September 12, 2017

Employer May Keep Tips As Long As Employees Are Paid Minimum Wage, According To 10th Circuit

By Brad Cave

By invalidating a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) regulation that states that tips are the property of employees, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose opinions apply to Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico) rejected an employee’s wage claim based on her employer’s practice of keeping all tips. But employers in states with an analogous state law governing ownership of tips, such as Wyoming, need to be aware that the 10th Circuit’s ruling may not change how they handle tips.

Caterer Kept Tips But Paid More Than Minimum Wage

Relish Catering regularly receives tips from its customers in the form of a gratuity added to their final catering bill at the end of an event. Relish retains those tips for itself rather than passing them along to its employees who work at the events. However, it pays its employees at or above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour as well as time and a half for overtime and does not rely on any sort of tip credit to meet the minimum wage.

Bridgette Marlow believed Relish was required to turn over her share of the catering tips under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Despite making $12 per hour (and $18 per hour for overtime), she sued Relish and Brett Tucker, a manager and part owner of the company, alleging they violated the minimum wage provisions of the FLSA by retaining the tips.

FLSA Restrictions Apply Only When Tip Credit Taken

Marlow argued that by retaining all of the tips, Relish was essentially paying employees below minimum wage. For example, she suggested that if she received her $12 hourly wage but Relish retained $11 in tips for each hour she worked, the result was the same as if Relish turned over all of the tips to her and paid her a $1 hourly wage. In essence, she argued that the company could be paying less than the required amount for tipped employees.

The 10th Circuit didn’t bite on Marlow’s rationale. The Court stated that it doesn’t matter where the money to pay wages comes from so long as the company paid at least the minimum wage required under the FLSA. The Court rejected Marlow’s argument that the FLSA’s tip-credit provision applied to her case because Relish doesn’t take a tip credit.

The FLSA tip-credit provision allows employers of “tipped employees” to pay a reduced hourly wage of $2.13 per hour so long as employees receive sufficient tips to raise their earnings to the $7.25 hourly minimum. But this provision applies only if the employer counts tips toward the minimum wage, said the Court. The tip-credit provision does not apply if the employer doesn’t count tips toward the minimum and instead pays the full hourly minimum wage.

The Court stated that the FLSA tip-credit provision does not require that employers turn over all tips to employee in all circumstances, as Marlow urged. Instead, when an employer doesn’t take the tip credit, the tip-credit provision imposes no restrictions on what it may do with tips as long as it pays an hourly wage above the $7.25.

DOL’s Tip-Ownership Regulation Invalid

Marlow relied extensively on a 2011 DOL regulation that provides:

Tips are the property of the employee whether or not the employer has

taken a tip credit under section 3(m) of the FLSA. The employer is

prohibited from using an employee’s tips, whether or not it has taken a tip

credit, for any reason other than that which is statutorily permitted in

section 3(m): As a credit against its minimum wage obligations to the

employee, or in furtherance of a valid tip pool.

From the language of that regulation, it would seem that Marlow had a valid claim. But the 10th Circuit said not so fast and looked at whether the DOL had the authority to implement the regulation in the first place.

Relying on U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the 10th Circuit pointed out that federal agencies may create rules only to fill “ambiguities” or “gaps” in statutes. In a “friend-of-the-court” brief, the federal government argued that the FLSA is silent on the issue of who “owns” tips when an employer does not take the tip credit, and therefore, the DOL had the authority to create a tip ownership rule to fill in that gap.

Despite the Ninth Circuit’s acceptance of that argument, the 10th Circuit disagreed with it, finding that nothing in the FLSA directs the DOL to regulate the ownership of tips when the employer doesn’t take the tip credit. Because the FLSA limits the tip restrictions to employers who take the tip credit, the DOL lacked the authority to regulate otherwise.

The Court invalidated the DOL’s tip-ownership regulation, finding it was beyond the DOL’s authority, and affirmed the lower court’s judgment in favor of the employer. Marlow v. The New Food Guy, Inc., No. 16-1134 (10th Cir. June 30, 2017). Read more >>

August 31, 2017

Court Invalidates Overtime Rule That Increased Exempt Salary Levels

By Mark Wiletsky 

The Department of Labor (DOL) exceeded its authority when it doubled the minimum salary levels for exempt executive, professional, and administrative employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), ruled federal judge Amos Mazzant of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas today. Granting summary judgment in favor of the states and business plaintiffs who challenged the new overtime rule last November, Judge Mazzant determined that the DOL’s new overtime rule “effectively eliminates a consideration of whether an employee performs ‘bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity’ duties.”

Exempt Duties Are Part Of The Analysis

Judge Mazzant wrote that although Congress delegated authority to the DOL to define and delimit the white-collar exemptions, Congress was clear when enacting the FLSA that the exemption determination needs to involve a consideration of an employee’s duties, rather than relying on salary alone. He stated that the Obama-era overtime rule that significantly increased the minimum salary levels would result in entire categories of previously exempt employees who perform “bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity” duties being denied exempt status simply because they didn’t meet the salary threshold. Consequently, the elimination of an analysis of duties for those who failed to meet the new high salary level was inconsistent with Congressional intent.

