IRS Guidance On Delay in Implementing Pay-or-Play Penalties of ACA Health Care Reform Law

The IRS issued Notice 2013-45 recently, the official guidance document explaining the one-year delay in the implementation of the employer pay-or-play penalties under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("PPACA") health care reform.

As announced in a Treasury blog, the IRS has delayed for one year the information reporting requirements (found in sections 6055 and 6056 of the Internal Revenue Code) that apply to insurers, self-funded plans, government agencies and large employers regarding health plan coverage.  This purpose of this delay is to allow the IRS addition time “for dialogue with stakeholders in an effort to simplify the reporting requirements”  and for employers and other reporting entities to “develop their systems for assembling and reporting the needed data.”  Since the collection of this information crucial for the IRS’ determination of an employer’s liability for pay-or-play penalties will not occur in 2014, the IRS has announced that it will not impose pay-or-play penalties for 2014.  In the Notice, the IRS states that it expects that proposed regulations on the information reporting requirements will be issued later this summer.

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OSHA Issues Interim Final Rules on Whistleblower Protection Provisions Under ACA

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an interim final rule and request for comments regarding procedures for handling employee whistleblower complaints under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Section 1558. This part of the ACA added a new Section 18c to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which protects employees from retaliation for exercising certain rights under the ACA, including (1) receiving a federal tax credit or subsidy to purchase insurance through the employer or a future health insurance exchange, (2) reporting a violation of consumer protection rules under the ACA (which, for instance, prohibit denial of health coverage based on preexisting conditions and lifetime limits on coverage), and (3) assisting or participating in a proceeding under Section 1558.

The interim final rule states the time frames and procedures for bringing a whistleblower complaint under Section 18c and covers the investigation, hearing, and appeals processes. An employee has 180 days from the date of the alleged retaliation to bring a whistleblower complaint to the Secretary of Labor. Where a violation is found, remedies can include reinstatement, compensatory damages, back pay, and reasonable costs and expenses (including attorneys’ fees). If the employee brought the complaint in bad faith, an employer may recover up to $1,000 in reasonable attorneys’ fees.

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Circuit Split Remains As To Possible Employer Remedies Under Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)

There is a growing divide in the federal circuit courts of appeal over whether the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (the “CFAA”)—a criminal statute that permits victims to bring civil actions against violators—reaches certain conduct by departing employees. The U.S. Supreme Court was poised to potentially resolve the dispute when an employer filed a petition for writ of certiorari stemming from a decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. But on January 2, 2013, the parties settled the case and filed a stipulation under the Supreme Court’s Rule 46 dismissing the petition. We will have to wait until another case comes along to see if the Supremes will resolve the split. Until then, employers need to pay attention to the decisions coming out of the circuits in which they operate to know whether they may have a claim under the CFAA against departing employees who take proprietary computer information with them upon their departure.

Courts Disagree About What The CFAA Says

The CFAA prohibits accessing and obtaining information from a “protected computer” (i.e., any computer used in or affecting interstate commerce or communication) “without authorization” or in a way that “exceeds authorized access.” 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C). Employers often face situations where employees, prior to their departure from employment, copy proprietary files for their own use or to benefit their new employer. Usually, these employees were technically authorized to access the computer system and its files, but certainly were not permitted under company policy to copy those files for the purpose of using them outside of their employment with the company. Besides other causes of action, employers have increasingly sought to bring civil claims under the CFAA, arguing that accessing the files for the purpose of copying them and using them to benefit a competitor was unauthorized in the first instance, or certainly exceeded otherwise authorized access.

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New Hiring Obligations for Federal Service Contractors Effective January 18, 2013

Although it’s almost been four years since it was issued in January 2009, Executive Order 13495, known as “Nondisplacement of Qualified Workers Under Service Contracts” (74 Fed. Reg. 6103) has not had much impact upon government contracting employers. That is about to change as the final rule and regulations that will make Executive Order 13495 enforceable go into effective January 18, 2013.  

