Employer Law Report

Sixth Circuit upholds agreement to arbitrate FLSA claims on individual basis

On Aug. 15, 2018, the Sixth Circuit in Gaffers v. Kelly Services, Inc. held that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not render an arbitration agreement that requires claims to be brought individually illegal and unenforceable. Following the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, which held that a federal statute does not displace the Arbitration Act unless it includes a “clear and manifest” congressional intent to make individual arbitration agreements unenforceable, the court rejected the plaintiff’s arguments that FLSA displaced the Federal Arbitration Act simply by providing for a right to “collective action.” Instead, the Sixth Circuit, consistent with Epic, held that the FLSA “gives employees the option to bring their claims together. It does not require employees to vindicate their rights in a collective action, and it does not say that agreements requiring on-on-one arbitration become a nullity if an employee decides that he wants to sue collectively after signing one.” The Sixth Circuit then went on to reject the plaintiff’s next argument that the Arbitration Act’s savings clause permitted the court to refuse to enforce the individual arbitration agreements because they are “illegal” under the FLSA based on Epic. Continue Reading

More news from the NLRB on work rules

The Obama-era NLRB sometimes gave employers fits with decisions and guidance concerning employer work rules. It was common for the Obama-era Board to strike down fairly common, neutral work rules, often based on the idea that employees might interpret the rules to restrict employee rights. It did not take long for Trump-era NLRB appointees, however, to put their stamp on National Labor Relations Act law (see our article about some early actions by Trump NLRB appointees). The current members of the NLRB and the NLRB General Counsel are clearly inclined to give employers more latitude when drafting work rules. Following are some examples of the NLRB’s change in direction. Continue Reading

Sixth Circuit finds insurance coverage for phishing losses

The risk of loss due to some form of cyberattack should prompt employers to consider insuring against those losses. But, not all cyberinsurance policies are created equal. That point is made abundantly clear in the recent 6th Circuit case, American Tooling Center, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Co. of America.

The plaintiff, American Tooling Center, Inc. (ATC) is a Michigan-based manufacturer that subcontracts some of its manufacturing work to a Chinese vendor. During a time period that it had business insurance coverage through Travelers, ATC received a series of emails from an impostor pretending to be its Chinese vendor. These emails advised ATC that the vendor had changed its bank accounts and that ATC should wire transfer its payments to these new accounts. After ATC had transferred approximately $834,000 to these fraudulent accounts, it learned that it had been duped. ATC then made a claim on its Travelers business insurance policy. Travelers denied the claim and litigation followed. Continue Reading

U.S. Supreme Court rules that public sector unions may no longer collect fees from nonmembers

On Wednesday, June 27, 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision that the application of public sector union fees to nonmembers is a violation of the nonmembers’ First Amendment rights. The Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME overturns precedent established in a 1977 Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, where the Court allowed the collection of union fees from nonmembers for collective bargaining related costs, excluding lobbying and political expenses. In overturning the decision, the majority in Janus held that Abood was “poorly reasoned” and an “anomaly in…First Amendment jurisprudence.” The court’s decision in Janus will have a long-lasting effect on public sector labor unions and will affect millions of unionized workers across the country.

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Final association health plan regulations provide opportunity for small employers…maybe

In February, we reported that the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a proposed rule that could make it easier for small businesses to join together to purchase health insurance. That proposed rule sparked considerable debate on the general merits of association health plans (AHPs), as well as on the nuances of the proposed rule. Some commentators and experts remained skeptical of such arrangements, citing to the history of AHPs being used as a vehicle for fraud. Others were clearly in favor of any rule that might provide small employers with a new avenue to provide health coverage to their employees. And still others were cautiously optimistic, reserving judgment until some of the open issues in the regulations were resolved.

Well, the debate can now begin in earnest, as the DOL has issued the final regulations. Continue Reading

Adding more confusion to the world of website accessibility, WCAG 2.1 has been published

As many of you know, we have been keeping up on the growing litigation involving the accessibility of websites under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in our past posts: “Florida federal judge holds that supermarket chain’s website must be accessible to disabled” and “ADA public accommodations law reform on its way?” Many stakeholders have urged that websites of businesses that operate public accommodations should be accessible to the WCAG 2.0 AA standard. WCAG is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the private organization focused on improving the Internet experience and who develops recommendations for website accessibility. There are levels of “success criteria:” A, AA and AAA—in increasing levels of accessibility. The government recently issued regulations requiring federal government websites to be accessible to the WCAG 2.0 AA standard and often insists on this same level of compliance when it settles enforcement actions against private businesses. Continue Reading

Uber app decision in California highlights ongoing litigation for website and app accessibility

A California federal court refused to dismiss a case against Uber alleging that its app did not offer accessible ride options even though the plaintiffs failed to even download the app.

In Crawford v. Uber Tech. Inc., the Northern District of California denied a motion for judgment on the pleadings based on a lack of standing. Uber alleged that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge its mobile application because both users admitted that they never download the app. The plaintiffs, instead, argued that they were deterred from downloading the app because they knew that it did not offer the option to call a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. The court agreed that plaintiffs are not required to go to the “futile gesture” of attempting to become a customer when the plaintiffs know that the services are inaccessible.

While the facts of this case (accessibility of ride-sharing services) are limited in their application, the holding on the standing issue has broad application. A primary attack on accessibly litigation has been the standing issue, including arguments that the plaintiff never attempted to be a customer, is ineligible to be a customer or is located too far from the physical location to reasonably be considered a future customer. This case accepts that being deterred from visiting the website or app is sufficient to establish standing.

New DOL opinion letter may provide clarity as to when FMLA-mandated breaks are paid and when they are unpaid

As we previously reported in the post “The return of Department of Labor Opinion Letters,” the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) began issuing opinion letters again in mid-2017 after a six-plus-year hiatus. On April 12, 2018, the DOL issued an opinion letter, FLSA 2018-19, regarding when FMLA-mandated breaks for intermittent leave for an employee’s serious health condition are paid and when they are unpaid.

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U.S. Supreme Court rules that mandatory, individual arbitration of employment disputes trumps employees’ rights to participate in class action lawsuits

On Monday, May 21, 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision that employers may require workers to accept individual arbitration for wage and hour and other workplace disputes rather than banding together to pursue their claims in class actions in federal or state courts. The Court’s decision in Lewis v. Epic Sys. Corp. overturns the position of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and resolves a split among federal courts of appeals. The case is one of the most important employment law cases to be decided by the Supreme Court in the past decade and could affect millions of U.S. workers and their employers.

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New test should increase employer ability to create unpaid internship positions

Many employers allow students to intern in their workplaces so that the students can gain exposure to real world work, learn about a particular industry or career, or earn credit hours towards their degree requirements. If these interns are unpaid, however, employers risk liability for failure to pay minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employers that enter into these arrangements without careful consideration of the FLSA risk lawsuits from former interns and United States Department of Labor (DOL) investigations.

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