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Paul D. Satterwhite

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Spencer Fane attorney Paul Satterwhite

DOL Proposes New Rule to Better Define Independent Contractor Status

On September 22, 2020, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued proposed regulations that are intended to clarify the standard for determining whether a worker qualifies as an independent contractor for Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) purposes. See RIN 1235-AA34 (Independent Contractor Status under the Fair Labor Standards Act).

Colorado’s Paid Sick Leave Law

On July 14, 2020, Governor Jared Polis signed the “Healthy Families and Workplaces Act” (“HFWA”). Last month, we discussed the emergency COVID-19 provisions here. The emergency provisions are effective from July 15 to December 31, 2020. In this Part 2, we will discuss the paid sick leave provisions of HFWA that go into effect January 1, 2021.

DOL-WHD Releases FLSA, FMLA, and FFCRA Guidance Relating to COVID-19 and Work From Home Issues

During the week of July 20th, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor published new guidance for employers, focusing on compliance under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) in the midst of the pandemic (See FLSA Q&A, FMLA Q&A, and FFCRA Q&A).

Colorado Passes Paid Sick Leave and Whistleblower Laws

On July 14, 2020, Governor Jared Polis signed the “Healthy Families and Workplaces Act” (“HFWA”).  Several provisions of this law are effective immediately (July 15, 2020), and require paid sick leave specifically for COVID-19 related issues.  Starting January 1, 2021, the HFWA will require that most employers provide their employees with up to 48 hours of paid sick leave per year.  This article is Part 1 of a two-part series, and focuses on the immediately effective laws relating to COVID-19. We will discuss the details of the general paid sick leave in Part 2.  Governor Polis also recently signed the Public Health Emergency Whistleblower Law (“PHEW”), effective July 11, 2020, which we will discuss briefly below.

Supreme Court Expands “Ministerial Exception” to Employment Discrimination Laws

On July 8, 2020, the Supreme Court expanded the scope of the “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination statutes. This exception is grounded in the First Amendment’s protections for religious institutions. In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the Court considered two cases involving elementary school teachers in Catholic schools who alleged that they were terminated in violation of federal employment discrimination law. Seven justices joined the majority opinion of the Court, holding that “When a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.” A link to the full decision of the Court can be found here.

SCOTUS Holds That Title VII Prohibits Discrimination Because of Sexual Orientation and/or Transgender Status

On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court held that Title VII’s prohibition of “sex” discrimination also prohibits discrimination because of sexual orientation and transgender status. See Bostock v. Clayton County, Case No. 17-1618 (Slip Opinion). Therefore, “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.” Id. at pg. 1.

OSHA Refines Stance on COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Enforcement

On May 19, OSHA issued two enforcement memos regarding COVID-19.  The first of these memos revised OSHA’s requirements for employers as they determine whether individual cases of COVID-19 are work-related.  The second enforcement memorandum OSHA issued on May 19 revised OSHA’s policy for handling COVID-19-related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports.  These two memos are summarized below.

Summary of Recent Agency Activity on Employment-Related COVID-19 Issues

Last week (April 4-12), several federal agencies issued updated guidance for employers on issues relating to COVID-19, including:

EEOC Updates COVID-19 Guidance

On April 9, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) updated its guidance for employers entitled “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” found here. Previously issued guidance explained that employers may, under pandemic conditions, ask employees about whether they are experiencing certain symptoms. The EEOC further stated that employers may also implement other measures to protect against spread of COVID-19 due to the novel coronavirus in the workplace. The guidance further noted that if employers do receive health information from employees, the information must be maintained confidentially, and consistent with other requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).

COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Family Medical Leave: Updated Department of Labor FAQs

The Department of Labor (the “DOL”) issued FAQs regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “FFCRA”) and has updated its FAQs multiple times by adding questions to the same document.  The FAQs can be found here. The most recent update occurred on March 28, 2020 and addressed many of employers’ questions that were initially left unanswered in the FFCRA and the initial FAQs.

COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Family Medical Leave: An updated notice and more from Department of Labor

As of Friday, March 27, the Department of Labor has issued an updated notice on its website, as well as responses to additional questions about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”). The new notice can be found here: FFCRA Poster.[1]  The updated notice clarifies that employees may have a total of up to 12 weeks of leave, paid at 2/3 of pay, to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) due to COVID-19 related reasons.

COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Family Medical Leave: Updates from Department of Labor

On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”). We outlined the key provisions of this law here. Since the publication of our original article, the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, which will enforce the new law, has published updated guidance about the new law. The Department has now clarified that the law will officially take effect on April 1, 2020, and applies to leave taken between April 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.  The new law also requires that employers post notice regarding the new law, and a model notice has been published. It can be found here.

COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Family Medical Leave: Key Provisions

On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which goes into effect no later than April 2, 2020.  The new law imposes sweeping new emergency paid leave and expanded family medical leave requirements for employers nationwide.  Here is a summary of the key provisions affecting employers:

Coronavirus is a Recordable Illness According to OSHA

According to recent OSHA guidance, COVID-19 (i.e., the coronavirus) is subject to the agency’s Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements at 29 CFR 1904.  This means that employers who are subject to the OSHA recordkeeping and reporting rules must include and log employee illnesses related to the coronavirus when an employee is infected on the job.  So while the common cold and Flu are exempt from work-related exposures, the coronavirus is not.

NLRB Issues Final Joint Employer Rule

The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) has updated its joint employment rule (the “Final Rule”).  The Final Rule, which will be published in the February 26, 2020 Federal Register effectively overturns the joint-employer standard established in the 2015 Browning-Ferris Industries decision, which expanded the definition of joint employer based on indirect or limited control.  NLRB Chairman John Ring explained that “[t]his [F]inal [R]ule gives our joint-employer standard the clarity, stability, and predictability that is essential to any successful labor-management relationship and vital to our national economy.”    

Fluctuating Laws: DOL Announces Proposed Fluctuating Workweek Regulations

On November 5, 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published a proposal to revise regulations governing the fluctuating workweek method of calculating overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). This method of calculating overtime may apply if certain conditions are met. These conditions include that the employees paid under this method work fluctuating hours, and they and their employers agree that the employees are paid fixed salary for all hours worked plus an overtime premium. There are very specific requirements for utilizing this method, but utilizing the method in a compliant manner can be complicated due to the need to calculate the regular rate of pay for every week in which the employee works more than 40 hours. Additionally, some state laws prohibit use of this method.

Agency Developments at the Department of Labor: The Fair Labor Standards Act

In the summer of 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) made headlines when Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta resigned. President Trump then nominated Eugene Scalia for the position, and Mr. Scalia was sworn in as Secretary of Labor on September 30. In recent months, the Senate also confirmed Cheryl Stanton as Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division.

DOL Releases Final New Overtime Rules – Effective January 1, 2020

On September 24, 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued the final rule (the “New OT Rules”) that updates and revises the regulations which govern the exemptions from minimum wage and overtime pay requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Employers should carefully review the New OT Rules and the explanatory commentary. See Final Rule Announcement. The New OT Rules are set to become effective on January 1, 2020.

Implementing Individual Arbitration Agreements Does Not Violate NLRA, Even If Done After Collective Action is Filed

As previously discussed on Spencer Fane Human Resource Solutions, an employer can lawfully require its employees to sign individual arbitration agreements with class action waivers as a term and condition of their employment. See Employee Class Action Waivers Held Enforceable (May 22, 2018).  However, even if individual arbitration agreements with class action waivers are not, as a general rule, unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), can an employer require its employees to sign such an agreement after a collective or class action lawsuit has already been filed against it? The National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) recently said yes in Cordúa Restaurants, Inc., Case 16-CA-160901 (August 14, 2019).

