Earlier this month, a widely-recognized Fortune 50 company reached a $1.7 million agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to resolve nearly a decade of litigation over the company’s nation-wide policy of discharging workers who do not return from medical leave after 12 months.

While this settlement still requires approval by a federal judge, the litigation itself (and the size and scope of the settlement, which also includes changes to the company’s policy, notice-posting, record-keeping, reporting, and other requirements) should be instructive for employers dealing with a common issue: what to do with employees who are granted a medical leave but cannot return to duty at the end of a set time period.

Continue Reading Could The EEOC Sue Over Your “Maximum Leave” Policy?

One of President Trump’s chief agenda items has been immigration enforcement.  While the President’s intent may be to keep out terrorists, remove undocumented foreign nationals, and eliminate fraudulent visa practices, these efforts can also have a tremendous impact on U.S. employers.  One of the ways this administration has ramped up its immigration enforcement efforts has been through an increase in I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form audits to ensure companies and organizations are engaging in fair, non-discriminatory hiring practices and only hiring individuals who have proper work authorization.

While the Form I-9 requirement originates from Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act, all employers are required by law to complete and retain a Form I-9 for each employee, regardless of the employee’s immigration status in the U.S.  So, even a company or organization with only U.S. citizen employees is not necessarily safe from a government-conducted site visit.  For instance, the Immigrant and Employee Rights (IER) Section of the Department of Justice exists to investigate 1) citizenship status discrimination in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee, 2) national origin discrimination in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee, 3) unfair documentary practices during the employment eligibility verification, Form I-9 and E-Verify, and 4) allegations of unlawful  retaliation or intimidation.  Note that discrimination can be consider action both for or against U.S. workers or workers of a particular national origin, so if the IER receives a complaint about your company’s hiring or employment practices regardless of who it supposedly helps or harms, it can open a case against your company and investigate the allegation(s) made.  Even if your company has not engaged in prohibited discriminatory practices, your company could still face severe penalties and fines for documentation/paperwork violations that may be found in such an investigation.

In the event that your company is selected for an audit and you have never inspected your Forms I-9 with an experienced counsel, it is possible that there will be numerous I-9 violations per form. These violations can be either civil or criminal.  For example, in a recent I-9 case settlement, a national Chinese fast-food chain was fined $400,000 in civil penalties and was ordered to pay $200,000 in back wages for its unlawful practices.  One of its primary violations was carrying on the practice of re-verifying lawful permanent residents when their green cards expired.  In another case, a Florida staffing company was ordered to pay a fine of $120,000 for requiring non-U.S. citizens to present specific documents, among other violations.  Without proper training in completing the Form I-9, it is not difficult to make sixty-plus violations per form—the average number of I-9 violations a government officer finds on a single I-9 form!

When the government is assessing monetary fines, one of the mitigating factors considered is good faith on the part of the employer.  By proactively taking the first step to have an experienced counsel review your company’s Forms I-9 and making adjustments and corrections before the government pays your company a visit, you may be able to significantly reduce the amount of total fines or even avoid any penalties altogether.

Back in April 2015, we told you about a new player in the world of employee whistleblower enforcement:  the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  The SEC grabbed everyone’s attention in 2015 by issuing its first administrative order finding that a public company violated SEC rules based solely on language in an employment agreement. Continue Reading Employment Agreements Under the Bright Light of the SEC’s Enforcement Efforts

Summary

A nationwide junction was issued Tuesday evening blocking implementation of the U.S. Department of Labor’s new rules increasing the minimum salary levels required for most white collar exemptions. These new rules had been scheduled to go into effect on December 1, and would have raised the minimum annual salary level for most exemptions from $23,660 to $47,476. The injunction halts enforcement of the rule until the Department of Labor receives a contrary order from the issuing court or an appellate court. But, since Texas is in the Fifth Circuit, which is a traditionally conservative court, the Department of Labor faces an uphill climb and it is unlikely that the new rules will go into effect in the foreseeable future. Continue Reading Nationwide Injunction Prohibits Implementation of the Department of Labor’s New Overtime Rules

As we all learned in school, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from making laws that “abridge the freedom of speech.”  Employer-created rules and decisions are not acts of Congress, of course, and are not subject to the First Amendment.  So, employers can terminate their at-will employees (all employees without an employment contract) for a good or even a bad reason, including having a bad attitude, right?  Wrong, according to the National Labor Relations Board, at least when that bad attitude expresses itself in voicing concerns about their job.

