Federal law, as well as many state and local laws, require employers to display notices and posters in the workplace advising employees of their rights.  With many employers operating remotely due to COVID-19, however, questions regarding these statutory posting requirements have arisen.  In response, on December 29, 2020, the United States Department of Labor released guidance addressing the permissibility of providing the required postings through electronic means.

By way of background, no less than 15 federal laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, require employers to display notices or posters in the workplace advising workers of their rights under such laws.  Generally speaking, the notices or posters must be physically displayed in a conspicuous location that can be easily accessed by all employees (break rooms and cafeterias, for instance, are common locations for this).
Continue Reading Pandemic or not, employers must still comply with notice-posting requirements under federal law

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a rule updating its interpretation of the “joint employer” doctrine under federal wage and hour law.  Yesterday, however, a New York federal judge struck down a significant portion of the rule.  Judge Gregory H. Woods’ 62-page decision delivers a significant blow to businesses that had relied on the business-friendly nature of the DOL’s new rule.

By way of background, the joint employment doctrine refers to a situation where a worker is deemed employed by more than one entity at the same time.  If multiple entities are considered joint employers, they can then generally each be held jointly and severally liable for workplace violations (e.g., discrimination, harassment, retaliation, unpaid wages).
Continue Reading New York federal judge nixes U.S. Department of Labor’s new “joint employer” rule

The National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) issued a decision on July 21, 2020, which will aid employers in their ability to discipline or discharge an employee who engaged in abusive or offensive conduct in connection with protected concerted activity. In General Motors LLC, 369 NLRB No. 127 (2020), the Board modified its standard for determining under what circumstances profane language or sexually or racially offensive speech loses the protection of the National Labor Relations Act (the “Act”).

Before today, there were several circumstance-specific standards used by the Board in determining whether an employee was lawfully disciplined or discharged when they made profane, racist or sexually harassing comments in connection with Section 7 activity. There was one standard for workplace confrontations with supervisors or managers as applied in Atlantic Steel. A second standard was used for examining social media posts and most other  interactions between employees, referred to as the “totality of circumstances.”  Still, another standard was used when offensive statements or conduct occurred on the picket line, as set forth in Clear Pine Mouldings. All of these standards assumed that the employee’s Section 7 activity was inseparable from the abusive comments and conduct. Additionally, in many circumstances the outcome of those cases conflicted widely with an employer’s obligations under federal, state and local discrimination laws.

Continue Reading NLRB ends long-time standard which protected obscene, racist and sexually harassing speech in connection with Section 7 activity

Several labor organizations, along with racial and social justice organizations, conducted a mass walkout on July 20, 2020 to protest racial inequality and working conditions in the United States.  Thousands of workers in more than 200 cities walked off the job on a full-day strike while others who were unable to strike for a full day walked out about for eight minutes.  According to the Strike for Black Lives website, the purpose of the strike was to demand higher wages, better jobs, the right to unionize, and healthcare for all.  These organizations specifically call for corporations to address racism in the workplace, raise wages, provide healthcare, and provide ample personal protective equipment (PPE), among other things.

These types of mass walkouts raise several considerations for employers as they attempt to balance their support for racial and social justice with their tolerance of competing views and their need to maintain operations.  While some employers may allow their employees to participate with little to no disruption to their operations, others, such as hospitals, will have to find ways to continue to run their operations (perhaps by hiring temporary workers) if they find themselves with reduced staff.  Other employers may be forced to temporarily close or take other measures to manage the sudden loss of available employees.
Continue Reading Responding to employee advocacy and workplace walkouts during times of protest

In another victory for employers and a further retreat from Obama-era policy, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or the “Board”) recently ruled that employers do not violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA” or the “Act”) by maintaining a policy that allows employers to monitor employees on the job by searching employees’ personal property on company premises and/or company networks and devices.