A Minimum Salary Level Still Acceptable

When issuing a preliminary injunction last November, Judge Mazzant’s ruling raised the question as to whether any salary threshold could be used as part of the white-collar exemption tests. In his summary judgment order, Judge Mazzant appears to leave the salary-level part of the test stand, writing “[t]he use of a minimum salary level in this manner is consistent with Congress’s intent because salary serves as a defining characteristic when determining who, in good faith, performs actual executive, administrative, or professional capacity duties.” He notes that even though the plain meaning of Section 213(a)(1) does not provide for a salary requirement, the DOL has used a permissible minimum salary level as a test for identifying categories of employees Congress intended to exempt. Citing to a report on the proposed regulations, Judge Mazzant seems to approve of setting that salary level at “somewhere near the lower end of the range of prevailing salaries for these employees.”

No Automatic Increase Mechanism

The ruling also strikes down the mechanism in the DOL’s overtime rule that provided for automatic updates to the exemption’s salary levels every three years. In a cursory paragraph, Judge Mazzant wrote that having found the rule unlawful, the automatic updating mechanism was similarly unlawful.

Back To Square One

Now that the existing, never-implemented rule has been invalidated, the DOL is starting over with revising and updating the overtime exemption rule. The DOL recently published a request for information seeking public input on what the new salary levels should be, how updates should be made, whether duties tests should be changed, and other issues affecting the white-collar exemptions. We will have to see what new proposals the DOL puts out in the months to come. But in the meantime, employers can abandon plans to address the doubled salary thresholds under the Final Rule.

On Another Note, No Pay Data To Be Collected With EEO-1 Reports

In another development, on August 29, 2017, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to immediately stay the requirement that certain employers provide pay data as part of a new EEO-1 report. The controversial pay-data rule would have required companies with 100 or more employees (and federal contractors with 50 or more employees), to submit the wage and hour information for employees according to race, gender, and ethnicity, with the information being used by the EEOC to analyze pay discrepancies and identify possible Equal Pay Act violations. Because of the stay, covered employers should use the previous EEO-1 form, which still collects data on employee race, ethnicity, and gender by occupational categories. Despite the reprieve for employers on the pay-data rule, EEOC Acting Chair Victoria Lipnic states that her agency remains committed to strongly enforcing federal equal pay laws.

If you have any questions about these new developments, be sure to reach out to the employment counsel with whom you typically work.

August 14, 2017

Only Certain Types of Speech Are Protected In The Workplace

By Steve Gutierrez

This past week, talk abounds over Google’s firing of a software engineer after he posted a lengthy memo criticizing the company’s diversity policy and culture on the company’s internal website. Google says he crossed a line and violated its Code of Conduct. The engineer says he engaged in protected speech and filed an unfair labor practice charge against Google with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The case will be interesting to follow, especially to the extent that it resolves the dispute between Google’s conduct policy and this employee’s criticisms of his former employer.

No Free Speech Guarantee

Some discussions about the Google memo have centered around the belief that employees should have free speech protections to say whatever they like, even about their employer. U.S. workers employed by private entities, however, do not have so-called free speech rights. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from making any laws that abridge the freedom of speech. But it applies only to government actions and does not prohibit private employers from limiting or taking employment actions based on what an employee says or does.

NLRA Concerted Activities Are Protected

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) guarantees employees the right to form and join unions. But it also gives employees the right to engage in other “concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” These rights under Section 7 of the NLRA extend to protecting non-union employees who discuss and/or act together to try to improve the terms and conditions of their employment, such as their pay, benefits, policies, and workplace safety issues. Employers may not threaten, discipline, or fire employees who engage in such protected activities.

When it comes to employee memos and social media posts, content generally will be protected if it relates to or grows out of group action, such as when an individual employee solicits other employees to take action to fix work-related problems or seek improvements in the workplace. But mere griping by an individual employee will not be protected as a protected concerted activity. Additionally, even communications that would be deemed concerted activities can lose NLRA protection if they express egregiously offensive, abusive, or knowingly and malicious false statements.

When Company Policies Clash With Concerted Activities

When a company policy prohibits employees from engaging in certain conduct, such as prohibiting disparagement of the company or its managers, or restricting discussion among co-workers of confidential information, the NLRB may consider whether it restricts or “chills” employees’ Section 7 rights to engage in protected concerted activities. If the NLRB finds that a policy is overly broad and potentially restricts concerted activities, the company can be found to have violated the NLRA.

Before Discipline and Discharge

Anytime your organization seeks to discipline or terminate an employee for writing emails, posting on social media, or otherwise communicating about the company, consider the following:

  • Does the communication discuss with or seek to engage co-workers in relation to the terms and conditions of their employment?
  • Could the communication be seen as an effort to form a union or another form of group action related to the workplace?
  • Is the employee reaching out to a third party, such as the media or union organizers, on behalf of multiple employees?
  • If the basis for the discipline or discharge is a company policy, is the policy narrowly defined or is it too broad so that it interferes with employees’ Section 7 rights?

Employers have a great deal of authority to discipline or get rid of at-will employees based on inappropriate or undesired communications or actions. Just make sure to evaluate whether employees are engaging in protected concerted activities prior to imposing a detrimental employment decision so as not to violate the NLRA.

