Category Archives: employment law

Trumps Appoints NLRB’s Miscimarra

In case you missed it, late last week President Donald Trump  appointed Philip Miscimarra as the permanent head of the National Labor Relations Board, a role the Republican had been holding since Trump nominated him to temporarily fill the position shortly after his inauguration.

According to Reuters, Miscimarra, a former partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, was first appointed to the Board in 2013 by then-President Barack Obama “and has routinely broken with his Democratic colleagues on key labor issues.”

We first wrote about Miscimarra back in February, when legal experts weighed in on where they thought his appointment would take the board:

Michael Lotito, a partner and co-chair of the Workplace Policy Institute at Littler Mendelson, calls the appointment of Miscimarra the “first step” in a process of returning the board to balancing the rights of employees with the legitimate interests of employers as set forth in the National Labor Relations Act.

“Over the past five years, the NLRB has reversed over 4,500 years of precedent, often over the dissent of [new chair]  Miscimarra,” Lotito says. “Now, the new administration must appoint two new members to the Board to fill the vacancies that exist.  Hopefully, that will happen soon followed by quick confirmation. Only then, with the board at full strength, will it be able to tackle critical workplace issues needing a reasoned resolution.”

Steve Bernstein, a partner at Fisher Phillips in Tampa, Fla., says that, as the NLRB’s lone Republican for the past several months, Miscimarra  has authored some of the more vigorous and compelling dissents seen in some time:

“An examination of those dissents may offer a roadmap of what we might expect going forward, as the board moves toward a return to full strength,” he says.

A number of Miscimarra ‘s dissents call for greater clarity in the standards to be applied by his agency, Bernstein says, along with a more flexible approach to evaluating employer policies that takes into account the unique justifications for the policies themselves.

More recently, Miscimarra  has applied that “common-sense” approach to a number of NLRB doctrines, ranging from the employee status of graduate teaching assistants to the supervisory status of patient care coordinators, Bernstein says. Miscimarra, he adds, also has challenged controversial decisions invalidating binding arbitration provisions and limiting an employer’s right to insist upon confidentiality in workplace investigations.

“At the same time,” Berstein says, “he has openly questioned the NLRB’s apparent departure from long-standing precedent with respect to doctrine governing the use of permanent striker replacements, along with the test for joint-employer status.”

 

Trump Takes on H1-B Visas

President Trump is expected to sign a new executive order today “aimed at making it harder for technology companies to recruit low-wage workers from foreign countries and undercut Americans looking for jobs,” according to the New York Times.

The order is expected to be signed during the president’s visit to a Wisconsin toolmaker today, and is a continuation of Trump’s line of attack from his campaign.

From the Times:

As a candidate, Mr. Trump often assailed the government’s H-1B visa program, under which the government admits 85,000 immigrants each year, mostly to work in high-tech jobs. Mr. Trump pledged to end the program, which he said was allowing companies to fire Americans and replace them with lower-cost foreign employees.

The president’s order, according to officials who spoke to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity, seeks changes to the program that would require applicants and their potential employers to demonstrate that the visas are going only to “the most highly skilled workers” in their fields.

As a result,  the H-1B visa would no longer be a cheap way for companies to replace American workers. But technology executives, who have argued that the program is vital to their ability to recruit talent, are likely to be frustrated by the change:

Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a research group sponsored by several tech companies, predicted in January that a crackdown on H-1B visas would be counterproductive.

“The effect would end up being exactly the opposite of what Trump wants,” he said. “Companies would go offshore, like Microsoft did with Vancouver, Canada,” to seek talent.

Earlier this week, Peter Cappelli, an HREonline.com columnist and Wharton professor, posted a column on the topic of H1-B visas and whom the program really benefits:

When we talk about programs like this one, the question of whether it is “good” or “bad” for the country is almost impossible to answer objectively. What we can answer is, good for whom and bad for whom? A new study by John Bound, Gaurav Khanna and Nicolas Morales  examines that question, and the results should be familiar to anyone who has studied supply and demand.

So who benefits?

The companies that employ them, leading to lower prices for the goods and services they produced and in turn benefits for consumers.

Who loses?

