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Legal Update - October 2017 Newsletter

Yogi Patel - Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dear valued clients and supporters: This month's newsletter will focus on three significant employment law cases that are expected to be decided by the United States Supreme Court this term. The cases will address: (1) the enforceability of mandatory class-action waivers against employees; (2) the constitutionality of mandatory public-sector union fees; and (3) whether or not car service advisors are exempt employees under federal law.

Mandatory Class Action Waivers

 It has become increasingly common for employers to require employees to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of their employment. Such agreements seek not only to require the employees to seek any redress via arbitration, but also to prohibit the employees from bringing their claims together in a class action. Presently, in three separate but related cases, the Supreme Court will decide whether these employee arbitration agreements are enforceable because they require employees to waive their collective bargaining rights. While similar agreements have been upheld in the consumer context, Circuit Courts across the country have reached different conclusions as to whether employee arbitration agreements are enforceable, thus requiring the Supreme Court to settle the debate. As the Supreme Court's decision will have significant ramifications either on employees' rights to take collective action or on the enforceability of employment agreements, both employers and employees are advised to monitor the outcome of this decision.

Public-Sector Union Fees

 In another case on the current docket, the Supreme Court will address whether requiring public-sector employees to pay certain union fees violates their constitutional rights. Dating back to 1977, in the case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court has held that compulsory union dues were not unconstitutional so long as they were used for actions such as collective bargaining and grievance procedures and not for political activity. Recently, the Supreme Court was asked to reconsider the constitutionality of all mandatory union dues for public-sector employees, but Justice Antonin Scalia passed away before a decision was reached, leaving the Court deadlocked at a 4-4 vote. Now, with nine members again presiding, it appears the Court is now poised to issue a decisive ruling on this issue. Unions in particular have a strong interest in this case as it could result in the depletion of a significant source of revenue for them.

Car Service Employee Overtime Exemptions

 Finally, the Supreme Court is expected to resolve the question as to whether or not car dealership service providers are exempt from mandatory overtime requirements. The case is significant not only because of the narrow issue it will resolve regarding the exemption status of certain workers, but also in that it may provide additional guidance as to how much weight courts should give to the statements and opinions of agencies, such as the Department of Labor ("DOL"). The history of the service advisor exemption is essential to appreciating the significance of the current case. In 1966, Congress enacted an overtime exemption for car salesman and related employees, though service advisors were excluded by regulation. Courts later rejected this regulation and the DOL issued an opinion letter agreeing that service advisors could be exempt from mandatory overtime. Then, in 2011, almost 50 years later, the DOL reversed its position and stated that service advisors were not exempt. In 2012, five service advisors from California filed suit against their employer for failing to pay them overtime, a claim which was upheld by the Circuit Court. The Supreme Court then vacated the decision on the basis that the DOL's reversal of its position meant that courts should not rely on it. The case was sent down to the lower courts, made its way back up to the Circuit Court, which again concluded that the workers were nonexempt. Now the Supreme Court will rule again. Most experts expect that the Court will not only rule definitively as to whether or not service providers are exempt from overtime requirements, but also when Courts should rely on agency opinions more broadly.

 

Readers are encouraged to follow us on Twitter (@lloydpatelllp) and Facebook to receive updates on these and other issues throughout the month.


September 2015 NEWSLETTER

Yogi Patel - Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Dear valued clients and supporters: This month's newsletter will focus on: (1) the NLRB's restatement of the joint-employer standard, expanding the right to unionize; (2) the New York City ban on employers using or requesting credit information of employees and job applicants; and (3) Businesses' need to keep trade secrets safe, methods for protecting them, and actions to take when they are misappropriated.

