Feel like the government shutdown has reduced news coming out of the federal administrative agencies? If so, January 17, 2019 likely provided a spark to your week. Last Thursday, National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) Chairman John Ring issued a letter which served as the most-recent move in the NLRB’s joint employer dance.

In his letter, Chairman Ring responded to the request of two U.S. House of Representatives Democrats that the NLRB withdraw its proposed joint employer rule. As we previously reported, in September 2018 the NLRB proposed to change the standard utilized to determine joint employer status. Under the new rule, an employer could be “found to be a joint employer of another employer’s employees only if it possesses and exercises substantial, direct and immediate control over the essential terms and conditions of employment and has done so in a manner not limited and routine.” If implemented, this rule would reverse the NLRB’s 2015 Browning-Ferris decision, which had overturned 30 years of NLRB precedent.

The House Democrats’ request stemmed from a recent D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found the NLRB’s 2015 Browning-Ferris decision proper. In Browning-Ferris, the NLRB ruled that it would consider a potential joint employer’s reserved right to control workers and any indirect control exercised. In its decision, the D.C. Circuit “affirm[ed] the [NLRB’s] articulation of the joint-employer test as including consideration of both an employer’s reserved right to control and its indirect control over employees.”

Given the D.C. Circuit’s decision, the House Democrats argued that the NLRB should withdraw its proposed joint employer rule and apply the Browning-Ferris standard.

However, in his January 17 letter, Chairman Ring resoundingly rejected the House Democrats’ arguments. In particular, Chairman Ring asserted that:

  • The joint employer standard the NLRB articulated in Browning-Ferris was neither clear nor affirmed by the D.C. Circuit;
  • “[T]he NLRB has long adhered to a consistent policy of deciding for itself whether to acquiesce to the views of any particular circuit court or whether to adhere to its own view until the United States Supreme Court rules otherwise[;]” and
  • The NLRB “is not compelled to adopt the court’s position as its own, in either Browning-Ferris itself or the final rule on joint-employer status.”

When the D.C. Circuit released its decision, some predicted that it would restrict the NLRB’s efforts to restore its prior joint employer test.  Chairman Ring’s letter should give employers some comfort that the NLRB may not feel so restrained.

Nonetheless, only time will tell how the NLRB’s joint employer dance concludes.  In light of the D.C. Circuit’s decision, the NLRB further extended the proposed rule’s notice and comment period (comments due by January 28 and responses to comments due February 11).  Therefore, it will be some time before the NLRB even releases its final rule.

The National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) announced today that it will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking tomorrow in the Federal Register regarding its joint employer standard. The Board indicated that its proposed rulemaking would foster “predictability, consistency and stability in the determination of joint employer status.” The Board indicated that an employer could be “found to be a joint employer of another employer’s employees only if it possesses and exercises substantial, direct and immediate control over the essential terms and conditions of employment and has done so in a manner not limited and routine.” The proposed rule seeks to reverse a 2015 decision of the Labor Board in Browning- Ferris Industries, which had vastly expanded the scope of the joint employer definition and overturned decades of Board precedent in this area.

A comment period of 60 days will begin with the publication of the rule in the Federal Register. Chairman Ring and members Kaplan and Emanuel joined in proposing the new joint employer standard, while Board member Lauren McFerran dissented.

In a memorandum issued last week, NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb offered important guidance on how his office plans to prosecute claims of unlawful workplace rules in the wake of the Board’s restorative Boeing decision (365 NLRB No. 154 (Dec. 14, 2017)). As we discussed here last December, the Boeing decision created a sensible standard for determining the lawfulness of work rules. This was a welcome change for employers, given the flurry of handbook-related activity under the Obama-era Board. Unfortunately, though, Boeing gave little guidance on how to actually implement the new standard. Mr. Robb’s memo adds some clarity. Recall that Boeing established three different categories for evaluating employer work rules:  (1) rules that are generally lawful (known as “Category 1” rules); 2) rules that merit a case-by-case determination (“Category 2” rules); and (3) rules that are plainly unlawful (“Category 3” rules). Click here to read the full client alert.

On Monday, the NLRB unanimously vacated its December 2017 Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors decision, marking yet another abrupt reversal in the method for determining whether two employers can be held jointly liable for violations of labor and employment laws committed by either employer. In doing so, the Board effectively reinstated its 2015 Browning-Ferris Industries (“BFI”) decision, meaning that two businesses are joint employers when one has “indirect” or “reserved’ control over the other’s workers. Click here to read the full client alert.