August 10, 2017

New Nevada Employment Laws – Part 2: Non-competes and Domestic Violence Leave

by Dora Lane

In addition to the pregnancy accommodation law and nursing mothers law we reported on here, the Nevada legislature recently enacted changes to Nevada’s non-compete law and created a new obligation for employers to provide domestic violence leave. Here are the specifics of these new laws that Nevada employers need to know.

Non-Compete Agreements – Changes To Enforceability (AB 276) – effective June 3, 2017

Governor Sandoval recently signed into law AB 276 which enacts some important changes to existing Nevada non-compete law, requiring careful review.

To begin, AB 276 amends NRS Chapter 613 to require that a non-compete covenant: (a) be supported by valuable consideration; (b) not impose any restraint that is greater than necessary for the protection of the employer for whose benefit the restraint is imposed; (c) not impose any undue hardship on the employee; and (d) impose restrictions that are appropriate in relation to the valuable consideration supporting the non-compete covenant.

Many questions are raised by the new requirement that the restrictions be in relation to the consideration offered to the employee to support the non-compete agreement. One key question is whether continued employment of an at-will employee will be sufficient consideration to support a non-compete. We will have to see how that language plays out in future enforcement actions.

Restructuring or Reductions In Force. The new amendments state that, if an employee’s termination is the result of a reduction in force, reorganization, or “similar restructuring,” a non-compete covenant is only enforceable during the period in which the employer is paying the employee’s “salary, benefits or equivalent compensation,” such as severance pay. This restriction may vastly reduce the ability of Nevada employers to use non-compete agreements when executives, managers, or other employees are let go due to downsizing or other restructuring.

Restrictions Related to Customers. These new amendments further provide that a non-compete covenant may not restrict a former employee from providing service to a former client or customer of the employer if: (a) the former employee did not solicit the former client or customer; (b) the client or customer voluntarily chose to leave and seek services from the former employee; and (c) the former employee is otherwise complying with the limitations in the covenant as to time, geographical area, and scope of activity to be restricted, other than any limitation on providing services to a former customer or client who seeks the services of the former employee without any contact instigated by the former employee.

Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure Agreements. AB 276 additionally states that it does not prohibit agreements to protect an employer’s confidential and trade secret information if the agreement is supported by valuable consideration and is otherwise reasonable in scope and duration.

Judicial Revision Required. Notably, the new provisions state that if, during a non-compete enforcement action, a court determines that the non-compete covenant is supported by valuable consideration, but otherwise contains limitations that are unreasonable, or impose greater restraint than necessary and create undue hardship on the employee, the court “shall revise the covenant to the extent necessary and enforce the covenant as revised.” Any judicial revisions must be made to cause the limitations contained in the non-compete agreement as to time, geographical area and scope of activity to be restrained to be reasonable and to impose a restraint that is not greater than is necessary for the protection of the employer for whose benefit the restraint is imposed.

Domestic Violence Leave (SB 361) – effective January 1, 2018

Beginning in 2018, Nevada employers must provide an employee who has been employed for least 90 days and who is a victim of domestic violence, or whose family or household member is a victim of domestic violence, up to 160 hours of leave in one 12-month period, assuming the employee is not the alleged perpetrator. A “family or household member” means a spouse, domestic partner, minor child, or parent or another adult who is related within the first degree of consanguinity or affinity to the employee, or other adult person who is or was actually residing with the employee at the time the act of domestic violence was committed.

The leave allowed under this new law may be paid or unpaid, and may be used intermittently or in a single block of time. The leave must be used within 12 months after the date when the act of domestic violence occurred. If used for FMLA-qualifying purposes, the domestic violence leave will run concurrently with FMLA leave and both leave balances will be reduced accordingly.

Reasons For Leave. Eligible employees may take domestic violence leave for the following reasons:

  1. For the diagnosis, care, or treatment of a health condition related to an act of domestic violence committed against the employee or the employee’s family or household member;
  2. To obtain counseling or assistance related to an act of domestic violence committed against the employee or the employee’s family or household member;
  3. To participate in court proceedings related to an act of domestic violence committed against the employee or the employee’s family or household member; or
  4. To establish a safety plan, including any action to increase the safety of the employee or the employee’s family or household member from a future act of domestic violence.

Notice Requirements. This new leave law requires an employee who has used any leave allowed under the bill to give his or her employer at least 48 hours notice if the employee needs to use additional leave for any of the purposes outlined above.

Reasonable Accommodations. Employers are obligated to make reasonable accommodations that will not create undue hardship for an employee who is a victim of domestic violence (or whose family or household member is such a victim). These accommodations may include: (a) a transfer or reassignment; (b) a modified schedule; (c) a new telephone number for work; or (d) any other reasonable accommodation which will not create an undue hardship deemed necessary to ensure the safety of the employee, the workplace, the employer, and other employees.

Documentation. Employers may require employees to present documentation substantiating the need for leave, such as a police report, a copy of an application for a protective order, an affidavit from an organization that provides assistance to victims of domestic violence, or documentation from a physician. Any substantiating documentation provided to the employer must be treated confidentially and must be retained in a manner consistent with the FMLA requirements. In addition, employers may require an employee to provide documentation that confirms or supports the need for a reasonable accommodation under this new law.

