Photo: Christopher T. Sununu
Photo: Christopher T. Sununu

Yesterday Governor Sununu enacted his first law allowing gun owners to carry concealed loaded guns, without a license – effective immediately.

Prior to the this law, police chiefs and local officials had discretion to decide if someone was “suitable” to carry a loaded gun concealed.  Now, if a person is not prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a gun, he or she can carry it concealed without a license.  This means that an employee, who lawfully possesses a gun, could carry it concealed in her handbag, backpack, briefcase, or jacket, for example.  Some employees may view this new law as permitting them to carry loaded concealed weapons into the workplace.  That is not true. Continue Reading Conceal and Carry: License to Be Armed at Work?

Photo: Mark Goebel via Flickr (CC by 2.0)
Photo: Mark Goebel via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

As we reported in an earlier blog post, employers have been keeping an eye on the ongoing political fights over the rights of transgender persons to use restrooms that correspond to their gender identities.

Yesterday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Education (DOE) issued a joint “Dear Colleague Letter” withdrawing two statements of policy and guidance issued by the Obama Administration relating to transgender students’ access to restroom and locker room facilities.  The prior guidance documents took the position that prohibitions on discrimination “on the basis of sex” under federal law governing education (Title IX), also apply to gender identity, and require schools receiving federal funds to allow transgender students to use the facilities that correspond to their gender identities.  The new letter from the Trump Administration states that the prior guidance did not contain extensive legal analysis, and did not undergo a formal public comment and review process.  The new letter from the DOJ and the DOE also notes that states and local school districts play a primary role in establishing educational policy. Continue Reading The Latest Battle in the “Bathroom Wars”

Photo: Mark Goebel via Flickr (CC by 2.0)
Photo: Mark Goebel via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

With all of the focus on the uncertainty of federal employment regulations, state legislatures have been hard at work on proposed legislation and have flown a bit under the radar. Now is a good time to take a look at some pending bills in New Hampshire which could impact workplaces.  There are a variety of important issues being discussed. Continue Reading New Hampshire Legislature Tees Up Workplace Laws for Debate

Photo: Judge Neil Gorsuch (Public Domain)
Photo: Judge Neil Gorsuch (Public Domain)

Last month, President Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch from the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to fill the vacant seat left by the late Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.  While Judge Gorsuch’s nomination has been met with both praise and criticism from a divided electorate, it may bring good news to employers wrestling with leave requests under federal disability laws. Continue Reading Supreme Court Nominee’s Record on Disability Leave Favorable to Employers

Photo: John Hilliard via Flickr (CC by 2.0)
Photo: John Hilliard via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

The winter season presents employers with many weather related issues ranging from obligations to keep outdoor areas safe to deciding whether to close the business for all or part of the day.  Closing the business due to inclement weather raises pay issues – what pay are employees entitled to when the business closes? It depends, in part, whether the employee is considered exempt or non-exempt and whether, the employee is paid on a salary basis. Continue Reading Winter Weather and Employee Challenges – To Pay or Not to Pay?

On February 3, 2017, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) announced that it would extend the notice and comment period for its proposed enforcement guidelines on unlawful harassment under EEOC-enforced employment discrimination laws.  The extension, which provides an additional forty (40) days for public input, gives in-house counsel and human resources professionals a good opportunity to review and familiarize themselves with the standards by which the EEOC is likely to evaluate harassment-based discrimination claims.

The EEOC’s proposed guidance (“Guidance”), released on January 10, 2017, follows up on the agency’s June 2016 Report of the Co-Chairs of the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace (“June 2016 Report”).  The June 2016 Report found that discriminatory harassment remains a pervasive problem in the American workforce, amounting to almost a third of all discrimination charges the EEOC received in FY 2015.

The Guidance outlines the agency’s position, with accompanying caselaw, on the following topics related to discriminatory harassment:

