NLRB Attempts to Make an End Run Around Courts Invalidating its Rulings on Arbitration Agreements

FootballOn October 28, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) issued its decision in Murphy Oil USA Inc., once again attempting to prohibit employers from requiring employees to enter into agreements to arbitrate employment disputes if those agreements preclude collective or class action litigation. As we have blogged about in the past, this new decision runs contrary to an overwhelming majority of federal district and appellate court decisions rejecting and criticizing the Obama NLRB’s previous attempt to so extend the law.  A copy of the Murphy Oil USA decision can be found here.

In Murphy Oil, the NLRB split 3-2 along party lines, with the majority finding that gas station chain Murphy Oil’s arbitration agreements were unlawful.  In so doing, the NLRB reaffirmed its controversial January 2012 DR Horton ruling, where the Board ruled that such agreements conflict with employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act.  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused the enforce the Board’s order, and the NLRB declined to seek review from the U.S. Supreme Court.  In what some might say is refusing to take “no” for an answer, the NLRB is trying to resurrect its DR Horton decision.

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Washington Supreme Court Finds Employer’s Discretionary Bonus Not Unlawful “Rebate” Under Wage Rebate Act (“WRA”)

In a 5-4 decision, the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in an employer’s favor and clarified what are, and are not, statutory “wages” and unlawful wage “rebates” under Washington State’s Wage Rebate Act (“WRA”), RCW 49.52 et seq.  The case is LaCoursiere v. CamWest Development, No. 88298-3 (Wash. Oct. 23, 2014) (slip op.).  Camwest Development (“CamWest”) was represented by Stoel Rives attorneys Jim Shore and Karin Jones.

CamWest, a real estate development company, created an optional bonus program via individual written contracts with its participating managers. The bonus program was intended to provide the potential for larger manager bonuses in profitable years, but it also carried a downside risk of smaller, or no, bonuses in leaner years.  Participating managers’ contracts made expressly clear that the decision whether or not to award an annual bonus, and the amount of any bonus, was in CamWest’s discretion.  Managers did not have to participate in this higher reward/higher risk bonus program and could instead choose to receive a safer, set bonus.  Managers who chose to participate in the optional bonus program were required by its terms to contribute a percentage of each annual bonus into a capital account in a separately formed managers LLC.  The LLC would in turn loan money to CamWest to be invested in real estate projects that CamWest would develop.  The hope and intention at the time was that this arrangement would yield higher profit and bonuses for participating managers. Manager contributions to the LLC vested at 20% per year.

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Seven Steps for Employers to Address the Ebola Threat (Step 1: Don’t Panic!)

This might be too much.  But be prepared.

This might be too much. But be prepared.

The recent outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa, with the few isolated cases occurring in the United States, is spurring employers to review their emergency response plans for pandemic preparedness.  In seven steps, this writing sets forth best practices for pandemic preparedness, considerations regarding travel during a pandemic, and addressing employees’ immediate concerns without running afoul of relevant employment laws.

1.        Don’t Panic and Stay Informed

With any emergent threat, accurate and reliable information is critical; with a pandemic threat, not having accurate and reliable information causes panic.  Note that as of this writing, the current Ebola outbreak has not been declared a pandemic (meaning, a global epidemic), but employers should monitor communications from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for up-to-date information.

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“Freaky Fast” Oppression? Jimmy John’s Should Reconsider its Approach to Blanket Noncompete Agreements

Most competent employment lawyers with experience pursuing and/or rebuffing enforcement of noncompetition agreements know that enforcement against low level workers is highly unlikely.  If recent news reports are true, Jimmy John’s apparently never got that memo.

According to reports in The New York Times, The Oregonian and the Huffington Post, the restaurant franchise is requiring all workers, including sandwich makers, to sign broad noncompetition agreements that restrict their employment opportunities for two years after leaving their cushy, highly technical jobs at Jimmy John’s.

Let’s start with the understanding that courts don’t like noncompetition restrictions, which limit a worker’s ability to pursue his career as he sees fit.  Courts use a variety of tools to limit the enforcement of those clauses.  Although courts use different terms to describe it, almost every decision analyzing enforcement of a noncompetition agreement talks about whether the former employer has a “protectible interest.”  In layman terms that means, is there something legitimate that the former employer actually needs to protect by restricting the post-termination employment opportunities of its former employees?  Customer relationships, knowledge of the company’s confidential or trade secret information, or specialized training provided by the former employer are often found to be sufficient “protectible interests” to justify enforcement of a contract clause which limits the worker’s future employment opportunities.  If there is no “protectible interest,” a court won’t enforce the agreement.

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Video Interview: Discussing California’s Paid Sick Leave with LXBN TV

My colleague Bryan Hawkins recently discussed California’s new paid sick leave law with Colin O’Keefe of LXBN. You can catch the interview on the clip below. As Bryan noted in his original post, California is the second state in the nation (after Connecticut) to enact a state-wide law requiring most employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, marking the latest development in a growing trend that has seen similar paid sick leave laws enacted in other jurisdictions, mostly at the city level.

California Court of Appeal Rules Employers Must Reimburse Employees For Work Calls on Personal Cell Phones

The California Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service, Inc.  was simple.  When employees must use their personal cell phones for work, California law requires employers to reimburse them, regardless of whether the cell phone plans are for limited or unlimited minutes.  This decision, however, could have a wide ranging impact on California employment law.