President Obama’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) faced intense criticism for issuing significantly more precedent-changing pro-labor rulings than any previous Board. During President Trump’s first 200 days, employers have been waiting for Board nominees to be confirmed to two open slots, giving Republicans a 3-2 majority and shifting NLRB decisions towards individual employee and management rights.

One of Trump’s nominees, Marvin Kaplan, a former Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission lawyer, was confirmed (50-48) to fill one of the two open Board seats on Wednesday, August 2. Kaplan will serve a five-year term expiring August 27, 2020. Trump’s second nominee, William Emanuel, a management-side employment attorney, has been approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. A full Senate vote has not yet been scheduled, but is expected after the August recess. If he is confirmed, the Board will have a Republican majority for the first time since 2007.

The General Counsel position, currently held by Democrat Richard Griffin, Jr., will become vacant in November 2017. The Administration is considering Peter Robb, a management-side labor attorney, as a potential General Counsel nominee. The General Counsel controls which cases the NLRB prioritizes and pursues.  Consequently, whomever Trump chooses will have the opportunity to begin the process of reversing many of the pro-labor rulings issued by the Obama Board.

Finally, Phillip Miscimarra, Chairman of the NLRB and the only Republican remaining from Obama’s Board, announced on August 8 that he would no longer serve on the Board when his term expires in December 2017. Miscimarra made this decision in order to spend more time with his family. Miscimarra dissented from nearly every major precedent change from 2013 to the present. The Administration will need to make a prompt nomination of a qualified Republican to Miscimarra’s seat to avoid 2-2 deadlocked decisions of the full Board (if Emanuel is confirmed) or having cases decided by three member panels with 2-1 Democrat majorities. The Senate already has a full legislative schedule through the remainder of 2017, so confirming a Board nominee before Chairman Miscimarra leaves his seat will be more difficult the longer the President takes to make his selection.

Recently, House Republicans renewed efforts to rein in expansion of two federal labor laws’ joint employer definition by introducing the Save Local Business Act (“SLRA”) (H.R. 3441). The SLRA limits how affiliated companies are considered joint employers for collective bargaining liability purposes and within wage and hour laws.

The SLRA represents an expanded effort to reverse the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) Browning-Ferris Industries of California Inc., 362 NLRB No. 186 (Aug. 27, 2015) decision. In Browning-Ferris, the NLRB reversed a 30-year old standard for determining joint employer status under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). According to Browning-Ferris, affiliated companies are joint employers if they 1) “are both employers within the meaning of the common law” and 2) “share or co-determine” matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment. Under the first prong, the NLRB focuses on a company’s “right to control” employees and does not consider whether the company exercises that right. For example, a company may create a common law employer relationship if it reserves ultimate discharge authority over temporary workers but does not exercise that right. For the second prong, the NLRB defines “essential terms and conditions” to include wages, hours, hiring, firing, and supervision. Evidence of controlling these “essential terms and conditions” may include dictating the number of contingent workers supplied and controlling schedules or overtime.

The SLRA also addresses recent expansion of the joint employer definition by courts under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). For example, in Salinas v. Commercial Interiors, Inc., 848 F.3d 125 (4th Cir. 2017), the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, covering Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia, applied an expanded test to conclude that general and subcontractors were joint employers. Under the Salinas-applied test, joint employment exists when 1) two companies “share, agree to allocate responsibility for, or otherwise codetermine – formally or informally, directly or indirectly – the essential terms and conditions of a worker’s employment” and 2) the companies’ combined influence “over the terms and conditions of the worker’s employment” renders the person an employee instead of an independent contractor. This determination has significant implications because, as joint employers, both companies must comply with the FLSA as it relates to an individual’s entire employment for a workweek. In other words, a company must add the hours worked for both employers to determine whether and to what extent the individual earned overtime pay.

The SLRA rolls back these expanded definitions by redefining joint employer in both the NLRA and FLSA.  Specifically, under the Act:

A person may be considered a joint employer in relation to an employee only if such person directly, actually, and immediately, and not in a limited and routine manner, exercises significant control over the essential terms and conditions of employment (including hiring employees, discharging employees, determining individual employee rates of pay and benefits, day-to-day supervision of employees, assigning individual work schedules, positions, and tasks, and administering employee discipline).