What Executive Order 13496 Says

Executive Order 13495 requires most federal service contractors (including subcontractors)under a contract that succeeds a contract for performance of the same or similar services at the same location to offer the predecessor contractor’s employees a right of first refusal of employment under the contract for those positions for which they qualify. The requirement imposed by the Executive Order does not require a successor contractor to hire all of its predecessor’s employees. Successor contractors may still reduce the size of the workforce and give first preference to certain members of its own workforce (those employees that have worked for the successor contractor for at least three months and face layoff if they are not employed on the new contract). Certain contracts are exempt from this hiring obligation and waivers may be granted by senior procurement executives in limited circumstances.

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UPDATE: NLRB Postpones Posting Rule Indefinitely

In response to two federal court cases we previously blogged about here and here, the NLRB has indefinitely postponed implementation of its notice posting rule pending appeals in both of those cases.  The bottom line is that no employer needs to post the notice for the time being.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear the NLRB’s appeal of an emergency injunction that court issued against the rule, but the hearing will not occur before September 2012.  In the trial court ruling in that case, the judge found the NLRB's posting rule valid, but its enforcement provisions invalid.  The NLRB is also appealing the South Carolina federal trial court decision we previously blogged about, in which a judge deemed the NLRB's entire posting rule invalid.  No schedule has yet been set for the South Carolina appeal.

See the NLRB’s statement about this issue here.

UPDATE: DC Court of Appeals Delays Implementation of NLRB Posting Requirement

The NLRB’s new posting rule, which would apply to virtually all private sector employers, was scheduled to go in effect on April 30, 2012.  Yesterday, we blogged about a South Carolina federal trial court decision striking down the posting rule.  More good news for employers arrived today, as the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued an emergency injunction preserving the “status quo” and delaying implementation of the NLRB’s posting rule until that Court of Appeals determines its validity.  The D.C. trial court had previously determined the posting rule was valid (contrary to the South Carolina case) but that its remedies were invalid.  Oral argument in the D.C. appellate case is currently estimated to occur in September 2012.  A copy of the D.C. Court of Appeals injunction decision is here.

 

We now have two courts that have stymied the NLRB posting rule.  It is still unknown whether the NLRB will appeal the South Carolina and D.C. Court of Appeals decisions.  But for now, absent an emergency appeal, it appears that the NLRB’s posting rule will, at a minimum, be delayed for several months.  We will keep you “posted” as developments occur.

South Carolina Federal Court Holds NLRB's Notice Posting is Unlawful

As previously blogged here, a federal court located in the District of Columbia upheld the National Labor Relations Board's (“NLRB”) rule requiring nearly all private sector employers, whether unionized or not, to post a notice to their employees about certain employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act.  While upholding the rule, that federal court did at least strike down the rule’s main enforcement provisions.  A copy of that federal court decision is here.  As we blogged then, another legal challenge to the NLRB’s rule was also pending in a South Carolina federal court.  That decision is now here, and it is a good one for employers.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce challenged the NLRB’s rule.  On April 13, 2012 (perhaps Friday the 13th from the NLRB’s perspective), the federal judge in that South Carolina case ruled that the NLRB’s entire posting rule is invalid, finding the NLRB exceeded its authority when it required employers to post notices explaining workers’ rights to form a union. In his ruling, the South Carolina federal judge said the NLRB lacked the legal authority to issue the notice and thus the rule was not lawful.  “Based on the statutory scheme, legislative history, history of evolving congressional regulation in the area, and a consideration of other federal labor statutes, the court finds that Congress did not intend to impose a notice-posting obligation on employers, nor did it explicitly or implicitly delegate authority to the Board to regulate employers in this manner,” the court ruled.

Many labor law professionals feel that the NLRB has become overly aggressive in supporting and expanding union rights during the Obama administration.  This sentiment is especially strong in a conservative state like South Carolina, which also was at the center of a now-settled dispute between the NLRB and Boeing over Boeing’s decision to move production of its 787 Dreamliner airplane from Washington State to South Carolina.  The South Carolina federal judge appears to agree that the NLRB is becoming overly aggressive, stating, “The Board also went seventy-five years without promulgating a notice-posting rule, but it has now decided to flex its newly-discovered rulemaking muscles.”  A copy of the South Carolina decision is here. Its authority is technically legally limited to that particular court, but because of its import we expect it to have an effect nationally as the NLRB seeks to regroup and rethink what it will do.  If the NLRB does not appeal the South Carolina court’s decision, the ruling will stand and, from a practical perspective the posting requirement will be invalidated nationally.  But most pundits anticipate that the NLRB will file an appeal over the South Carolina decision.

