The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced new proposed regulations today that, if adopted, will ban the use of noncompete agreements for most workers nationwide. The proposed Non-Compete Clause Rule will prohibit all employers – regardless of size – from imposing covenants not to compete on employees and independent contractors, with no carve-out available that would permit the use of noncompetes with executives or other highly-compensated workers. The rule is not yet in effect, and if enacted, it will not prohibit the continued use of properly drafted non-disclosure and non-solicitation clauses under federal law.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently replaced its existing “Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law” poster with a new “Know Your Rights: Workplace Discrimination is Illegal” poster, which is available to download and print here.
Today the United States Supreme Court issued a decision staying implementation and enforcement of the Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requiring employers with 100 or more employees to adopt policies mandating COVID-19 vaccination and testing, at least while legal challenges to the ETS proceed through lower courts. This means that for now, employers covered by the federal ETS are not required to comply with it.
Late on Wednesday, December 22, the United States Supreme Court announced that it will hear oral arguments on January 7, 2022, on several consolidated cases challenging the Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) issued by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requiring that employers with 100 or more employees adopt vaccine mandate and testing policies, as well as the vaccine mandate imposed on certain health care facilities under the Interim Rule issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
A Missouri-based federal judge issued an order today partially blocking the Biden Administration from implementing the emergency regulation issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on November 4, 2021, that mandated COVID-19 vaccination by January 4, 2022, for the employees and contractors of covered health care facilities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The order, known as a preliminary injunction, is temporary in nature, although it could eventually become permanent if the lawsuit is successful.
On November 4, 2021, OSHA issued its 490-page document setting out its Emergency Temporary Standard for COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, as published in the Federal Register at 86 Fed. Reg. 61402 (Nov. 5, 2021). The ETS requires covered employers to develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory vaccination policy by December 5, 2021, with all covered employees vaccinated by no later than January 4, 2022. Alternatively, the ETS permits covered employers to instead adopt a policy requiring employees to either get vaccinated or elect, in lieu of vaccination, to wear a face covering at work and undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. The ETS imposes many additional safety protocols, recordkeeping, and disclosure requirements for covered employers and employees beyond mandatory vaccination and testing.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission snuck in some pre-Halloween updates to its Technical Assistance Questions and Answers for COVID-19, Title VII, and other EEO laws. In this latest round, published October 25, 2021, the agency finally gave us additional guidance on how employers should handle requests for religious-based exceptions to mandatory vaccination requirements, more commonly known as “religious accommodation requests.”
Information for Construction, Transportation, Aerospace/Defense, and Other Industries
Last Friday, October 15, 2021, marked the date on which federal agencies were required to begin incorporating a clause compelling compliance with federal COVID-19 workplace safety protocols, including a vaccination mandate for covered workers, into certain existing and new federal contracts, as detailed in guidance issued by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force on September 24, 2021, pursuant to Executive Order 14042.
Sweeping New Federal COVID-19 Vaccination Mandates on the Horizon for American Employers and Employees
On September 9, 2021, the Biden Administration announced a new plan to use federal regulatory powers to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans. The thrust of the administrative initiative involves “substantially increas[ing] the number of Americans covered by vaccination requirements,” primarily through mandates that “will become dominant in the workplace.” The Administration estimates that these new mandates will affect over 80 million Americans eligible to be vaccinated but who have not yet gotten their first COVID-19 shot.
On January 14, 2021, President-elect Biden announced the “American Rescue Plan,” which is the new administration’s first emergency coronavirus and stimulus proposal. If passed, the plan will greatly expand the availability of paid leave and unemployment benefits to U.S. workers. Indeed, the new administration maintains that the plan could provide emergency paid leave to an additional 106 million Americans. To do so, the plan will impose significant new burdens on employers by, for example, closing certain loopholes that previously exempted large segments of employers from federal paid leave requirements.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
The U.S. Department of Labor/Wage and Hour Division has continued its practice of issuing opinion letters. It recently issued an opinion letter that addresses the question of whether an employee may take FMLA leave to attend a Committee on Special Education (“CSE”) meeting to discuss a child’s Individualized Education Program (“IEP”). See DOL Opinion Letter FMLA2019-2-A.
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.
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.
A recent Minnesota Supreme Court opinion demonstrates why employers should proceed with caution if they are considering whether to implement “split-day plans” or any other complicated pay practices that are seemingly authorized by the federal wage and hour laws. See In re Minnesota Living Assistance, Inc. d/b/a Baywood Home Care, Case No. A17-1821, 2019 WL 4456081 (Minn. 2019). Specifically, the Minnesota Supreme Court concluded that the employer was liable for $1.1 million dollars in back pay and liquidated damages because it violated the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act (“MFLSA”) by failing to pay employees overtime following implementation of a split-day plan.
All companies and organizations with Minnesota-based employees must update their employment policies and practices due to recent state law changes going into effect on July 1, 2019. These updates are necessary due to the Minnesota Legislature’s passage of a law imposing new recordkeeping and notice requirements intended to protect all employees working in Minnesota. These new requirements are catching many employers off guard due to the lack of publicity for the new law and the short period to achieve compliance.