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Standard for religious accommodation requests may get Supreme Court review

Requests for religious accommodations at work can involve a wide range of issues including schedule changes, relief from weekend or overtime work, breaks to accommodate prayer or other religious practices, dress code accommodations and even tattoos. Religious accommodations must be granted if they are “reasonable.” Currently employers have a pretty low hurdle to cross when arguing that a requested accommodation is not reasonable. The U.S. Supreme Court is sending signals that hurdle may become higher.

“Undue burden”

In religious accommodation cases, just like disability accommodation cases, to show that a requested accommodation is unreasonable an employer must show it will …

DOL seeks to limit joint employer liability for wage and hour claims

On April 1, 2019, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced a proposed rule to narrow the definition of a “joint employer” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Because joint employers are jointly and severally liable for wage and hour claims brought under the FLSA, the change could have a significant impact on wage and hour litigation as we know it, offering franchisers and businesses that hire workers through staffing firms a shield from liability for some minimum wage and overtime pay violations.

Proposed regulation

Image depicting stack of wage and hour claims

Part 791 of Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations contains the DOL’s

Employer’s good faith offer to reinstate employee as part of settlement negotiations in exchange for dismissing a lawsuit is not considered retaliation

In a recent case, Bresler v. Rock, 2018-Ohio-5138, an employee incongruously argued that an employer’s offer to reinstate his employment in exchange for dismissal of his pending lawsuit was a retaliatory action.  The Ohio Court of Appeals soundly rejected that contention. Rather, employers can continue to negotiate settlements of discrimination allegations and include conditions of dismissal of lawsuits and releases of all claims and courts should not consider it a retaliatory action.

At the age of 60, after working for Anchor Hocking for over 41 years, Darrell Bresler was terminated. Earlier in the year, the company shut down its operations …

Ninth Circuit holds that inclusion of state law disclosures violates the FCRA’s “stand-alone” Requirement

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires employers who obtain a consumer report on a job applicant to provide the applicant with a “clear and conspicuous disclosure” that they may obtain such a report (the “clear and conspicuous” requirement) “in a document that consists solely of the disclosure” (the “standalone document” requirement) before procuring the report. Because neither of these requirements are defined in the statute, they have been the subject of almost constant litigation in recent years. Most notably, the 9th Circuit has led the way in finding that an employer’s inclusion of a liability waiver in its disclosure …

NLRB overrules Obama-era precedent for independent contractor test

On Jan. 25, 2019, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) addressed its independent contractor test in a case involving airport shuttle drivers for the franchise, SuperShuttle. The SuperShuttle DFW, Inc. decision overruled the NLRB’s 2014 decision in FedEx Home Delivery, which the Board criticized as incorrectly limiting the significance of a worker’s entrepreneurial opportunity for economic gain in determining independent contractor status.…

NLRB reverses Obama board trend on expansion Of Section 7 rights

After years of expanding Section 7 rights during the Obama administration, the NLRB earlier this month began reining in the protection afforded to employee complaints in a 3-1 decision in Alstate Maintenance, LLC. In Alstate, a Kennedy International Airport skycap, Trevor Greenidge, refused to assist an arriving soccer team with their baggage and equipment, telling his supervisor, “We did a similar job a year prior and we didn’t receive a tip for it.” When a van carrying the team’s  equipment arrived, airline managers motioned for the charging party and three co-workers to assist. Instead, they walked away and did not …

Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection issues revised FCRA summary of rights form

Section 301 of the federal Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, which was signed into law on May 24, 2018, amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), effective Sept. 21, 2018, to require consumer reporting agencies (such as those that employers use for applicant and employee background check purposes) to include new language on the Summary of Rights form that explains a consumer’s right to obtain a security freeze to protect against identity theft. The statutory language states that “a security freeze shall not apply to the making of a consumer report for use of the following: … …

Sixth Circuit decision shows similarly situated employees must truly be similarly situated in discrimination cases

Employers facing workplace discrimination claims in the 6th Circuit should find some comfort in the court’s recent decision in DeBra v. JP Morgan Chase & Co., which endorses a heightened standard for plaintiffs to demonstrate that they were treated less favorably than similarly situated employees outside their protected class.

The plaintiff worked as a bank teller for Chase until she was terminated for on-the-job errors, such as overpaying customers, leaving bank funds unsecured on counters and accidentally failing to return bank cards to several customers. She alleged, however, that the bank’s reliance on these errors for her termination …

U.S. Department of Labor issues new opinion letters covering FMLA and FLSA issues

On Tuesday, August 28, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) announced the issuance of six new opinion letters covering a variety of issues under the FMLA and FLSA. Specifically, the opinion letters address the following issues:

  • “No-fault” attendance policies and roll-off of attendance points under the FMLA
  • Organ donors’ qualification for FMLA leave
  • Compensability of time spent voluntarily attending benefit fairs and certain wellness activities
  • Application of the commissioned sales employee overtime exemption to a company that sells an internet payment software platform
  • Application of the movie theater overtime exemption to a movie theater that

Sixth Circuit holds that employer was not required to extend lunch breaks for exercise as reasonable accommodation

Many people exercise daily, and for Shannan McDonald, her exercise was prescribed by her physician for her genetic disorder.  McDonald, employed as a receptionist for UAW-GM Center for Human Resources (CHR), regularly exercised in her employer’s on-site gym during her lunch break.  Per the collective bargaining agreement that covered her employment, each year CHR permitted employees to elect annually whether to take a 60 minute lunch break or a 30 minute lunch break with two other 15 minute breaks. The election remained in place for the entire year following election. McDonald chose the 30 minute lunch break.…

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 …

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 …

Recent Supreme Court decision holds that FLSA exemptions are to be construed fairly

Many thanks to Arslan Sheikh for his assistance in preparing this post.

