Changing Tides?

Back in 2015 and 2016, the DOL issued extensive regulatory guidance on independent contractors and joint employment that were essentially broad announcements of the agency’s changing (and much more employee friendly) views on the topics.  Many employers greeted this guidance unfavorably, and felt the DOL was attempting to skirt the traditional regulatory process.

Today, in perhaps the first concrete sign of the new administration’s more business friendly posture, the DOL announced the withdrawal of that guidance (Administrator’s Interpretations No. 2015-01 (July 15, 2015, on independent contractors) and No. 2016-01 (Jan. 20, 2016, on joint employment)).

Whether Trump’s DOL intends to take concrete steps to undue the prior administration’s labor related agendas remains to be seen, but this is certainly a sign of a changing tide.

Workplace Posters are Free. Really.

theoffice

Clients often receive pressing, official-looking notices urging the purchase of mandatory employment law postings. While you do have to post, you do not have to buy. Although some states also try to sell posters which is really cheap, all required postings are available free of charge (keep scrolling).  Please see the links below, from the federal government and states where we practice:

Federal: United States Department of Labor – Wage and Hour Division

Massachusetts: Labor and Workforce Development – Massachusetts Workplace Poster Requirements

California: http://www.taxes.ca.gov/payroll_tax/postingreqbus.shtml

Connecticut: https://www.ctdol.state.ct.us/gendocs/Labor_Posters.htm

Georgia: https://dhs.georgia.gov/department-labor-required-workplace-posters

Illinois: https://www.illinois.gov/idol/Employers/Pages/posters.aspx

Kansas:  http://www.dol.ks.gov/Laws/Posters.aspx

Maine: http://www.maine.gov/labor/posters/

Maryland: https://www.dllr.state.md.us/oeope/poster.shtml

Minnesota:  http://www.dli.mn.gov/ls/posters.asp

Missouri: https://labor.mo.gov/posters

New Hampshire: https://www.nh.gov/labor/forms/mandatory-posters.htm

New York: https://labor.ny.gov/workerprotection/laborstandards/employer/posters.shtm

North Carolina:  http://www.nclabor.com/posters/posters.htm

Oregon:  http://staging.apps.oregon.gov/boli/TA/Pages/Req_Post.aspx

Pennsylvania: http://www.hrm.oa.pa.gov/workplace-support/required-postings/Pages/default.aspx

Texas: http://www.twc.state.tx.us/businesses/posters-workplace

Utah: https://laborcommission.utah.gov/divisions/UOSH/RequiredPosters.html

Vermont: http://labor.vermont.gov/

Wisconsin:  https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/dwd/posters.htm

As always, should you have any questions including information for additional state postings, please contact us. We can help. Mike@foleylawpractice.com or 508-548-4888

Happy Memorial Day

When-is-Memorial-Day-2017

Happy Memorial Day! For many, this is a day to honor fallen soldiers and also a time to get ready for summer.

Have you done the following?

  • Sunscreen?
  • Summer reading list?
  • Pay Equity Audit?
  • Midyear handbook and diagnostic workplace audit?

If you answered “No” to any one of these questions, we can help!  Read on.

SUNSCREEN

It is outside our wheelhouse but we do like to be helpful.  See the latest list from Consumer Reports. http://www.consumerreports.org/sun-protection/get-the-best-sun-protection/

PAY EQUITY

In 2016 alone, California, New York, Nebraska, Maryland and Massachusetts passed aggressive equal pay legislation. If you are not in this group, the EEOC’s proposed expansion to the EEO-1 reports means more pay data will be required from federal contractors and employers with more than 100 employees.

Do I Need to Buy More Software?

Absolutely not.  By now you may have seen software solicitations touting the importance of statistical analysis to comply with pay equity. Beware.  Sizes matters: unless an employer has a significant number of employees performing the same role and a statistically significant amount are women, a statistical analysis will not produce reliable results. Most of our clients should perform a cohort analysis, which better compares the factors affecting pay.

Why Should I Use Your Pay Equity Audit?  

By partnering with an attorney, the process is protected by the attorney-client privilege. Any pay equity found will be kept strictly confidential.  Moreover, in Massachusetts you create a rolling affirmative defense by conducting an evaluation of pay practices if it is completed within three years prior to the commencement of a wage discrimination claim. We have developed an effective and painless Pay Equity Audit to achieve compliance and create an affirmative defense.

Why Now? 

The effective date of the MA Pay Equity Law is July 1, 2018.  Many of you are planning for 2018 in your budgets and hiring. Include Pay Equity in that list to be compliant and create the rolling affirmative defense against any future claims.

