The New York State Department of Labor has adopted regulations clarifying employers’ rights and obligations when implementing policies that limit the discussion of wages in the workplace. Under New York Labor Law section 194(4), an employer may not prohibit employees from discussing wages, but may establish “reasonable workplace and workday limitations on the time, place and manner for inquiries about, discussion of, or the disclosure of wages.” The DOL’s new regulations provide guidance on the permissible scope of policies that limit wage discussions as well as the notice employers must provide to employees about such policies.
On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to decide the issue of whether employers may include class/collective action waivers in their arbitration agreements. As we discussed in more detail here, multiple federal appeals courts have split over the issue. This has created a difficult situation for employers and employees, especially where the employer operates in multiple states. By the time the Supreme Court takes up the issue in April, there may be a ninth justice on the bench. We will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available, but in the meantime, we encourage you to visit our sister blog ADR: Advice from the Trenches and read its latest terrific post: When an Arbitration Clause Sounds Permissive But is Not – Does “May” Really Mean “Must”?
With the 9th Circuit’s late summer anti-class action waiver decision, the circuit split widened over the issue of whether employers can require employees, through an arbitration agreement, to waive their rights to bring class or collective actions against their employer. This issue will almost certainly reach the Supreme Court given the deepening divide and the Court’s previous apparent interest in addressing issues surrounding class action waivers and arbitration agreements.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently entered the Browning-Ferris saga, filing an amicus brief in support of the new joint employer test articulated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in August 2015. Drawing comparisons to its own joint employer test, the EEOC urges the D.C. Court of Appeals to uphold the NLRB’s pliable, fact-specific test to determine whether an entity sufficiently controls the terms and conditions of an individual’s employment to be a joint employer.
In a setback to private colleges and universities, the National Labor Relations Board ruled on August 23, 2016 that student assistants have unionization and collective bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act. In so ruling, the Board reversed its 2004 decision in Brown University, in which it held that graduate students are not employees under the NLRA, and therefore do not have unionization rights. The immediate effect of the new Columbia University holding is that graduate and undergraduate student assistants will be able to unionize. The far-reaching decision has the potential to transform the student assistant-university relationship, as well as the collegiate learning environment.
While graduate student unions are commonplace at many public colleges and universities (as students’ unionization and collective bargaining rights at public institutions are governed by state law), the Columbia decision expands unionization and collective bargaining rights to student assistants at private colleges and universities, including to undergraduate student assistants and to student assistants who receive research funding from external grants. This decision – which fundamentally injects NLRA considerations into the relationship between student and university – has important implications for private colleges and universities and their employment of student assistants.
The Seventh Circuit recently became the first federal appellate court to say that employers can’t prevent class/collective actions through waivers in mandatory arbitration agreements, holding that such waivers interfere with employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. The court’s holding in Lewis v. Epic Systems Corp., No. 15-2997 (7th Cir. May 26, 2016), creates a circuit split on this issue and calls into question the effectiveness of such waivers for employers with employees working in states covered by the Seventh Circuit (Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana).
Earlier this month, the NLRB struck down a couple of facially-neutral workplace civility rules in an employer’s Code of Conduct. Ho hum, business as usual. (We have written extensively about the Board’s crusade against what it considers overbroad work rules. See, for example, our posts here, here and here) What is fascinating, however, about this otherwise unremarkable decision is the spirited dissent penned by Member Philip A. Miscimarra, calling for the NLRB to overrule Board precedent which renders unlawful all employment policies, work rules and handbook provisions whenever employees could “reasonably construe” the language to prohibit the exercise of rights afforded by National Labor Relations Act Section 7, which protects “concerted” activities that employees engage in for the purpose of “mutual aid or protection.” Rather, as detailed below, Member Miscimarra proposes a balancing test, which would take into consideration, at minimum, (i) the potential adverse impact of the rule on NLRA-protected activity, and (ii) the legitimate justifications an employer may have for maintaining the rule.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The great Oz has spoken.” Invoking the Wizard of Oz, US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez and the US Department of Labor unveiled last week the finished product of its highly-anticipated union “persuader” rule, requiring employers and their advisors to report any arrangement (e.g., third-party consultants, legal counsel, etc.) to persuade employees, directly or indirectly, concerning their right to organize.
Last week, Browning-Ferris Industries, the California-based waste management company, appealed two decisions issued by the National Labor Relations Board related to the definition of joint employer. Its appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit represents just the latest chapter in an ongoing saga that began with a momentous ruling by the NLRB this past August. The outcome of this appeal could have serious implications for affected companies, workers and other stakeholders.
It is a familiar scenario: a company is on the verge of bankruptcy, bound by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and unable to negotiate a new agreement. However, this time, an analysis of this distressed scenario prompted a new question: does it matter if the CBA is already expired, i.e., does the Bankruptcy Code distinguish between a CBA that expires pre-petition versus one that has not lapsed?