On February 21, 2023, the National Labor Relations Board issued a landmark decision in McLaren Macomb that has the potential to seismically change how employers approach and manage employee separations that include severance packages. Overturning well-settled precedent, the Board held in a stunning decision that severance agreements containing non-disparagement and confidentiality provisions are unlawful under
Employment & Labor (U.S.)
NLRB aiming to take pro-labor action in the areas of technology-based monitoring and surveillance and blocking charges
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board signaled two additional areas in which it intends to pursue its labor-favorable agenda over the remainder of the 2022 year and beyond.
First, on October 31, 2022, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memorandum stating her intention to zealously enforce the National Labor Relations Act (the “Act”) with respect to what she has called “intrusive or abusive electronic monitoring and automated management practices.”
Second, on November 3, 2022, the Board issued a proposal to roll back 2020 amendments to its election regulations with respect to so-called blocking charges.
Technology-based monitoring and surveillance
In her October 31 memorandum, the General Counsel expressed concern that “close, constant, surveillance and management through electronic means” constitutes a threat to “employees’ ability to exercise their rights” under the Act. The General Counsel specifically stated that electronic surveillance and automated systems can limit or prevent employees from engaging in protected activity, including conversations about the terms and conditions of their employment or of unionization. She also claimed that employer-issued devices or required applications on employees’ personal devices may extend surveillance to nonworking areas, including to rest areas within an employer’s facilities and non-work areas outside of the workplace. This, the General Counsel speculated, “may prevent employees from exercising their Section 7 rights” from engaging in concerted activity anywhere and may lead to retaliation and discrimination on the basis of protected activity. The memorandum goes on to provide a two-pronged approach towards dealing with these perceived threats to employees’ rights.…
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Do we need to give employees paid time off to vote in the upcoming midterm elections?
With Election Day just around the corner, private employers should carefully review state voting leave laws to ensure they are in compliance. Voting leave laws vary by state, and depend on where the employees are actually located. We have prepared a quick-reference summary of the voting leave laws in those jurisdictions that have them, which…
FTC set to begin policing companies for alleged gig worker abuse
One of the priorities of the current administration is to police the alleged abuse of “gig workers,” particularly through the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is now joining those agencies in the employee-protection business. The FTC recently announced it has initiated enforcement efforts to protect gig workers from alleged deception about pay, work hours, unfair contract terms, and anti-competitive practices.
According to the 17-page Policy Statement published by the FTC on September 15, 2022 (Statement), 16% of Americans report earning income through an online gig platform. Gig work has become commonplace in food delivery and transportation. As the FTC notes, gig work is expanding into healthcare, retail, and other sectors of the economy.
Three primary concerns for gig workers
The FTC’s Statement outlines three key concerns the FTC plans to address via the full weight of its legal and regulatory authority.
1. “Control without responsibility” – Most gig companies categorize gig workers as independent contractors instead of employees. “Yet in practice,” the FTC explains, “gig companies may tightly prescribe and control their workers’ tasks in ways that run counter to the promise of independence and an alternative to traditional jobs.” The FTC states that improperly classifying workers as independent contractors (instead of employees):
- Deprives workers of essential rights, like overtime pay, health and safety protections, and the right to organize;
- Burdens workers with undue risks such as unclear and unstable pay and requires they use their personal equipment (car, cell phone, etc.); and
- Forces workers to cover business expenses commonly paid for by employers (insurance, gas, maintenance, etc.).
2. “Diminished bargaining power” – Gig workers are not given information about when work will be available, where they will have to perform it, or how they will be evaluated. Because of their lack of bargaining power and decentralized work environment, the FTC believes workers have little leverage to demand transparency from gig companies. Due to what the FTC characterizes as a “power imbalance”:
- “[A]lgorithms may dictate core aspects of workers’ relationship with a” company’s platform, “leaving them with an invisible inscrutable boss.”
- Workers are often forced to sign take-it-or-leave-it agreements with liquidated damages clauses, arbitration clauses, and class-action waivers.
3. “Concentrated markets” – Markets populated by gig companies are often concentrated among just a handful of businesses, resulting in reduced choice for workers, customers, and businesses. The FTC believes the resulting loss in competition may incentivize gig companies to suppress wages below competitive rates, reduce job quality, and impose onerous terms and conditions on gig workers.…
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What do U.S. employers need to know about Monkeypox?
Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered some of the most significant societal shifts in generations, and the employment law landscape has not been immune to such changes. Employers have had to adjust their workplace practices by incorporating new policies such as remote work, vaccine mandates, paid safe and sick leave, and various other federal, state, and local requirements to accommodate the world’s new normal.
Now, in the third quarter of 2022, the world is seeing a new outbreak: monkeypox. On July 23, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern – the organization’s highest level warning. Shortly after, on August 4, 2022, the United States declared monkeypox a public health emergency. The arrival of monkeypox is a stark reminder that employers should have general policies in place to address communicable diseases so that work operations are not meaningfully disrupted and employees understand their entitlements and obligations when they are under the weather.
