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Criminal Prosecution of Worker Safety Violations – New DOJ Initiative to Increase Criminal Enforcement of OSHA Matters

On December 17, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a major new initiative to increase the number of criminal charges in worker endangerment and worker safety cases. Although the DOJ and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have had a worker endangerment initiative for a number of years, the new changes are intended to bolster the likelihood and number of criminal prosecutions which historically have languished, according to DOJ, due to the OSH Act’s misdemeanor criminal provisions.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination Claims Not Available Under MHRA, But Availability of Sex Stereotyping Claims Still an Open Question

On October 27, 2015, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District issued an opinion holding that sexual orientation was not a protected category under the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) and, as a result, the plaintiff’s sexual orientation discrimination claim was not cognizable under Missouri law. See Pittman v. Cook Paper Recycling Corp., 2015 WL 6468372 (Mo. App. W.D. Oct. 27, 2015). However, Judge Gabbert wrote a lengthy dissenting opinion and the majority opinion identified but declined to reach the question of whether a claim for sexual orientation discrimination would be actionable under the MHRA if the claim is framed as a claim for unlawful sex-based stereotyping.

Spencer Fane Team Secures Court Order Striking St. Louis Minimum Wage Increase

On October 14, 2015, a St. Louis judge declared the city’s planned minimum wage increase invalid because it conflicts with the state minimum wage, currently set at $7.65 per hour. In August, the City of St. Louis passed an ordinance that would have eventually raised the minimum wage to $11.00 per hour by 2018. The first increase to $8.25 per hour was set to take effect on October 15, 2015.

4th Cir. Says It Is Unlawful to Fire Managers That Reasonably Refuse to Take Company’s Side During Internal Investigations

In DeMasters v. Carilion Clinic, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals clarifies what constitutes protected oppositional activities under Title VII and refuses to extend the FLSA’s “manager rule” to Title VII retaliation claims. This case serves as an important reminder to employers that managers relaying information about harassing conduct are protected by Title VII and cannot be disciplined for disagreeing with how the company is handling a particular complaint.

The Netflix Approach to HR – Could It Work for Your Company?

Here is a little food for thought for the week. As I’m sure many of you have read, Netflix has received much praise (and some criticism alike) for its approach to company culture, talent management, and HR issues.

The NLRB Redefines the Standard for Joint Employer Status

On August 27, 2015, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) issued its opinion in Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc. d/b/a BFI Newby Island Recyclery, and FRP-II, LLC d/b/a Leadpoint Business Services, and Sanitary Truck Drivers and Helpers Local 350, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 362 NLRB No. 186 (August 27, 2015), which overturned longstanding precedent regarding the standard for determining if a joint employer relationship exists.  

The DOL Announces Guidance on Wage and Hour Misclassification – Employees vs Independent Contractors

The Department of Labor recently released new guidance (Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2015-1) on how it will decide whether a worker is properly classified as an employee or an independent contractor. Although the factors discussed in the Administrator’s Interpretation are not new, the DOL’s broad reading of the term “employee” under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the heightened focus on the “economic realities” of the business relationship between the worker and the purported employer indicate that wage and hour misclassification will be an enforcement priority for the DOL going forward.

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.”

White Collars May Turn Blue: Prepare for New Rules on Overtime Eligibility

Responding to a call by President Obama last year, the U.S. Department of Labor this week issued a proposal to update the regulations governing which employees qualify for the “white collar” exemptions to federal minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. Currently those exemptions – for executive, administrative and professional employees – require the workers to meet job duties-related tests and receive a salary of at least $455 per week, or $23,660 annually. Certain computer and outside sales employees are also exempted.

Clarity for Colorado Employers: Colorado Supreme Court Decides that Marijuana Use is Not a “Lawful” Off-Duty Activity in Colorado

The Colorado Supreme Court has now heard and decided a case (Coats v. Dish Network) critical to Colorado employers in terms of whether the legalization of marijuana in Colorado mandates an exception to zero tolerance drug policies. The Court decided in favor of the employer, ruling that marijuana use, at least for medicinal purposes, is not a lawful off-duty activity for purposes of receiving protection under Colorado’s lawful activities statute even though state law has legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes. As a result, employers may continue to maintain and enforce zero tolerance policies that include marijuana within their scope.

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