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.
  • 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.

Welcome back for this month’s edition of the Bubbler!  There’s plenty to talk about, so let’s jump right in.

The California Supreme Court issued an important decision this week addressing the test for whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee.  The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a Seventh Circuit decision upholding an employer’s rule that a months-long leave of absence was not a reasonable accommodation. The Ninth Circuit held that employers are prohibited from using an employee’s past salary as a legitimate “factor other than sex” for purposes of defeating a Fair Pay Act claim, emphasizing that allowing the inclusion of prior salaries would only perpetuate gender pay disparity. The Fifth Circuit downsized ERISA fiduciary standards in a ruling that invalidated a set of seven expansive fiduciary rules. The Northern District of Illinois issued an unusual ruling, holding that two plaintiffs’ claims were subject to an enforceable arbitration agreement, yet refused to compel arbitration. The DOJ challenged a set of competitors’ no-poaching agreements as per se violations of the Sherman Act, which regulates concerted anti-competitive action. Finally, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, New York (state and city) have passed new laws concerning workplace sexual harassment.

As always, stay tuned for more employment matters updates!

Following in the footsteps of neighboring jurisdictions such as New York City, Albany County, and Massachusetts, on April 10, 2018, Westchester County enacted legislation to ban inquiries into a job applicant’s salary history. The stated purpose of the law is to halt the perpetuation of the gender wage gap and to assist older workers and others returning to the workforce after a long hiatus.

Continue Reading Update on Salary History Laws: The Ban Expands to Westchester, NY

Lots to talk about in the Labor & Employment world!  The Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act went into effect on April 1, 2018, imposing stricter non-discrimination rules on employers of pregnant workers. The U.S. Department of Labor launched the Payroll Audit Independent Determination program, which encourages employers to self-report wage and hour violations. The Sixth Circuit issued a decision in EEOC v. R.G. & R.G. Harris Funeral Homes, holding that transgendered employees are protected under Title VII, even mounted against an employer’s religious objections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The Commonwealth of Massachusetts lost a step in the legal challenge to the contraceptive mandate exemptions in the Affordable Care Act, on the grounds that it did not have standing to assert the relief it sought. Still on the federal landscape, Congress added an amendment to the FLSA in the recent omnibus budget bill, providing that an employer may not keep tips received by its employees for any purpose. The Supreme Court issued an important ruling holding that service advisors are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements and rejecting the principle that FLSA exemptions should be narrowly construed.   The State of Washington followed suit with many other states, including California, New York, and Massachusetts, becoming the most recent state to add an updated Equal Pay Act, and a “Ban the Box” law.  In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Washington also barred nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment suits.  As always, stay tuned for further updates and more details on these developments which we will be covering more extensively here in the coming weeks, including a post on the Massachusetts Pay Equity Act coming up later this week.

Finally, there’s still time! Don’t forget to register to attend our Fourth Annual Employment Law Summit on April 19.

Back in July 2016, the Massachusetts legislature passed an Act to Establish Pay Equity (Mass. Gen. Laws c. 149 § 105A, referenced herein as the “Law”), which amends the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (“MEPA”) and serves to bolster gender-based pay inequity protections provided to employees and to generally address gender pay inequality in the Commonwealth. When the Law goes into effect on July 1, 2018, it will be widely-regarded as one of the most expansive pay equity laws in the United States.

On March 1, 2018, the Massachusetts Attorney General issued long-anticipated guidance on the amendments to MEPA, available here (the “Guidance”), which provides useful information and insight to employers, including several concrete examples and guidelines designed to assist employers in evaluating their existing policies and complying with the updated MEPA.

This post reviews the key provisions of the Law against the backdrop of the new Guidance, and offers strategies and tips to help employers proactively plan for the Law.

Continue Reading Massachusetts Attorney General Issues Guidance on Pay Equity Law

On Monday, for the second time in less than a year, a federal appeals court ruled that Title VII forbids sexual orientation discrimination because it is a form of sex discrimination.  This time, in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc. the Second Circuit overturned decades of precedent and ruled that Title VII’s ban on discrimination “because of . . . sex” encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation.   The decision is also an apparent rebuke of the position taken by the United States Department of Justice (contrary to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s position) that sexual orientation discrimination was never intended to by Congress to be covered by Title VII.  The issue is almost certainly headed to the Supreme Court in its next term.

Continue Reading Second Circuit Becomes the Second to Prohibit Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Welcome (almost) to the New Year: a time of renewal, a fresh start, a clean slate, and a time to make and hopefully keep resolutions. A “New Year’s Resolution” is, of course, a commitment in the coming year to change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a goal or otherwise make a material improvement.

Toward this end, we thought it appropriate to launch a mini-series of some compliance-related resolutions employers might consider for 2018. In fact, we can’t think of a better way to close out 2017 than with a series devoted to a collective resolution to make 2018 a year devoted to cleaning out the cobwebs and achieving (better) employment law compliance.

We recognize, given the complexity of our legal landscape and the challenges of managing human relationships in the workplace, complete employment compliance is a worthy but perhaps unattainable goal. But that doesn’t mean 2018 can’t begin on the right foot.

We thought it appropriate to start our resolutions mini-series with this headline: Don’t let your workplace BE the next headline.

Continue Reading An Employer’s Resolutions for the New Year – A Mini-Series from the Employment Matters Blog. Resolution #1: Don’t let your Workplace be the Next Headline: Review and Refresh your Non-Harassment Policies and Training.

Recent cases in New York and Pennsylvania demonstrate that, at least in some jurisdictions and under some circumstances, a plaintiff can state a valid claim for unlawful gender discrimination based on a spouse’s jealousy.

Continue Reading Spousal Jealousy Can Lead to a Viable Claim of Unlawful Gender Discrimination

As we recently blogged about here, efforts to ban inquiries related to applicants’ salary history have gained momentum across the country. Last Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined this trend by signing into law a bill prohibiting New York City employers from inquiring about prospective employees’ salary history. When it takes effect on October 31, 2017, the law will prohibit employers from communicating “any question or statement to an applicant, an applicant’s current or prior employer, or a current or former employee or agent of the applicant’s current or prior employer, in writing or otherwise, for the purpose of obtaining an applicant’s salary history, or to conduct a search of publicly available records or reports for the purpose of obtaining an applicant’s salary history.” “Salary history” includes the applicant’s current or prior wage, benefits or other compensation.

Continue Reading Update on New York City Legislation Limiting Salary History Inquiries