On September 24, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced its final rule updating the earnings thresholds necessary to exempt executive, administrative, and professional employees from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. According to the DOL’s press release, “[t]he increases to the salary thresholds are long overdue in light of wage and salary growth since 2004,” and the DOL estimates that 1.3 million additional workers will be entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay as a result of the new regulations. READ MORE
Posts by: Michael Disotell
Inside-Out: CFTC Enhances Whistleblower Award For Internal Reporting
On May 6th, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) announced that it made a whistleblower award of approximately $1.5 million to an individual whistleblower. The individual provided information that assisted in the successful prosecution of a CFTC action and a related action brought by another federal regulator. In particular, the CFTC recognized that the whistleblower initially sought to report his or her concerns internally prior to reporting to the CFTC, and it enhanced the individual’s award as an incentive.
In making the announcement, the Director of CFTC’s Whistleblower Office Christopher Ehrman explained, “While there is no requirement that a whistleblower report internally before approaching the Commission, today’s award demonstrates that the Commission may pay enhanced awards to those that do – that is one of the positive factors set out in our rules for the Commission to consider in making its award determination.” Furthermore, the CFTC recognized that the information the claimant provided “was directly incorporated into strategy involving witness interviews, and his/her early assistance saved Commission resources through his/her explanation of a complex scheme.”
Since the beginning of the CFTC’s whistleblower program in 2014, the agency has awarded more than $85 million to whistleblowers.
IRS Reports Record $312 Million In Whistleblower Bounties
In February, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its FY 2018 Annual Report and announced a record-breaking year for the agency’s whistleblower program. Overall, whistleblowers provided information that contributed to the agency’s recovery of over $1.44 billion during the course of the year. As a result, the IRS awarded $312 million in bounty awards to whistleblowers in FY2018, an almost ten-fold increase from the $33.9 million in awards it made in FY2017. Of the 217 total awards the agency made to whistleblowers in FY 2018, 31 were mandatory awards under Internal Revenue Code section 7623(b) and 186 were discretionary awards under section 7623(a) (which applies to smaller cases). The average award percentage from the total amount collected was 21.7% – up from 16.6% in FY 2016 and 17.8% in FY 2017. READ MORE
Can You Hear The Whistle Blowing Outside: CFTC Makes First Ever Whistleblower Award To Company Outsider
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced earlier this month that it had awarded more than $2 million to an individual who provided “critical information through independent analysis of market data” contributing both to a successful CFTC action and related action brought by another federal regulator. The payout is the first of its kind for the CFTC because it is the first time the agency has awarded a whistleblower who was a company outsider. READ MORE
“Judges Are Appointed For Life, Not For Eternity”: SCOTUS Rules That Judge’s Vote in Equal Pay Case Does Not Count Due To Judge’s Passing
In April 2018, an en banc Ninth Circuit held in Rizo v. Yovino that an employer cannot justify a wage differential between male and female employees under the Equal Pay Act by relying on prior salary. Before the Ninth Circuit published its decision, though, Judge Stephen Reinhardt passed away. On February 25th, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s decision, reasoning that the appellate court should not have counted Reinhardt’s vote because he passed away before the decision was issued. Instead, the Ninth Circuit should not have released the opinion. READ MORE
All Aboard! California Law Requires More Female Representation on Boards of Directors
As part of its effort to close gender-based pay gaps, California will now require companies to increase female representation on boards of directors.
Currently, one in four publicly held corporations in California have no women on their boards of directors. SB 826, which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law at the end of September, requires that all publicly held corporations based in California have at least one woman director by December 31, 2019. That is not the end of the requirements; by December 31, 2021, companies with five authorized directors must have a minimum of two female board members, and companies with at least six directors must have a minimum of three females on the board. The California Secretary of State will publish the names of compliant and non-compliant companies on an annual basis. In addition to the “name and shame” provisions, non-compliant companies face fines of $100,000 for the first violation and $300,000 for subsequent violations.
