Photo of Michael Lombardino

On July 27, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 guidance. The revised guidance, which has significant implications in the employment context, recommends that fully-vaccinated individuals wear masks in “public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.” The guidance further recommends that vaccinated persons be tested after a known or suspected COVID-19 exposure. The CDC’s guidance reverses its May 2021 guidance, which advised that fully-vaccinated individuals could generally stop wearing masks and cease social distancing. The CDC’s new guidance comes amidst a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases stemming from the highly-infectious Delta variant and is already complicating employers’ COVID-19 policies and return to work plans.

Updated masking recommendation

The CDC’s revised guidance acknowledges that fully vaccinated individuals can become infected with COVID-19 despite being vaccinated in a “breakthrough” infection. The CDC further acknowledges that, while breakthrough infections “happen in only a small proportion of the people who are fully vaccinated,” individuals with breakthrough infections can spread COVID-19. As a result of these concerns, while not referencing the workplace specifically, the CDC now recommends that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.

Continue Reading CDC releases new guidance for fully vaccinated individuals as COVID-19 rates continue to climb nationwide

On July 9, 2021, the Biden Administration issued a sweeping Executive Order called Promoting Competition in the American Economy (Order). Although it does not immediately change the current legal landscape governing non-compete agreements (or any other aspects of U.S. antitrust enforcement), the Order encourages the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to “curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility”. In the wake of the Order and other calls for more rigorous enforcement of employee non-compete and similar restrictive covenants, many within the business community wonder if a federal crackdown on non-compete agreements is coming. We address this issue below, and discuss steps employers may want to consider in light of the potential changes ahead.

Brief summary

According to the Fact Sheet accompanying the Order, roughly half of private-sector businesses require at least some employees to sign post-employment non-compete agreements, affecting an estimated 36 to 60 million workers. On multiple occasions over the past decade-plus, there have been calls for federal agencies to investigate and curtail the use of such agreements. President Biden’s Order is the most recent, and potentially significant, development in this area. He had vowed during his campaign to “eliminate all non-compete agreements, except the very few that are absolutely necessary to protect a narrowly defined category of trade secrets.” The Order is a further step towards fulfilling his campaign promise.

According to the White House, the Order “includes 72 initiatives by more than a dozen federal agencies to promptly tackle some of the most pressing competition problems across our economy.” One provision in the Order takes direct aim at non-competes:

. . . the FTC is encouraged to consider working with the rest of the Commission to exercise the FTC’s statutory rulemaking authority under the Federal Trade Commission Act to curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility.

The language in the Order is not as strident as the wording in the Fact Sheet (which encourages the FTC to “ban or limit” non-compete agreements). But it certainly is expansive, targeting any “other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility.” We do not know if the FTC will follow the President’s lead and issue regulations addressing non-compete and similar agreements. But, at a minimum, we anticipate that employee non-compete, non-solicitation, no-rehire, and similar restrictive covenants will receive closer scrutiny by the Biden Administration, and that stricter enforcement of such agreements is very possible.
Continue Reading What’s all this talk about federal regulation of non-compete agreements?

Texas recently enacted the Pandemic Liability Protection Act (PLPA) joining a number of other states that have passed statutory liability protections for businesses against claims arising during a pandemic including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The new law, which has been signed into effect by Governor Abbott, grants retroactive liability protections for both small and large businesses. Under the PLPA, businesses of all sizes are protected from nearly all claims of injury or death from exposure to a pandemic disease regardless of whether the person injured was an employee.

The PLPA does not, however, provide Texas businesses an absolute shield from liability. Under limited circumstances a claim may still be brought for a pandemic-related injury or death:

  1. Where the business knowingly failed to warn the individual of, or fix, a condition within the business’ control, despite having a reasonable opportunity to do so, with the knowledge that the individual was more likely than not to come into contact with or be exposed to the pandemic disease, and the failure to warn or fix the condition was the cause in fact of the individual contracting the disease; or
  2. Where the business knowingly failed to implement, refused to comply with, or acted in flagrant disregard of the standards, guidance, or protocols put forth by the government that are intended to lower the likelihood of exposure to the pandemic disease, despite having a reasonable opportunity to do so, and this failure or refusal to comply was the cause in fact of the individual contracting the pandemic disease.


Continue Reading Texas employers now shielded from most COVID-19 liability

The effects of the #MeToo movement for employers continue with Governor Abbott recently signing two new bills into law (effective September 1, 2021) that greatly amplify legal protections against sexual harassment. One bill extends the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims from 180 days to 300 days. The other opens the door for small employers, and even individual supervisors and coworkers, to be held liable for sexual harassment.  Also, Texas employers must now take “immediate and appropriate corrective action” to avoid liability for sexual harassment. We explain these new laws in more detail below, and discuss steps Texas employers may want to consider before the new laws go into effect.