SCOTUS Holds that Title VII’s Charge-Filing Procedures Are Subject to Waiver

On June 3, 2019, the Supreme Court held that filing a charge of discrimination is not a “jurisdictional” prerequisite to filing suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See Fort Bend County v. Davis, Slip Op. No. 18-525 (June 3, 2019).  Although this case deals with what sounds like an obscure legal issue, it is of great practical importance to employers. In short, it means that employers defending against claims of discrimination under Title VII must diligently assert all procedural defenses they may have as early as possible. Otherwise, a failure to assert a defense may allow the plaintiff-employee’s claim to go forward, even if the employee has not technically complied with Title VII’s mandatory charge-filing procedures.

DOL Publishes Proposal Interpreting Joint Employer Status

On April 1, 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published its third proposal in 30 days to revise regulations interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The April 1 proposed rule would revise and clarify the test for when multiple employers (known as “joint employment”) can be held responsible for wages under the FLSA. The notice and full text of the rule can be found here.

DOL Publishes Proposals Interpreting “Regular Rate of Pay” in Overtime Regulations

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers must generally pay non-exempt employees overtime at a rate of one and one half times the “regular rate” of pay when they work more than forty hours in a workweek. Overtime cannot be properly calculated unless the employer knows what to include in the regular rate.  As benefits, bonuses, reimbursements and other elements of compensation have evolved, greater ambiguity has developed in determining what is included in and excluded from the regular rate.  On March 29, 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published a proposal (found here) to clarify and update several regulations that interpret the regular rate of pay requirement.

DOL Publishes Proposal on New White-Collar Exemption Regulations

On March 7, 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published a long-awaited proposal for revising the regulations relating to the white-collar exemptions from overtime and minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”), DOL has proposed increasing the threshold salary amount for certain white-collar exemptions from its current $455 per week (or $23,660 per year) to $679 per week, or ($35,308 per year). In 2015, DOL had proposed increasing this threshold to over $47,000 per year ($913 per week). As we reported here, that proposal was blocked by a federal court in Texas in late 2016.

FAA Not Applicable to Contracts with Transportation Workers, Even If They Are Independent Contractors

In New Prime, Inc. v. Oliveira, the United States Supreme Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) does not apply to contracts with independent contractors in the transportation industry. This decision is very important for transportation companies because, to the extent a contract with any transportation worker contains a mandatory arbitration provision, the arbitration provision is not covered by, and is no longer enforceable under, the FAA.

Missouri Minimum Wage Set to Increase Starting January 1, 2019

On November 6, 2018, Missouri voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of amending the Missouri Minimum Wage Law (“MMWL”) to increase the state-wide minimum wage. Therefore, effective January 1, 2019, the Missouri minimum wage rate will increase to $8.60 per hour and will keep increasing each successive year until 2023 when the increases will stop at the target minimum wage rate of $12.00 per hour. Employers must begin the process of budgeting for and implementing these changes ahead of the effective date of the first increase. Employers should also be aware of the non-wage-rate related changes that the law implements. However, the wage increases do not apply to “public employers.”

Missouri’s Medical Marijuana Amendment Creates New Issues for Missouri Employers

On November 6, 2018, Missouri’s voters approved a medical marijuana ballot initiative, Amendment 2, while rejecting two competing medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot.  This constitutional amendment empowers doctors to authorize patients to buy medical marijuana for the treatment of a variety of conditions. It likewise provides that dispensaries may sell marijuana for medicinal purposes.  Amendment 2 does not cover recreational use of marijuana, which is currently allowed in nine states.  Missouri is the 31st state to legalize medical marijuana. While Amendment 2 authorizes use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, this is not a “free pass” for employees.  Amendment 2 does not allow employees to use marijuana while working, on the employer’s premises, or to work while impaired by marijuana use that occurred prior to the employee’s work shift.  With that said, the passage of Amendment 2 will likely create multiple issues of varying complexity for Missouri’s employers for years to come, including:

Corporate Entity Formation Is Not Dispositive on “Employee” Status Under the FLSA

