The U.S. Department of Labor recently issued a final regulation green-lighting the expanded adoption of “association health plans” (or “AHPs”) by self-employed individuals and small businesses. This new rule is in response to an Executive Order issued last October in which President Trump sought to, among other things, “expand access to more affordable health coverage by permitting more employers to form AHPs.” In an article recently published by Bloomberg Tax, Alden Bianchi explains the background and contend of this new and important regulation and offers some predictions about the rule’s future
In our sister blog, ADR: Advice from the Trenches, Don Davis explores back-to-back decisions by New York’s intermediate appellate court that applied very narrow state law principles permitting vacatur of an arbitration award on public policy grounds to vacate an arbitrator’s award that had reduced the employer-posed penalty of termination to a brief suspension. In so doing, the court implicitly endorsed the employer’s decision to terminate an employee that it found, after an investigation, to have engaged in sexual harassment. The court found that the arbitrator’s reduction of the penalty – despite having made findings of fact that supported the employer’s decision – would have operated to undermine the state’s strong public policy against sexual harassment in the workplace.
“Ban the Box” laws prohibit or limit an employer’s ability to ask a job applicant about his or her criminal record. States, counties and cities have enacted this legislation to help applicants with criminal records combat additional barriers to securing employment. We’ve written about these laws as enacted in New Jersey, Washington, D.C., New York City, and California.
In this post, we’ll provide an overview of the “ban the box” provision in Massachusetts, discussing recent modifications which become effective October 13, 2018 and recent warnings issued by the Attorney General’s Office.
TLDR: All Massachusetts employers should ensure that their application forms and hiring practices comply with the “ban the box” provision.
With the summer kicking off, it is a good opportunity for employers to review and refresh their employment practices to ensure compliance with developments on the federal, state and legal landscape. This Bubbler Post will review our earlier guidance and (hopefully!) prompt you to review your employment practices:
- Employment Applications: Equal pay laws have continued to gain traction on the state and local level, and there are a number of jurisdictions banning inquiries into the salary history information of prospective applicants. If you have employees working in the states, counties and/or cities listed below, you should review your application forms and employment documents to ensure that they do not request salary information.
- States Banning Pay Inquiry
- Counties Banning Pay Inquiry
- Albany County, New York (effective December 17, 2017)
- Westchester County, New York (effective July 9, 2018)
- Cities Banning Pay Inquiry
- New York City (effective October 31, 2017)
- Philadelphia (pending in federal court)
- San Francisco (effective July 1, 2018)
- Vendor Relationships: Given the pay inquiry laws discussed above, employers should communicate with recruiters and background check companies to ensure that these entities similarly comply with their obligations under applicable law. You can write a letter to your vendors detailing your expectations, you can enter into an amendment to your existing agreement outlining the legal framework, or you can reach out to your vendor contact to discuss the importance of compliance – from both a business and legal perspective – and request that they remove salary history inquiries from their screening process. Whatever you do, be conscious of the potential for joint liability to attach to these claims. Particular provisions to consider are ones regarding compliance with applicable laws and indemnification.
- Employment Agreements: In light of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision holding that employers can enforce class action waivers in arbitration agreements, employers should review and revise their employment agreements to include this language. You can include a class or collective action waiver either by (1) explicitly prohibiting class/collective claims or (2) explicitly requiring that all claims be brought by employees individually and not jointly. Here, we’ve laid out more guidance on this decision’s impact on employers, including factors employers should consider when deciding whether to adopt an arbitration provision with a class waiver and the impact on state law prohibitions on arbitration.
- Employee Trainings: In the wake of the #MeToo movement, workplace professionalism trainings are more relevant than ever. And, in some jurisdictions, they are required. Read more here about the steps New York State and New York City have taken to implement stronger protections against workplace harassment. Employers in other jurisdictions should take note, and perhaps jump on board. While not a complete defense, evidence of thorough and detailed trainings around appropriate workplace conduct can limit liability for an employer defending against a sexual harassment claim. We almost always suggest more training.
- Settlement Agreements: On the federal level, employers should be thoughtful of their obligations under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Pursuant to a new provision in the tax code overhaul bill – Section 13307 – employers can no longer deduct the taxable income of any sexual harassment settlement amount subject to a non-disclosure agreement. We’ve discussed this here and will continue to track employers’ obligations as additional guidance is issued. In the meantime, employers should tread carefully and make an informed decision about whether to take a tax deduction or include a non-disparagement provision.
As reported by our sister blog, ADR: Advice from the Trenches, the Northern District of Illinois recently issued an unusual decision. After finding that both plaintiffs were bound by arbitration agreements with the defendant and after finding that the plaintiffs’ claims were within the scope of the arbitration clauses, it denied defendant’s motion to compel arbitration. See Zoller v. UBS Secs. LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44170 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 9, 2018).
In a March 30, 2018 Bloomberg BNA article, Mintz Levin Employment, Labor and Benefits attorney Gauri Punjabi discusses Massachusetts’ new protections for pregnant workers and compares them with the existing federal requirements. For the full story, click here. This is an important development in Massachusetts, and one that we expect to expand to other jurisdictions. We’ve written on it here and will continue to track its development for our readers.
Mintz Levin Benefits attorney Patricia Moran recently published an article in SHRM describing the cybersecurity risks involved with 401(k) Plan sponsorship. The article is a great resource for employers who sponsor 401(k) or other retirement plans, especially those who share employees’ sensitive information with third party administrators. For the full story, click here.
As reported by our sister blog, ADR: Advice from the Trenches, a federal district court in New York held that an arbitrator could not certify a “class” that included non-appearing members. While neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor various Courts of Appeal have grappled with the viability of a class arbitration award, courts in the Second Circuit are taking the lead in addressing such issues.
Now that January has come to an end, and we’ve navigated compliance with our own resolutions and employment obligations (as discussed on our latest post on The Bubbler), we’re going to take a look at a few topics of legislation that are brewing on the state and local level. While federal law does not govern these areas, the activity within state and local governments should catch all of our attention, particularly as employers with operations in multiple states deal with the overlapping (and, at times, seemingly in conflict) provisions of these various laws. These will, quite undoubtedly, continue to expand.