  • Covered bases for discrimination. The Guidance identifies certain bases for harassment that, in the EEOC’s view, may amount to unlawful race, national origin, religious, sex, age, disability, or genetic information. Examples include black hairstyles (race discrimination), sexual orientation and/or gender identity (sex discrimination), and foreign accent or cultural diet (national origin discrimination).
  • Establishing Causation. The Guidance sets forth several examples of harassment the EEOC considers to be sufficiently “connected” to a protected classification, such as: derogatory or hostile comments regarding a protected classification, whether or not the comments are directed against a specific employee; ostensibly neutral conduct that is related to an overall pattern of class-based harassment; harassment that begins or escalates shortly after learning of the complainant’s protected status; and higher productivity standards for women as compared to similarly situated male employees.
  • “Severe” or “pervasive” harassment. In explaining when conduct is sufficiently severe and/or pervasive to amount to unlawful harassment, the Guidance identifies certain actions that could create a hostile work environment even if they occur only once: sexual assault, sexual touching of an intimate body part, physical violence or threats, use of symbols of violence or hatred, use of the “n-word” by a supervisor, use of animal imagery, and threats to deny job benefits for rejecting sexual advances.
  • Subjectively and objectively hostile work environment. In its Guidance, the EEOC agrees that a harassment plaintiff must establish that s/he actually and reasonably perceived the conduct to be severe or pervasive. The EEOC disagrees, however, with the various U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals that have required plaintiffs to separately establish that the harassing conduct was “unwelcome.”  The Guidance also notes that the EEOC does not consider “prevailing workplace culture”—i.e., a longstanding workplace habit of engaging in relatively crude, coarse, or vulgar conduct—to excuse conduct that would otherwise amount to unlawful harassment.
  • Relatedness of the harassing conduct to the work environment. The Guidance discusses when the EEOC will find conduct that occurs outside an employee’s regular place of work, or in a non-work-related context, as contributing to a hostile work environment for which the employer may be held responsible.  Among other examples, the Guidance states the EEOC might consider conduct on a private social media platform as contributing to a hostile work environment if coworkers discussed the conduct in the workplace—even if the social media postings occurred during non-working time.
  • Supervisor/coworker liability. The Guidance reiterates the four standards of harassment liability based on the relationship of the harasser to the employer:
    • The employer’s proxy or alter ego (strict liability);
    • The employer’s supervisor who engages in a “tangible” employment action against the victim (vicarious liability);
    • The employer’s supervisor who engages in harassment but does not engage in a “tangible” employment action against the victim (vicarious liability, subject to the affirmative defense that the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct harassment and the employee failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities);
    • Non-supervisors (liability if the employer negligently failed to prevent or correct the harassment).
  • Systemic harassment and pattern-or-practice claims. The Guidance explains the theories of systematic or widespread discrimination, in which the employer subjects all employees of a protected group to the same discriminatory circumstances in the workplace as a whole.
  • Best practices to prevent harassment. The Guidance reiterates the holdings from the EEOC’s July 2016 Report, including five principles for preventing and addressing harassment: committed and engaged leadership; consistent and demonstrated accountability; strong and comprehensive harassment policies; trusted and accessible complaint procedures; and regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization.

Public comments originally were due by February 9, 2017, but the EEOC has now extended the deadline until March 21, 2017.  The agency already has received approximately 70 comments from individuals and organizations.  Comments are publicly posted, and may be submitted and viewed here.

Photo: Public Domain
Photo: Public Domain

Typically with an incoming administration there is a waiting period of sorts before changes in pending and certainly existing regulations kick in.  The current administration, however, appears to be working at an accelerated pace toward upending the status quo.  So, it appears time for a quick check-in on where we are and what to expect.

On Inauguration day, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus Jan. 20 instructed federal agencies to freeze all pending regulations, a move that seems to include a number of labor and employment initiatives that were in the works under the Obama administration.

This type of freeze is not unusual when a new president takes office.  An action of this nature does not necessarily mean that significant changes are coming, but given candidate Trump’s campaign promise to roll back regulation on business, we can at least predict that the administration will be in no rush to move on the pending matters. Continue Reading Two Weeks Into the Trump Administration: Where are we with Labor and Employment Regulations?

Photo: Nicolas Raymond via Flickr (CC by 2.0)
Photo: Nicolas Raymond via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

On January 27, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) entitled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”  Among other things, the EO attempted to implement a travel ban whereby individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen would be prohibited from entering the United States. Immediately, nationals from the named countries faced extraordinary hardship in entering the U.S.  Individuals with valid non-immigrant visas, such as F-1 student visas, H-1B work visas and other individuals with valid visas were affected. Green card holders (immigrant visa holders) were also affected.  These non-immigrants and immigrants are individuals who live in the United States, have family, jobs, homes, or other ties to the U.S., and who have gone through the lengthy and rigorous immigration process to obtain valid visas to enter the U.S. The EO extended to effect refugees who had been vetted by the U.S. government and granted refugee status by the U.S. to escape persecution. Continue Reading The Effects of President Trump’s Immigration Executive Order

Photo: William Brawley via Flickr (CC by 2.0)
Photo: William Brawley via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the dismissal of a suit filed by construction-industry employers and their trade associations seeking to block enforcement of the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law in settings where collective bargaining agreements are in place.

The employers claimed that Section 301 of the Federal Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), preempts any claim that might be brought by an employee or the Massachusetts Attorney General under the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law.  The employers argued that, since the Labor-Management Relations Act preempts state-law suits alleging violations of CBAs, it would bar claims brought under the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law in union settings because the determination of any such suit would require analysis and interpretation of the applicable CBA.