This post will provide employers with pertinent information related to monkeypox, including methods of prevention, handling workplace exposures, administering policies and practices, and how to get ahead of future communicable disease outbreaks as they arise. …
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California Supreme Court rules additional penalties may be recoverable for meal and rest period violations
On May 23, 2022, the California Supreme Court handed down its decision in Naranjo v. Spectrum Security Services. The decision discusses the penalties recoverable by employees for an employer’s alleged failure to pay meal and rest period premiums where a proper meal or rest period is not provided. The Naranjo Plaintiffs filed a putative class action lawsuit alleging that his employer failed to provide meal and rest periods or premium compensation in lieu thereof as required by California law. In addition to premium pay for meal and rest periods, Plaintiffs also brought derivative claims alleging failure to timely pay wages at termination and failure to provide accurate wage statements. Specifically, Plaintiffs argued that because meal and rest period premiums were not paid, they also were not timely paid all wages due at termination and their wage statements were invalid because they did not reflect the premiums that were not paid.…
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Biden announces major COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employers
On Thursday, September 9, 2021, President Biden issued a memorandum, “Path Out of the Pandemic” (the Memo), announcing a six-pronged national strategy to combat COVID-19. Among other things, President Biden has ordered the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop and issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to require…
To mandate or not? FAQs on mandatory vaccine programs for employers
Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) issued the first approvals for a COVID-19 vaccine. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC) issued guidance on the interplay between federal anti-discrimination law and vaccine-related issues, including the permissibility of mandatory employer vaccination policies. The below FAQs address some of the more salient questions surrounding such policies and their implementation, as well as other workplace issues triggered by the vaccine. There are undeniably more questions than answers at present with respect to vaccine-related workplace issues. Before taking any material workplace action with respect to the vaccine, therefore, please consult with a Reed Smith employment lawyer. We also have a downloadable version of our FAQs.
Q: Can employers adopt a mandatory employee vaccination policy?
A: Generally speaking, yes. In guidance issued in late May 2021, the EEOC took the position that mandatory vaccination policies are generally permissible under federal anti-discrimination laws. Just a few weeks later, in June 2021, a federal court – in the first ruling on this issue – echoed this sentiment in concluding that such policies are generally permissible. The following month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a detailed memo reaching the same conclusion.
The two primary exceptions to the general permissibility of employer-mandated vaccination policies are for employees with disabilities and for those with a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or custom. If an employee refuses to be vaccinated and objects to a mandatory vaccination policy on one of these grounds, the employer must engage in the so-called interactive process with the employee and, subject to the “undue hardship” standards discussed below, provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation in line with applicable law.
In addition to legally required accommodations, the EEOC also cautions employers to be cognizant of any potential disparate impact created by a vaccine mandate.
Q: Are there state or local laws that address mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies?
A: Employers must pay attention to state laws in the jurisdiction(s) where they operate. Several states have introduced legislation attempting to limit private employers’ ability to mandate COVID-19 vaccines. To date, such efforts have been without success other than in Montana.
Q: If an employer adopts a mandatory employee vaccination policy, how should it respond to an employee who indicates that they are unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccination because of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or custom?
A: As noted, the employer must engage in an interactive process with the employee. When an employee objects to vaccination, they are requesting an accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) (for a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or custom) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (for a disability). The employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless the accommodation would pose an undue hardship. Undue hardship is defined under Title VII as an accommodation that poses a “more than de minimis” cost or burden. For the ADA, undue hardship is more onerous to establish and is defined as creating significant difficulty or expense for the employer.
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Is that a smile that I see? Pennsylvania businesses adjust reopening plans as the statewide mask mandate is scheduled to be lifted
On May 27, 2021, Pennsylvania Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam announced at a press conference that Pennsylvania’s statewide masking order is slated to be lifted in its entirety effective June 28, 2021. This announcement comes on the heels of the Wolf Administration’s May 4, 2021 announcement that all COVID mitigation orders in Pennsylvania would be lifted effective May 31, 2021, except for the masking order. The May 27 announcement reflects a change of course that sets a firm expiration on the masking requirements, regardless of the Commonwealth’s vaccination rate at that time.
Pennsylvania’s masking order, which was amended March 17, 2021, incorporates by reference the CDC’s Guidance for Fully Vaccinated People under its exceptions from the statewide masking requirements. As such, the masking requirements under the order were effectively lifted for those who have been fully vaccinated (except for in certain limited circumstances, pursuant to CDC guidance), but still applied to those who were not fully vaccinated. At the May 27 press conference, Acting Health Secretary Beam stated that, even once the statewide masking order is lifted, Pennsylvania should continue to follow CDC guidance for wearing a mask. However, the lifting of the masking order indicates that such compliance will be recommended, but not required under state order. That certainly is an important point for which Pennsylvania employers will seek clarity as they eagerly take steps towards returning their workforce to the workplace.
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New Jersey expands COVID changes to include employers not open to the public
As previously discussed, on May 24, 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced the lifting of COVID-19 mask requirements for certain employers, while continuing to require masks for others. In a point of frustration for many New Jersey employers, the requirements seemed to require masking and social distancing in an inconsistent manner, and imposed…