Recordkeeping. Employers are required to keep a record of the hours taken for domestic violence leave for a 2-year period following the entry of the information in the record and make these records available to inspection by the Nevada Labor Commissioner upon request. When producing records pursuant to an inspection request, employee names must be redacted, unless a request for a record is made for investigation purposes.

Notice. Pursuant to SB 361, the Nevada Labor Commissioner has provided a bulletin setting forth the rights conferred to employees under the domestic violence leave law, available on its website. Employers must post the bulletin in a conspicuous location in the employer’s workplace. The bulletin may be included in the posting already required by NRS 608.013.

Additional Protections. The domestic violence leave law states that an otherwise eligible employee may not be denied unemployment benefits if the employee left employment to protect himself or herself (or a family or household member) from an act of domestic violence, and the person actively engaged in an effort to preserve employment.

The new law also prohibits employers from denying an employee’s right to use domestic violence leave, requiring an employee to find a replacement as a condition to using this leave, or retaliating against an employee for using such leave. It is also unlawful for employers to discharge, discipline, discriminate in any manner or deny employment or promotion to, or threaten to take any such action against an employee because:

  1. The employee sought leave under SB 361;
  2. The employee participated as a witness or interested party in court proceedings related to domestic violence, which triggered the use of leave under SB 361;
  3. The employee requested an accommodation pursuant to SB 361; or
  4. The employee was subjected to an act of domestic violence at the workplace.

Update Your Policies and Practices

Take time now to review and update your employee handbook, supervisor manuals, and other personnel policies to reflect these new Nevada laws. If you use non-compete agreements, be sure to review future agreements for compliance with the amended statute. Also, be sure to train your managers, supervisors, team leads, and human resources personnel on the requirements and restrictions imposed on employers by these laws. As always, if you have questions or need assistance, contact your Nevada employment attorney.

July 25, 2017

DOL Signals A “Do Over” For Overtime Rule

By Mark Wiletsky

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced today that it was publishing a Request for Information (RFI) asking employers and other interested parties to provide information and ideas about the overtime exemptions. The DOL’s RFI signals an interesting development in the saga of revising the overtime rule. In short, revisions to the overtime rule are not dead, but we may be back at square one.

As you likely know, the new overtime rule that was set to take effect on December 1, 2016, would have raised the minimum salary level for the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions from $455 per week ($23,660 per year) to $913 per week ($47,476 per year). Before the rule could go into effect, however, a federal district judge in Texas issued an order stopping implementation of the rule nationwide. The judge’s order suggested that the DOL lacks the authority to set any minimum salary level for the so-called white-collar exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Last December, the DOL under the Obama Administration appealed that order to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking to overturn the injunction.

After the Trump Administration took over in January, it became unclear whether the DOL would continue with its appeal of the nationwide injunction on the overtime rule before the Fifth Circuit, or if it would instead withdraw the appeal, essentially allowing the injunction to stand. However, on June 30, 2017, the DOL, under new Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, filed a reply brief in support of the appeal.

As explained in its June 30th reply brief, the DOL argued that it has the authority to set a minimum salary threshold for the exemptions, an issue that the federal district judge questioned in his November 22, 2016 injunction order. The DOL, however, wrote that it has “decided not to advocate for the specific salary level ($913 per week) set in the final rule at this time and intends to undertake further rulemaking to determine what the salary level should be.”

By publishing the RFI, the DOL again seeks public comment to essentially begin anew the whole process of revising the overtime rule. Secretary Acosta has indicated in other forums that the DOL was not opposed to raising the minimum salary levels for the white-collar exemptions, just not to the high level set in the 2016 rule. With the publication of the RFI, it is clear that the DOL wants to rework the exemption tests and seeks input from businesses, employees, and interested associations and groups on what those tests should be.

This is an excellent chance for employers to be heard. This DOL will likely be more receptive to resolving the burdens and hardships expressed by businesses in implementing changes to the overtime exemptions so I would expect that the agency will seek to simplify the exemption tests and offer sufficient time for employers to implement them. That said, the DOL may need to fast track the new rulemaking process so that it is ready to implement a replacement rule when litigation over the existing rule is resolved.

July 5, 2017

New Nevada Employment Laws – Part 1: Pregnancy Accommodations and Nursing Mothers

By Dora Lane 

The Nevada Legislature was very busy this year, passing several significant employment-related bills that will affect Nevada employers. Here is my first summary of new Nevada employment laws you’ll need to know about, addressing protections and accommodations for pregnant applicants and employees, and break times and suitable facilities for expressing breast milk.

Nevada Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act

Senate Bill 253 created the Nevada Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees (for at least 20 weeks in the current or preceding year). This new law makes it unlawful for an employer to do any of the following (except when the action taken is based upon a bona fide occupational qualification):

  1. Refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation to a female employee or applicant, if requested, for a condition of the employee or applicant relating to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition, unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the business (as discussed below);
  2. Take an adverse employment action against a female employee because the employee requests or uses a reasonable accommodation for a condition of the employee related to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition, such as failing to promote the employee, requiring the employee to transfer to another position, declining to reinstate the employee to the same or equivalent position after the employee comes back to work, or taking “any other action which affects the terms or conditions of employment in a manner which is not desired by the employee.”
  3. Deny an employment opportunity to a qualified female applicant or employee based on their need for a reasonable accommodation for a condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition;
  4. Require a female applicant or employee who is affected by a condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition to accept an accommodation that the employee or applicant did not request or chooses not to accept; and
  5. Require a female employee who is affected by a condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition to take leave from employment if a reasonable accommodation for any such condition of the employee is available that would allow the employee to continue to work.

