In a highly-anticipated decision issued yesterday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a suit filed by a woman who was fired because of her off-duty use of medical marijuana.  The SJC held that the woman’s claims for disability discrimination under the Massachusetts antidiscrimination statute, G.L. ch. 151B, could go forward.

Continue Reading Massachusetts High Court Reinstates Suit by Employee Fired for Off-Duty Medical Marijuana Use

On July 17, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) released an updated version of the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. This updated version will replace the most recent form from late January of this year. Employers will have the option to use the updated form (Rev. 07/17/17 N) or continue using the previous Form I-9 (Rev. 11/14/2016 N) during a 60 day grace period, until September 17, 2017. Beginning September 18, 2017, employers will be required to use the updated form for the initial employment verification of all new hires, as well as any applicable employment re-verifications.

Continue Reading USCIS Releases Updated I-9

On July 5, 2017 Washington became the latest state to enact some form of paid family and medical leave. The new law goes into effect in January 2020 and will provide employees with up to twelve (12) weeks per year of paid family leave for the following purposes:

• The employee’s own serious health condition;
• Care of a family member with a serious health condition;
• Care of a child new to the family following birth, adoption or placement in foster care; or
• For qualifying exigencies due to a family member’s deployment to active duty in the US Armed Forces. Continue Reading Washington State is Latest to Enact Paid Family Leave Legislation

Last November, a Federal District Court Judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction preventing changes to the overtime rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) from going into effect. Among other things, the new rules would have modified the so-called “salary level test,” such that an employee would need to make at least $913 per week in order to fall under the executive, administrative, and professional exemption (the “EAP exemption”). In the months that have passed since the injunction went into effect, there has been great uncertainty about the future of the new overtime rules. However, a brief filed by the Department of Labor on June 30 in its appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit sheds some light on the Trump Administration’s plans for the overtime rules. Continue Reading DOL Defends Its Authority to Establish a Salary Level Test under the FLSA, but Backs Away From the Amount Set in 2016 Rule

Photo: OTA Photos via Flickr (CC by SA 2.0)
Photo: OTA Photos via Flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

One of the key provisions of the new Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (which goes into effect on July 1, 2018) is that it prohibits employers from requiring prospective employees to disclose their salary history.  The reasoning behind this provision is as follows:  if employers are allowed to ask applicants about their salary history, and base compensation on the answers to those questions, applicants who have been on the receiving end of discriminatory pay practices in the past will continue to be hampered by past pay inequity throughout their careers.  If employers cannot base pay on what an applicant made previously, so the thinking goes, employers will have to set pay based on what the job is worth.

Continue Reading New Survey Shows How Questions About Prior Salary Harm Female Job Applicants

On June 27, 2017, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta announced that the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) will reinstate the issuance of opinion letters.  You might be wondering why this decision is important to businesses.  The answer is two-fold: (1) opinion letters provide interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) so that employers understand their rights and responsibilities under the law; and (2) opinion letters may be relied upon as a good faith defense to wage claims arising under the FLSA.

Continue Reading US DOL Reinstates Opinion Letters

Photo: President Donald J. Trump (WhiteHouse.gov)
Photo: President Donald J. Trump (WhiteHouse.gov)

At the conclusion of the Obama presidency there remained two open seats on the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”).  The five member panel operated with two Democrats and one Republican for a significant period of time given the refusal of the Republican Senate to move on confirmation of President Obama’s nominees.  Normally, the Board contains three members of the sitting President’s party.  Even with only three members, two Democrats, the Board issued many decisions impacting labor/management relations including sweeping pronouncements regarding employee use of social media and employee handbook policies.  The NLRB is charged with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), which guarantees the right of most private sector employees to organize and to engage in “concerted activity” which includes discussing the terms and conditions of their employment with one another and the public.  Many decisions coming out of the Board over the past eight years are viewed as having increased regulation on private sector employers and limiting the ability of private employers to manage their workforces as they see fit.

President Trump took a step toward filling the board by nominating Republican Marvin Kaplan to one of the seats.  Kaplan, a former labor and employment attorney, currently serves as counsel at the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.  He has significant experience with the issues expected to come before the board.  Senate representatives indicate that they plan to take up his nomination quickly.  President Trump is also likely to nominate someone to the fifth seat quickly in order to establish a Republican majority on the Board.  Employers should expect to see a rollback of some of the Obama era policies in the near future.

In follow up to my June 19, 2017 post regarding the trials and tribulations of the workplace culture (among other issues) at Uber, it now appears that the previously announced leave of absence of CEO Travis Kalanick is permanent.  Kalanick, amid significant pressures from investors, has tendered his resignation.   The embattled executive, still a major shareholder, will remain on the board of directors.

Continue Reading Uber Update: Kalanick Resigns as CEO

Photo: Uber.com/media
Photo: Uber.com/media

On June 13, 2017, Uber released to its employees excerpts of a damning independent investigation report authored by independent investigators Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, attorneys with the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP.  On February 19, 2017, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post detailing allegations of harassment, discrimination and retaliation at the company during her tenure.  She also decried the ineffectiveness of Uber’s policies and procedures in addressing such workplace issues.  The very next day Uber hired Former Attorney General Holder and his law firm to conduct a review of  the issues raised by Fowler as well as diversity and inclusion more broadly at Uber. Continue Reading Holder’s Advice to Uber: Focus on Tone at the Top, Trust, Transformation and Accountability

The US Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced today that Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta has withdrawn the DOL’s 2015 and 2016 informal guidance on joint employment and independent contractors.  We previously reported on these issues when the guidance was published under the prior Secretary.  For more information on the guidance please refer to our posts dated January 28, 2016 and September 29, 2015.  The press release cautioned that:

Removal of the administrator interpretations does not change the legal responsibilities of employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, as reflected in the department’s long-standing regulations and case law. The department will continue to fully and fairly enforce all laws within its jurisdiction, including the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.

What does this mean for employers? Effectively, not a great deal.  The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Internal Revenue Code provide fairly clear guidance on the independent contractor tests, and other federal agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) have spoken to the issue of joint employment.

More importantly, however, many states, including ALL of the New England states, have very restrictive independent contractor laws.  Caution should continue to prevail when supplementing one’s workforce with contractors or consults.  Similarly, those businesses which utilize temporary workers from staffing companies or share employees with other related companies should continue to assume that those workers will be considered the joint employees of all who direct their performance or benefit from the services.

It is unknown whether the DOL intends to issue any new guidance on either of these topics.