blog has been at the forefront for the first question and provides more information on COVID-19 vaccination developments and what legal risks come into play for employers when mandating the vaccine in the workplace.

Whether you’ve chosen to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or not, you still may be interested in asking your employees to show proof of their vaccination status.  This simple question comes with its own set of risks. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has given additional guidance in this area in Section K.3 of “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.”   

The good news is that generally asking your employees for proof of their vaccination status is not considered a medical exam for reasons that include the fact that there are many reasons that are not disability-related that may explain why an employee may or may not have gotten a vaccination.  For example, they may not have one yet because they have been unable to secure an appointment, or they simply do not believe in the vaccination because they think COVID is a hoax.  This is different from someone not getting vaccinated due to a disability or religious belief.  Moreover, this general practice is not a HIPAA violation and HIPAA does not apply in this context.  The rub and risk come if you ask follow-up questions that may elicit whether the employee may have a disability.  Simply following-up with “why do you not have the vaccination yet?” could be treading into that risky territory that touches on whether an employee’s disability is the reason why the employee has not been vaccinated. 

If you find yourself in that territory,  you will have to evaluate the employee’s response within the framework of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (or Title VII, if the employee’s response implicates religious beliefs) requirement to justify proof of vaccination being “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”  This is the same analysis an employer must undertake when mandating vaccinations, and it can be a tedious and high standard to meet. View the Labor and Employment Blog for more information on the ADA and employers’ efforts to require mandatory vaccinations and health screenings for employees.

The same is true of follow-up questions that may elicit genetic information (e.g., I cannot get the vaccination due to my family’s history of being immuno-compromised).  (See Sections K.8 and K.9 of the EEOC guidance described above).  Once again, simply asking for vaccination proof does not run afoul of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) so long as you stop there in your inquiries.

Practice Tips:

  • Again, be careful what you wish for.  It’s one thing to ask the employee whether they were vaccinated and to show proof, and it’s another to ask why they were not vaccinated. Once you start eliciting disability, religious or genetic information with follow-up questions, you are placing your company at risk of knowing more information than you may have bargained for.
  • You need to ask yourself, first, why do I want to know information regarding why my employees have been vaccinated or not?  What are you going to do with this information?  Having a need and plan for this information will help ensure you have a business justification for why this information is necessary. If you don’t have a plan or a need, you may determine that knowing this information is not really necessary after all.
  • When asking employees to show proof of vaccination, it is good to remind them that you do not want them to include any other medical information that may be listed on their vaccination-related documents.
  • If you determine this is the route you want to take, always work with competent labor & employment counsel to help guide you through the process so you do not step on any landmines (even if it’s just a simple follow-up question). 

Breaking News! Illinois Senate Refuses to Override Governor’s Veto

Inquiry into Illinois Applicant’s Salary Inquiry Remains Lawful – For Now.

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, November 9, 2017

gavelWe previously reported that Governor Rauner’s August 25, 2017 veto of HB 2462 amending the Illinois Equal Pay Act related to applicant salary history inquiries was subject to be overridden by the General Assembly.  On October 25, 2017, as predicted, the Illinois House voted to override the veto by a vote of 80-33 (less than the initial vote of 91-24 to pass the bill).  On November 9, 2017, the Illinois Senate voted against overriding the veto.  While 29 senators favored overriding the veto, they were seven short of the 36 required to override the veto (and still less than the original 35 to vote to pass the bill).

The battle is not over. 

In his veto, Governor Rauner suggested that the General Assembly adopt legislation similar to another state’s law.  As such, employers should expect legislation in 2018 in line with this new national trend, and prepare to revise job applications and interview questions accordingly.  We will keep you abreast of future Illinois and national developments.

Opioids in the Workplace

Contributed by Michael Wong, November 3, 2017

One of the first questions I ask when providing drug and alcohol training to managers, supervisors and employees is “What is the most commonly used illegal drug?” Typically, the response that I get will be alcohol (albeit not illegal) or marijuana. What most do not realize until the training is that prescription drugs, in particular opioids, are the most commonly abused illegal drug. Prescription opioids include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine and fentanyl, while illegal opioids include heroin.

J0337282Opioid use in the United States has started to take on a whole new form and is now commonly referred to as the opioid epidemic. Illinois has not escaped the opioid epidemic; in 2016 there were 2,278 drug overdose deaths of which over 80% (1,826) were opioid related. The number of opioid related deaths in 2016 was an increase of over 30% of the opioid related deaths in 2015 and an increase of over 70% of the number of opioid related deaths in 2013.