U.S. employees in computer science see their wages lower as a result. Here’s the finding that may be a surprise: College enrollment in IT programs declines when the H1-B visa program expands. Why should that be? Because there aren’t as many IT jobs available to U.S. workers, and wages for them are lower, so some students would otherwise pursue that field go elsewhere.

Cappelli says that, while the notion of bringing in foreign workers to make up for worker shortfalls makes sense in smaller countries, it doesn’t work in the U.S.:

Young people in particular are constantly trying to figure out where the jobs will be, colleges hunt for job-market niches where they can attract students and workers move thousands of miles if there are good jobs available. What we know from this study — which parallels what we learned years ago in fields such as nursing — is that bringing in foreign workers slows down the process through which the U.S. labor market adjusts to new demands.

That seems to be the case for the H1-B program and the IT industry.

Cappelli says the fact that so many U.S. IT companies seem so reliant on these foreign temp workers points to a definite problem here. It remains to be seen how Trump’s anticipated order will solve that problem.

 

Trump Nixes ‘Blacklisting’ Rule

The Trump regulation rollback parade rolled over a few more Obama-era rules on Monday, including the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule.

(As colleague Mark McGraw noted in a previous post on the uncertain fate of the rule Obama signed in 2014, the regulation was put on hold by an October 2016 court order determining that it exceeded congressional limits.)

The rule had been aimed at forcing government contractors to disclose violations of federal labor laws as they sought more work, according to the Washington Post. The “blacklisting rule” required contractors to disclose violations of 14 federal labor laws, including those pertaining to workplace safety, wages and discrimination.

The White House argued the rule would “bog down” the federal procurement process, according to the Post report, while business groups said that it would increase compliance costs, adding that Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration have made curbing government regulation a top priority this year.

 

CNN reports the rollback was sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican who argued the rule had the potential to blacklist some government contractors. Foxx said that the rule allowed the Labor Department to deny business to contractors based on “alleged” violations.

“Under this rule, bureaucrats can determine employers are guilty until proven innocent and then deny them the ability to do business with the federal government,” Foxx said.
The White House said in a February statement that Trump intended to sign the bill.
“The administration strongly supports the actions taken by the House to begin to nullify unnecessary regulations imposed on America’s businesses,” read the statement of administration policy.

 

Dozens of resolutions pulling back various Obama-era rules have been introduced under an expedited process established through the Congressional Review Act, the Post notes. Under that process, a regulation is invalidated when a simple majority of both chambers pass a joint resolution of disapproval and the president signs it.

 

 

Supreme Court Rules on NLRB

The  Supreme Court decided 6-2 today to uphold a lower court’s ruling that then-President Barack Obama exceeded his legal authority with his temporary appointment of a National Labor Relations Board general counsel in 2011, meaning former NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon improperly held that position for nearly three years while his nomination to assume the General Counsel role fulltime was pending.

The Court specifically found that Solomon’s service as the Acting General Counsel while his nomination was being considered violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

“This ruling effectively invalidates Solomon’s three-year tenure as the Acting General Counsel from 2010 to 2013,” writes David J. Pryzbylski, a partner at Barnes and Thornburg in a post on the National Law Review.

The lawsuit arose when Southwest Ambulance challenged an unfair labor practice complaint that had been filed against it by Solomon when he was Acting General Counsel, Pryzbyiski says. The Court’s conclusion that Solomon was not appropriately in that role means that the complaint against Southwest Ambulance was invalid.

So what does this ruling mean for employers? According to a statement on Fisher Phillps’ web site, the only sure thing is that Southwest, the employer in this case, is off the hook for the unfair labor practice charge.

The Court’s opinion, the firm says, is a modest victory for employers “who are protected from overreaching presidential appointments, such as the long-term, temporary NLRB General Counsel designee in this case who served without the advice and consent of the Senate.”

Firing Someone over Politics

With conflict between President Trump supporters and detractors still at a fiery pitch, and with his protested inauguration still in the rearview mirror, this recent post on the Littler site might prove helpful.

In it, a boss in Sacramento, Calif., is asking the San Francisco-based employment law firm whether an employee can be fired, or at least disciplined, after the boss “saw one of my employees on the local news the other night participating in a political rally over the weekend.”