The law defines a condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition as a physical or mental condition intrinsic to pregnancy or childbirth that includes, without limitation, lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child. “Related medical condition” is further defined as any medically recognized physical or mental condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or recovery from pregnancy or childbirth, such as mastitis or other lactation-related medical condition, gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia, post-partum depression, loss or end of pregnancy and recovery from loss or end of pregnancy.

Pregnancy Accommodations 

In the event an applicant or employee seeks a reasonable accommodation for a pregnancy-related condition, the new law requires the employer and employee to engage in a timely, good-faith interactive process to arrive at an effective, reasonable accommodation for the applicant or employee. Examples of reasonable accommodations include: (1) modifying equipment or providing different seating; (2) revising break schedules (as to frequency or duration); (3) providing a space in an area other than a bathroom that might be used for expressing breast milk; (4) providing assistance with manual labor if the manual labor is incidental to the primary work duties of the employee; (5) authorizing light duty; (6) temporarily transferring the employee to a less strenuous or hazardous position; or (7) restructuring a position or providing a modified work schedule.

An employer is not, however, required to create a new position as an accommodation (unless the employer has created or would create such a position to accommodate other classes of employees). An employer is also not required to fire another employee, transfer any employee with more seniority, or promote any employee who is not qualified to perform the job (unless the employer has taken or would take such an action to accommodate other classes of employees).

An employer seeking to show that a requested accommodation is an undue burden has to demonstrate that the accommodation is significantly difficult to provide or expensive, considering, without limitation: (1) the nature and cost of the accommodation; (2) the overall financial resources of the employer; (3) the overall size of the employer’s business with respect to the number of its employees, and the number, type, and location of available facilities; and (4) the effect the accommodation would have on the employer’s expenses and resources or on the employer’s operations. Evidence that the employer provides or would be required to provide a similar accommodation to a similarly situated applicant or employee creates a rebuttable presumption that the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Notice Requirements 

SB 253 also requires employers to provide a written or electronic notice of the rights conferred by the Nevada Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act to employees, including the right that a female employee is entitled to a reasonable accommodation for a condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. The notice must be provided upon commencement of employment and within 10 days after the employee notifies her supervisor that she is pregnant. The notice must also be posted in a conspicuous place at the employer’s business location, in an area accessible to employees.

No Retaliation 

SB 253 provides anti-retaliation protections for employees or applicants who oppose any practice made unlawful by the Nevada Pregnant Workers’ Act, or who have made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing related to the Act.

Licensed Contractors Exempt From Certain Provisions 

Employers who are licensed contractors under NRS Chapter 624 are not subject to the requirement to provide suitable breast milk expression facilities (other than a bathroom) if the employee is performing work on a construction site located more than 3 miles from the employer’s regular place of business. Such employers are, instead, encouraged to provide suitable breast milk expression facilities to the extent practicable. In addition, these employers are exempt from the requirements of Sections 4 and 5 above (requiring undesired accommodations or requiring leave) if the employee’s work duties include manual labor.

Considerations For Nursing Mothers 

Under AB 113, public and private employers in Nevada are required to provide an employee who is a mother of a child under one year of age with (1) reasonable break time, with or without pay, to express breast milk as needed; and (2) a place (other than a bathroom), which is reasonably free from dirt and pollution, protected from the view of others and free from intrusion by others, where the employee may express breast milk. If break time must be compensated because of an existing collective bargaining agreement, then any break time taken to express milk must also be compensated.

This new law does not apply to private employers who employ fewer than 50 employees if the requirements it imposes would constitute an undue hardship on the employer, considering the size, financial resources, nature, and structure of the employer’s business. If a private employer determines that providing reasonable break time and suitable breast milk expression facilities will cause an undue burden on the employer, the employee and the employer may meet to agree on a reasonable alternative. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the employer can require the employee to accept the reasonable alternative selected by the employer.

Both public and private employers are prohibited from retaliating or encouraging another to retaliate against an employee for (i) taking the time to express breast milk or using the facilities designated for such expression; or (ii) taking any action to require the employer to comply with the AB 113 requirements, including filing a complaint, testifying, assisting, or participating in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing to enforce the provisions of AB 113.

Contractors licensed under NRS Chapter 624 are not required to comply with AB 113 with regard to employees who perform work at a construction jobsite located at least 3 miles from the employer’s regular place of business.

For purposes of AB 113, “public body” means:

  • The State of Nevada or any of its agencies, instrumentalities, or corporations;
  • The Nevada System of Higher Education; or
  • Any political subdivision of the State of Nevada or any public or quasi-public corporation organized under the laws of the State of Nevada, including counties, cities, unincorporated towns, school districts, charter schools, hospital districts, irrigation districts, and other special districts.