The bottom line is that we now have two conflicting federal court rulings on the issue, and await the NLRB’s decision on whether it will appeal the South Carolina ruling, and/or delay implementation of its previously stated April 30, 2012 posting deadline.  Stay tuned.

NLRB Posting Requirements - Update

Update: A federal trial court in the District of Columbia has upheld the notice posting requirement in the National Labor Relations Board's (“NLRB”) recently issued final rule requiring nearly all private sector employers, whether unionized or not, to post a notice to their employees about certain employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act. To view the Court's decision, click here.  The court also held, however, that the rule’s main enforcement provisions, including making an employer’s failure to post a per se unfair labor practice, are invalid. Unless this decision is overturned or another court finds the rule to be invalid, the notice posting requirement will still take effect April 30, 2012. An appeal is likely in the District of Columbia case, and at least one other court challenge is pending in South Carolina.


For additional information regarding the NLRB's rule and posting requirement, including links to the rule and the poster employers must post, see our prior discussion on this topic by following this
link.

Are Remedies Available to Working Moms Who Experience "Lactation Discrimination"?

For many new moms returning to work after the birth of a child, pumping breast-milk is considered to be a necessary evil.  Necessary because pumping ensures that these mothers’ babies can continue to experience the many benefits of breast-milk, and helps the mothers to maintain their milk supplies, relieves painful engorgement, and prevents potentially serious medical conditions like mastitis.  Evil because, well, it is not exactly fun to do, especially if the workplace is not supportive.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that full-time work for new mothers is “significantly associated with lower rates of breastfeeding initiation and shorter duration,” due primarily to workplace barriers such as “a lack of flexibility for milk expression in the work schedule, lack of accommodations to pump or store breast-milk, concerns about support from employers and colleagues, and real or perceived low milk supply.”  Click here to view CDC's report.

One mother recently faced with this predicament is Donnicia Venters, who alleged in a federal lawsuit that her employer fired her while she was on maternity leave when she inquired about using a back room in the office to pump milk upon her return from leave.  The EEOC brought suit on Ms. Venters’ behalf in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, asserting sex discrimination claims against the employer under Title VII.  See EEOC v. Houston Funding II, Ltd., Case No. 4:11-cv-02442 (S.D. Tex.).  Title VII makes it “an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discharge any individual . . . because of such individual’s . . . sex.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII to state that “‘because of sex’ … include[s] … because of … pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions ….” 42 U.S.C. §2000e(k).

United States District Judge Lynn N. Hughes (who is a male, for the record) recently granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, ruling that “[f]iring someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sex discrimination.”  In a rather conclusory fashion, the court reasoned that “lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition” and that any “pregnancy-related conditions” experienced by Ms. Venters ended on the day she gave birth to her daughter.  To see the full opinion click here.

In the few short days since it has been issued, this ruling has garnered much critical attention.  As many commentators have pointed out—and this seems quite obvious—only women can lactate, and lactation does not usually happen in the absence of childbirth.  The ruling therefore strikes many as illogical—how can firing someone for lactation or breast-pumping not be because of sex or a childbirth-related medical condition?  The EEOC has stated that it is considering whether to appeal the ruling.  The issue therefore remains far from settled. It remains to be seen whether the appellate court, or other judges who might be faced with this issue, will come to a different conclusion than Judge Hughes did.

Pumping mothers also have a new legal protection that Ms. Venters did not have when she gave birth to her baby in 2008.  Effective March 23, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as the Healthcare Reform Act) amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to require employers to provide a nursing mother break time to pump.  Specifically, covered employers must provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast-milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth, each time the employee has need to express milk.  See 29 U.S.C. § 207(r).  Employers must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast-milk.  Id.

There are, of course, several limitations to this protection.  The FLSA amendment does not require employers to pay employees for such break time.  Id.  The requirements also do not apply to employers with less than 50 employees, if such requirements would impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.  Id.

