Since its publication on November 5, 2021, employers have been reviewing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) 490-page Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) and taking steps to create and update their employment policies to comply with it.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or the Board) has added another item to the to-do lists of those employers covered by the ETS with unionized workforces. On November 10, 2021, NLRB’s operations management division issued a memo reminding unionized employers of their bargaining obligations under the National Labor Relations Act in connection with policy changes being contemplated in light of the ETS.

Continue Reading Complying with OSHA’s ETS? Don’t forget about your duty to bargain, says NLRB

Although New York has had an employment-related whistleblower statute for decades, many employers may not have been aware of it. That is because the statute itself – N.Y. Labor Law section 740 – has been fairly limited in its scope and application. Indeed, it has only protected employees who disclose employer activity that violates laws relating to public health and safety or to health care fraud. Disclosures of other unlawful activities have not been protected by section 740.

That will no longer be the case, however, starting next year. Late last month, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill that will amend and effectively overhaul section 740. The amended law, which is scheduled to take effect on January 26, 2022, drastically expands the breadth and scope of section 740 by making it significantly easier for New York workers to bring a claim, lengthening the statute of limitations, and imposing a notice requirement on employers.

Overview of key updates to section 740

  • Independent contractors can bring claims too: As a starting point, under the amended law, not only will current and former employees be able to assert legal claims against the employer, but so too will independent contractors.
  • Broad expansion of protected activity: Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the amendment is how it expands the types of employee activities that are protected under section 740 of the Labor Law.

Previously, section 740 was a narrow statute that primarily barred employers from taking retaliatory action against employees only where the employee had disclosed or threatened to disclose to a supervisor or public body, or had objected to or refused to participate in “an activity, policy or practice of the employer that is in violation of law, rule or regulation which violation creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety, or which constitutes health care fraud.” The prior version of the law thus required that an actual legal violation have occurred – i.e., an employee’s reasonable belief that a violation had occurred was insufficient – and was intended to curb only activities that posed a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety or that constituted health care fraud.

The amended statute, however, broadly expands this scope of protected activity. Specifically, the law now bars employers from taking retaliatory action where the employee discloses or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or public body, or objects to or refuses to participate in “an activity that the employee reasonably believes is in violation of law, rule or regulation or that the employee reasonably believes poses a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety.” The new definition, therefore, essentially protects, and bars employers from retaliating against, workers who report any actual, or reasonably perceived by the employee, violation of any law, rule, regulation, executive order, or judicial or administrative decision, ruling, or order at all, regarding of its subject matter. To say that this is a dramatic expansion of Section 740 would be an understatement.

Continue Reading New York enacts sweeping expansion of state’s whistleblower law

It’s that time of the year again! The deadline for California Governor Gavin Newsom to sign, approve without signing, or veto bills on his desk was October 10, 2021. Now that the dust has settled, we have compiled a comprehensive list of bills signed by the governor that will impact employers. We also highlight bills

On September 24, 2021, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issued guidance for federal contractors and subcontractors concerning various safety protocols (the Guidance) as required by President Biden’s Path Out of the Pandemic and Executive Order 14042 (the Order). The stated purpose of the safeguards set forth in the Guidance are to decrease the spread of COVID-19, which will decrease worker absences, reduce labor costs, and improve the efficiency of contractors and subcontractors performing work for the Federal Government.

As a threshold matter, the Order does not apply to all federal contractors. Specifically, the Order applies to contracts for services, construction, or leasehold interest in property; services covered by the Service Contract Labor Standards; concessions; and work relating to federal property lands and related to offering services for federal employees, their dependents, or the general public. The Order specifically excludes grants, contracts or contract-like instruments with Indian Tribes, contracts with a value equal to or less than the FAR simplified acquisition threshold (currently $250,000), employees performing work outside the United States, and subcontracts solely for the provision of products. However, the Guidance also strongly encourages agencies to incorporate clauses requiring compliance with the Order into contractors that are not covered or directly addressed by the Order.

Further, the requirements apply only to a covered contract, which is defined as one that includes a provision that the contractor will “comply with all guidance for contractor or subcontractor workplace locations published by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force.” Stated differently, simply being a federal contractor does not mean all employees must be vaccinated by the deadline.  Instead, the requirements apply to any new solicitations issued on or after October 15, 2021, the option to extend an existing contract on or after October 15, 2021, and new federal contracts awarded on or after November 15, 2021. However, agencies are again strongly encouraged to incorporate a clause requiring compliance with the Order into existing contracts and contract-like instruments prior to the date upon which the Order requires inclusion of the clause.

