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.

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.

On May 15, 2018, Governor Hogan signed into law the “Disclosing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Act of 2018” (the “Act”).  The Act will go into effect on October 1, 2018, and contains two new obligations with which Maryland employers will need to comply.

Continue Reading Maryland Jumps on #MeToo Bandwagon With New Act Creating Significant Obligations for Employers

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!

In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the nationwide discourse over the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace, New York State and New York City have taken aggressive steps to implement stronger protections against workplace harassment.  These new protections, which are now law in New York State and New York City, will require New York employers to revise their policies, procedures and agreements, deliver new training, and provide employees with additional information about sexual harassment.  Below, we summarize the new requirements and other changes in the law and discuss next steps.

Continue Reading New York Says #MeToo to Stronger Sexual Harassment Protections: A Summary of Action Items for Employers

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.

Join me in a discussion on the increasingly nuanced landscape of employee workplace investigations and best practices in managing their effect on corporate brand, attorney-client privilege and obligations to applicable governmental entities.

Continue Reading Mintz Levin 4th Annual Employment Law Summit — Navigating Unexpected Terrain in Workplace Investigations

Join me and a panel of corporate counsel and human resources professionals to discuss the #MeToo movement and its impact on the HR function at Mintz Levin’s Fourth Annual Employment Law Summit in New York City on April 19, 2018.

Continue Reading Mintz Levin 4th Annual Employment Law Summit — The Role of In House Counsel and Human Resources Professionals in the #MeToo Movement

On April 19, 2018, Mintz Levin will be hosting its Fourth Annual Employment Law Summit at the Princeton Club in New York City. This half-day seminar will feature as its keynote speaker Kevin Berry, the District Director of the EEOC’s New York District Office. District Director Berry will discuss the main objectives of the EEOC’s recently-released Strategic Enforcement Plan, as well as sexual harassment in the workplace and best practices for responding to charges of discrimination. The seminar will also offer various segments on the most important workplace issues of the day, including sexual harassment in the wake of #metoo, family leave and caregiver accommodations, implications of the new federal tax law, wage and hour issues, and more. It’s a program you will not want to miss, so register now!

This event is intended for C-Level Executives, HR Executives, Compliance Officers, In-house Counsel, and HR Directors and Staff.

For more information and to register, click here.

 

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.

Continue Reading The Bubbler – February 2018