Under this amendment, nursing mothers who experience “lactation discrimination” in the workplace might now have a remedy—albeit a limited one—under the FLSA.  The FLSA makes it illegal for an employer to “discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to [the FLSA].”  29 U.S.C. § 215.  In most jurisdictions, this provision applies to any employee who complains about an FLSA violation, either formally to an administrative agency, or informally to the employer.  A nursing mother who complains about her employer’s failure to provide reasonable break time for her to pump would therefore be protected by this anti-retaliation provision in the FLSA.  As the language of this anti-retaliation provision makes clear, however, the employee must actually complain to the employer in order to be protected.  Thus, if Judge Hughes’ opinion turns out to be the prevailing view and lactation is not protected under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act or Title VII, there is still a gap in protection, even with the FLSA amendment.  Nursing mothers who are simply fired for pumping at work before ever complaining about an employer’s FLSA violation would have no remedy.  In this scenario, a legislative amendment to Title VII, or legislation at the state level, might be the only potential source of protection.

In fact, many states have attempted to fill the gaps in protection for nursing mothers by passing their own legislation. A complete list of state laws enacted to protect breastfeeding can be found hereOf the states where Stoel Rives has offices, California, Oregon, and Minnesota each have laws that require employers to provide breaks for women to breastfeed or pump. To the extent these state laws are more robust than the FLSA amendment, they are not preempted.  see 29 U.S.C. § 207(r)(4).

Update - New Rule Requires Employers to Post Notice of Employee NLRA Rights

In order to allow more time for legal challenges to its notice-posting rule to be resolved, the National Labor Relations Board has again postponed the rule's effective date, this time to April 30, 2012.  Stay tuned.

For additional information regarding the NLRB's new rule and posting requirement, including links to the new rule and the poster employers must post, see our prior post on this topic by following this link.

Stoel Rives World of Employment Voted a Top 25 L&E Law Blog!

The results are in, and based on the votes from you, our readers, Stoel Rives World of Employment was selected as a LexisNexis Top 25 Labor and Employment Law Blog of 2011! See hereWe would like to take this opportunity to thank our readers for the initial nomination and the subsequent votes that made this distinction and honor possible. We hope you will continue to frequently check in on us as we continue to provide up to date and timely information, news items, expert anaylis, and helpful tips for employment and labor law practictioners.

Thanks again!

-Your Stoel Rives World of Employment Bloggers.

New Rule Requires Employers to Post Notice of Employee NLRA Rights

Your bulletin board full of required workplace postings just got more crowded. The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) has issued a final rule that will require nearly all private sector employers, whether unionized or not, to post a notice to their employees about certain employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). The notice must be posted by no later than November 14, 2011 (now postponed until January 31, 2012, see update below).  The new rule is one of many new developments arising from the current NLRB’s implementation of the Obama administration’s labor policy.

This new notice is a form designed by the NLRB. Among other things, it contains:

 

·         A summary of employee rights under the NLRA, including the right to discuss wages and working conditions with co-workers or a union, form or join a union, take collective action to improve working conditions, and engage in other protected activities.

·         Examples of violations of those rights, and an affirmation that unlawful conduct will not be permitted.

·         Information about the NLRB, the NLRB’s contact information, and details on how to file an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB.

·         A statement about the employer's obligation to bargain in good faith if a union has been selected by employees.

 

This new rule applies to almost all employers except public sector employers, very small employers below the NLRB’s jurisdictional standard for impacting interstate commerce, and other limited classes of employers outside of the NLRA’s jurisdiction. The NLRB may find that an employer’s failure to post the notice constitutes an unfair labor practice. The remedy for a violation may not be severe because the NLRB cannot impose fines – but much worse, a violation can be evidence of unlawful motive and prevent the running of the statute of limitations.

 

The full text of the actual required notice is available here. Private sector employers will be required to post this notice in conspicuous places, including where they customarily post other workplace notices. In addition, employers who customarily post personnel policies and rules on an internet or intranet site must include this new notice there or provide a link to the NLRB’s website section containing the notice. If an employer has employees working at another employer’s site, it will also need to determine whether it can post notices at that site if the other employer does not already have the notice posted. If 20 percent or more of an employer’s employees are not proficient in English and speak the same foreign language, the notice must also be posted in that language. The NLRB will provide translations in such circumstances. Copies of the required 11x17 posters will be available at no cost from the NLRB upon request, and will also be downloadable from the NLRB’s website, www.nlrb.gov. A federal contractor will be regarded as complying with the NLRB’s new posting requirement if it already posts the notice required of federal contractors by the U.S. Department of Labor. See our earlier discussion of those posting requirements here. 