“Can I at least institute a policy prohibiting this kind of behavior going forward?” the boss asks.

Well, it all depends, Littler’s Zoe Argento writes, “on the employee’s location, the legality of his conduct, the employee’s contract, the nature of your business and the characteristics of the individual.” But best advice: Probably not a good idea and tread very carefully.

There are some state laws that prohibit employers from taking adverse action against employees because of their off-duty lawful political activities. So know your state’s laws on this. According to Argento:

“In California, employers may not coerce employees, discriminate or retaliate against them, or take any adverse action because they have engaged in political activity. Similar prohibitions exist in other states, including Colorado, Louisiana, New York, South Carolina, and Utah. Connecticut actually extends First Amendment protection of free speech to the employees of private employers. Some of these laws provide exceptions for public or religious employers or for off-duty employee conduct that creates a material conflict with respect to the employer’s business interests. Under such laws, and absent some exception, the proposed termination or demotion of this employee because of his lawful, off-the-clock political activity would be illegal.”

Also, Argento points out, at least three states — California, Louisiana and Colorado — prohibit employers from adopting any policy, rule or regulation that forbids or prevents employees from engaging or participating in politics or from running for office.

On the federal level, she says, firing or disciplining workers who engage in rallies, protests, marches or any other polticial activity could run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act, which provides that “employees shall have the right … to engage in … concerted activities for the purpose of … mutual aid or protection.” She continues:

“The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted this provision to mean that employees may organize as a group to “improve their lot” outside the employer-employee relationship. Employees’ participation in political advocacy would therefore be protected if it relates to labor or working conditions. Such advocacy can include contacting legislators, testifying before agencies or joining protests and demonstrations. If the means used are not illegal, an employer would generally be barred from retaliating against employees who participate in these political activities outside the workplace.

“Depending on the nature of the activities your employee engaged in and his role in your organization, it may violate the NLRA to penalize him. If the employee participated in a rally concerning sick leave, minimum wage, or immigration reform, for example, that conduct would likely be protected.”

Argento signs off with some sound practical advice, that a decision to terminate or discipline an employee “should be based on an objective assessment of both the individual’s job performance and your business needs.” She writes:

“If the employee is otherwise a solid performer, and if his behavior does not interfere with the operation of your business, an adverse employment decision may be difficult to explain, undermine morale in your workforce, and, on balance, have more negative than positive results.”

Rule of thumb, she signs off, “proceed with caution” before penalizing employees for lawful, off-duty poitical activities, whether they’re frustrating to you or not.

LGBTQ Protections Spared — For Now

Given the combative tone of the first week of the Trump administration (at least as it related to Mexicans, Muslims and the media) it may have come as a surprise to some to learn President Trump will maintain workplace protections for gays and lesbians instituted during the Obama administration, according to multiple news reports.

“The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump,” the administration said in a statement.

USA Today reported that gay rights groups had expressed concern that Trump would reverse that order, but White House aides said such a step has not been contemplated. Drafts of proposed orders to roll back the Obama order had circulated through Washington in recent days, which caused concern among LGBTQ activists and others.

The Washington Post’s coverage includes a statement from Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in which he says he and other activists remained concerned that the new administration could still undermine other legal protections based on sexual orientation or gender identify:

“Claiming ally status for not overturning the progress of your predecessor is a rather low bar. LGBTQ refugees, immigrants, Muslims and women are scared today, and with good reason. Donald Trump has done nothing but undermine equality since he set foot in the White House,” Griffin said. “Donald Trump has left the key question unanswered — will he commit to opposing any executive actions that allow government employees, taxpayer-funded organizations or even companies to discriminate?”

The New York Times first reported the decision by the White House to stick with the Obama-era protections.

 

Philly Bans Salary Questions

Philadelphia, well known as this country’s Cradle of Liberty, may soon become known as a Grave of Salary Questions.

According to this Associated Press report, Philadelphia has joined other cities and municipalities that have banned employers from asking potential hires to provide their salary history, a move supporters say is a step toward closing the wage gap between men and women.

(The story notes that similar salary history bans have been introduced in New Jersey, and the city councils of New York City and Pittsburgh as well as the District of Columbia. In November, New York City stopped asking applicants for municipal jobs what they currently earn, and earlier this month Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order banning state entities from asking about pay history. Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s delegate to Congress, has sponsored similar legislation in Congress.)

