The National Labor Relations Board’s current joint employer standard received a mixed review from a federal circuit court late last month, providing some guidance on how courts may evaluate the Board’s ongoing rulemaking efforts.
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.
The National Labor Relations Board issued a much-anticipated decision on Thursday, overruling its controversial 2015 Browning-Ferris decision that unions and employees argued drastically expanded the definition and scope of the Board’s joint-employer doctrine. In Browning-Ferris, the Board departed from decades of precedent and held that entities who merely possessed—as opposed to directly and immediately exercised—control over workers would be deemed joint employers for purposes of assessing liability under the National Labor Relations Act. The Board used the Browning-Ferris decision to expand its reach under the joint-employer doctrine to include, for example, companies that relied on staffing agencies and in some cases, parent companies that did not exercise immediate or direct control over a subsidiary’s workers, but had the potential authority to affect certain terms and conditions of employment. The Browning-Ferris decision faced heavy criticism from employers as well as an appeal of the decision itself to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Published in Law360
Much has been written about the National Labor Relations Board’s controversial Browning-Ferris decision that significantly expanded the scope of joint employer liability under the National Labor Relations Act. But virtually no attention has been given to the Fourth Circuit’s recent panel decision in Salinas v. Commercial Interiors, Inc., which creates an altogether new and incredibly broad joint employment standard under the Fair Labor Standards Act that makes the NLRB’s Browning-Ferris joint employment standard seem temperate at best.
On March 9, 2017, the United States Circuit Court for the District of Columbia heard oral argument in the case entitled Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc., d/b/a/ Browning-Ferris Newby Island Recyclery v. National Labor Relations Board, Nos. 16-1028, 16-1063 and 16-1064. (Our prior blogs about this case can be found here.) This appeal challenges the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) new and imprecise standard for determining whether companies are “joint employers” for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act. The new standard, first issued in Browning-Ferris Industries, 362 NLRB No. 186 (Aug. 27, 2015), abandons consideration of a company’s direct and immediate control over employees in favor of a fact-specific approach that focuses more on “reserved” or “indirect” control.
Originally published by Construction Business Owner
By now, the employer community is well aware of the wide-ranging implications of Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc., 362 N.L.R.B. No. 186 (2015) (Browning-Ferris)—a decision that upended decades of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) precedent and dramatically expanded the definition of “joint employer” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). On August 16, 2016, in Retro Environmental, Inc./Green JobWorks, LLC , 364 N.L.R.B. No. 70, 2016 WL 4376615 (August 16, 2016) ( Retro), the NLRB applied the full weight of Browning-Ferris and concluded that Retro Environmental and Green JobWorks are “joint employers” under the NLRA. The NLRB also made it more difficult for employers to prove that they have ceased their joint-employer relationship. Retro is the latest in a line of NLRB decisions, issued since Browning-Ferris, which emphasize the need for employers to scrutinize their third-party business relationships for joint-employer risk.
In a brief filed on September 7, 2016 (“NLRB Brief”), the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “the Board”) urged the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to uphold its new “joint employer” standard, set forth in Browning-Ferris Industries, 362 NLRB No. 186 (Aug. 27, 2015). Through this new standard, the Board now seeks to impose collective bargaining and other NLRA obligations on companies that may indirectly control certain conditions of employment, or that merely reserve (but do not exercise) such control. Casting aside the more precise “direct and immediate control” standard it explicitly adopted in 1984, the Board in Browning-Ferris opted instead to analyze joint control issues on a fact-specific, case-by-case basis, with a greater focus on reserved and indirect control. The case on appeal is entitled Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc., d/b/a/ Browning-Ferris Newby Island Recyclery v. National Labor Relations Board, Nos. 16-1028, 16-1063 and 16-1064.
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.
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced yesterday that he has filed a “wage theft” lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza Inc., and several of its New York area franchisees. The case is particularly notable in that Schneiderman is pursuing a joint employer liability theory, seeking to hold Domino’s liable for the alleged wage payment violations of its franchisees. This is the first time Schneiderman has pursued such a claim in a wage payment case, and the lawsuit potentially opens a new front in federal and state enforcement agency attempts to expand the definition of what it means to be a joint-employer.