 

The NLRB fact sheet with further information about the rule is available here. There are likely to be legal challenges to the NLRB’s new notice posting rule, and at least one bill has already been introduced in Congress seeking to invalidate it. For now, employers will need to be prepared to comply with the new posting requirement. While already unionized employers will likely see little impact from the new rule other than the actual posting requirement itself, non-unionized employers may be faced with employees raising questions about their rights under the NLRA. Because such questions will invariably be directed toward their immediate supervisors, it is important for non-unionized employers to make sure that supervisors are properly trained regarding how to maintain a union-free environment without violating the NLRA. Non-unionized employers might also be tempted to post their own notice alongside the new NLRB poster, advising employees why a union is not needed. As with all such efforts, missteps can lead to challenges before the NLRB, so employers should consult with their Stoel Rives labor attorney.

 

UPDATE:  On September 14, 2011, the NLRB made available the poster that employers must post.  The link to that poster is here.  The NLRB recently postponed the implementation date for its new notice-posting rule by more than two months in order to allow for enhanced education and outreach to employers.  See here.  The new effective date of the rule, and the date by which the new notice must be posted, is January 31, 2012.

Utah: 2011 Legislative Session Winners and Losers

The 59th legislative session of the Utah State Legislature ended last week. Below is a list of the winners and losers from legislative session preview post on February 18, 2011(and a couple of notable additions).

WINNERS 

Immigration – Three highly controversial immigration bills affecting employment passed Utah’s House and Senate and were signed by Governor Gary Herbert on March 15, 2011. 

  • H.B. 497 grants immigration authority to state and local police to enforce general federal immigration laws when a person has been lawfully stopped, detained, or arrested for class a misdemeanors and felonies. 
  • H.B. 116 establishes a guest worker program for undocumented workers that would require background checks, proof of insurance and a Utah driving privilege card.
  • H.B. 466 creates a state program coordinated with the federal guest worker program to begin a partnership between Utah and Mexico to allow Mexican temporary workers to work in Utah.

For more information and various perspectives on these bills see our prior post on the immigration issue and other local news sources.

Community Service for Medicaid CoverageUtah lawmakers approved H.B. 211 creating a pilot program requiring a small number of Medicaid recipients to do community service in exchange for medical coverage.

More Tax Breaks for New Full-Time Positions – The legislature also passed H.B. 17 which modifies provisions related to tax credits which may be claimed for new full-time employee positions to allow certain credits to be taken in consecutive years.

Construction Employees v. Owners – Both the House and Senate approved S.B. 35 targeting construction firms that classify employees as owners in order to avoid paying workers' compensation insurance premiums, contributing to unemployment insurance, or withholding taxes. The bill would require construction owners to file an annual ownership status report and includes penalties for violations for misclassifying employees and depriving employees of workers' compensation coverage, among other things. If signed by Governor Herbert, the bill will take effect July 1.

Worker Misclassification Task Force– S.B. 11 has been approved by the legislature and signed by Governor Herbert. This bill sets up a new task force for various state agencies to discuss and coordinate their efforts to enforce rules against the classification of workers as owners or as independent contractors.

LOSERS

Immigration H.B. 253 would have required employer registration with E-Verify, but was defeated in the Senate.

Employee NoncompetitionH.B. 417, defeated in the House, would have enacted the Noncompetition Contract Act, which would have prohibited the enforcement of a noncompetition agreement against an employee who is discharged because of a reduction in force.

Gender IdentityS.B. 148 adding “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the list of protected classes under Utah discrimination in employment and housing statutes was defeated in the Senate.

Employment Practices & Protection from ViolenceS.B. 40 giving victims of violence the right to sue an employer that denies extra time off work was defeated in the Senate. 