In looking at these numbers, it is important to understand that these are only the deaths – not the actual number of individuals using or abusing opioids. In a recent study by the National Safety Counsel, over one in three Illinois residents (35%) reported being impacted by opioid/heroin use by knowing someone (self, family/friend, co-worker/co-workers’ family, or neighbor/neighbor’s family) that started using opioids/heroin, became addicted to opioid/heroin, survived an opioid/heroin overdose or had died from an opioid/heroin overdose. Indeed, one issue with the opioid epidemic is that the gateway to opioid use does not always come from illegal activities, but can start out with a legitimate legal prescription. When there is a valid use for a prescription drug, an individual can feel like they are not doing anything wrong and their use can quickly turn into a slippery slope of addiction, activities that negatively impacts their work performance and potentially illegal activities. As a result of this, the opioid epidemic does not discriminate and can be found across all demographics, industries and positions.

One of the concerns with opioids for employers is that it is more difficult to tell if someone is under the influence or using opioids or heroin than other more traditional drugs. For instance, opioids and heroin do not come with symptoms or indicators that are easy to perceive like with alcohol – a smell, shaking hands and movements, and behavior changes; or with marijuana – a smell, red eyes, delayed reaction time, anxiety, and lack of coordination. With opioids, it is often difficult for employers to make the connection between an employee appearing groggy, sleepy or forgetful in the workplace to being linked to drug use. Indeed, what employers will typically see, if anything at all, is a gradual decline in an employee’s attendance and performance, until the employee loses their job or stops coming to work altogether.

The traditional tool of employers to identify and prevent drug and alcohol use within the workplace is drug testing. Pre-hire drug testing can be effective in preventing illegal opioid users from joining the workforce. However, drug testing is not always effective where the opioid user has a legal prescription or where the individual is not yet an opioid user. Reasonable suspicion drug testing can also be effective, but first requires reasonable suspicion of opioid use which can be difficult to identify.

So what does this leave? First and foremost, employers should re-evaluate their drug policies and testing procedures and understand the potential legal implications. For example, drug testing can be modified to test for legal prescription medications, but in order to avoid a violation of the ADA the applicant or employee must be able to provide an explanation for the positive drug test, such as a prescribed medication. Additionally, employers must realize that even if the employee is using prescription medication, there may be an underlying medical condition that they need to be aware of to avoid any kind of disability discrimination claim.

Next, employers should consider questioning its health care benefit carrier and workers’ compensation carrier on what actions they are taking to address the opioid epidemic and collaborating with them on any specialized programs or options for addressing. This can include learning about whether the carrier has programs for the conservative use and risk of prescription opioids, an opioid management program and/or a prescription benefit management program, which can help in preventing prescription medication abuse and identify the abuse of prescription medications. In doing so, employers should also consider investing in an employee assistance program (EAP), which can help employees avoid or address addiction.

Another investment that can pay dividends is management and employee education. Better training and education for not only management, but also employees regarding the impacts of opioids, how to identify opioid use and how to address opioid abuse. Management training can help make management more aware of how to identify potential issues before they occur and get employees help before it escalates to more serious problems. This includes not only taking into consideration the symptoms of opioid and other drug use, but also recognizing changes in how employees are acting, their performance, their attendance, any recent injuries they have had and any other issues that could indicate drug abuse. Employee training can help employees understand the danger of opioids, how the use of legal use of prescription opioids can lead to addiction, and what steps can be taken to seek assistance. Of course, any training should be tailored to include information regarding the Company’s policies, drug testing, benefit programs and reassurances regarding the Company’s commitment to providing confidential and accessible help and treatment.

Finally, one thing to remember is that despite the high numbers of deaths in 2016 in Illinois, Illinois is still behind many states in its exposure to the opioid epidemic. Indeed, in some places manufacturing employers have found using pre-hiring drug testing was not effective. The reason for this is it significantly increased the number of applicants they have had to go through in order to hire for a position or was making it near impossible to fill their staffing needs due to applicants not returning after learning there was drug testing or applicants consistently failing the drug test.

 

OVERTIME RULE UPDATE – DOL APPEALS PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

Contributed by Noah A. Frank

As we previously reported, on 11/22/2016, Judge Amos Mazzant (E.D. Texas) granted a preliminary injunction that halted the 12/1/2016 implementation of the DOL’s Final Overtime Rule, which would have more-than-doubled the minimum salary level for executive/administrative/professional exempt employees.Wage-Hour2

On 12/1/2016, the U.S. DOL filed a notice of appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, indicating that it strongly believes that the DOL followed all required administrative processes, and there is no reason to delay implementation of the Final Rule.

This fight is not over. Employers that have not yet undertaken serious analysis of the duties of claimed exempt positions should do so promptly and determine the strategies they will implement should the injunction be vacated. Stay tuned for further news and analysis of this hotly evolving issue.