AB 113 does not, however, apply to the Department of Corrections, which is encouraged to comply with the provisions of AB 113 to the extent practicable.

More To Come

Stay tuned for more information about additional significant employment-related laws passed in this year’s legislative session in Nevada. If you have questions about these new laws, please be sure to reach out to your Nevada employment counsel.

 

June 22, 2017

U.S. DOJ Files Brief Supporting Arbitration Agreements That Bar Employee Class Actions

By Emily Hobbs-Wright

Last September, the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General urged the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that arbitration agreements that prohibit employees from pursuing work-related claims on a class action basis are unlawful because they violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). On June 16, 2017, however, the federal government filed a brief taking the exact opposite position, namely that class-action waivers in arbitration agreements should be enforced. This flip-flop in position is quite extraordinary, even with the change in administrations, making this important case one to watch next term. Here are the issues at stake for employers.

NLRB Appeal of Murphy Oil Case

With its controversial 2012 decision in the D.R. Horton case, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has advocated that arbitration agreements between an employer and its employees that ban employees from pursuing work-related claims as a class or group are unenforceable as they violate employees’ rights to engage in concerted activities for their mutual aid and protection under the NLRA. In 2013, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the NLRB’s ruling in D.R. Horton, holding that the use of class action procedures is not a “substantive right” of employees under the NLRA and therefore, arbitration agreements with class-action waivers should be enforced under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA).

The Fifth Circuit rejected the NLRB’s view on class-action waivers a second time when it ruled that Murphy Oil, which operates more than 1,000 gas stations in 21 states, did not commit an unfair labor practice when enforcing its arbitration agreements that required employees to resolve work-related claims on an individual basis. Two other appellate circuits – the Second and Eighth – have agreed with the Fifth Circuit’s position that class-action waivers are enforceable. Other circuits, however, including the Ninth and Seventh, have ruled in favor of the NLRB on this issue, creating inconsistencies concerning whether such agreements are lawful.

In the closing days of the Obama administration in September 2016, the Office of the Solicitor General (which is tasked with conducting government litigation before the Supreme Court) filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking it to decide the validity of class-action waivers in arbitration agreements through appeal of the Murphy Oil case. The government argued on behalf of the NLRB that such agreements were unlawful. Employers Ernst & Young and Epic Systems also sought Supreme Court review of their adverse decisions from other circuits on this same issue. In January 2017, just days before President Trump’s inauguration, the high court agreed to hear all three consolidated cases in its next term.

The NLRB Left To Go It Alone

When the United States filed its brief with the Supreme Court last week changing positions, it did so as a “friend of the court.” The June 16th brief is signed by lawyers from the Solicitor General’s office but not by any NLRB lawyers – although both offices were signatories to the original petition seeking review.

Under the Court’s briefing schedule, briefs from the NLRB and the employee-petitioners are due on August 9, 2017. According to a short statement on the NLRB’s website, the Solicitor General’s Office “authorized the National Labor Relations Board to represent itself” in the Murphy Oil case before the Supreme Court. This sets up a unique situation for oral arguments this fall when a lawyer from the Solicitor General’s office may argue against a lawyer for another federal agency, the NLRB.

What It Means For Employers

The change in position by the Solicitor General’s Office could lend additional weight to the employers’ arguments in favor of upholding class-action waivers in arbitration agreements. It is a business-friendly position that reins in the extensive reach of the NLRB in recent years. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of employers and against the NLRB, businesses will be able to enforce arbitration agreements containing class action waivers nationwide. We will keep you posted as this case proceeds to a ruling, which could be published about this time next year. Stay tuned!

June 20, 2017

No-Recording Policies: May Employers Ban All Worker Recordings?

By Steve Gutierrez

With a smartphone in almost every pocket, workers have high definition video and audio recording capabilities at their fingertips. It may be easier than ever before for employees to record workplace operations, meetings, disciplinary discussions, picketing, and other conditions and happenings in the workplace.

Some employers see potential worker recordings as detrimental to open and honest workplace dialogue and as well as potentially undermining a company’s protection of its proprietary or confidential information. These concerns may lead employers to adopt a policy to limit or prohibit employees from making recordings at work. After all, it seems inherently reasonable to require that employees get prior management approval before recording anything at work, or to limit what employees may do with video or audio recordings after they are made. So what’s the problem? Broad recording bans may infringe on employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

How Policies May Violate The NLRA

Section 7 of the NLRA guarantees employees the right to “engage in . . . concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” This means that employees, whether unionized or not, have the right to take actions to help protect, enhance, or improve the terms and conditions of employment for themselves and their co-workers. Employers who interfere with or restrain employees’ Section 7 rights may be found to have committed an unfair labor practice (ULP) under the NLRA.

So how does a no-recording policy interfere with such rights? Even when a policy or rule does not expressly restrict protected Section 7 activities, mere maintenance of a policy can constitute a ULP in three scenarios: (1) if employees would reasonably construe the language in the policy to prohibit protected activity; (2) if the policy was implemented in response to union activity; or (3) if the policy has been applied to restrict the exercise of protected rights.

