Final Fair Pay Rules Are Here: Contractors Face Complex Requirements and Challenges with New Reporting Obligations

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The federal government released the final regulations implementing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order (“EO” hereafter) this week.  The regulatory package contains two parts: amendments to the Federal Acquisition Regulations and guidance from the Department of Labor for implementing the regulations. The regulatory package is a central part of the Administration’s aggressive regulatory agenda we have previously discussed and reflects continuing burdens on federal contractors.

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California: Making Arbitration Great Again

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California’s resistance to the longstanding federal policy favoring arbitration frequently results in public expressions of frustration by the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.  In over five years since the Supreme Court’s broad directives in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333 (2011), recent California decisions, including our recent coverage of the California Supreme Court’s holding in Sandquist v. Lebo, Case No. S220812, 2016 WL 4045008 (Cal. July 28, 2016), suggest that the state’s stubbornness may be waning, at least for the time being.  The following summarizes key decisions that diverge from California’s traditional resistance to arbitration and which every employer should have in their arsenal of tools.

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California Supreme Court Holds “No Universal Rule” Exists When Deciding Who Should Determine Availability of Classwide Arbitration

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On July 28, 2016, the California Supreme Court added to the ever-changing body of case law regarding classwide arbitration when it held that “no universal rule” exists regarding who (the court or the arbitrator) should decide whether classwide arbitration is permissible under an arbitration agreement, and that this issue must be decided on a case-by-case basis. 

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Life in the Fast Lane: New OSHA Pilot Program Offers Expedited Review of Whistleblower Complaints

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OSHA’s San Francisco region, which includes California, Nevada, and Arizona, launched a new pilot program on August 1, 2016 that would allow complainants, under certain circumstances, to ask OSHA to cease its investigation and issue findings for an ALJ to consider.  The program is an effort to process cases more quickly in the region.  To qualify for expedited treatment, the investigator must first interview the complainant, allow the respondent the opportunity to submit its position statement and meet with OSHA and present statements from witnesses if so desired, and allow the complainant an opportunity to respond to the respondent’s submission.

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To Free or Not to Free: The DOL’s New Overtime Regulations May Give Employees the Ability to “Unplug”—But at What Cost?

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Today, mobile technology allows many exempt employees to work remotely and perform work outside traditional working hours.  Some commentators assert that the smartphone has stretched the traditional 9-to-5 workday into a 24/7 on-call period, where employees are expected to respond to work-related communications long after they leave the office and late into the night.  The expectation that employees will be available to respond on evenings and weekends, however, has sparked pushback, causing some employees to call for more work-life separation and the ability to “unplug.”  In France, this push to unplug recently resulted in a new law that gives employees a “right to disconnect.”  Under that law, many French employers soon will be required to implement rules governing work-life balance and reasonable use of digital tools.

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SEC Bounty Hunters Take Heart: SEC Fines Company $265,000 For Using Severance Agreements That Provided a Waiver of Any Monetary Recovery For Filing a Tip

shutterstock_150166427_200x150Today, the SEC announced that an Atlanta-based company, BlueLinx Holdings, is settling charges that its severance agreements contained provisions that it in its view might impede employees from communicating directly with the SEC about possible securities law violations. The company has agreed to pay a $265,000 sanction and to engage in other corrective actions as described below.

The specific provision at issue provided:

  • Employee further acknowledges and agrees that nothing in this Agreement prevents Employee from filing a charge with…the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission or any other administrative agency if applicable law requires that Employee be permitted to do so; however, Employee understands and agrees that Employee is waiving the right to any monetary recovery in connection with any such complaint or charge that Employee may file with an administrative agency. (Emphasis added.)

With respect to this bounty waiver, the Commission stated that “by requiring its departing employees to forgo any monetary recovery in connection with providing information to the Commission, BlueLinx removed the critically important financial incentives that are intended to encourage persons to communicate directly with the Commission staff about possible securities law violations.”

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Veterans Returning to Work After Military Service May Not Be Discharged Except “For Cause”

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The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”), 38 U.S.C. §§ 4301–4335, imposes various obligations on employers with respect to members of the U.S. military returning to their civilian workplace.  USERRA differs from other employment laws (e.g., Title VII) in multiple respects.  For example, USERRA applies to all public and private employers, irrespective of size.  Therefore, “an employer with only one employee is covered….” 20 C.F.R. § 1002.34(a).  In addition, USERRA contains an “escalator” requirement that returning service-members are reemployed in the job that they would have attained had they not been absent for military service with the same seniority, status, and pay, as well as other rights and benefits determined by seniority. See 20 C.F.R. § 1002.191.  Also, USERRA has no statute of limitations of any kind for claims that accrued after October 10, 2008 (and claims that accrued after October 10, 2004 probably are timely as well). See 38 U.S.C. § 4327(b); 20 C.F.R. § 1002.311.