The trial court dismissed the employers’ suit, finding that it was not ripe because no earned sick time claim had yet been filed by any union employee or by the Massachusetts Attorney General on behalf of unionized workers.  Therefore, the trial court found that the employers’ claims were “at best hypothetical.”  On appeal, the First Circuit upheld the dismissal, agreeing that the employers’ request was not yet ripe because it was “too contingent,” and based on “as-yet-unknown features of as-yet-unspecified claims.”

While the First Circuit’s decision leaves open the question of whether the Labor-Management Relations Act preempts the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law, the opinion does provide some insight into how the issue might be resolved when it arises again.  The First Circuit noted that the Labor-Management Relations Act does not necessarily preempt state laws that establish rights and obligations independent of a labor contract.  Moreover, the fact that a court might need to refer to a CBA to determine an employee’s damages in a state-law claim (such as to calculate the employee’s hourly rate of pay), does not mean that the claim arises under the CBA and should therefore be preempted.

Employers with unionized workforces will want to keep a close eye on this issue as it continues to develop.

The case is Labor Relations Division of Construction Industries of Massachusetts, Inc., et al. v. Healey, No. 15-1906 (Dec. 16, 2016).

Annually, the New Hampshire Department of Labor issues a list of the top ten most frequent violations it sees in audits and claims filed before it. The list doesn’t change dramatically from year to year, but violations move up and down the list giving us a clue as to where the DOL may focus its enforcement efforts in 2017. So here we go….

  1. Failure to Secure and Maintain Worker’s Compensation Coverage for Misclassified Workers. The issue of employee misclassification has been a focus of both state and federal agencies for the past ten years. We have written many blog posts directing the attention of business to the issue of independent contractors and how difficult it is to meet the criteria set out by the various agencies who address it. This year, misclassifying workers and failing to provide worker’s compensation coverage for them is at the top of the list.
  2. Failure to Pay All Wages Due for Hours Worked. Employers must be very cognizant of making sure that their employees properly record their hours worked and that employees are paid for all time. Approximations, auto-deductions, and flat time entries are insufficient. Non-exempt employees must record, time in, out for lunch, back in and out for the day as well as time spent answering calls at night, stopping at the post office on the way home and checking email on weekends.
  3. Failure to Have a Written Safety Plan, Joint Loss Management Committee and Safety Summary Form on File. All employers with 15 or more employees must comply strictly with RSA 281-A:64 and the related regulations.
  4. Employing Illegal Aliens (Undocumented Workers). Although this issue is typically within the purview of the federal government, DOL inspectors will review I-9’s and supporting documentation during audits and cite employers for missing or incomplete forms.
  5. Failure to keep accurate records of all hours worked. Similar to number 2 above, the DOL frequently cites employers for failing to maintain accurate documentation of time work and then to follow the legal requirements for paying employees. Non-exempt employees are entitled to a 30 minute unpaid meal break after five continuous hours of work, and employers should make sure that this time is accurately recorded. Similarly, employers may not dock employee pay for breaks of less than 20 minutes.
  6. Failure to Provide Written Notice to Employees of Their Wage Rate, Pay Period, Pay Day and Notice of Fringe Benefits At the Time of Hire and At the Time of Any Change. With careful education, this one has dropped down the list, but is still a frequent issue, especially for businesses which come from out of state. All of this information must be provided to the employee in writing, and the document must be signed by the employee and kept on file. This is a very NH specific requirement. A good way to handle this is to provide an offer letter which the employee needs to sign or at least a pay status document which can be updated with changes such as annual raises.
  7. Youth Employment Violations. The DOL is not forgiving of youth employment violations. Employers must make sure proper parental consent certificates or letters should be on file before a minor begins work. There are also very specific rules about hours and days of work and restrictions on dangerous occupations with which businesses should become familiar if they are going to hire younger workers.
  8. Failure to Pay Two Hours Minimum Pay on Any Day an Employee Reports to Work at the Request of the Employer. This is sometimes referred to as “show up pay” or the
    “snow day” or “not enough work day” rule. If an employee is scheduled for work and comes in, he or she must be paid a minimum of two hours even if the business closes down for the day or sends the employee home due to lack of work. The employer can certainly require the employee to stay and work for the two hours.
  9. Improper deductions from wages. Not following list of approved deductions. New Hampshire has a very specific list of what deductions employers can make from wages and very clear rules on how and when those deductions may be taken. Employers should carefully review RSA 275:48 and the attendant regulation. Although the approved list has been expanded, the deductions must still be voluntary and in most cases authorized in writing by the employee.
  10. Failure to Pay Minimum Wage for All Hours Worked. It is hard for most to imagine that this is still an issue. New Hampshire follows the federal minimum wage ($7.25) which is lower than the minimum wage of all of our neighboring states. The difficulty typically comes into play in very specific scenarios such as commissioned inside sales employees, tipped employees and others who are paid at special rates.

This time of year is a good time to do some risk avoidance planning. It might be a good time to schedule a wage and hour audit or self-audit for January or February, once the dust settles on the New Year celebrations.