On February 6, 2020 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld a Philadelphia pay equity ordinance banning employers from inquiring into prospective employees’ prior pay or relying on prior pay in making compensation decisions unless candidates knowingly and willingly disclose the information. In upholding the ordinance, the Third Circuit vacated a lower court decision that enjoined enforcement of the inquiry provision on the grounds that it violated employers’ First Amendment free speech rights. While the Third Circuit acknowledged that the ordinance implicated First Amendment rights, the court found that there was “a plethora of evidence” provided by the city to meet its burden of clearing intermediate scrutiny for commercial speech. Consequently, it was reasonable for the city to conclude that the inquiry provision would address gender and race-based wage gaps based on experiments, witness testimony, and historical research concluding as much. READ MORE
On February 7, 2020, Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller of the Eastern District of California issued a detailed order explaining the court’s January 31, 2020 grant of a preliminary injunction enjoining the State of California from enforcing AB 51.
As we explained in previous coverage, AB 51 was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2020, and would have prohibited mandatory workplace arbitration agreements. Under AB 51, employers may not, “as a condition of employment, continued employment, or the receipt of any employment-related benefit, require an applicant or employee to waive any right, forum, or procedure” for Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) and Labor Code claims. Violations of the new statute carry hefty consequences, including criminal penalties. READ MORE
On January 12, 2020, the Department of Labor announced a final rule to revise and update its regulations to assist in determining joint employer status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Notably, the final rule recognizes two potential scenarios where an employee may have one or more joint employers. READ MORE
This overview provides multinational employers practical advice to develop their coronavirus response strategy on an international level and to ensure a safe working environment for their employees under local employment and labor laws of Germany, France, Italy, UK and Japan. READ MORE
On Friday January 31, 2020, Judge Kimberly Mueller of the Eastern District of California granted a preliminary injunction blocking the enforcement of California Assembly Bill 51 (AB 51) to the extent it applies to arbitration agreements covered by the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16. AB 51 makes it unlawful to require workers or job applicants to enter into mandatory arbitration agreements covering claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act or the California Labor Code as a condition of employment or to obtain employment benefits. READ MORE
While world governments scramble to contain the spread of the coronavirus, businesses are fielding questions from employees who are concerned for their safety and protection in the workplace. As you develop your coronavirus response strategy, be mindful of employee privacy, anti-discrimination, and other employment law considerations. Ultimately, any actions employers take should be proportionate to the risks presented. Here are a few of the most common questions employers should ask and some practical tips. READ MORE
The German Federal Labor Court (Bundesarbeitsgericht – BAG) will rule on February 25, 2020 whether an employer must observe co-determination rights of the works council when using a Twitter account. READ MORE
New York State enacted the “Women on Corporate Boards Study” on December 30, 2019, with the goal of improving diversity on corporate boards. Effective June 27, 2020, the law requires the New York Department of State and Department of Taxation and Finance to conduct a study on the number of women who serve on boards of directors of companies doing business in New York State. To facilitate the study, the law requires foreign and domestic corporations to report to the Secretary of State the number of directors on their boards and to specify how many of those directors are women as part of the corporation’s filing statement.
The study will analyze the number of women directors and the total number of directors that constitute the board of each corporation, the change in the number of women directors from previous years, and the aggregate percentage of women directors on all boards in New York. The law also provides that the Department of State will publish a report regarding the study on or before February 1, 2022, with a new report required every four years thereafter.
The law is described as a “proactive approach to address historical inequality and end discriminatory practices,” with New York leading the way. In signing the legislation, Governor Cuomo stated, “[f]rom new pay equity laws to strongest-in-the-nation sexual harassment policies, New York is leading the fight for gender equality in the workplace—but our work won’t be done until women are better represented at the highest levels of organizations.” Cuomo further stated that the new study would “help shed light on the problem and guide the development of new policies to ensure more women have a seat at the proverbial table.”
The Growing National Trend in Board Diversity Efforts
New York is not the only jurisdiction to implement corporate reporting aimed at increasing board diversity. Illinois passed a corporate reporting law in August 2019, requiring corporations to include additional board composition information in annual reports submitted to the Secretary of State. The additional required information includes the gender of each board member, various processes for identifying and appointing executive officers, and the corporation’s policies and practices for promoting diversity and inclusion among its board and executive officers. Maryland also enacted reporting requirements effective October 2019, requiring certain corporations to include in their annual reports the number of women serving on the board of directors and the total number of board members.
This legislation follows in the footsteps of California’s first-of-its-kind law requiring women to be represented on boards. As we previously reported, in 2018, California passed a law requiring publicly held corporations based in California to have at least one woman director by the end of 2019. The law also provides that by the end of 2021, corporations with five or more directors on the board must have at least two female board members, and boards with six or more board seats must have at least three women board members. The law—currently being challenged on constitutional grounds—imposes significant penalties for failing to comply and calls for publishing the names of compliant and non-compliant companies.