NLRB Expands Right to Unionize 
Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees have the right to collectively bargain (unionize) only against their employer. The joint-employer doctrine recognizes that in circumstances where two separate entities each have the right to exercise a certain degree of control over a set of employees' working conditions, that both entities should be considered employers. In a recent decision, Browning-Ferris Indus., the NLRB "restated" its standard for evaluating the existence of a joint-employer relationship in a way that expanded its scope. The decision particularly impacts the franchise industry.  (FULL ARTICLE)
 

NYC Ban on Employer use of Credit Information 
As of September 3, 2015, NYC employers will be prohibited from using or requesting the consumer credit history of an applicant or employee pursuant to Local Law 37. Under the new law, it will be considered an unlawful discriminatory practice to ask applicants or employees about their credit information, such as their credit score, missed payments, and collections. Any use of such credit information with regard to hiring, compensation, or the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment will also be considered an unlawful discriminatory practice. Employees and applicants who suffer credit discrimination will be protected by New York City Human Rights Law, which allows them to file a claim against the employer and seek compensatory and punitive damages, as well as discretionary costs and attorney's fees. Employers should be aware of this development and work with their counsel to ensure their employment practices are not in violation of this new law.  (FULL ARTICLE)

Trade Secrets 
Trade Secrets are the key to many business's success, especially in the absence of a patent or other forms of intellectual property protections in place. Proprietary information that entities exclusively know and use is what allows them to compete in their industries. When trade secrets become publicly known or known to a competitor, an entire business may be at stake. That is why any business that operates in reliance upon trade secrets must take specific precautions to limit the number of people who access such information and to place restrictions on those with whom it is shared. Requiring employees to agree not to disclose trade secrets and to follow certain protocols when accessing or using trade secrets is vital to a business's security. When a business shares its secrets with potential investors or partners, the interaction should be subject to a non-disclosure agreement. Security measures are the front line defense against the leaking of trade secrets, and imposing affirmative obligations not to disclose or use trade secrets gives businesses specific remedies against those who misappropriate their proprietary information. (FULL ARTICLE) 

Readers are encouraged to follow us on Twitter (@lloydpatelllp) and Facebook to receive updates on this and other issues throughout the month.

Workers Right to Unionize Gets Boost From National Labor Relations Board

Yogi Patel - Tuesday, September 08, 2015

 

Intro

The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) recently issued a major decision making headlines everywhere that both advocates and opponents say greatly expands workers’ right to unionize. The decision, Browning-Ferris Indus., restated the standard for determining whether a joint-employer relationship exists where more than one entity exercises some degree of control over workers. In a joint-employer relationship, employees have more than one employer and can exercise their rights against both employers. Because workers only have the right to collectively bargain (unionize) with their employer, by expanding the definition of a joint-employer relationship, the NLRB expanded the rights of employees to unionize. Given the recent decision and other pending actions before the Board, there is much speculation as to the scope of the impact the Browning-Ferris restated rule will have.

What Exactly is a Joint-Employer Relationship?

In a joint-employer relationship, two or more entities that have a business relationship each exercise a certain degree of control over a set of employees such that they should each be considered their employer. A common example of a joint-employment relationship is where a temporary placement agency provides employers to an employer; under such circumstances, both the agency and the business where the employees are placed would be considered employers. Determining whether or not a joint-employer relationship exists does not rely one a single concrete definition, but rather requires analyzing several factors relating to the control and supervision of employees. Overall, the general idea is that while two business entities that are involved with one another may be separate, when they share or codetermine matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment, they should both be considered employers. What the NLRB did in Browning-Ferris was alter the factors used in the joint-employer analysis such that they expanded the relationship’s definition.

So What Exactly Happened in Browning-Ferris?

Browning-Ferris Industries was the operator of a recycling plant. BFI maintained their own employees who were responsible for operating forklifts and other machinery within the plant, but they hired a separate company, Leadpoint, to provide workers to operate conveyor belts within the plant that sorted recycled materials. The Leadpoint workers also performed other tasks, such as cleaning the facility. Eventually, the union that represented the BFI workers tried to represent the Leadpoint workers as well. Since employers may only unionize against their employer, this raised the issue as to whether or not BFI should be considered the Leadpoint employees’ employer as well, thus creating a joint-employer relationship.