Oregon: 2011 Legislative Session Preview

Oregon’s 76th Legislative Assembly convened on February 1, 2011. The Legislature has wasted no time introducing a multitude of new labor and employment bills, some with potentially far reaching effects. Below is a (non-exhaustive) list of some of the more interesting bills up for debate:

Civil Rights:

  • HB 2035 -- Standardizes statute of limitations period for filing discrimination lawsuits. A person who has filed a BOLI complaint must file a lawsuit within one year of the occurrence of the unlawful practice or within 90 days of the mailing of BOLI’s 90-day notice, whichever is later.
  • HB 2036 -- This bill was introduced at the request of the Commissioner of BOLI, and attempts to accomplish several significant changes. First, it proposes to lower the standard as to what’s considered a “substantial limitation in a major life activity,” and clarifies certain aspects of state statutes related to discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Second, it grants BOLI the authority to enforce provisions for employees to take crime victim leave to attend criminal proceedings. Third, it will allow employers to make decisions based on credit history of applicants for public safety officer employment.
  • HB 2243 -- Allows Attorney General or BOLI to file suit related to discrimination against person for uniformed military service; includes $50,000 penalty for first violation, and $100,000 penalty for each subsequent violation.
  • HB 2446 and HB 2771 seek to respectively amend and repeal ORS 659.70 and 659.785 related to workplace communication on employer opinions on religion and politics. While HB 2771 would seek to repeal those provisions entirely, HB 2446 seeks to amend the definitions and exceptions to those provisions and amend the damages as well.
  • HB 2828 -- Would make it unlawful (including a civil penalty of $750) to cease to provide health, disability, life or other insurance during period employee serves on a jury.
  • HB 2862 -- This bill would extend various anti-discrimination laws to persons working for educational purposes or as volunteers.

Leave:

  • HB 2095 -- Requires granting family leave under OFLA for academic activities of the employee’s child, including teacher conferences or meetings, and requires granting up to 18 hours of family leave for academic activities in a one-year period, but not more than six hour per calendar month.
  • SB 506 -- Allows eligible employee to take family leave related to the death of a family member.
  • HB 2850 -- Adds siblings as covered family members under OFLA.

Wage and Hour:

  • HB 2038 -- Modifies expression of breast milk provisions. Requires employers to provide a reasonable rest period each time an employee has a need to express milk and eliminates the undue hardship exception for employees with 50 or more employees
  • HB 2040 -- Requires unpaid wages requested by employee post-termination or discharge to be mailed by certified mail, return receipt request.  
  • HB 2230 -- Requires employers to offer first payment to a new employee within 14 days of employment, unless declined by employee. Carries a maximum fine of $720 for violations.
  • HB 2861 -- Expands Oregon’s wage discrimination law to bar wage discrimination based on a more expansive list of protected classifications, not just sex.

Other:

  •  Immigration: HB 2802 and HB 2973 include a variety of immigration-related provisions, some of which would affect employers. One such provision includes a prohibition against knowingly employing unauthorized aliens, which includes a maximum six-month prison sentence and/or up to $2,500 fine. Another would require employers to verify immigration status of employees hired after January 1, 2012, and authorizes the Attorney General to investigate violations and suspend or revoke business licenses of violators. 
  •  Health Care Employees: SB 199 -- Requires health care facilities/employers of 25 or more employees to provide mandatory annual vaccinations against influenza, varicella zoster, pertussis, Hepatitis B, measles, mumps and rubella at no cost to employees.

World of Employment will keep you updated regarding the status of these (and other) bills up for debate this legislative session, and will provide an end-of-session wrap-up of the winners and losers.

Alaska: 2011 Legislative Session Preview

 

The 27th Session of the Alaska Legislature convened in January, and several labor and employment-related bills were introduced. We’ve highlighted some of the more interesting bills below.

 

Hot Topics:

  • “Alaska’s Oil, Alaska’s Jobs” -- HB 82 and SB 71 propose to authorize a rebate of the production tax on oil and gas, based on the employment of Alaska workers, expanding upon the current Alaska Employment Preference Act, AS 36.10, applicable to public construction projects.
  • “Right to Work” -- HB 134 would provide employees a choice whether or not to join or pay the union at companies that are unionized. Such State laws are allowed under 29 U.S.C. § 164(b) and 22 other states have enacted them. (See also last week’s post regarding Idaho’s right to work statute.)
  • The “Conscience Clause” -- SB 14 provides protection and “reasonable accommodation” of a health care provider’s expression of conscience regarding the provision of health care services. This expands Alaska’s current clause (AS 18.16.010) preventing healthcare providers from being forced to perform abortions, but SB 14 would broaden the “conscience” protection.
  • Safety First! -- Three bills (HB22, HB 35, and HB 65) propose to prohibit the use of cell phones when driving a motor vehicle. These bills would have a significant impact on employers dependent on drivers, because drivers will no longer be reachable en route.  However, if these bills are passed, all employers should review and update their personnel policies.