Mayor Jim Kenney (Democrat) signed the measure on Monday, and said he’s confident the bill can withstand legal challenges, likely led by Philadelphia-based Comcast.

“I know that Comcast and the business community are committed to ending wage discrimination, and I’m hopeful that moving forward we can have a better partnership on this and other issues of concern to business owners and their employees,” he said. “This doesn’t need to be an either/or argument — what is good for the people of Philadelphia is good for business, too.”

However, the report notes, Comcast and the Chamber of Commerce see the bill as yet another roadblock to Philadelphia-based businesses:

“The wage equity ordinance as written is an overly broad impediment to businesses seeking to grow their workforce in the City of Philadelphia,” Rob Wonderling, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an opinion piece to a city business journal this month, adding it “infringes upon an employer’s ability to gain important information during the hiring process.”

Comcast had urged the mayor to veto the bill or face legal challenges, according to a legal memo obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this month. The memo said the law would violate employers’ First Amendment rights to ask potential hires about their salary history.

Comcast referred questions to the Chamber of Commerce for AP’s story.

 

 

Landmark Ruling on the Horizon?

A new landmark ruling affecting how employers view sexuality when considering applicants could soon be in the offing, according to Reuters.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments tomorrow in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, in which a former Ivy Tech adjunct professor, Kimberly Hively, claims the college refused to allow her to interview for a full-time job and ultimately did not renew her contract because she is a lesbian.

The case , Reuters notes, gives the 7th Circuit a historic opportunity to fix what three of its own judges have called “a jumble of inconsistent precedents” and a “confused hodge-podge of cases.” If the full appellate court sides with Hively and her lawyers from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, gays and lesbians will finally receive protection under federal law from workplace discrimination.

Lambda Legal lawyer Kenneth Upton told Reuters:

“Sexual orientation doesn’t have anything to do with employees’ ability to do their job,” Upton said. “It shouldn’t be a determiner of whether you should continue to be employed.”

The Hively case spotlights a weird legal paradox, according to the Reuters piece.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids employers from treating workers unequally on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. A plurality of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1989’s Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins that employers cannot discriminate against workers who don’t conform to sex stereotypes.

Yet as a three-judge panel at the 7th Circuit explained last summer in its since-vacated Hively opinion, every federal appellate court to have considered the question of whether employers can discriminate based on workers’ sexual orientation has concluded that Title VII’s bar on sex discrimination doesn’t give redress to gays and lesbians.

Upton added that three-judge panels at the 5th and 2nd Circuits are also facing the question, so ultimately, it will probably be up to the Supreme Court to provide an answer.

 

The EEOC Enforcement Agenda

Earlier this week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued its updated enforcement guidance on national origin discrimination.

(The EEOC also issued two resource documents to accompany the guidance: a Q & A publication on the guidance document and a small business fact sheet designed to illustrate the guidance’s chief points in plain language, according to the organization.)

The new guidance defines national origin discrimination as “discrimination because an individual (or his or her ancestors) is from a certain place or has the physical, cultural or linguistic characteristics of a particular national origin group.”

The documents also address Title VII’s prohibition on national origin discrimination as applied to a broad range of employment situations and highlight practices for employers to prevent discrimination, as well as discussing legal developments since 2002, when the EEOC issued the national origin discrimination compliance manual section that these new guidelines are intended to replace.

“EEOC is dedicated to advancing opportunity for all workers and ensuring freedom from discrimination based on ethnicity or country of origin,” says EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang, in a statement.

“This guidance addresses important legal developments over the past 14 years on issues ranging from human trafficking to workplace harassment. The examples and promising practices included in the guidance will promote compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws and help employers and employees better understand their legal rights and responsibilities.”

This announcement comes just weeks after the EEOC unveiled its Strategic Enforcement Plan for fiscal years 2017 through 2021. One pillar of this plan is the agency’s expanding focus on protecting immigrant and migrant workers, such as those who are Muslim or Sikh or persons of Arab, Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, as well as those perceived to be members of these groups, as HRE’s Julie Cook-Ramirez noted earlier this month.