SUMMER READING

Software slamming aside, Bill Gates is a pretty smart guy.  His summer reading list looks terrific.  Check it out!  https://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill-Gates/Summer-Books-2017?WT.mc_id=05_22_2017_10_SummerBooks2017_BG-media_&WT.tsrc=BGmedia

 

MIDYEAR HANDBOOK AND DIAGNOSTIC AUDIT

Probably not high on your reading list but terribly important is your employee handbook.  When is the last time you read it? We recommend that you review and update your handbook on an annual basis. Now is a particularly good time given the many local and state law updates.  Marijuana, equal pay, paid family leave, sick leave—many changes have taken place that are probably not properly addressed in your handbook.

Why Worry about the Handbook?

A well-crafted handbook serves many valuable purposes:

  • Define the culture of your business
  • Set expectations
  • Inform employees of compensation, benefits and rules
  • Provide a clear avenue for dispute resolution, a critical road map for staff

Your Handbook are a valuable tool for you and an important resource for employees.

 

What is the Diagnostic Audit?

The Risk Management Diagnostic Audit is a tool we have developed to allow you to identify and respond to the compliance risks at your workplace. This audit targets your organization’s unique vulnerability and provides action items to put you on the path to compliance.  Please check out our website or call 508-548-4888 for the steps and timelines for this popular service. http://www.foleylawpractice.com/diagnostic-compliance-audit.html

Enjoy the long weekend!

Contact us at 508-548-4888 or info@foleylawpractice.com

 

 

 

Why Many Executive Orders are Hot Air

hot-air-balloons-439331_960_720.jpgOn May 4, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.  Could this order allow discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and women, as feared?   Will this impact the workplace? No. Here is the line to remember: Existing laws cannot be overturned by Executive Orders.

Let’s take a look at this Order as a good example. The portion of the Order that pertains to Federal law is:

_Sec_. _4_. _Religious Liberty Guidance_. In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant Federal law, the Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions can issue guidance until the cows come home: The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does not answer to him.  The EEOC is an independent federal agency charged with enforcing federal laws against illegal discrimination in the workplace. Laws like the ADA, ADEA, FLSA, FMLA and Title VII are under the purview of the EEOC for enforcement and guidance. Congress may make changes to the laws and the courts can overrule, clarify or uphold the laws.

Executive Orders might be good optics but cannot impact the rule of federal. state or local law in the workplace.

MA Wage Act is mightier than your commission plan

Us_dollars_one_hundred_banknotes

 

Last month, a Massachusetts US District Court judge held that a former employee who quit was still eligible for $32,000 in sales commissions despite a commission plan that provided otherwise.  (Israel v. Voya Institutional Plan Services, LLCI)  Voya’s commission plan specifically stated that an employee who resigns is not eligible for further commission payments.  The plan was clear and on point.  How did the judge get to yes on the commission?

Voya’s plan could not override the Wage Act requirement that sales commissions be paid promptly once the amount is “definitely determined”–at that point the commission becomes “due and payable.” The judge distinguished a sales commission, as a share of sales revenue generated by an employee, from other types of variable compensation– like a bonus.  Because the amount of commission was known and earned based on sales, it fell under the Wage Act’s strict payment requirements.

Massachusetts employers who provide commissions as part of their pay structure are advised to review their commission plans in light of this decision.  As we all know, the MA Wage Act, with its costly provisions for damages and attorney’s fees, is not to be taken lightly.

This is Your Brain on Conflict: Deconstructing Conflict in the Workplace

I spend my days providing virtual in-house employment counsel to companies all over the United States. My position allows me to observe work-place conflict across a wide range of industries and geographical locations. While most of the questions I field relate to compliance with employment laws, they also relate to something much more basic – fear of conflict.

Conflict Avoidance

Conflict is disagreement, but contrary to popular belief conflict does not always involve fighting. Conflict exists in any situation where facts, needs or fears pull people in divergent directions. When the disagreement is unpleasant, conflict elicits stress, which is a basic self-defense mechanism. According to Joshua Gowin, PhD, stress tells our brains one of two things: I’m hurt, or I’m about to be hurt. If we believe we’ve been hurt, we release adrenaline within seconds and cortisol within minutes, which causes us to become impulsive. Ever send that panicked email you instantly regretted? You can thank the one-two punch of adrenaline and cortisol for that. Moreover, even stress over an anticipated conflict activates our stress response, leading to that sick feeling that something bad is about to happen. We experience this anticipative stress in most long-term conflicts with peers; we worry about some harmful outcome that might happen—or not. The danger with stress caused by both immediate and anticipated conflict is that the worry itself can cause as much harm as the outcome – while you’re stressing over what might happen, your body is releasing adrenaline and cortisol as if you are actually in danger.

