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The US Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced today that Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta has withdrawn the DOL’s 2015 and 2016 informal guidance on joint employment and independent contractors.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.

As an attorney who counsels employers through difficult personnel issues, I am often asked, sometimes even in general conversation, what issues are the “hottest” and most frequent I see in my practice. For the past several years, the task of integrating and returning disabled employees to the workplace is at the top of the list; and of those, the most common and most challenging are the ones involving mental health issues. In addition to identifying when performance problems may be attributable to mental health diagnoses, employers also need to understand how to balance the employee’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act with safety and productivity concerns. An upcoming seminar at which one of my colleagues will be presenting features a panel of experts ready to help.

McLane Middleton attorney, Nick Casolaro, will be part of this panel discussion at the Business and Industry Association’s “Employer’s Guide to Mental Health in the Workplace” seminar on May 31, 2017 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, N.H.

During the presentation, the panelists will answer questions, such as: What can business owners do to encourage recognition and to provide opportunities for treatment? What are the appropriate accommodations? What mistakes must they avoid in handling employees dealing with short-term or chronic illnesses?

For additional information about this event, please click here.

Photo: TipsTimesAdmin via Flickr (CC by 2.0) - tipstimes.com
Photo: TipsTimesAdmin via Flickr (CC by 2.0) – tipstimes.com

Earlier this week, Massachusetts House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a law that would guarantee greater protections for pregnant women and nursing mothers.  The legislation prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because of “pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy,” which is defined to include the need to express breast milk for a nursing child.  It also prohibits employers from denying pregnant women and nursing mothers reasonable accommodations if requested by the employee unless it would impose an undue hardship upon the employer.  The bill provides the following examples of such reasonable accommodations: Continue Reading Massachusetts House Passes Legislation to Protect Pregnant and Nursing Mothers in the Workplace

On March 24, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Banner Health System v. NLRB, 851 F.3d 35 (D.C. Cir. 2017) again declined to rule on the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB” or “Board”) position that employers cannot prohibit discussions of matters under investigation absent a specific, case-by-case determination supporting the need for confidentiality. As a result, the Board’s position that employers violate Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by restricting such discussions absent case-specific evidence that “witnesses need protection, evidence is in danger of being destroyed, testimony is in danger of being fabricated, and there is a need to prevent a cover up” continues in force, with no clear disapproval from the courts. Continue Reading NLRB’s Case-By-Case Scrutiny Standard For Investigative Confidentiality Rules Continues

On March 24, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that the family of a woman murdered by her Home Depot supervisor at a family event could proceed against her former employer(s) on a theory of negligent supervision, hiring, and retention. In so holding, the Seventh Circuit adopted a broad and novel view of employers’ duty to control managers who engage in criminal activity off the employer’s premises and outside the scope of their employment by abusing their supervisory authority. Continue Reading Seventh Circuit: Negligence Lawsuit May Proceed Against Employer Regarding Supervisor’s Off-Site Murder Of Female Subordinate

Late yesterday, the Seventh Circuit became the first federal appeals court to hold that Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex also extends to sexual orientation.

The plaintiff, who is a lesbian, was a part-time adjunct professor at a community college in South Bend, Indiana.  She repeatedly and unsuccessfully applied for full-time teaching positions at the college, and ultimately, her part-time teaching contract was not renewed.  She believed that the college was discriminating against her because of her sexual orientation, and she filed a claim with the EEOC, and later in federal court.  The college moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that she had failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted, relying on a string of cases from the Seventh Circuit and elsewhere holding that sexual orientation is not protected under Title VII.  The district court agreed and dismissed the case.  A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit upheld the dismissal.  On further appeal, the full Seventh Circuit took “a fresh look” at its position on the issue, and ultimately decided to overrule its prior precedent. Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Holds that Sexual Orientation is Protected by Title VII

Photo: Chuck Coker via Flickr (CC by ND 2.0)
Photo: Chuck Coker via Flickr (CC by ND 2.0)

Last Thursday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) heard oral arguments in a case that asks whether employers can be required to make accommodations for employees’ off-duty use of medical marijuana.

The case was brought by a woman who suffers from Chron’s disease and who treats the condition with marijuana, as authorized by state law.  (Massachusetts voters passed an initiative in 2012 decriminalizing the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes.  In 2016, Massachusetts voters passed a measure decriminalizing marijuana for recreational use.  Marijuana is illegal for all purposes under federal law.)  After the plaintiff accepted an entry-level job at a marketing company, she was told that she would need to take a drug test.  Continue Reading Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Considers Employees’ Use of Medical Marijuana

Photo: Rusty Clark via Flickr (CC by 2.0)
Photo: Rusty Clark via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court announced that it had decided not to hear the case of Gavin Grimm – the transgender student who sued his school district seeking access to the restroom and locker room facilities that correspond to his gender identity.  The Court’s  change in course followed the Trump Administration’s rescission of an Obama-era Department of Education policy on the issue of bathroom access.  Although Grimm’s suit involves public school students, private employers have been keeping a close eye on the case for any implications it may have on the rights of transgender employees in the workplace.  The answer to that question will have to wait. Continue Reading The Problem with Pronouns