Bills Addressing Specific Employee Groups:

  • HB 51 proposes to establish child care services for state officers and employees, either in state offices or other convenient places for state officers and employees.
  • Reintroduced, SB 69 and HB 36 propose to repeal the prohibition against classified state employees participating in the management of political parties above the precinct level.
  • HB 84 and SB 38 propose a one-time death benefit for peace officers and firefighters.
  • To address the increasing shortage of healthcare professionals, HB 78 proposes a loan repayment and employment incentive program for certain healthcare professionals in Alaska.
  • HB 28 proposes temporary 180-day courtesy licenses for certain nonresident professionals regulated by Title 8, with the exception of attorneys.

Two Proposed Oversight Groups:

  • A “Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council” is reintroduced in HB 12, which also would abolish the more informal Medical Services Review Committee.
  • SB 53 proposes the “Alaska Commission on the Status of Women,” with duties including research and recommendations on opportunities for women in employment, among other areas.

Health Care Issues:

  • Proposed Alaska Constitutional Amendment HJR 5 would prohibit passage of laws that, among other things, compel a person to participate in a health care system.
  • SB 70 proposes to establish the Alaska Health Benefit Exchange, aimed to facilitate individual purchase of qualified health plans, to establish small business health options and to generally reduce the number of uninsured Alaskans.
  • Also likely directed at the new national health care law are two bills providing that Alaska will not follow unconstitutional laws. HB 8 provides that any federal act adopted in violation of the Constitution or federal statute has no effect on Alaska law. HB 88 prohibits any court or other authority from applying a law that violates an individual’s constitutional rights.

As Alaska’s short session progresses, we’ll keep you posted on these bills and others impacting the Alaska workforce.

Editor’s Note: This is just the first in a number of legislative preview posts for each of the states in which we have a presence. Stay tuned for legislative updates in Oregon, Washington, California, Utah and Idaho, as well as a federal update, in the upcoming weeks.
 

 

 

How Does the Heath Care Reform Package Impact Employers?

The health care reform legislation passed by Congress places significant new responsibilities on employers, group health plans, insurers, and individuals. The Stoel Rives Employee Benefits team has developed the following overview of the most significant issues affecting employers and group health plans, in order of effective date. (click on CONTINUE READING" for the full text of the overview).

Effective Immediately

  • Qualifying small businesses that have fewer than 25 full-time employees and whose employees have average annual wages less than $50,000 may be eligible for tax credits to purchase health insurance for their employees.
  • Coverage for dependent children may qualify for tax-free status through the taxable year in which the child turns age 26.

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Our Festivus Present to Oregon Employers: Ten Things You Should Know for 2010

Wow, it's Festivus already, which means that in just a few short days it will be a brand new year!  We have a Festivus present for Oregon employers to help you get ready:  Ten things you need to know for 2010!  (click on each blue hotlink for more information)

  1. All Oregon employers are required to post the SB 519 (Mandatory Meeting Ban) Notice to Employees.
  2. The H1N1 (or "swine:) flu is slowing down, but it's not gone. If you have concerns for you or your employees, Oregon has a great Flu Hotline.
  3. As if we needed another reason to investigate complaints of unlawful harassment, the Oregon Court of Appeals recognized a claim for negligent failure to investigate
  4. Leave for Military Spouses:  Employers with 25 or more employees in Oregon must provide leave to spouses of service members prior to deployment and during leave from active duty. 
  5. In 2010, you might have a greater duty to accommodate employees' religious dress and practices
  6. Domestic Violence Leave and Accommodations:  Employers may not discriminate against victims of actual or threatened stalking, sexual assault or domestic violence, and must  make reasonable accommodations for such employees.
  7. In 2010, you (and your employees!) may no longer talk on the phone while driving (unless it's with a hands-free device).
  8. Oregon's minimum wage will remain $8.40/hour.
  9. Oregon kept its disability discrimination law in tune with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act
  10. Oregon has new rest and meal break regulations.