When stress lingers, cortisol levels remain chronically high. Chronically elevated cortisol levels are a telltale mark of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is also a hallmark of burnout. 

Cortisol, like many hormones, has an optimum range, and too much is a problem. When stress lingers, cortisol levels remain chronically high. Chronically elevated cortisol levels are a telltale mark of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is also a hallmark of burnout.

This physiological response explains why we avoid perceived conflict – it isn’t pleasant. However, while it’s human nature to avoid uncomfortable conflict with others, that tactic won’t work in the long term, particularly in the workplace.

Workplace conflict isn’t limited to the problem employee who can’t get along with anyone in the department. In my experience, conflict shows up all over the workplace, and even small conflicts are often a symptom of larger problems. Unfortunately, avoiding uncomfortable conflict can be costly. According to Joseph Grenny of VitalSmarts, every unaddressed conflict wastes about eight hours of company time in gossip and other unproductive activities. Additionally, conflict avoidance can lead managers and HR to ignore important workplace compliance issues. In short, conflict avoidance, is a compliance-killer.

I firmly believe in building a culture of compliance, where organizations understand that at their root, employment laws are about treating employees well. A good place to start in building a culture of compliance is to understand that even though people often shy away from it, conflict is actually normal and healthy. In fact, healthy conflict is arguably a vital ingredient to organizational success. Experts have found that the most effective teams are those in which members feel safe enough to disagree with one another. A culture where dissent is allowed, or even encouraged, can spur innovation, diversity of thought and better decision-making.

In other words, conflict can be a good thing, and avoidance and procrastination are the real problems.

WORKPLACE COMPLIANCE IN THE TRUMP-ERA: IT IS NOT ABOUT TWITTER

twitter

 

It has been noted politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose.  That may sound too lofty to describe current times, but the sentiment remains: promises made on the campaign trail do not easily translate into law. We have a Republican President and a Republican Congress, which historically has meant a more business-friendly regulatory environment.  Yet as the first 100 days will show, unwinding is neither quick nor easy. The Affordable Care Act has not been repealed and little is on the horizon. The President’s Budget Blueprint for 2018 proposes to slash the Department of Labor’s (DOL) budget by 21%. What does this mean for employers right now, or even over the next year?

In short, not a lot. Meanwhile, state and local governments are legislating like mad to fill the gaps that could be created by proposed budget cuts and executive orders. President Trump is an active Twitter user but as detailed below, that communication belies the actual activity of the federal government. #Realtalk

Are employers off the hook for federal mandates? Not so fast. Most of the federal regulations that govern the workplace remain in place and, given the inability to repeal the much lamented ACA, may not change at all.

Below is a quick overview of the current federal landscape under President Trump. Without actual policy as a guide, we are using the President’s proposed budget as a crystal ball. Please note that many states, including Massachusetts and California, have stricter mandates than the federal laws:

THE FUTURE OF DOL/OSHA/EEOC ENFORCEMENT

The President has proposed $2.5 Billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) operating budget. Because Congress has to approve the budget this is only an outline of the actual budget.  The blue print is short on details, but does expressly call for reduced funding for grant programs, job training programs for seniors and disadvantaged youth, and support for international labor efforts.  It also proposes to eliminate the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (“CSB”) – an independent, federal, non-enforcement agency that investigates chemical accidents at certain facilities.  These cuts account for $500 million dollars of the DOL budget. The blueprint does not specify where the other $2 billion in cost savings will come from, except to say more funding responsibility will go to the states.  If approved by Congress—a big if–the cuts will involve a loss of funds that could be distributed heavily through DOL’s enforcement programs. This will include the EEOC and OSHA. Yet the process by which these agencies collect fines is a valuable revenue generator and unlikely to end easily.

At this point, the likelihood of the final budget looking like the proposed one is total conjecture. Furthermore, even with the expected cuts to the DOL’s enforcement and regulatory programs, it is important to recall that under the last Republican administration—no fan of regulation– the DOL still enforced the law. Moreover, as the federal government delivers more labor enforcement responsibility to the states, employers will increasingly be forced to work to achieve compliance on two fronts, instead of one.

RIGHT NOW

Every administration has used the media as a means of furthering and communicating its chosen agenda, and the Trump administration is no exception.  The choices the administration makes in what it chooses to publicize likely signal the administration’s direction; but also shape the public’s perception of what it is actively doing.  The Trump administration and President Trump in particular use social media and news reports for the purpose of shaping the public’s understanding their activity.  From a compliance standpoint, this actually creates risk for employers.

