Two recent rulings have labor law observers questioning where the line is in disciplining employees for making offensive or obscene comments toward their employer. Seemingly at odds are a recent Second Circuit ruling finding such behavior is protected activity under the NLRA and a recent NLRB ruling finding the use of profanity towards management is not protected.
On May 24, 2017, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fl.) each introduced the Representation Fairness Restoration Act in their respective Houses of Congress in an attempt to reverse the controversial 2011 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board in Specialty Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, 357 NLRB No. (2011). As has been discussed in previous posts, the Board in Specialty Healthcare announced a new standard for determining the appropriateness of a bargaining unit. Under the new standard, unless an employer can show that an “overwhelming community-of-interest” exists between the requested unit and some other portion of the workforce, the requested bargaining unit will be approved. This new standard has encouraged the formation of smaller “micro-bargaining units.” These micro-bargaining units have been an administrative and managerial headache for employers, requiring them to bargain with multiple small units in the same workplace, and sometimes in the same department.
One of the most controversial regulatory actions from the US Department of Labor during the Obama administration was the DOL’s regulation significantly increasing the salary level under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s white-collar exemptions. The regulation sought to more than double the current salary requirement of $23,660 per year, and it included an automatic updating requirement that would have accelerated future salary level increases at a rate well above the rate of inflation.
In a press release issued this morning, the Department of Labor has announced that it is withdrawing two administrative interpretations issued by the Department of Labor under the Obama administration in 2015 and 2016 relating to misclassification of independent contractors and joint employment. These two administrative interpretations sought to expand the definition of employee, thereby increasing the possibility of misclassification cases, and, as some argued, expanding the concept of joint employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act. While this is a welcomed announcement for employers, the Department emphasized in the release that the withdrawal “does not change the legal responsibilities of employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act.” This is the first effort by the Department of Labor under the Trump administration to dismantle some of the more controversial policies issued by the Department in the Obama-era. The decision to withdraw these administrative interpretations may also signal that the Department intends to return to the opinion letter writing process, making compliance much simpler for employers.
It should come as no surprise that California, known for regulating work, also regulates rest. Section 551 of the California Labor Code states that, subject to certain exceptions, all employees are entitled to “one day’s rest” from labor “in seven” and Section 552 states that employers shall not “cause  employees to work more than six days in seven.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the California Supreme Court in Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc. these three specific questions:
Hiring overseas employees is a complex issue, with many rules and laws to navigate. Hunton & Williams partners Tom Murphy and Emily Burkhardt Vicente discuss the labor and employment considerations that companies should keep top of mind when thinking about hiring workers outside of the United States. View the 5-minute video here.
[From Hunton’s Retail Blog] If you are a retailer, you may have policies and procedures in place regarding who can speak on behalf of your company. Such policies may generally instruct employees not to speak to the press as a representative of the company, and to direct all media inquiries to a particular person or department. Similarly, if you are a retailer, you may have a policy in place that instructs employees to forward any reference requests to your human resources department. These commonplace policies allow retailers to control their public image and protect employee privacy, among other benefits. But, according to a recent decision by a National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) administrative law judge (“ALJ”), such policies may violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) by interfering with, restraining or coercing employees in their right to engage in concerted activity.
On May 23, 2017, the Department of Labor released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018). The budget contains several cost-cutting measures that reflect the new priorities of the Trump administration.
A notable aspect of the proposed budget is a request to merge the EEOC and OFCCP. The proposal aims for “full integration” of the two agencies by the end of FY 2018. To begin that transition, the proposal suggests sizable drops in the OFCCP’s current funding and staffing. The OFCCP’s budget is proposed to drop from $105,275,000 to $88,000,000 (a reduction of $17.3 million). The headcount is proposed to drop nearly 25%, from 571 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees to 440.
The issue of whether workers are properly classified as independent contractors rather than employees is a common dispute in the gig economy, particularly in newer, technology-based industries, such as ride-sharing.
That issue just became a much simpler one in Florida: On May 9, 2017, Florida’s governor signed into law a bill that, among other things, establishes that drivers for companies such as Lyft and Uber—called “transportation network companies” or “TNCs” under the law—are independent contractors, not employees, as long as the company satisfies four conditions:
Recently, we discussed a decision from the U.S. District Court for the District Columbia that considered whether a former employee’s failure to initially list an employment discrimination claim on her bankruptcy schedules barred her from pursuing the claim against her former employer under the doctrine of judicial estoppel.