New York City Council gives the green light to a ban on marijuana testing for job applicants

On April 9, 2019, New York City Council passed a bill amending the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), to bar NYC employers from testing prospective employees for marijuana use. The Bill comes in the wake of the City’s efforts to reduce the legal consequences of marijuana use, including reducing arrests and prosecutions for low-level marijuana-related crimes.

The text of the Bill declares it to be “an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer … to require a prospective employee to submit to testing for the presence of any tetrahydrocannabinols or marijuana in such prospective employee’s system as a condition of employment.” However, the Bill excludes the following jobs from the ban:

  • Police officers
  • Peace officers
  • Positions with a law enforcement or investigative function at the New York City Department of Investigations
  • Workers on construction sites
  • Positions requiring a commercial driver’s license
  • Positions requiring the supervision or care of children, medical patients, or vulnerable persons
  • Positions with the potential to significantly impact the health or safety of employees or members of the public

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New York provides employees with additional hour of paid time off to vote

Though the business community might not have had a vote in it, New York legislators have amended the State’s election laws to provide employees with an additional hour of paid time off to vote on election days.

Until recently, New York law required employers to provide workers with up to two hours of paid time off to vote. A convoluted scheme, however – hinging, in large part, on the employee’s specific election day work schedule – governed whether and to what extent employees were entitled to take such time off. Under the new, more streamlined law, employees may take up to three hours of paid time off to vote – a one-hour bump – regardless of their work schedule (although the employer may designate that the time be taken at the beginning or end of a shift).

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Are non-NYC employees subject to the City’s new sexual harassment prevention training law?

By now, our readers are aware that New York State and City law require annual workplace sexual harassment prevention training. The State law requiring such training took effect last October, and mandates that employers complete the initial training by October 9, 2019. The separate City law became effective just a few weeks ago, on April 1. It requires that covered employers – meaning businesses with 15 or more employees in NYC – comply with the City-specific training requirements by year-end.

In conjunction with the rollout of the City law, the NYC Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR), the agency tasked with administering the law, issued a series of FAQs to help employers navigate their new training-related obligations. The FAQs – which are not binding law, but do suggest how the NYCCHR will interpret and enforce the law – provide valuable insight. Consistent with the NYC Human Rights Law’s (NYCHRL) definition of “employee,” for instance, the FAQs note that “[a]n employer is required to train independent contractors who have performed work in the furtherance of the business for more than 90 days and more than 80 hours in a calendar year.” As the NYCCHR explains, “independent contractors – regardless of the number of days or hours they work – are considered employees for the purposes of determining whether an employer is obligated to provide the annual sexual harassment training.”

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New York’s highest court holds that home health aides are not entitled to 24-hour pay

Recently, New York’s highest state court, the Court of Appeals, held that the New York Labor Law (NYLL) does not automatically entitle New York home health care providers to wages for each hour worked during a 24-hour shift.

The ruling is the result of an appeal of two state court class actions in which home health aides accused their employers of violating NYLL by failing to pay minimum wage for each hour of their 24-hour shifts. The dispute arose due to a phrase in the New York State Department of Labor’s (DOL) Minimum Wage Order Number 11 for Miscellaneous Industries and Occupations (the regulation), which states that workers must be paid minimum wage for the time they are “required to be available for work at a place prescribed by the employer.” Plaintiffs in both cases alleged that they were entitled to 24-hour pay because their patients could not be left alone and often needed assistance throughout the night, thereby requiring them to be available for work for their entire shift.

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Tell everybody: Confidentiality clauses may violate employees’ section 7 rights

In a recent decision issued on March 21, 2019, an administrative law judge (ALJ) held that confidentiality clauses in arbitration agreements violate the National Labor Relations Act (the Act). Specifically, the ALJ held that such provisions run afoul of section 8(a)(1) of the Act, and unlawfully require a waiver of employees’ rights under section 7 of the Act to discuss and publicly disclose their terms and conditions of employment. Many may view rulings like this as yet another attack on otherwise lawful arbitration agreements.

In the matter before the ALJ, an employer had lawfully required its employees to enter into an arbitration agreement as a condition of continued employment. The arbitration agreement included a confidentiality clause. The confidentiality clause provided, in part: “The parties shall maintain the confidential nature of the arbitration proceeding and the award, including all disclosures in discovery, submissions to the arbitrator, the hearing, and the contents of the arbitrator’s award[.]”