In a decision issued on April 2, 2018 the Supreme Court of the United States held in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro that service advisors at an auto dealership are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) overtime pay requirement. Most importantly, the Court also rejected the 9th Circuit’s holding and Department of Labor policy that FLSA exemptions should be construed narrowly. Instead, courts should apply a fairness test to determine whether a particular job is covered under the exempt classifications of the act. As a result, …

Second Circuit holds that Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination

In a landmark decision, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., en banc, became the second federal appellate court to hold that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)), which makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of sex, also prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation. It appears that the defendant does not intend to seek Supreme Court review. Therefore, employers subject to Title VII, particularly those in the Second Circuit (i.e., Connecticut, New York and …

NLRB discards Obama-era decisions

After Republicans regained control of the majority seats on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or the board) for the first time in nearly nine years, the majority has swiftly reset the board’s tone. Recently, the NLRB has been busy taking steps to undo some of the more labor and employee friendly standards and opinions that were implemented under the Obama Administration. The result is a return to what many employers would consider to be a common sense approach.…

D.C. Federal Judge vacates the EEOC’s Workplace Wellness Program Rules, effective Jan. 1, 2019

On Dec. 20, 2017, a D.C. federal judge held that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s workplace wellness program rules – which permit employers to incentivize employees who participate in workplace wellness programs—will be vacated on Jan. 1, 2019. The judge held that the EEOC failed to provide a reasoned explanation for the rules, which he believed violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) without a reason for permitting an exception to the normal rules prohibiting disability-related inquiries, medical examinations and requesting genetic information. The judge further ordered the EEOC to promulgate any …

NLRB establishes new standard for evaluating employee handbook policies

The new Republican-led National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has wasted little time in reconsidering decisions made during the Obama Administration. In its Boeing, Inc., decision, announced on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, the board overturned its Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia decision that has guided its evaluation of employee handbook policies for the past 13 years and most recently has come under intense criticism from the employer community for chipping away at common employee handbook policies.

New top lawyer for NLRB signals change

Peter Robb is President Trump’s new General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). He was confirmed by the Senate in November. The General Counsel is the top lawyer guiding NLRB enforcement activity. Direction from the General Counsel’s office influences how NLRB Regional Directors enforce the law and has a significant impact on legal issues facing union, as well as non-union, companies. In a memo issued on December 1 to all of the NLRB Regional Offices around the country, Mr. Robb signaled his intention to systematically change many of the more controversial labor law enforcement initiates pursued by the …

Non-union employers may have to allow employees “representation” in some investigation interviews

Many thanks to Arslan Sheikh for his assistance in preparing this post.

Presume your workplace is non-union. You are interviewing an employee about facts that might lead to disciplining her. She tells you she wants a co-worker to sit in on the interview as her representative to advise her. The lawyers that advise the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are taking the position that you have to allow it.

Last week, the office of the general counsel to the NLRB issued an advice memorandum that has significant implications for all non-union employers. The memo concludes that an employee in a …

President Trump nominates Peter Robb to serve as general counsel to the National Labor Relations Board

Many thanks to Arslan Sheikh for his assistance in preparing this post.

Last week, President Trump nominated Peter Robb, a management-side labor attorney, to serve as general counsel to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). As the top lawyer for the NLRB, the general counsel has a great many responsibilities, which include giving advice to the regional offices of the NLRB concerning enforcement issues. The advice is often communicated in advice memoranda. These advice memos are critical because they advise the regional offices on how to interpret and to enforce labor law. It is the regional offices that process unfair …

Texas district court strikes down Obama DOL’s proposed overtime rule

Many thanks to Arslan Sheikh for his assistance in preparing this post.

Last week, a federal judge in Texas struck down a proposed Obama-era rule that would have expanded the number of workers who qualify for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The proposed rule

In 2016, the Obama administration’s Department of Labor (DOL) planned to implement a new rule that would have more than doubled the minimum salary threshold for “exempt” status under the FLSA from $23,660 to $47,476 per year. Under the DOL’s proposed rule, an employee who made an annual salary below $47,476 would …

Courts in Massachusetts and Rhode Island permit medical marijuana users to pursue disability discrimination claims

Recent decisions from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and a Rhode Island Superior Court have held that a discharged employee and a rejected applicant, both of whom tested positive for marijuana, may pursue disability discrimination claims under state law. These are among the first decisions issued that address whether employers have a state law obligation to reasonably accommodate the medical marijuana use of their disabled employees and applicants.

Because marijuana use – whether for medicinal or recreational purposes – remains unlawful under federal law, employers have no obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act to reasonably accommodate its use by …

OSHA proposes delay to electronic injury reporting requirement and no mechanism in place on OSHA’s website for electronic reporting compliance

The compliance deadline for Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) electronic injury and illness reporting rule has come and gone, and there is no mechanism in place for employers to electronically report work-related injuries and illnesses. On June 27, 2017, OSHA proposed moving the July 1, 2017 mandatory compliance deadline to Dec. 1, 2017. The window for public comment on the proposed delay closed on July 13th. At present, the “proposed delay” remains a “proposal,” but, even so, OSHA does not yet have the mechanism in place for compliance with the electronic reporting requirement.

For many years, OSHA required employers …

Full Eighth Circuit upholds employee terminations in Jimmy John’s paid sick leave dispute

In an en banc decision, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned an earlier panel decision, which we reported on here, in MikLin Enterprises Inc. v. NLRB, in which the panel had upheld the NLRB’s finding that a Jimmy John’s franchisee had violated the rights of its employees under the National Labor Relations Act, when it fired them for hanging posters at their shops that suggested that the customers could be eating sandwiches that were made by sick employees in an effort to pressure the franchisee to adopt a paid sick leave policy.

In the …

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