On August 28, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division issued six new Opinion letters. Four of these opinion letters relate to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and two of the letters involve the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). As we noted in April (WHD Opinion Letters), Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta announced in 2017 that the agency would soon re-start the practice of issuing opinion letters, which the Obama Administration had discontinued. The new opinion letters are summarized below.
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).
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.
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”).
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.
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.
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”).
Relief for employers under the Trump Administration continues, following the U.S. Senate’s narrow confirmation of John Ring, former Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP attorney, to the National Labor Relations Board on April 11, 2018. The 50-48 Senate vote returned the five-member board to an employer-friendly composition of three Republicans and two Democrats and alleviates the log jam of the 2-2 split created when Board Member Phillip Miscimarra stepped down. On April 13, Ring became Chair of the Board, replacing Marvin Kaplan as Chair. Kaplan remains a member of the Board.
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.
On April 9, the full Ninth Circuit held that employers may not rely on an employee’s prior salary as a “factor other than sex” in defending against a claim under the Equal Pay Act. Rizo v. Yovino, No. 16-15372 (9th Cir. April 9, 2018) (found here). In making this determination, the court phrased the question before it concisely, asking “can an employer justify a wage differential between male and female employees by relying on prior salary?” The answer: a resounding “no.” The court further stated that the “text, history and purpose of the Equal Pay Act” do not allow an employer to rely on an employee’s prior salary to justify a wage disparity. Id.