Of course, the EEOC’s new guidelines and its stated strategy for the next five years arrive almost exactly two months before the scheduled inauguration of President-Elect Donald Trump, who stands to significantly shake up the agency’s agenda.

In a recent blog post at www.law360.com, law professor Michael LeRoy explains how the incoming president could very well upend the EEOC’s enforcement agenda with regard to national origin (and other forms of) discrimination.

“Trump’s popularity derives in no small measure from people who are tired of ‘political correctedness,’ ” writes LeRoy, a professor in the School of Labor and Employment Relations and College of Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This concept is generally found in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations that prohibit employers from creating a ‘hostile work environment.’ ”

That term applies to sexual harassment, but racial, religious and national origin harassment as well, adds LeRoy.

“A Trump EEOC could redline ‘hostile work environment,’ thereby signaling that no federal employment policy prohibits the type of degrading language that Trump has used against women, Mexican, Muslims and other groups.”

For that matter, President Trump will have the opportunity to appoint high-ranking personnel that could in turn impact staffing decisions throughout the EEOC, potentially shifting the agency’s enforcement priorities, as Seyfarth Shaw attorneys recently pointed out.

In addition to the possibility that President Trump could designate a new EEOC chair, the agency will see General Counsel David Lopez leave at the end of 2016.

“[Lopez’s] impending departure means that President Trump will have an early opportunity to appoint his successor,” Seyfarth attorneys wrote. “These leadership changes at the highest levels of the EEOC will undoubtedly impact the direction the agency takes in the future.”

A Trump administration could also signal budgetary constraints for the EEOC, which may alter the way the agency approaches enforcement of discrimination guidelines.

“Historically, the EEOC adapted by focusing its enforcement efforts on systemic litigation, meaning targeting high-impact cases that address policies or patterns or practices that have a broad impact on a region, industry or entire class of employees or job applicants,” Seyfarth attorneys note. “The theory was that large, high-profile cases, settlements and judgments would have a greater deterrent effect, and would therefore affect a larger number of workers and industries.”

Faced with the possibility of fewer resources and new personnel, however, the EEOC of the near future could be forced to find “new and creative ways to adapt its enforcement program (and its own political viability) to the new reality.”

 

Retaliation for ‘Playing by the Rules’

There’s a troubling new HR-centric theme spinning out of the Wells Fargo illicit-accounts mess, according to today’s New York Times: A group of aggrieved Wells Fargo workers who say they faced retaliation in some form from their employer — by being either fired or demoted — for staying honest and falling short of sales goals they say were unrealistic.

These workers who claim that they played by the rules and were punished for it, the NYT reports, are starting to coalesce around two lawsuits that were just filed and that seek class-action status:

The first was filed in Los Angeles last week by former Wells Fargo workers who say that while their colleagues created unauthorized accounts to meet cross-selling quotas, they were penalized or terminated for refusing to do the same. The bank’s chief executive, John Stumpf, has often stated his goal that each Wells customer should have at least eight accounts with the company. That aggressive target has made the bank’s stock a darling on Wall Street, the lawsuit notes.

The story notes that a federal lawsuit with analogous claims was filed on Monday in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, seeking to create a class of current and former Wells employees across the country who had similar experiences.

“These are the people who have been left holding the bag,” said Jonathan Delshad, the lawyer representing the workers in both suits. “It was a revolving door. If you weren’t willing to engage in these types of illegal practices, they just booted you out the door and replaced you.”

One of those people, Yesenia Guitron, told the paper that she did everything the company had taught employees to do to report such misconduct internally. She told her manager about her concerns. She called Wells Fargo’s ethics hotline. When those steps yielded no results, she went up the chain, contacting a human resources representative and the bank’s regional manager:

In a statement on Monday, Wells Fargo said: “We disagree with the allegations in the complaint and will vigorously defend against the misrepresentations it contains about Wells Fargo and all of the Wells Fargo team members whose careers have been built on doing the right thing by our customers every day.”

No matter the ultimate resolution to this dark chapter of the venerable bank’s history, this latest twist to the story should serve as a reminder to HR leaders to ensure that the processes they have put in place to catch illicit activity in the workplace are actually doing their jobs.