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently provided an important reminder to employers about the pitfalls that can occur when attempting to determine whether workers are employees or independent contractors. The court held that individual workers who personally perform janitorial cleaning services could be found to be employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), even if those workers have formed corporate entities and entered into franchise agreements with a franchisor See Acosta v. Jani-King of Okla., Inc., Case No. 17-6179, 2018 WL 4762748 (10th Cir. Oct. 3, 2018).  The holding in Jani-King  emphasizes the principle that forms and labels are not the deciding factor in determining whether a worker is considered an “employee” for FLSA purposes. Under current law, administrative agencies and/or the courts will make a determination as to “employee” status under the FLSA by examining the totality of the circumstances in light of the factors stated in the “economic realities test.”

Fair Credit Reporting Act – New Summary of Consumer Rights Forms Now Required

All entities and individuals required to provide “consumers” with a notice of rights pursuant to Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) section 609 are now required to use the updated summary of rights forms authored by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”). See Interim Final Rule (83 FR 47027). Companies that use background check reports for employment purposes are subject to this rule.

Changes to Missouri’s Public Sector Labor Law Impacts Employers, Unions, and Employees

A new law, making it easier for Missouri public employees to opt out of both union membership and paycheck deductions funding political advocacy work, goes into effect on August 28, 2018. The new law, a victory for public sector employers, effectively enacts “right-to-work” protections for public sector employers, despite the fact that voters rejected right-to-work generally for the state of Missouri (see Missouri Right to Work is Overwhelmingly Rejected by Voters, Spencer Fane HR Solutions August 15, 2018). Therefore, public sector employers should review the new law and determine what steps need to be taken in order to comply with it upon the forthcoming effective date. (See Full Text of Law Here).

Missouri Right to Work is Overwhelmingly Rejected by Voters

By a greater than two to one margin, Missouri voters rejected the Right to Work Act passed early in the legislative session.  The law was supported and signed by former Missouri Governor Greitens.  With strong local and national union backing and a ton of dollars, the unions led the effort first to get the issue on the ballot with more than 300,000 petition signatures and then to defeat the measure soundly at the polls. 

DOL Rescinds Persuader Rule

On July 17, 2018, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) officially abandoned the “Persuader Rule” by filing a notice of rescission in the Federal Register. The rescission is expected to become effective on or about August 17, 2018 (i.e. 30 days after the rescission notice is published in the Federal Register). This rescission gives employers and certain legal service providers more certainty as to whether their business dealings are subject to the reporting requirements of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (“LMRDA”).

Janus v. AFSCME – Mandatory Agency Fees Unconstitutional for Public Sector Unions

On June 27, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States issued what may be one of its most impactful decisions of the 2017/2018 term in Janus v. American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, Case No. 16–1466.  In its opinion, found here, the Court held that laws requiring public sector workers who are not union members to pay union dues would be compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment. This decision reverses nearly forty years of federal precedent, and declares unconstitutional a host of state laws which allow such fee arrangements. It also has significant implications for the manner in which public sector unions collect their dues.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision – Bakery Owner Wins, But on Narrow Grounds

On June 4, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its highly anticipated decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Case No. 16-111. In its opinion, found here, the Court vacated an administrative order entered by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (“CCRC” or the “Commission”) against the bakery, which had refused to sell custom wedding cakes to same-sex couples on the grounds that doing so would violate the owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs. The Court made it clear that judges and administrative officials violate a litigant’s constitutional rights if they engage in conduct that displays hostility toward a particular set of religious beliefs. But the majority opinion left many questions unanswered. It remains to be seen if a business owner may refuse to do business with a prospective customer because of the customer’s sexual orientation when the refusal is based on a sincerely held religious belief.