The plaintiff in Cochran sought to bring a class action lawsuit against his employer based on his employer’s alleged failure to reimburse him and similarly situated employees for use of their personal cell phones for work-related calls.  The superior court denied plaintiff’s motion for class certification, finding that the claim was not suitable for class treatment because individual issues predominated.  Specifically, the superior court reasoned that the defendant employer’s liability to prospective class members depended on individual factual issues such as whether employees paid for the cell phone plan themselves, whether employees purchased different cell phone plans because of their work cell phone usage, or whether employees suffered any “actionable expenditure or loss,” i.e., loss of cell phone minutes.

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California Enacts State-Wide Paid Employee Sick Leave Law

iStock_000011905991SmallOn September 10, 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1522 (the “Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014”) and made California the second state in the nation (after Connecticut) to enact a state-wide law requiring most California employers to provide paid sick leave to employees.  This marks the latest development in a growing trend that has seen similar paid sick leave laws enacted in other jurisdictions in recent years, mostly at the city level, including in Seattle in 2012, in Portland, OR in 2013, and in Eugene, OR in 2014.

Under the California law, most California employees who work 30 or more days within a year will accrue one hour of paid sick leave at their regular rate of pay for every 30 hours worked.  The law also imposes new notice and recordkeeping requirements onto California employers.

The law allows employees to carry over accrued paid sick days from one year to the next.  Employers, however, are allowed to limit an employee’s use of paid sick days to 24 hours or three days a year and to cap accrued paid sick leave at either 48 hours or 6 days.  While an employer is not obligated to pay out accrued but unused paid sick leave at termination, if an employee separates from an employer and is rehired within one year from the date of separation, previously accrued and unused paid sick days must be reinstated.  If an employer already has a paid leave policy or paid time off policy, it is not required to provide additional paid sick days under the new law so long as its existing policy satisfies certain requirements, including making available an amount of leave that may be used for the same purposes and under the same conditions as specified in the Act.

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World of Employment Blog Launches New Responsive Design and Enhanced Reader Features

Dear World of Employment Blog readers. We’ve been blogging since 2008, and while our commitment to keep you informed on major employment law developments hasn’t changed, technology certainly has. Six years ago, it was still a desktop- and RSS-dominated world. Today, more and more of you are reading our posts on tablets and smartphones. As readers ourselves, we understand your need for news on-the-go and at your convenience.

So we’re very excited to announce to you today a completely new – and improved – blog design, along with new feature sets we think will enhance your content experience.

  • First, World of Employment Blog now uses a responsive design format. So no matter where – or on what device – you visit us, you can be assured of a consistent, clean and crisp reader experience.
  • Second, we’ve added new social sharing features to our posts. With easy-to-read social icons, sharing World of Employment blog posts with your social networks is now a snap.
  • Third, we’ve improved our content subscription options. We’ve expanded the number of RSS subscription feeds, optimized the look and feel of our email subscription service, and added links to our Twitter feed as an alternative content consumption option.

We hope you find these changes useful. Thanks again for visiting and keeping us among your must-read bookmarks!

California Supreme Court Clarifies When a Franchisee’s Employees Can Bring Employment Claims Against the Franchisor in Taylor Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC

In Taylor Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, the California Supreme Court restricted the ability of a franchisee’s employees to sue the franchisor based on theories of vicarious liability and the theory that the franchisor was an “employer” under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). With this decision, franchisors can breathe a sigh of relief as the Supreme Court’s decision could have opened the flood gates for employment claims brought by employees seeking a recovery from the perceived “deep pocket” franchisor.

The plaintiff in Taylor alleged that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor while employed at a Domino’s Pizza franchise owned and run by a company called Sui Juris. She subsequently filed suit against her supervisor, Sui Juris, and the franchisor, Defendant Domino’s Pizza Franchising, LLC (“Domino’s”). Plaintiff’s claims against Domino’s were premised on the theory that Domino’s was her and her supervisor’s employer.

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9th Cir. Finds FedEx Delivery Drivers Are Employees, Not Contractors

Last week, the 9th Circuit held in two related cases from California and Oregon that FedEx misclassified approximately 2,600 delivery truck drivers as independent contractors, rather than as employees. The cases—Alexander v. FedEx and Slayman v. FedEx—are an important reminder for employers that reality matters more than labels when it comes to classifying workers. 

On that note, the most succinct (and most memorable) summary of the rulings appears in Judge Trott’s short concurrence in Alexander:

“Abraham Lincoln reportedly asked, ‘If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?’ His answer was, ‘Four. Calling a dog’s tail a leg does not make it a leg.’ . . . Labeling the drivers ‘independent contractors’ in FedEx’s Operating Agreement does not conclusively make them so . . . .”

The two cases dealt with virtually identical facts. FedEx’s Operating Agreement (“OA”), which principally governed its business relationships with the 2,300 California drivers and 363 Oregon drivers in each class, contained several generalized clauses that suggested the drivers were independent contractors. For example, the OAs provided that “the manner and means of reaching [the parties’ “mutual business objectives”] are within the discretion of the [driver], and no officer or employee of FedEx . . . shall have the authority to impose any term or condition on the driver . . . which is contrary to this understanding.” The two opinions noted, however, that neither California nor Oregon law views a contract’s description of a worker as an independent contractor as dispositive of the worker’s true status.

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