Although the confidentiality clause, as written, appeared to impose a duty of secrecy rather than a prohibition on disclosure, the ALJ instructed that employees would nonetheless reasonably understand the clause’s message to be one prohibiting them from discussing or disclosing information pertaining to the arbitration or arbitral award. Further still, the clause would reasonably cause employees to believe that they could be disciplined if they were to disclose the information.

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Not so fast … New York City Council proposes ban on no-cause firings

A New York City Council member recently proposed an amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) that would restrict fast food establishments from firing employees without “just cause.” The purported reason for this amendment is to provide more job security to fast food workers.

The bill defines “just cause” as an “employee’s failure to satisfactorily perform job duties or misconduct that is demonstrably and materially harmful” to the business. If enacted, the proposed bill would require that a termination for just cause be the result of the fast food establishment’s use of “progressive discipline” within a one-year window from the date of the employee’s termination. “Progressive discipline” refers to “a disciplinary system that provides a graduated range of reasonable responses” to an employee’s failure to perform their job satisfactorily. Any discipline issued to the employee outside of the one-year timeframe would not be considered a part of the progressive discipline supporting a just cause termination. The bill would also require employers to provide the employee with a final, written explanation of the specific reasons for their termination. However, these protections would not extend to any fast food employee (1) covered by a collective bargaining agreement or (2) within their probationary period (30 days from date of hire).

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Eleventh Circuit holds that comparators in discrimination cases must be “similarly situated in all material respects”

On March 21, 2019, the full en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit clarified that in order to establish a prima facie case of workplace discrimination through alleged preferential treatment of a comparator outside the plaintiff’s protected class, a plaintiff must show that the alleged comparator is “similarly situated in all material respects.” The opinion clarifies the “similarly situated” standard in discrimination cases and may assist employers in obtaining summary judgment, particularly in cases in courts located in the Eleventh Circuit, which includes Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

In Lewis v. Union City, Georgia (Case No. 15-11362), an African-American woman sued her former employer for race and gender discrimination. In support of her claim, she identified two white men who she alleged were treated more favorably. The district court granted summary judgment to the employer, concluding that the two white men were not proper comparators, but a panel of the Eleventh Circuit reversed.

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New Jersey bans NDAs and certain waivers of rights in agreements with employees

On March 18, 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed new legislation (S121) that significantly impacts the scope of certain employment agreements and settlement agreements between employers and employees/former employees. The controversial legislation addresses the following:

  1. Ban on waiver of substantive and procedural rights in employment contracts related to discrimination, harassment or retaliation claims

The legislation voids any provision in an employment contract that waives “any substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation or harassment.” In addition, the legislation prohibits an employer from prospectively waiving any right or remedy under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD).

This language could impact agreements such as jury trial waivers and arbitration agreements. To the extent that the law touches arbitration agreements, however, it will likely face challenges on the grounds that the law conflicts with, and is preempted by, the Federal Arbitration Act.

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New York City Commission on Human Rights issues new guidance on race discrimination on the basis of hairstyle

On February 19, 2019, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) issued new enforcement guidance regarding (1) policies that place restrictions, or ban, naturally curly hair, dreadlocks, braids and cornrows, among other hairstyles; or (2) neutral grooming policies that are discriminatorily applied to employees based on aspects of their appearance associated with race.

In its guidance, the NYCCHR emphasized that the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) “protects the rights of New Yorkers to maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities.” For “Black people,” which the NYCCHR defines as individuals “who identify as African, African American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latin-x/a/o or otherwise having African or Black ancestry,” this includes the right to maintain natural hair, treated, or untreated hairstyles. Grooming or appearance policies that restrict natural hair or hairstyles associated with “Black people” therefore violate the NYCHRL’s anti-discrimination provisions.

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Governor Pritzker signs law to increase Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025

On February 19, 2019, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law a proposed bill to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. The bill, known as “Lifting Up Illinois Working Families Act,” sets incremental increases to the state’s hourly minimum wage for employees 18 years or older as follows: (i) $9.25 on January 1, 2020; (ii) $10 on July 1, 2020; and (iii) $11 on January 1, 2021. Starting on January 1, 2022, and on each January 1st thereafter, the hourly minimum wage will continue to increase by $1 until it reaches $15 in 2025.

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