Employee Class Action Waivers Held Enforceable

On May 21st, the United States Supreme Court held that the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) does not prohibit employers from requiring workers to agree, as a term and condition of their employment, that they waive the right to bring class or collective actions, and will individually arbitrate employment-related legal claims.  Epic Sys. Corp. v. Lewis, U.S., Case No. 16-285 (Slip Opinion, May 21, 2018). This decision resolves a high profile conflict, in which the National Labor Relations Board and some federal courts had found that the NLRA prohibits enforcement of arbitration agreements containing class action waivers. The Court’s decision makes clear that the NLRA does not prevent the enforcement of an arbitration agreement that is otherwise valid under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). 

New WHD Opinion Letters Provide Guidance to Employers

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) issued three new opinion letters for the first time since 2010.  The Obama administration had ceased the practice of issuing opinion letters – which answer specific questions from employers or other parties – in favor of general administrative interpretations.  Last June, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta announced that he was reinstating the practice of issuing opinion letters for the Trump administration.  This announcement was praised by businesses and employment lawyers because the opinion letters apply the law to a specific set of facts and represent official statements of agency policy.  In addition to the new letters, WHD republished 17 letters the Obama administration rescinded following their original publication late in the Bush administration.

NLRB Issues Two Landmark Decisions: Return to Original Joint-Employer Standard & New Handbook Policy Review Standard

On December 14, 2017, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) issued two landmark decisions. Both are of note because they directly and substantively address two issues that have vexed employers for a number of years: (1) When can two separate and distinct corporate entities be treated as joint-employers for NLRA purposes? and (2) When is a work rule or handbook policy unlawfully overbroad under the NLRA?

Right to Work Enacted in Missouri

Governor Greitens signed the Missouri Right to Work Bill on February 6, 2017. See Missouri Senate Bill 19. It becomes effective on August 28, 2017 and applies to any new collective bargaining agreements or renewals, extensions, amendments, or modifications after the effective date.

Court Halts New Overtime Rules on Nationwide Basis

Just as employers across the nation were bracing for the new rules governing white-collar exemptions to the overtime laws (“the New OT Rules”), a federal district court in Texas blocked the Department of Labor from implementing them. The New OT Rules—which drastically increased the minimum salary threshold for employees classified as exempt under the executive, administrative and professional employee exemptions—were set to take effect on December 1, 2016.

DOL’s Persuader Rule Permanently Enjoined on a Nation-wide Basis by Texas District Court – May Be Sign of Things to Come for Other DOL Regulations

On November 16, 2016, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Lubbock Division) entered an order holding that the Department of Labor’s Persuader Advice Exemption Rule is unlawful and should be set aside pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 706(2). The Persuader Rule regulations are now subject to a permanent nation-wide injunction and the DOL will be prohibited from enforcing the regulations unless and until the district court’s order is revised or reversed on appeal.

Getting Ready for the Presidential Election – Voting Leave Law

With the Presidential Election just days away, employers need to be ready to accommodate workers who may want or need to leave during the workday to cast their votes. The purpose of this blog post is to help employers prepare for the anticipated surge of political activity by providing a summary of the voting leave laws for the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.

Department of Labor Releases New Overtime Rules

The long anticipated DOL overtime rules have been issued. On May 18, 2016, the Department of Labor released the Final Rule governing the “white-collar exemptions” to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (“FLSA”) overtime pay requirements. These long-awaited regulations will have substantial implications for most employers. The final rule is set to become effective on December 1, 2016.

DOL Guidance on Joint-Employer Standard Raises a Red Flag for Businesses

On Wednesday, January 20, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) released an administrator’s interpretation that is intended to provide guidance to employers on the WHD’s position on the joint-employer standard under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.

The EEOC Weighs In on Sexual Orientation and Title VII

On July 16, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued a 3-2 decision finding that under Title VII, sex discrimination includes actions based on sexual orientation. The decision involved an appeal from a Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) dismissal of a sexual orientation discrimination complaint. The issue before the EEOC was whether a complaint alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation in violation of Title VII lies within the EEOC’s jurisdiction. Apparently buoyed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on same sex marriage, the EEOC unequivocally answered that question with a resounding “Yes.”