The sponsors of the bill, Sens. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), stated when introducing the bill: “More women directors serving on boards of directors of publicly held corporations will boost the California economy, improve opportunities for women in the workplace, and protect California taxpayers, shareholders, and retirees. . . . Yet studies predict that it will take 40 or 50 years to achieve gender parity, if something is not done proactively.” The bill cites numerous independent studies stating that publicly held companies perform better in terms of profitability, productivity, and workforce engagement when women serve on their boards of directors. It follows the lead of Germany, France, Spain, Norway, and the Netherlands that have addressed the lack of gender diversity on corporate boards by instituting quotas requiring 30 to 40 percent of seats be held by female directors.
Gov. Brown noted in his signing letter that corporations have been considered “persons” for more than a century, so they should reflect the “persons” who make up America as a result. The California Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of other businesses opposed the bill and argued that the mandate is unconstitutional and a violation of California’s civil rights statutes. While Gov. Brown acknowledged that the law could face legal challenges, he noted that “recent events . . . make it crystal clear that many are not getting the message.” Therefore, he felt signing the bill into law was a necessary measure. No lawsuits have yet been filed.
In the meantime, California-based publicly held companies should act promptly to ensure that their boards of directors include the number of women directors needed to comply with the statute.
Belaboring The Point: Supreme Court Opens the Door to Dismantling Public Sector Union Membership in Janus v. AFSCME
Just over two years ago, after the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia but before the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch, the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked in a 4-4 tie over whether unions could require non-members to pay “fair share fees.” The case challenged the Supreme Court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education precedent that allowed public sector unions to force non-union members to pay fees covering the cost of collective bargaining so long as the workers were not made to pay for a union’s political or ideological activities.
Recently, in Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court returned to the issue. Ultimately, the Court held that allowing public sector unions to require non-union workers to pay fair share fees violates workers’ First Amendment rights, thereby overturning the Abood precedent.
Can You Hear The Whistle Now? SEC Proposes New Rule Amendments To Bolster the Bounty Program
On June 28, the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC” or “Commission”) voted to propose amendments to its whistleblower program. As SEC Chair Jay Clayton explained, the proposed changes would “strengthen the whistleblower program by bolstering the Commission’s ability to more appropriately and expeditiously reward those who provide critical information that leads to successful enforcement actions.” The SEC issued a press release outlining the proposed rules, which would: (1) provide the Commission with additional tools in making whistleblower awards; (2) clarify the requirements for anti-retaliation protection under the whistleblower statute; (3) provide interpretive guidance to help clarify the meaning of “independent analysis”; (4) increase efficiencies in the whistleblower claims review process; and (5) clarify various miscellaneous policies and procedures. READ MORE
Pulling the Plug: New York City Bill Would Give Workers the “Right to Disconnect”
It is now the norm to see passersby glued to their phones as they make their morning trek into work. And when those employees head home, they are often unable to “leave work at the office” as they continue to respond to evening messages, texts, and emails. Recent studies have shown that employees who spend time communicating about work matters and engaged in other work activities outside of working hours are less productive in the office and have a worse quality of sleep. Now, a novel bill introduced before the New York City Council seeks to end that practice by giving workers the ability to pull the plug on work communications during non-work hours.
Take It Outside: Supreme Court Unanimously Holds That Internal Reporting Is Not Protected Under Dodd-Frank
In the Supreme Court’s first decision interpreting Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower retaliation provisions, the Court unanimously held that internal whistleblowing is not protected under Dodd-Frank. The highly anticipated ruling resolves a circuit split between the Second and Ninth Circuits, which held that such reporting was protected, and the Fifth Circuit, which held that it was not. The Court sided with the Fifth Circuit’s textual reading and held that no Chevron deference to the SEC’s interpretation of the statute was warranted because the statutory definition of “whistleblower” was clear. READ MORE