Happy Memorial Day

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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.

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

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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.

 

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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.

 

I feel the Earth move, under my feet

 

New Overtime Rules are Delayed – Will Not Go in to Effect on December 1

To the shock and relief of employers across the country, a federal judge in Texas has issued a nationwide injunction blocking the Department of Labor’s new overtime rule set to go into effect on December 1. In a 20-page decision, U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant ruled that the 21 states and more than 50 business groups that sued to block the rule stood a significant chance of success and will suffer serious financial harm if the new overtime rules go into effect as scheduled on 12/1. He further held that the DOL overstepped its authority by raising the salary cap for the white collar exemptions from $455 a week to $921 a week or $47,892 a year, a point where the minimum salary supplanted the duties test, which was not the intent of Congress when it created the statutory exemption.

What Happens Now?

For employers that planned to reclassify previously exempt employees on December 1, solely because employees do not meet the new salary threshold, reclassification can be delayed until further notice.

The injunction halts enforcement of the rule unless or until the government can win a countermanding order from the conservative Fifth Circuit court of appeals, where there is a reasonable chance no such order will be forthcoming. In other words, the new overtime rule will now face a full trial on its merits.

As we have stated repeatedly over the last 9 months, the white collar exemption to the FLSA is a three part test, including not just a two part salary test, but a duties test as well. The proposed amendment to the FLSA prompted many employers to revisit the duties tests and to reassess old job descriptions for compliance. We remain confident this was time well spent. This ruling has no impact on the existing duties test, and Judge Mazzant’s order solidifies the importance of the duties test. The Department of Labor will continue audits, and employees will continue to file wage and hour claims.

Because this injunction has no impact on the duties tests for the executive, administrative, professional, computer and outside sales exemptions, any job descriptions modified to better comply with those duties tests should still be rolled out at your earliest opportunity. Remember: if these positions were reclassified because they failed the duties test – they were incorrectly classified to begin with. To avoid fines and fees, it is important to proceed with those changes.

The issue of communicating this change will now be more complex. However, the fact remains that this area of law remains a highly litigated one, and as evidenced by the court’s decision, it can change on a dime. Ultimately, this is why we advised all of our clients to examine job descriptions, and revise exempt classifications, and it remains a strong argument for reclassifying your employees now. Until the court rules one way or the other, or Congress takes a definitive action to update the rules, the new overtime rule will not take effect; but it has not gone away.

Please contact our office with questions and concerns about this new development, we are here to help.

© 2016 FOLEY & FOLEY, PC, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

Now what?

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by Attorney Angela Snyder

What Happens Now?

Change comes with every Presidential election and this one could be seismic.  Naturally, when we heard the outcome, we began questioning, what does this mean for employment laws?  What will happen to the Affordable Care Act?  What will happen with the new overtime rules?  Should businesses ignore the December 1 deadline and just wait to see what happens next? For Massachusetts, California, Maine and Nevada employers, and 25% of the country, employees will now have access to legal recreational marijuana.  How will the workplace be affected?

While we cannot read the future, we spend much of our day watching laws change and examining legal trends.  Here are our predictions  and advice for weathering the coming changes.

The Overtime Rules

As a threshold matter, Donald Trump will become the President on January 20, 2017, after the new overtime rule takes effect. Although Trump’s Secretary of Labor will likely roll back many of President Obama’s employment-related initiatives, the breadth of these changes remains to be seen. Trump has not released a specific policy or position, although he has said he favors “a delay or a carve-out of sorts,” but only for small businesses. This is far from a guarantee.

Additionally, as we have advised over the last year, the FLSA White Collar exemptions require a 3 part test.  Employees must receive a salary of at least $455 per week (rising to $913) per week; they must receive the same salary no matter how many hours they work; and they must pass a strict duties test.  The new FLSA rule set to take effect December 1, 2016, addresses only the minimum salary level portion of the test.  Many employers audited all of their exempt positions in preparation of these new rules.  To the extent employees were reclassified because their duties did not meet the requirements of one of the White Collar exemptions, a rollback of the new salary levels will be irrelevant.

In late September, two lawsuits were filed in federal court in Texas, and legislation that would delay the effective date of the rule until June 2017 passed the U.S. House of Representatives.  None of the legislation will pass into law before the new rules go into effect.  As for the lawsuits, there is a hearing this week in an action to challenge the rule; and it is possible the presiding judge will issue an injunction at that time.  However, the judge hearing the case is an Obama appointee, which means it is more than likely that on December 1, 2016, by law, all exempt positions must receive a salary of at least $913 per week.

