Once again, federal courts have halted efforts by the current National Labor Relations Board ("the Board") to expand its regulatory reach. Earlier this week, in National Association of Manufacturers v. NLRB, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the Board’s controversial attempt to require virtually all employers to post a notice advising employees about the requirements of the National Labor Relations Act ("the Act") and the sixty years of interpretations of the federal labor laws.
The Board’s notice-posting rule has had a long and contentious history. The original petition was filed in 1993, but it was not until 2010 when the Board, by then with a majority of members appointed by President Obama, issued a proposed rule. The final rule was published in August, 2011, and litigation challenging the Board’s authority began almost immediately. As we have reported before, the Board had only mixed success. One district court upheld the rule only in part, and another struck down the rule completely. While those cases were on appeal, the posting requirement was stayed pending completion of judicial review.
In this week's opinion the D.C. Circuit court rejected the rule in its entirety. The unanimous ruling concluded that the rule interfered with employers’ free speech rights, by requiring them to offer a Board-mandated message with which they might not agree. Section 8(c) of the Act bars the Board from considering non-coercive employer speech as evidence of an unfair labor practice, but the Board’s rule would treat the failure to post its notice as an unfair labor practice.
Two of the panel’s three judges would have gone further, specifically rejecting the claim that the notice posting rule – never required in the previous sixty-four years of the Act – was authorized by Section 6 of the Act, which permits the Board to carry out the Act. The court readily concluded that while the notice-posting rule may be seen as “prophylactic,” there was nothing about it that was necessary to carry out the Act’s substantive provisions.
The Board has not yet reacted to this defeat, and what its next steps are remain unclear. Given the breadth of the Circuit court’s ruling, it appears doubtful that the Board could revise its rule to comply with the court’s analysis. Equally unknown is whether the Board will seek review by the United States Supreme Court.
For employers, at least one reaction does seem clear: it is unlikely that employers will be required to post the NLRB’s notice any time soon, if ever. The court vacated the rule, so the rule is simply without effect unless the court’s decision is reversed. (Federal contractors should remember, however, that they face an independent obligation to post a similar notice, as we reported. That obligation remains in full force. Moreover, the implications of the court’s opinion are potentially far-reaching, and the court’s analysis may call into question numerous posting requirements under other federal statutes.
If you have questions concerning the requirements to post federal labor law advice, or any other posting requirement, please contact your Stoel Rives labor & employment attorney.
Stoel Rives Presents Webinar On Employer Group Health Plans After U.S. Supreme Court Decision Upholding "Obamacare"
As everyone who was not on Mars this summer knows, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a surprising and historic decision upholding key provisions of President Obama's Affordable Care Act ("ACA"). To help employers navigate the requirements of the law now that it has the stamp of approval of the Supreme Court, and to provide other updates on developments in federal health care reform, members of the Stoel Rives employee benefit and employment groups have been touring the region with a 90-minute presentation entitled "Health Care Reform After the Supreme Court’s Decision: Group Health Plan Update 2012." The seminars were presented by Stoel Rives attorneys Howard Bye-Torre, Melanie Curtice, Bethany Bacci, Steve Woodland, Matthew Durham, Carolyn Walker, James Dale, Renae Saade, and Tony DeCristoforo in Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Boise, and Anchorage during September and October.
Shameless Plug Alert! Webinar Presentation on October 25, 2012
If you missed the show when it came to your town or are just interested in learning about this complex and evolving area of employee benefits law, there is one more opportunity to attend the seminar via a webinar which will be conducted on Thursday, October 25 at noon, Pacific Time. To RSVP for the webinar and get instructions for attending, please click here.
The seminars reviewed the Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and also some of the ACA's impacts which have already been felt by group health plans and employers, such as the requirement to cover children through age 26. Regulatory developments planned for 2013 are also discussed, including:
- the requirement to report the cost of health care coverage on W-2s;
- the new disclosure document required by the ACA, the Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBCs);
- required 100% coverage for FDA-approved contraceptive methods for women; and
- the reduction to $2,500 of the maximum amount that an employee can contribute to a health care flexible spending account.
The seminars also discussed the new two federal fees on group health plans for 2013-2018, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute fee and the transitional reinsurance program fee. The seminars concluded with a discussion of the ACA requirements for 2014, including
- the mandate for individuals to have health insurance coverage;
- employer pay-or-play penalties, including new IRS guidance on the definition of “full-time” employees for purposes of the penalties;
- recent IRS guidance on the 90-day maximum waiting period for health plans.
We look forward to seeing you online for the webinar on October 25.
The New York Times is reporting that Starbucks has settled with the National Labor Relations Board an unfair labor practice claim filed by a former employee who alleged he was terminated for attempting to organize his coworkers to join the Industrial Workers of the World, aka "the Wobblies."
Under the terms of the settlement, Starbucks will post a notice in the employee's store for 60 days informing workers they have a right to unionize under federal law. Starbucks will also remove from its files any reference to the employee's firing and will repay him for any loss of earnings. (Starbucks had already voluntarily reinstated the employee before he filed his charge with the NLRB). For more about the Starbucks Workers' Union (a branch of the IWW), click here.
This case is a reminder to employers that it is unlawful to discharge or take any other adverse action against an employee because of that employee's support for or activities on behalf of a labor union. Just because the employee supports a union does not require you to give him or her special treatment, nor does it make them immune for discipline unrelated to their union activities; however, if you terminate a union organizer, you proceed at your own (substantial) risk.