The saga continues with regards to the status of a December 2017 NLRB decision that loosened restrictions on employer workplace rules. As we reported, on December 14, 2017, the NLRB overruled the “reasonably construe” standard for evaluating the validity of employer work rules and replaced it with an evaluation that balances 1) the nature and extent of a rule’s impact on NLRA rights and 2) an employer’s legitimate justifications for the rule. The new standard is widely-perceived as a victory for employers and indicated the newly-composed NLRB’s intent to revise the law in situations where the previous administration had stretched key legal principles too far, turning the “reasonably construe” standard into a “possibly construe” standard.
Recently, the NLRB created significant uncertainty as to the joint employer test under the NLRA when it vacated a December 2017 decision that resurrected the standard that existed prior to 2015. Such a standard determines the existence of a joint employer relationship by assessing whether one entity has “actually exercised joint control over essential employment terms (rather than merely having ‘reserved’ the right to exercise control)” and the control is “’direct and immediate’ (rather than indirect)” and exercised in a manner that is not “limited and routine.”
On April 16, newly confirmed member John Ring was sworn in as the fifth member and Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, establishing a Republican-controlled Board. While all has been relatively quiet with regard to rulings from the Board, we will likely see a rise in activity now that the NLRB (with a newly-minted majority) is poised to roll back some of the Obama-era rulings.
Recently the National Labor Relations Board invited interested parties and amici to submit briefs in Velox Express, Inc. (15-CA-184006) to address under what circumstances, if any, the Board should deem an employer’s misclassifying statutory employees as independent contractors constitutes a violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”). Briefs from parties and interested amici must be submitted on or before April 16, 2018.
The National Labor Relations Board continues to undo its actions overruling the joint employer test of Browning-Ferris Industries, 362 NLRB No. 186 (2015). Earlier this week the Board vacated its decision in Hy-Brand Industries, the case which had overruled Browning-Ferris.
Shortly after the original Hy-Brand decision, the Board had asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to remand the Browning-Ferris case to the Board. At the time, the Browning-Ferris case was pending before the court of appeals on the Board’s petition for enforcement and Browning-Ferris’s petition for review, and had been fully briefed and argued.
We previously informed you of the National Labor Relations Board’s decision in Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. and Brandt Construction Co., 365 NLRB No. 156 (2017), in which the Board overruled the controversial joint employer test which it had announced in Browning-Ferris Industries, 362 NLRB No. 186 (2015).
On February 26, 2018, the Board entered an order vacating the Hy-Brand decision, 366 NLRB No. 26 (2018). It did so in light of a determination by the Board’s Designated Agency Ethics Official, that Board Member William Emanuel “is, and should have been, disqualified from participating in the [Hy-Brand] proceeding.” Accordingly, Browning-Ferris is again the controlling Board law on joint employer status.
It remains to be seen when the Board might re-visit Browning-Ferris through another decision. In the meantime, employers who face joint employer concerns should evaluate their current practices in light of this development.
Raytheon Network Centric Systems, 365 NLRB No. 161 (Dec. 15, 2017) (“Raytheon”), is one of several decisions issued this month by the National Labor Relations Board’s (the “Board”) new Republican majority which reverse Obama-era precedent. Raytheon overrules the Board’s decision E.I. du Pont de Nemours, 364 NLRB No. 113 (2016) (“DuPont”), which limited the changes employers can make unilaterally in a union environment. Raytheon clarifies the degree to which employers may rely on past practice to make unilateral changes to terms of employment once a collective bargaining agreement has expired, and, more specifically, offers welcome guidance to employers with regard to continuation of health benefits under those circumstances.
Earlier this week, the NLRB issued yet another troubling decision in the joint employer space, a world the Board already turned upside-down last summer with its landmark Browning Ferris ruling. In Miller Anderson, the Board overturned Bush-era precedent and held that a union seeking to represent employees in bargaining units that combine both solely and jointly employed employees is no longer required to obtain the consent of the employers, provided the proposed bargaining unit is appropriate under “traditional” Board precedent. Under the prior rule established in the Board’s 2004 Oakwood Care decision, the Board would not allow employees from nominally different employers to form a single bargaining unit without consent, because employers who join a multi-employer bargaining unit must all consent to their inclusion (a sound policy given the host of practical and legal variables that can arise when separate employers agree to bargain together).
A concerned business community has closely followed the NLRB’s shifting views on the concept of “joint employers” – separate companies that are deemed to be so interconnected that they should be treated as one for purposes of labor relations activity and unfair labor practice liability. In August of last year, the NLRB decision in Browning-Ferris Industries, 362 NLRB No. 186 (Aug. 27, 2015), put into place a broad new test that dramatically expands the definition of “joint employer.” Now, an entity will be found to be a joint employer if it exercises only indirect control over the employment terms and conditions of another company’s employees. Indeed, joint employer status can be established if a company simply possesses, but never exercises, the ability to control such terms.
Sitting as the lone dissenter on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) might seem like a futile exercise. Grinding away on opinions that are critiques of the law as stated by your colleagues can be disenchanting work. But as a former NLRB member, I can attest that dissents are also valuable tools for future board members and the courts. Indeed, one of my proudest moments as a lawyer came when a court of appeals reversed the board “for the reasons stated by Member Meisburg.”
A recent NLRB decision involving an employer’s work rules illustrates the value of a powerful dissenting voice. Since late 2010, the NLRB has been on a campaign to outlaw employer rules that, the board says, may be “reasonably” read to prohibit employees from engaging in activity protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Such activity includes protesting working conditions or making efforts to form a union. Increasingly, the test seems to have morphed into one not based on the reasonable reading of a rule, but instead on whether any conceivable reading could “chill” protected conduct.