And on that note, we're off to put up our festivus pole (aluminum, high strength-to-weight ratio), air our grievances, and commit feats of strength.  Happy festivus, and see you in 2010!

EEOC Issues Guidance on Severance Agreements and Waivers

Recognizing that severance agreements are becoming more and more prevailant in the down economy, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) yesterday issued a new technical assistance document titled Understanding Waivers of Discrimination Claims in Employee Severance Agreements (click on the title to access the document).  The new document is intended to help both employers and employees navigate the complexities of waivers in severance agreements.

Of particular interest is the EEOC's guidance regarding the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, which places certain requirements on waivers of age discrimination claims by employees age 40 and older, including a 21 day period to consider the agreement and a seven day period to revoke acceptance.  Also of note is the EEOC's admonition that signing a severance agreement and accepting payment to waive discrimination claims does not prevent an employee from then filing a charge of discrimination with the Commission or a similar state agency. 

Employers should review their existing severance agreements in light of the EEOC's new guidance, as this document provides insight into how both the Commission and courts will review such agreements and how employees might find ways to avoid their waiver obligations. 

Time Out for E-Verify: Mandatory Use Rule Suspended Until February 20

Federal contractors take note:  the rule requring mandatory use of the E-Verify system has been suspended until at least February 20, 2009.  

As previously reported in the Stoel Rives World of Employment, President Bush's executive order would make using E-Verify mandatory starting January 15, 2009 for federal contractors with projects exceeding $100,000 and for sub-contractors with projects exceeding $3,000.  A coalition of employer's groups sued, seeking an injunction against the rule. 

The parties reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to delay the effective date of the new rule until February 20, 2009 – allowing time for an expedited hearing on the merits of the plaintiffs' legal case.  The Federal Court has accepted that agreement on January 12, and set up a briefing schedule that should have everything worked out by the new implementation date.  If you like reading legal documents, click to read the court's order.  And as always, watch the Stoel Rives World of Employment for more updates. 

Ledbetter, Fair Pay Acts Pass House

There was a lot of fairness on Capitol Hill last week:  the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act both passed the House of Representatives on Friday, January 9, 2009.  For those of you keeping score at home, the Ledbetter Act passed 247-171, and the Paycheck Fairness Act passed 256-163.  Both bills will proceed to the Senate, and they are expected to pass there as well. 

The Ledbetter  Act is named after a losing plaintiff in an oft-criticized Supreme Court case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618 (2007).  There, the Court held that the time limits for filing a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) start to run when the employer makes a discriminatory decision about the employee's compensation, not each time the employee receives a paycheck affected by discrimination.  The proposed Act would reverse that ruling by amending Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act to provide that the filing periods—300 days in most states and 180 days in the few states that do not have a fair employment agency—would be triggered whenever an employee is affected by a discriminatory compensation decision or practice.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would increase remedies in Equal Pay Act cases, making available compensatory and punitive damages, authorizing class actions, and mandating training and other outreach efforts by the EEOC and the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs on wage discrimination issues.

Free Lunch Seminar on California Law for Oregon Employers October 30

Do you have an office or a facility in California? Do you have any employees who work in California? If you've had to confront the challenges of complying with California's unique employment laws and regulations, you'll want to join us.

We will have a lively discussion led by Tony DeCristoforo, a labor and employment law specialist based in our Sacramento office, and Victor Kisch, a Portland based attorney who practiced in California for about a decade. They will summarize the important differences between Oregon and California employment laws.

  • Where?  Stoel Rives' Portland Office
  • When?  11:30 a.m., October 30, 2008
  • Cost?  Free!  As Tom Peterson would say, "Free is a very good price!"

For registration information, click here

Stoel Rives Offers ADA Amendments Act Seminars in Boise, Portland and Seattle

The ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) will become law on January 1, 2009, substantially expanding the Americans with Disabilities Act, and increasing employers' obligations to accommodate disabled employees.  To help you get ready to comply with this important new law, Stoel Rives is offering free ADAAA seminars in its Seattle, Portland and Boise offices on December 2, 2008.  To register, see the links below:

For more information on the ADAAA from the comfort of your desk (or easy chair, or beach if you have an Iphone), check out the Stoel Rives World of Employment's ADAAA coverage here