Overly Broad Restrictions May “Chill” Section 7 Rights 

Typically, it is the first scenario that gets employers in trouble. You see, the National Labor Relations Board (Board) has held that in certain circumstances, employee recordings in the workplace can itself be a protected Section 7 activity. Generally, the Board finds that employee photographing, videotaping, and recording is protected by Section 7 when employees are acting in concert for their mutual aid and protection and there is no overriding employer interest. For example, employees recording images of employee picketing, or documenting discussions about unsafe working conditions, inconsistent application of work rules, or other terms of employment could be concerted activities protected under the NLRA.

When employers implement an overly broad policy that prohibits employees from making any workplace recordings, or permits recordings only with advance management approval, the Board takes the position that employees would reasonably construe that language as prohibiting protected Section 7 activities. As such, broad no-recording policies are seen as “chilling” employee rights, and therefore, a violation of the NLRA.

Second Circuit Recently Upheld ULP On Broad No-Recording Policy

In December of 2015, the Board ruled that Whole Foods had violated the NLRA by maintaining an overbroad no-recording policy. The company’s policy prohibited all recording without management approval. Whole Foods stated that its purpose for the policy was to promote employee communication in the workplace. The Board saw it differently, ruling that the policy’s overly broad language could “chill” an employee’s exercise of Section 7 rights because it was not limited to controlling those activities in which employees are not acting in concert.

Whole Foods appealed the Board’s decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals which recently issued its summary order affirming the Board’s 2015 decision. The appellate court wrote that the Board’s determination was supported by substantial evidence and was decided in accordance with law.

In a footnote, however, the Court noted that not every no-recording policy will necessarily infringe on employees’ Section 7 rights. But a lawful policy would have to be drafted narrowly so that it protects the company’s interests without interfering with employees’ protected activities.

Practical Policy Pointers

Employers generally have the right to control what goes on in their workplaces, so long as their policies do not violate specific employee rights. Legitimate business concerns, such as protecting confidential and proprietary information and fostering open and honest communications in the workplace, may justify a policy that limits employees from recording what goes on at work. In order to craft an enforceable policy that would likely avoid NLRB scrutiny, consider implementing the following practical tips:

  • Tailor the policy narrowly – identify those areas, activities, and/or times when employees are prohibited from recording, leaving non-problematic areas, activities, and times open to recording. An outright ban will likely be struck down.
  • Identify the legitimate reasons for the policy – by stating the strong business reasons for not allowing recording at certain times or places, employers help dispel the argument that the policy infringes on employee rights.
  • Be consistent – if your business permits visitors to your plant to take video or audio recordings of your operation, it will be difficult to argue a legitimate business reason for denying employees to make recordings in the same areas. Similarly, if your business has surveillance cameras throughout the workplace, it may be difficult to argue that employee recordings will harm your business interests. Also, be consistent in policy enforcement because allowing some employees to record while denying that ability to other similarly situated employees will lead to trouble.
  • Include a disclaimer – the policy should state that it is not intended to infringe on any employee’s right to engage in protected concerted activity.

Like most employment policies, a no-recording policy should reflect your specific business interests and industry and be narrowly tailored to achieve your end goal. If in doubt about whether you need or should revise a no-recording policy, please consult with your employment attorney.

June 7, 2017

DOL Withdraws Obama-Era Interpretations On Independent Contractors and Joint Employment

By Brad Cave

On June 7, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it was withdrawing two informal guidances, namely a 2015 administrator interpretation on independent contractors and a 2016 administrator interpretation on joint employment, effective immediately. The DOL’s short announcement states that the removal of the administrator interpretations does not change the legal responsibilities of employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA), and that the DOL “will continue to fully and fairly enforce all laws within its jurisdiction.” Here’s an attempt to read between the lines and determine the DOL’s position on these two issues.

Withdrawal of Independent Contractor Interpretation

When we wrote about the July 15, 2015 independent contractor interpretation here, we noted that then-Wage and Hour Division Administrator David Weil stressed that most workers meet the criteria to be deemed employees under the FLSA, and therefore, should not be treated as independent contractors. Although noting that multiple factors are used to determine independent contractor status, former administrator Weil stated that the DOL would focus primarily on whether the worker runs his or her own independent business or if instead, the worker is economically dependent on the employer.

Withdrawal of the 2015 interpretation guidance does not change the fact that to “employ” is broadly defined in the FLSA as “to suffer or permit to work” and consequently, most individuals hired to perform work fall within that definition as an employee. In addition, the long-standing  multi-factor “economic realities” test used by courts to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor will continue to apply.

That said, the withdrawal of the 2015 administrator interpretation may be a signal that the DOL will no longer focus on misclassifications of independent contractors with the same fervor as it previously did. A more business-friendly DOL may choose to rely on certain factors, such as an independent contractor agreement setting forth the business relationship and the comparative degree of control over the work exerted by the two parties, over those factors that were highlighted in former administrator Weil’s interpretation, such as whether the worker runs his or her own independent business. The distinction between employees and independent contractors remains, but query whether this DOL, under the direction of new Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, will change the balance in determining independent contractor status.