Continue Reading Federal contractors and subcontractors receive guidance on President Biden’s vaccine mandate, including December 8, 2021 compliance date

Following last year’s wave of new employment laws (previously covered as follows: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), Virginia has adopted a variety of new laws that will take effect July 1 and continue to transform the Commonwealth’s employment law landscape. Virginia employers should carefully review these new laws to ensure compliance in this changing environment and in light of newly expanded enforcement mechanisms.

Minimum wage increase

While Virginia adopted incremental increases to the minimum wage set to reach $15 per hour by 2026, the first step-increase was delayed due to the pandemic. Effective May 1, 2021, the minimum wage increased to $9.50 per hour and is set to increase again effective January 1, 2022.  The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) has issued a minimum wage guide for employers that includes an optional workplace posting announcing this increase.

The Virginia Overtime Wage Act

Governor Ralph Northam signed the Virginia Overtime Wage Act, which will take effect on July 1, 2021 and now provides overtime protections for employees under state law (previously overtime protections were only under federal law). While the new law incorporates the exemptions from overtime under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and purports to graft the FLSA’s overtime protections into state law, there are several notable differences between the FLSA and Virginia’s new law.

Unlike the FLSA, Virginia’s new law (i) establishes a three-year statute of limitations thereby allowing recovery of up to three years of back wages, unlike the FLSA’s typical 2-year lookback; (ii) does not provide for any good faith defense for employers; and (iii) forecloses an employer from using the fluctuating workweek method or from paying a fixed amount to cover straight time wages for all hours worked. Accordingly, non-exempt employees paid a salary or on some other non-hourly basis are entitled to overtime for any hours worked over 40 at “one and one-half times” a regular rate of 1/40th of all wages paid for that workweek.  Also unlike the FLSA, the new law’s definition of “employer” includes derivative carriers within the meaning of the federal Railway Labor Act. Unlike prior Virginia law, the new law provides for a private right of action under Virginia’s wage payment statute (with enhanced remedies enacted last year).
Continue Reading Virginia adopts new laws effective July 1 that continue to transform the employment landscape

As we previously reported here and here, in January 2021 the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a business-friendly final rule concerning the classification of workers as independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  The final rule, which was scheduled to take effect in March 2021 (but never did), reaffirmed the use of the so-called “economic reality test” to distinguish between independent contractors and employees under the federal wage/hour law.  In essence, the rule was intended to provide a more uniform approach to worker classification.

Shortly after taking office, however, President Biden postponed the effective date of the final rule and suggested it should be repealed.  The Biden administration has now followed through on that plan, with the DOL blocking the rule entirely earlier today.  In a press release announcing the rule’s withdrawal, the DOL stated: “Upon further review and consideration of the rule and having considered the public comments, the [DOL] does not believe that the Independent Contractor Rule is fully aligned with the FLSA’s text or purpose, or with decades of case law describing and applying the multifactor economic realities test.”

Continue Reading Department of Labor withdraws pro-business independent contractor final rule

At a union event on Labor Day in 2020, President Biden vowed to be “the strongest labor president you have ever had.”  Although he has only been in office a short time, his administration is already taking steps to honor that pledge.  Specifically, on February 4, 2021, House and Senate Democrats introduced the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.   The PRO Act previously passed the House in February 2020 and President Biden has committed to sign it into law if passed in this Congress.  If enacted, the PRO Act will fundamentally reshape the American workplace.
Continue Reading Labor law under the Biden administration: A preview of the PRO Act

This week, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a new rule that would create a uniform approach to the way companies classify workers as independent contractors or employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The notion of classifying workers as independent contractors versus employees has continued to gain importance in recent years, given the growing gig economy, which makes independent contractors central to the business models of many major companies.

The DOL’s newly proposed rule would greatly benefit companies, by making it easier to classify workers as independent contractors and thereby remove a company’s obligation to provide typical employee benefits and workplace protections, such as paid leave, overtime pay and other fringe benefits. This marks a large shift from the standard proposed under the Obama administration, which would have broadened the scope of employee status, but was ultimately nixed by the Trump administration in 2017.
Continue Reading U.S. Department of Labor proposes new “reality” for classifying independent contractors

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

Illinois officially has made it easier for certain workers who contract COVID-19 to claim it is an occupational disease for purposes of collecting workers’ compensation. On June 5, 2020, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law House Bill 2455, which amends the Illinois Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act (820 ILCS 310/et seq.) with respect to such claims.

In April 2020, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission passed an emergency rule creating this same rebuttable presumption, but quickly withdrew the rule after it was challenged in court.

This amendment (codified as Public Act 0633) creates a rebuttable presumption that the exposure to and contraction of COVID-19 by a “COVID-19 first responder or front-line worker” arises out of and in the course of the employee’s employment, and is causally connected to the hazards or exposures of the employee’s employment.
Continue Reading It’s official: Illinois law presumes COVID-19 is a workplace injury for essential workers