In another example of the National Labor Relations Board (“the Board”) reaching into a non-union employer’s workplace, it ordered dance production companies that run two Las Vegas shows (Vegas! The Show and The BeatleShow) to reinstate several dancers whose employment was terminated for performance and attitude problems that spanned several years of time.  David Saxe Prods., LLC, 364 NLRB No. 100 (Aug. 26, 2016).  In a letter to one of these employees, the owner of the production companies stated: Continue Reading Are Employees Entitled to Free Speech?

Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board issued yet another decision that makes it easier to unionize workers deemed “joint employees” of a staffing agency and its business customer.  In its July 11, 2016 decision in a case called Miller & Anderson, Inc. and Tradesmen International and Sheet Metal Workers International Association, Local Union No. 19, AFL-CIO, the Board overturned a 2004 ruling known as Oakwood Care Center that required a business customer and a staffing agency to consent before a union election covering both jointly employed temporary workers and solely employed regular employees of the customer can occur.  Yesterday’s ruling reverses the consent requirement and takes us back to a prior ruling where consent was not required.  Now (as before 2004) a union election by regular and temporary workers together can occur simply where the Board finds that an employer’s workers and staffing agency employees working with it have an adequate “community of interest” to be part of one unit for unionization. Continue Reading NLRB Continues Focus on Unionization of Temp Workers, Joint Employers

The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act requires labor organizations, consultants, and employers to file reports and disclose expenditures on labor-management activities. For over fifty years, the DOL has interpreted the provisions of the Act to require reporting only for what are known as “direct” persuasive activities, such as when employers hire consultants or attorneys to personally and directly deliver counter-union messages to employees. Under the Act, mere “advice” pertaining to persuasive activities is not reportable. The advice exemption permitted law firms and employers to avoid the reporting obligations since the law firms were not actually engaged in direct persuasion, but only in advice. However, in March of this year, the DOL set forth a Final Rule significantly broadening what is reportable by employers and consultants in an effort to require reporting on activities that have been viewed as “advice.” Significantly, the Northern District of Texas today issued an order preliminary enjoining the Department of Labor from enforcing its Final Rule until a lawsuit challenging the Final Rule can be fully litigated. Unless that preliminary ruling or other pending challenges to the Final Rule are successful and upheld on appeal, the Final Rule will apply to agreements entered into on or after July 1, 2016. Two important updates concerning the Final Rule are covered in this alert, one of which necessitates an employer taking action before July 1, 2016. Continue Reading Persuader Rule Update: Agreements before July 1 Not Subject to Disclosure; Ruling on Lawfulness of Persuader Rule Issued

Employers want all employees to do their work and go home safely each day.  A workplace injury is bad news for everyone.  When OSHA or a similar state safety agency gets involved, it becomes an even bigger problem for employers.  That reality is even more true today as OSHA’s maximum fines have recently increased, and it has added new recordkeeping and reporting requirements that raise further concerns for employers.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s stated role is “to ensure [safe working] conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.” Continue Reading OSHA Changes: Are You Keeping Up?

While speaking at a conference this year, I asked members of the Human Resources community to raise their hands if they routinely instructed employees not to discuss internal investigations.  No surprise, most of the hands (maybe all of them) went up.

 

For many good reasons, most employers instruct employees to keep the fact of and contents of investigations confidential.  For example, when investigations become public, employees often become less willing to come forward and discuss the nature of the investigation.  Also, in most instances the nature of the investigation involves sensitive information, like a harassment complaint.  Yet, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has indicated that reasons such as these are not legally sufficient to tell employees to keep their mouths shut.

Continue Reading Keeping Internal Investigations Confidential: That’s Not Legal?