In a June 24, 2020 decision – Verizon Wireless, 369 NLRB No. 108 (2020) – the NLRB reversed an Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) ruling that Verizon Wireless and its related entities’ (collectively, “Verizon”) policy permitting company searches of workers’ personal property violated Section 8(a)(1) of the Act by infringing upon employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity for mutual aid or protection under Section 7 of the Act.  The Board also upheld the ALJ’s ruling that another portion of Verizon’s policy permitting company monitoring of company computers and devices did not violate the Act.
Continue Reading NLRB greenlights company policy allowing searches of workers’ personal property on company premises and company devices and networks

The Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Wage and Hour Division recently issued three new opinion letters addressing the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA’s) sales exemptions. Two letters address the outside sales exemption, and the third addresses the retail or service establishment exemption.

FLSA2020-6: Do salespeople who travel to different locations to sell their employers’ products using their employers’ mobile assets qualify for the outside sales exemption?

The first opinion letter, FLSA2020-6, addresses whether salespeople who use “stylized” trucks to travel to high-population areas and events to sell products fall within the outside sales exemption of the FLSA.

Ordinarily, a position will qualify for the exemption only if (a) the employee’s primary duty is “making sales” to or “obtaining orders or contracts for services” from customers; and (b) the employee is “customarily and regularly engaged” in performing duties “away from the employer’s place or places of business.”  29 C.F.R. sections 541.500(a), 541.501, 541.502. The exemption includes not only sales work itself, but also “work performed incidental to and in conjunction with the employee’s own outside sales or solicitations.” 29 C.F.R. section 541.500(b).

In FLSA2020-6, the DOL concluded that the employees satisfy both requirements and are therefore exempt.

Continue Reading Are your sales employees exempt? DOL provides guidance in three new opinion letters

As we have reported, since March, New York State has implemented a variety of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to protect workers during the pandemic. These measures include essential business designations, limiting in-person work, paid leave for certain employees impacted by COVID-19, phased reopening of nonessential businesses, mandatory health and safety protocols, and requiring a business reopening safety plan. The New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) is charged with enforcing many of these measures with which all New York businesses have been and are required to comply.

With many regions now in “Phase Three” of the state’s reopening scheme, the NYSDOL will likely begin auditing employers and investigating complaints to ensure that businesses are complying with New York’s many COVID-19 regulations. For example, the NYSDOL may request from employers an explanation or documentation of the health and safety measures in place at their in-person places of business. In addition, the NYSDOL may inquire as to whether employees have contracted COVID-19 and, if so, what protocols businesses implemented as a result.
Continue Reading Reminder to New York employers: the New York State Department of Labor will be enforcing COVID-19 regulations

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

In an effort to delay litigation deadlines, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stopped issuing Right-to-Sue Letters amid the COVID-19 pandemic, unless specifically requested by an employee.  Although the EEOC has not publicly announced its new policy, it has confirmed this practice to several news outlets.

The EEOC is the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws.  Workers who claim they have been subject to unlawful discrimination and wish to bring a claim under these federal laws must first file a charge with the Agency.  The EEOC can resolve the charge in a number of ways.  If the agency declines to bring a lawsuit itself, it issues the individual a “Notice of Right to Sue” (commonly called a “Right-to-Sue Letter”) allowing the employee to file the claim in court.  The EEOC’s issuance of a Right-to-Sue Letter starts a 90-day filing deadline for the employee to bring the lawsuit.  The EEOC’s new practice will keep this 90-day clock from starting.

Continue Reading EEOC stops issuing right-to-sue letters in response to COVID-19, delaying litigation deadlines

On April 1, 2020, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that states have the option of using the National Guard to enforce stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. He compared having the National Guard deal with the coronavirus to its duties when a hurricane or another natural disaster strikes the country, saying the force would be used to curb the outbreak’s effects.

How does this affect employers? National Guard members (and National Disaster Medical System reservists) are protected under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). USERRA, which applies to virtually all U.S. employers, regardless of size, and covers nearly all employees, including part-time and probationary employees, protects the job rights of individuals who voluntarily or involuntarily leave employment positions to perform service in the uniformed services. Under the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Response Act of 2002, certain disaster response work (and authorized training for such work) is considered “service in the uniformed services.” Uniformed service includes active duty, active duty for training, inactive duty training (such as drills), initial active duty training, and funeral honors duty performed by National Guard and reserve members, as well as the period for which a person is absent from a position of employment for the purpose of an examination to determine fitness to perform any such duty.

Continue Reading National Guard members are protected under USERRA – What employers need to know about employees in the National Guard