Legislation to increase board diversity and to require corporations to report board diversity is a growing trend in response to the #MeToo movement. Employers should take heed of the growing interest in legislation aimed to increase board diversity and should remain on watch for developments in the jurisdictions where they operate. Indeed, board diversity has piqued Congressional interest, as exemplified by the House’s passage of the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act of 2019, which would require public companies to annually disclose the gender, race, ethnicity, and veteran status of their board of directors, nominees, and senior executive officers, and would require the Securities and Exchange Commission to establish a Diversity Advisory Group to study strategies for increasing gender, racial, and ethnic diversity among boards of directors. In addition, some companies are already taking the reins in pressuring businesses to increase board diversity: for instance, Goldman Sachs recently announced that it would not take companies public in the U.S. and Europe if they do not have at least one diverse board director.
On January 9, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) formally announced that the much-anticipated H-1B electronic registration process will be implemented for this year’s “H-1B cap” cycle. Accordingly, employers and prospective employers of foreign national employees in the U.S. will need to follow a new process in petitioning for H-1B employment visas and must take note of important updates to filing deadlines.
What is an H-1B Visa?
- In the realm of U.S. nonimmigrant employment visas, the H-1B is perhaps the most common and coveted. This is likely attributed in large part to the very limited number of U.S. employment visa options available to foreign nationals, including recent STEM graduates of U.S. universities who comprise a coveted talent pool.
- The H-1B is appropriate for foreign nationals who will work in “specialty occupation” positions in the U.S. (i.e. professional-level roles requiring at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a specific field of study). While there is no bulletproof list of qualifying positions, accountant, lawyer and scientist roles (requiring a degree in accountancy, law and science, respectively) might make a strong specialty occupation case; whereas roles in market research, computer programming and management consulting are likely to receive more scrutiny as to whether a specific degree at the bachelor’s level or higher could be considered a bona fide requirement.
The H-1B “Lottery”
- Each fiscal year there are 65,000 new H-1B visas available plus an additional 20,000 reserved for holders of U.S. Master’s degrees or higher.
- Given this numerical limitation, the number of annual applications for the visa from petitioning employers for their employees/prospective employees (“H-1B petitions”) typically greatly exceeds the supply. Indeed, for last year’s H-1B cycle, USCIS received over 200,000 petitions for the 85,000 available visas.
- Accordingly, H-1B petitions are regularly subject to a randomized lottery conducted by USCIS wherein only a portion of petitions received will be selected for further processing. This visa limit and lottery process are also commonly referred to as the “H-1B cap.”
- H-1B petitions selected for processing in the lottery then need to undergo a formal adjudication process wherein the merits of the H-1B petition—including the qualification of the offered position as a specialty occupation—will be assessed by USCIS under the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Ultimately, petitions selected in the lottery can either be approved or denied; H-1B denials have increased at a significant rate in recent years.
What is Changing?
- Historically, petitioning employers were required to submit full hard-copy H-1B petition filing packages within the first few days of April to the appropriate USCIS Service Center. Complete H-1B petitions typically consist of government filing fees, numerous forms completed and signed by the petitioner, a detailed supporting statement outlining the specialty position and the employee beneficiary’s qualifications, and a host of supporting documentation. Assuming USCIS received more petitions than visas available during the first five business days in April, the filing window would then close and the lottery would be run. Petitions that were not selected in the randomized lottery would be returned to employers (or their legal counsel) unadjudicated.
- Now under the new filing scheme, in lieu of mailing complete H-1B petition filing packages to USCIS in early April, employers (or legal counsel) must electronically register each individual H-1B application it seeks to enter into the lottery between March 1 and March 20, 2020. In the unlikely event ample registrations are not received by March 20, the registration window will be extended.
- The information collected by USCIS during the new electronic registration process will be limited to basic information pertaining to the petitioning company and employee beneficiary.
- Assuming ample registrations are received within the aforementioned window, which seems likely, the randomized lottery will then be conducted, and only cases selected in the lottery should then be mailed in full to USCIS for adjudication.
- While many employers may have early April engrained in their head as the standard annual H-1B filing deadline, it is most important to mark March 20, 2020 as the likely drop-dead deadline for entry into the H-1B lottery.
- Employers should also consider at what point within this window to file their registration(s) for applicable employees. While many may rush to file on March 1, government systems are far from immune to standard IT glitches, and some may prefer to take a wait-and-see approach for any issues that may pop up in early March with this new electronic system.
- It is most common to issue spot any problems with H-1B petitions through the preparation process. For example, if the job duties of the role can realistically be considered “professional” or if the employee possesses the requisite credentials to qualify for the specialty occupation. Given that minimal information will be collected during the electronic registration process, employers will need to consider how much time to invest in diligence upfront prior to submitting the registrations.
- While one of the clear benefits of the new electronic registration process is that employers may save the time/costs of preparing voluminous H-1B filing packages that would ultimately not be selected in the lottery for review, employers may nevertheless see benefit in preparing the petitions at present in the background, so they are ready to file the petition with USCIS quickly upon learning of a positive outcome from the lottery.
Ultimately preparation is key, and employers should consider this new process and impact to its workforce now in order to determine a plan of action, manage employee expectations and prepare for any hiccups during this inaugural year of the electronic registration process.
With the new year comes the likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court, and the Ninth Circuit will issue a number of significant decisions spanning a range of topics in the employment arena. In addition to the new California laws that have recently come into effect, covered here, California employers should watch these three litigation areas as well: READ MORE