Despite the President’s proposed budget and awaited confirmation of a new Labor secretary, the New York Times reported  that DOL enforcement actions continue.  In a departure from past practice, the department has stopped publicizing fines against companies. As the New York Times points out, the Obama administration used the announcements as an enforcement tool, and a means to influence employers.  However, the announcements also served as an important window for employers into the DOL’s current position on important compliance issues such as wage and hour or OSHA safety enforcement.  If a company in the same industry was recently fined for a practice, that action provided others in the industry with important notice to examine their practice.  Employers no longer have this benefit.  Furthermore, those who believe that the lack of information surrounding DOL enforcement means they no longer have to worry about the threat of an audit do so at their own peril.  At the present, and until the new budget is confirmed months from now, agency enforcement has not changed.  For those inclined to believe the confirmation of the new Labor secretary will change that should keep in mind that DOL audits are a money-maker for the agency.  There seems to be little reason for them to stop.

WHAT TO DO

The last few years have seen a seismic change in the number of employment laws on both the state and federal level.  If it has been a few years since your organization has updated its employee handbook, you have a compliance problem on your hands.  Updating your handbook and policies is an important step to mitigate risk.

And remember, statutes, regulatory guidance and case opinions published by the courts are what impact compliance obligations, not the news. What happens on Twitter does not reflect the actions of the agencies of the federal government. #Really

Landmark decision: A federal appeals court rules Title VII bars sexual orientation bias in the workplace

“..[I]t is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex…” wrote Chief Circuit Judge Diane P. Wood of the 7th Circuit Appeals Court,  wiping away prior ambiguity surrounding Title VII protections based on sexual orientation. The 8-3 decision, held in a rare en banc hearing, arose out of Indiana professor Kimberly Hively’s lawsuit against her former employer Ivy Tech Community College. Hively claimed her denial of promotions, tenure and her eventual termination were because she is a lesbian.

The 7th Circuit completely bypassed the issue of Congressional intent of the word “sex” in Title VII. Judge Posner opined that the court was not the “obedient servants of the 88th Congress (1963-1965)” and the court was “[T]aking advantage of what the last half century has taught.”

This case matters beyond Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. This decision reflects what many state and local government have already done to protect LGBT workers, and similar cases will be heard in other circuits.  Most importantly, it is a best practice to implement policies, procedures and training that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace.

We can help. Contact us at info@foleylawpractice.com or call 508.548.4888 to update your handbook and policies. Visit http://www.foleylawpractice.com for more resources.

 

rainbow

Yes, company email is fair game to communicate worker gripes while watching the Bachelor

The NLRB upheld its blockbuster 2014 ruling in Purple Communications Inc (Purple I), which allows employees to use employer email–even when not working –to conduct union organizing and protected activity. In a 3-2 ruling the NLRB held that workers who are granted access to their employer’s email system must be permitted to use it on nonworking time for protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  As we all know, protected activity under the NLRA is fairly broad, often termed “concerted activity for workers’ mutual benefit.”  Purple Communications basically updates the water cooler talk about wages or griping about working conditions into the present via email use during and after work.

What’s an employer to do? Electronic communication restrictions and social media policies and still have a place in the workplace.  The policies must be carefully crafted however in light of the NLRB rulings.  We can help. Contact us to review your current policy for compliance and to draft a new one that works.

 

California Strikes Again

Another day, another blow to employers from the California Court of Appeals.  Earlier this month, the appeal court invalidated a commission-only plan that did not separately compensate non-exempt sales representatives for rest periods. What does this mean for your sales team?  Read on.  If you want to go straight to the source, the case is Vaquero et al. vs. Stoneledge Furniture LLC.

The 30 second summary: Stoneledge’s commission plan paid sales associates by commissions only.  It did not specifically compensate employees separately for breaks. The Company did allow employees to take a 10-minute rest period for every four hours worked as required by law, but the rest periods were not tracked or separately compensated.

Although Stoneledge won in the lower court, the appeals court reversed, relying on the plain language of California Wage Order 7: “authorized rest period time shall be counted as hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages.”  The court also relied on two prior appeals court decisions, concluding that Stoneledge’s commission-only system violated California law because it did not separately compensate employees for rest periods.

The takeaway: Employers with non-exempt sales employees who are paid by commissions-only must make sure their systems are tracking and paying rest periods separately from commissions.  As a reminder, sales employees who spend more than 50 percent of their time engaged in outside sales are exempt, and this decision will not impact the way in which they are paid.