Joint Employment Interpretation Withdrawn 

When the DOL issued its administrator interpretation on joint employer status in February 2016, we wrote here that the DOL made it clear that the agency planned to examine dual employer relationships very closely, with an apparent intent to find joint employer status in more circumstances under both the FLSA and the MSPA. By withdrawing that interpretation, the DOL may be suggesting a contraction of its efforts to find joint employer status. If that is the case, employers who utilize workers employed by a staffing agency or other workers provided by a third-party may face less scrutiny (and potentially, less liability) for wage and hour violations as a potential joint employer. In addition, companies that use the same workers across different subsidiaries or among other legally distinct entities may see a relaxation of the DOL’s emphasis on joint employer status.

The Tea Leaves Say . . .

Employers should stay vigilant about ensuring that workers they treat as independent contractors meet the multi-factor tests for independent contractor status. Similarly, organizations that could be subject to the joint employer analysis should examine their status under the applicable tests and are urged to review their third-party staffing arrangements to ensure compliance with wage and hour (and other DOL-enforced) laws. But, with the withdrawal of some of the more proactive enforcement approaches of the past administration, the DOL may be signaling its more business-friendly stance. Perhaps the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will be next to announce a less aggressive view towards finding joint employer status and a retraction of other arguably expansive positions taken in past years. We’ll keep you informed as new developments arise.

June 5, 2017

Positive Marijuana Drug Tests Up By 11% in Colorado, According To Recent Report

By Mark Wiletsky

Positive results from workforce drug tests are at the highest rate in twelve years, according to the recently released Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index. Of particular significance to Colorado employers is the increase in positive marijuana results in urine drug tests in 2016 – the first year of results after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use.

Marijuana Testing Methods Show Varied Positivity Rates

In creating its annual report, Quest Diagnostics analyzes more than ten million drug test results from tests it conducted on behalf of U.S. employers. Positive results for marijuana for the general U.S. workforce increased significantly over the past few years, with the percentages of positive marijuana results varying by the method of testing, as follows:

  • Oral fluid testing: up nearly 75% from 2013 (5.1%) to 2016 (8.9%)
  • Hair testing: up over 4% from 2015 (7.0%) to 2016 (7.3%)
  • Urine testing: up 4% from 2015 (2.4%) to 2016 (2.5%)

In Colorado, the increase in positive marijuana urine tests was a striking 11% from 2015 (2.61%) to 2016 (2.9%). The positive marijuana urine test results also increased significantly by nine percent from 2015 to 2016 in Washington state, where recreational marijuana also was legalized. Whether these state increases can be explained by the legalization of recreational pot is unclear, but both states reflected increased marijuana positivity higher than the national increase for the same years.

Nationwide Increase In Cocaine and Methamphetamine Positivity

The recent Quest report revealed that the positivity rate for urine testing for cocaine increased twelve percent in 2016 for the general U.S. workforce. While that annual percentage increase is high, the percent of U.S. workers who tested positive for cocaine in a urine test by Quest in 2016 was a relatively low 0.28 percent.

The results for amphetamines, which includes amphetamine and methamphetamine, increased more than eight percent in urine testing from 2015 to 2016 in the general U.S. workforce. Looking at the increase over the last four years, methamphetamine positivity in urine testing rose 64 percent. In oral fluid testing, those numbers are even higher as methamphetamines positivity increased 75 percent between 2013 (0.24%) and 2016 (0.42%).

Here is a look at an infographic from Quest Diagnostic regarding the results from its most recent report:

Workforce Drug Testing Index: As overall substance abuse rises across the United States, drug testing programs continue to play an important role in helping to create safe, drug-free workplaces. (PRNewsfoto/Quest Diagnostics)

Drug Testing Considerations

With positive drug test results on the rise, more employers will likely face the tricky employment decisions associated with positive tests. Here are some legal issues and best practices to consider:

  • Have a written, zero tolerance drug policy prohibiting employees, while on company premises or while engaged on company business, from (a) the use, possession, sale, and distribution of illegal drugs, and (b) being under the influence of illegal drugs. Illegal drugs should be defined as any substance that is illegal under either federal or state law as well as prescription drugs prescribed to another person or that are taken in a dosage or manner that was not prescribed.
  • Consider whether you will require employees to report their use of prescription drugs that may affect their ability to safely perform their work duties, especially for those in safety-sensitive positions. Be careful, however, not to discriminate against employees who use prescription medications to treat a disability. You may need to make a reasonable accommodation when dealing with a disabled individual.
  • If you conduct drug tests, have a written policy outlining the following:
    • when tests are conducted (e.g., pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, random, post-accident, etc.)
    • consequences for failing a drug test, up to and including termination
    • notification that refusing a drug test will result in termination
    • any state-specific testing requirements
  • If an employee uses marijuana for medical purposes, consider whether any employment accommodation obligations exist under applicable law. Colorado’s medical marijuana law does not specify an accommodation requirement and thus far, Colorado courts have not imposed such a requirement. Some other state’s medical marijuana laws, however, do impose workplace accommodation obligations, so when faced with a positive marijuana drug test, be sure to consider any applicable laws.
  • Keep drug test results and any other medical information confidential. This means you should keep separate medical or drug testing files so that this information does not get put in an employee’s regular personnel file. Also limit the individuals who have access to this information.

By planning ahead with appropriate policies and knowledge of your legal requirements, you will help your organization handle positive drug test results properly. When in doubt, consult with a competent employment lawyer.