Why comply, when there is a chance the new rules will be rolled back? As a quick reminder, under the FLSA, non-exempt employees who are improperly classified will be owed back wages and liquidated damages (equal to the back wages owed), and the auditing agency or court will look back two years to determine the overtime and wages owed.  If they believe the employer intentionally misclassified employees, that period extends to three years.  Under Massachusetts law, employees are entitled to treble damages.  These are not small penalties and often result in fines in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For this reason, we advise all of our clients to comply with the new overtime rules on December 1.  If the new administration changes the rules, these employees can always be reclassified as exempt at a later date.  

Affordable Care Act

Trump and Republicans in Congress have stated that they will seek to repeal ObamaCare within Trump’s first hundred days in office. There are roughly 1,000 pages of the ACA and its related provisions.  A full repeal will be incredibly difficult, but it is possible.  It does look like Trump’s intention is to replace the ACA with some other program, which means 2017 should be interesting for employers. Trump has also stated he would keep the pre-existing condition mandate and the availability of insurance for children until the age of 26, which sounds a lot like…ObamaCare.

Marijuana Use

With the advent of the edible marijuana industry, a gummy bear is no longer a gummy bear.  Recreational pot shops are coming to Massachusetts in 2018.  Wondering how to prepare your workplace? Here are some things to know when it comes to creating policies on marijuana use:

  1. There is not an accurate test for marijuana intoxication.  An employee who uses marijuana outside of work (even the day before) will likely fail a blood test, even if the use was totally outside of work, and he or she was not intoxicated at the time of testing.  Given the legalization of medical marijuana in particular, this has resulted in a number of lawsuits.
  2. Although marijuana has now been legalized in a number of states, it is still considered a ‘controlled substance’ under federal law.  As such, at least for the time being, marijuana use remains illegal under federal law. Thus, any federal employer or private employer that receives federal monies may have to conduct testing under federal guidelines.
  3. Finally, only New Hampshire and Arizona have laws protecting medicinal marijuana use and preventing employers from discriminating against marijuana users.  This will likely change now that Massachusetts and California have legalized marijuana.

So, what does all of this mean?  In the states that legalized marijuana in 2012, there have been lawsuits filed by employees who have been terminated after a positive drug test.  The outcome of these cases has been surprisingly consistent, and offered employers a fair amount of latitude when it comes to drug testing and terminating employees for marijuana use.  This has been true even in states where recreational marijuana use is legal.  However, the courts up to this point have relied on the fact that marijuana remains illegal under federal law as a major justification for their decisions.

Now that legal access to recreational marijuana exists in several states, it is likely the federal government will have to look seriously at declassifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug.  This, in turn, will likely influence legal decisions.

Although the Massachusetts recreational marijuana law does not directly alter the state laws governing employer drug testing, it definitely makes sense to review your drug testing policies in light of the new law. At a minimum, policies that call for termination or other discipline for an employee’s use of “illegal” drugs may need to be revised, given that it is no longer illegal for adults to use marijuana in Massachusetts.

As to what amount of marijuana use should result in a termination, Colorado and Washington, where recreational use of marijuana is legal, set the level of impairment at 5 nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) based on a set amount of blood. Pennsylvania set a 1 nanogram threshold; Nevada and Ohio opted for 2 nanograms.  States are all over the map because setting a specific impairment threshold with THC is not as clear-cut as it is with alcohol. THC can remain in a person’s system for days and weeks. That means blood tests alone are unreliable.

In 2014, after marijuana was legalized in Washington, fatal crashes where the driver was found to have THC in his/her blood doubled from around 8% to 17%.  Now that so many states have legalized marijuana, the U.S. is going to be forced to find a national standard for sobriety that is based on real science.  However, until that happens, testing for marijuana use will continue to be problematic.

Recommendations

Private employers have latitude in terms of behavior they can prevent in the workplace.  Just as you can prohibit employees from having alcohol in the workplace, you can prohibit them from possessing or being under the influence of marijuana in the workplace.

Where your testing is limited to reasonable suspicion testing, your risk of an employee claim of wrongful termination based on a positive drug test is much lower than if you conduct random tests.  Although an employee may dispute the validity of your test, if you also have documented reasonable suspicion that an employee was under the influence while at work, you will be able to show that your action as an employer was based on a reasonable and good faith belief that the employee was a danger to him/herself or others.

As for smoking, you can continue to prohibit smoking marijuana and/or ingesting marijuana just as you can prohibit smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.

What About the Rest?

Without question our clients should expect some change in the employment law landscape with the new administration, and it will likely be more employer friendly. However, as we observed during the election, Mr. Trump has shifted positions on many issues, many times.  Trump’s appointments to the DOL, the EEOC, NLRB, and OSHA, not to mention the Supreme Court, will be far more telling of the direction of employment related laws in the coming years.

We can help: info@foleylawpractice.com or 508-548-4888