 

In its decision, the Board explained that the rapid growth of the employment placement services industry required that it revisit its previous standard for assessing whether or not a joint-employer relationship exists. The Board emphasized that it has the obligation to apply the law to the “complexities of industrial life,” and to adapt the law “to the changing patterns of industrial life,” and that given the record numbers of workers employed through temporary agencies and other placement services, the Board was compelled to restate the joint-employer standard to address its shortcomings.

Under the previous rule, a company like BFI who was not the primary employer would only be considered a joint employer if it exercised “direct and immediate” control over certain working conditions if the employees. Under the “new” rule, which advocates claim already existed prior to the 1980s, the Board will determine that two or more entities are joint employers if they:

are both employers within the meaning of the common law, and if they share or codetermine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment. In evaluating the allocation and exercise of control in the workplace, we will consider the various ways in which joint employers may “share” control over terms and conditions of employment or “codetermine” them, as the Board and the courts have done in the past.


The Board retained an “inclusive” approach to defining the essential terms and conditions of employment, which contain, hiring, firing, discipline, supervision, direction, setting wages and hours, dictating the number of workers, controlling scheduling, seniority, and overtime, assigning work, and determining the manner and method of work performance. However, the Board expressly held that it would no longer require an entity to actually directly exercise control over workers to be considered a joint employer, but rather that the essential determination would be based upon whether the entity had the right to exercise such control, directly or indirectly. To put it more plainly, an entity that has the right to indirectly control the essential terms and conditions of employment of certain workers should be considered their joint employer.

In the Browning-Ferris case, Leadpoint had its own supervisors at the plant, managed its employees schedules, evaluated its employees’ work, had its own HR, made all hiring decisions, made discipline and determination decisions, and set pay rates. However, Leadpoint’s control was limited and/or influenced by BFI in that BFI set the job qualifications and criteria, required drug and skills tests, insisted on some discharges, set an indirect cap on pay by limiting the amount it would reimburse Leadpoint, and set the hours or operation of the plant and shift times. The Board found that because of the control BFI held over the Leadpoint employees, whether direct or indirect, authorized or not, BFI was a joint-employer under the restated rule.


Why This is Such a Big Deal

One of the biggest areas of business that pundits are speculating the Browning-Ferris decision will have the greatest impact is over the franchise-franchisee relationship. Prior to Browning-Ferris, a franchisor, such as McDonald’s, would not be considered the employer of each franchise’s employees because McDonald’s the corporation did not exercise direct and immediate control over the working conditions of the employees. Under the new rule, most analysts assert that McDonald’s would be considered the joint-employer of all of its franchises’ employees, thus granting the employees the right to collectively bargain with McDonald’s itself. Previously, franchise employees had no such right, and if they tried to form a union, it was perfectly legal for the parent corporation, such as McDonald’s, to have the franchise such down.


Generally, analysts see the Board’s ruling as an opening for employees across many industries to attempt to unionize where it was previously forbidden, which would expand the rights of workers everywhere to collectively bargain. Naturally, advocates see this ruling as a welcome expansion of workers’ rights and opponents argue that the ruling will be disastrous for business and destroy the franchise model altogether.


Conclusion

Perhaps the most poignant argument the Board put forth in defending its decision attacked the disparity that arises when an entity can retain a certain degree of control over workers without workers having any rights against the entity: “It is not the goal of joint-employer law to guarantee the freedom of employers to insulate themselves from their legal responsibility to workers, while maintaining control of the workplace.” Given the rise of employment placement agencies by businesses, the Board was concerned that far too many employees would be left powerless against entities that profited from their labor and exercised control over them, which, it argues, the National Labor Relations Act was put in place to prevent. While time will tell what the true impact of the decision will have, especially given that it will almost certainly be approved, the Board did sent a clear message to employers that it would no longer tolerate business who seek to reap the benefits of labor it controls without any corresponding obligations.


This article is not intended to be nor should it be construed as legal advice. As with any legal inquiry, both employees and employers should seek the advice of council before taking any action pursuant to the information discussed above.


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