Statute of limitations lengthened for sexual harassment claims (House Bill 21)

Currently, employees must file a charge of discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission within 180 days of the alleged harassing conduct. House Bill 21, which Governor Abbott signed into law on June 9, 2021, lengthens the statute of limitations for filing sexual harassment claims from 180 days to 300 days from the date of the alleged harassment. The longer limitations period applies only to sexual harassment claims based on conduct that occurs on or after September 1, 2021. The current 180 day statute of limitations remains unchanged for other types of alleged discrimination (e.g., based on race, age, etc.).

Because the statute of limitations under federal law for sexual harassment claims is 300 days, plaintiffs who miss the 180-day deadline under Texas law were typically only able to pursue their sexual harassment claims in federal court (assuming, of course, they initiated legal proceedings within the 300-day federal deadline). Beginning this fall, those plaintiffs will be able to pursue such claims in either federal or state court. 
Continue Reading Attention Texas employers: Starting September 1, 2021, companies with just one employee—as well as individual supervisors and coworkers—can be liable for sexual harassment

On May 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule explaining that bonuses and other incentive payments—paid in addition to an employee’s weekly salary—are compatible with the fluctuating workweek (FWW) method of calculating overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The final rule went into effect on August 7, 2020.

On August 31, 2020, the DOL issued an opinion letter confirming that an employee’s work hours do not have to fluctuate above and below 40 hours per workweek for an employer to use the FWW method of calculating overtime pay. The opinion letter also cautioned that employers who use the FWW method generally may not “deduct from an employee’s salary for absences occasioned by the employee.” Both developments are discussed below, following the FWW refresher.
Continue Reading DOL issues new final rule and updated guidance for employers who use the fluctuating workweek method to calculate overtime

The enforceability of employment non-competes in Texas is governed by the Texas Covenants Not to Compete Act.  If a non-compete covenant is found to be overbroad, “the court shall reform the covenant to the extent necessary to cause” the covenant to be reasonable.  Tex. Bus. & Com. Code § 15.51(c).  The Texas Supreme Court has yet to address whether reformation of an overbroad non-compete restriction is appropriate at the temporary injunction stage or whether reformation is only a final remedy after a trial on the merits.  In a recent published opinion, the Fifth Circuit squarely examined this issue.  Calhoun v. Jack Doheny Companies, Inc., No. 20-20068, — F.3d —, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 25001 (5th Cir. Aug. 7, 2020).

Continue Reading Fifth Circuit says Texas trial court should have considered reforming an overbroad non-compete at the preliminary injunction stage

On June 18, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision allowing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to continue operating. In so holding, the Court found the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not provide an adequate justification for terminating the DACA program and, thereby, violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).[1] But the Court’s decision does not resolve the matter entirely.

The Court did not rule on the legality of the DACA program itself. Instead, it merely repudiated the way DHS tried to rescind it. Although the Court held the DHS’s justification to terminate DACA was arbitrary and capricious, it recognized the DHS has the authority to rescind the program if it follows the required APA procedure. Thus, the DHS could try again to end the program by explaining more clearly its reasons for doing so.

Below, we answer two questions: (1) What is the status of the DACA program; and (2) What impact will the Court’s ruling have on DACA recipients and employers?

Continue Reading Understanding the employment implications of the Supreme Court decision upholding DACA

The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division (WHD) recently announced it will no longer automatically pursue pre-litigation liquidated damages from employers.  WHD now takes the position that recovering pre-litigation liquidated damages should only occur in a limited number of cases and it will more selectively pursue such additional recoveries.

WHD issued this new guidance in response to Executive Order 13294.  Per WHD’s announcement, the policy shift represents an effort to help spur economic recovery.  The change also is intended to reduce the time needed to conclude Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) administrative cases to facilitate faster payment of back-wages to aggrieved employees.
Continue Reading Pursuit of pre-litigation liquidated damages no longer the DOL’s default policy

On June 19, 2020, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued an order (the Order) requiring businesses in Harris County, Texas, that provide goods and services directly to the public to develop, post, and implement a health and safety policy that requires employees and visitors age 10 and older to wear face coverings when in

As businesses reopen and employees begin returning to work, employers will have to navigate complex wage and hour issues they may have never considered before. Employers will need to adapt to a “new normal” of major workplace changes, including increased teleworking, social distancing, and new health and safety measures.

Wage and hour issues for employees returning to the workplace

Whether an employer must compensate an employee for the time they spend complying with new workplace protocols, like screening and safety measures, will require a fact-intensive, state-specific analysis.  The following are just a sampling of some wage and hour issues employers must consider (under both federal and state laws) as employees start coming back to work:
Continue Reading Wage and hour considerations in the post-COVID-19 era