Another distinction is that USERRA modifies at-will employment by creating a “for cause” standard of discharge for veterans who return to work after a month or more of military service.  If a veteran’s service was between thirty (30) and one-hundred and eighty (180) days, he or she may not be discharged except for cause for six (6) months following their return to work.  Veterans returning from more than one-hundred and eighty (180) days of service are afforded the same protection from discharge for one year. See 38 U.S.C. § 4316(c)(1) and (2); 20 C.F.R. § 1002.247(a) and (b).  To meet the burden—which is the employer’s—of showing “cause,” an employer must produce evidence demonstrating, not only that it was reasonable to discharge the employee for the conduct at issue, but that the employee had notice that the conduct would constitute cause for discharge. See 20 C.F.R. § 1002.248(a).  READ MORE

Decades Later, Questions Linger Over Disability Access Online, But ADA Litigation Continues

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When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, computers used floppy disks and the “World Wide Web” was still being tested by scientists at CERN.  So while the law’s drafters had a good sense of what access would look like in the physical world, they had no idea what sort of economic and social changes were in store with the birth of the Internet.

Fast forward to 2016, and the law is still murky as to disability access issues online.  But that uncertainty has not stopped the plaintiffs’ bar from filing lawsuits claiming that websites are inaccessible to users with disabilities and thus violate the ADA.

Many disabled individuals access the Internet using assistive technologies.  For example, blind individuals or those with low vision can use screen readers that read website content aloud for them.  Websites that are incompatible with assistive technology can create barriers for users with disabilities and give rise to costly and uncertain litigation.

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Germany’s Financial Regulator Establishes New Whistleblower Platform

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Last week, Germany’s Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) unveiled a centralized platform for receiving whistleblower complaints, including anonymous complaints, of alleged violations of supervisory provisions within the financial sector.  The move appears to represent a shift in German ideology toward a more favorable view of anonymous reporting, which for many years was discouraged in Germany and more broadly in the EU due to the risk of “organized systems of denouncement.”  Under the new program, whistleblowers may submit reports in writing (on paper or electronically), by phone (with or without recording the conversation), or verbally.  BaFin’s press release announcing the program states that it will make the anonymity of whistleblowers a “top priority,” and that it will not pass on the identity of whistleblowers to third parties.  The program is “aimed at person with a special knowledge of a company’s internal affairs – for example because they are employed there or have some other contractual relationship or relationship of trust with the company.”

BaFin was required to implement this new platform due to an amendment to the German Act on Financial Services Supervision.  Notably, the Act only applies to the financial services sector, not including external accountants, tax consultants and attorneys. It provides that employees working in the financial services sector may not be held liable for reporting potential or actual breaches of law under either employment law or criminal law, unless the report was false or grossly negligent.

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California Enacts New PAGA Amendments as Part of Governor’s Budget Bill

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The Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”) authorizes aggrieved employees to file lawsuits to recover civil penalties on behalf of themselves, other employees and the state of California for Labor Code violations. In January, Governor Brown submitted a budget proposal that sought greater oversight of PAGA claims and amendments to the PAGA statute. On June 15, 2016, the California Legislature approved Governor Brown’s budget proposal which included significant amendments to PAGA (Labor Sections 2698-2699.5). SB 836 went into effect on June 27, 2016 and provides:

  • The Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”), the agency which coordinates workforce programs by overseeing seven major departments that serve California businesses and workers now has 60 days to review a notice under Labor Code § 2699.3(a). Prior to the amendments, the LWDA had 30 days to review. Additionally, the time for the LWDA to investigate a claim is extended to 180 days (it was 120 days);
  • A Plaintiff cannot file a civil action until 65 days after sending notice to the LWDA (previously 33 days);
  • The LWDA must be provided with a copy of any proposed settlement of a PAGA action at the time it is submitted to the court;
  • A copy of the court’s judgment and any other order that awards or denies PAGA penalties must be provided to LWDA;
  • All items that are required to be provided to the LWDA must be submitted online, including PAGA claim notices and employer cure notices or other responses;
  • A $75 filing fee is required for a new PAGA claim notice and also for any initial employer response to a new PAGA claim notice. The filing fee may be waived if the party on whose behalf the notice or response is filed is entitled to in forma pauperis status; and
  • When a plaintiff files a new PAGA lawsuit in court, a filed-stamped copy of the complaint must be provided to LWDA. This requirement only applies to cases in which the initial PAGA claim notice was filed on or after July 1, 2016.

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