Ultimately, the bill seeks to reinstate the traditional joint employer standard and restore some semblance of predictability that the NLRB eviscerated in the Browning-Ferris decision. Although the House is on recess, the bill will almost assuredly proceed within Education and Workforce Committee upon Congress’s September return. In addition, the bill could quickly move to the House floor for consideration and, with sufficient support, advance to the Senate. Frantz Ward will keep close track of the bill and provide updates on the SLRA’s progress.

BN-KB504_edp082_GR_20150828194637Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) made a significant reversal in its position regarding the critical class action waiver cases pending before the Supreme Court. In January, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in three consolidated cases: NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc.; Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis; and Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris. The cases address whether employer arbitration agreements prohibiting employees from bringing or participating in class action litigation violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The Supreme Court’s decision will resolve the current circuit split on the issue.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in D.R. Horton, Inc., 357 NLRB No. 184 (2012), held that class action waivers violate the NLRA and has consistently adhered to this position, despite setbacks in some Circuits. The Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits agree with the NLRB’s position, while the Second, Fifth, and Eighth Circuits have upheld the waivers.

Under the Obama Administration, the DOJ filed a petition for a writ of certiorari on behalf of the NLRB defending the Board’s position that class action waivers are unenforceable. After the change in administration, the DOJ stated it has “reconsidered the issue and has reached the opposite conclusion.”

The DOJ’s changed stance combined with the appointment of Justice Gorsuch makes it more likely that the Supreme Court will uphold class action waivers. However, no one will know for sure until a decision is announced in late 2017 or early 2018.

The full amicus brief is available here.

1283811-protests-1483480044-672-640x480Last week workers across the United States participated in a national protest aimed at President Trump’s immigration policies. Organized by advocacy groups and promoted largely through social media, “A Day Without Immigrants” involved an organized effort to urge workers to stay home in protest of the new administration’s immigration policies and actions, including recent enforcement raids, the proposed border wall, and the high-profile Executive Order on immigration and refugees. Employers’ reactions have ranged from closing their businesses in support of the protests to terminating employees for not coming to work.

This likely is not the end of such protests. On March 8, organizers of last month’s Women’s March on Washington plan to hold “A Day Without a Woman” protest, asking women to stay home from work in support of various issues that impact women. Other less publicized protests by different groups are also planned.

Impacted employers that seek to enforce their attendance rules and other workplace policies must carefully consider potential legal issues when reacting to employees who miss work in support of these protests. For example, the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) protects both unionized and non-unionized workers who engage in protected concerted activity. Typically, this involves two or more workers acting together to improve or protest various terms and conditions of their employment, including protests related to pay, safety, hours of work, and other workplace issues. The discipline or discharge of employees who engage in protected concerted activity can result in charges of unfair labor practices before the National Labor Relations Board and potential liability. However, employee actions or protests that are purely political in nature, with no real connection to the workplace, are unlikely to qualify for protection under the NLRA.

The true objectives behind workers’ absences in supporting these causes can be unclear. The upcoming “A Day Without a Woman” protest identifies a number of diverse concerns, some of which arguably could relate to workplace issues, and some of which clearly do not. The organizers’ website poses the following questions in asking supporters to withhold their labor on March 8:

  1. Do businesses support our communities, or do they drain our communities?
  2. Do they strive for gender equity or do they support the policies and leaders that perpetuate oppression?
  3. Do they align with a sustainable environment or do they profit off destruction and steal the futures of our children?

Employers who choose to discipline or terminate employees who elect to miss work as part of these protests need to consider, on a case-by-case basis, whether an employee’s actions qualify as a protected protest related to workplace conditions, particularly when they can be linked to their own workplace, or are a more generalized expression of support for a political cause. Employees who explicitly tie their absences to issues in the workplace are far more likely to be protected under the NLRA.

Employers also must consider the potential applicability of both state and federal anti-discrimination laws, like Title VII, when reacting to employee absences. Both the “A Day Without Immigrants” and “A Day Without a Woman” protests potentially implicate protected classifications under the anti-discrimination laws – e.g., national origin and gender. Employers that choose to pursue discipline or termination may potentially face allegations of discrimination, either based upon assertions that the employer harbored animus towards a particular protected group (and its causes), and/or that the employer selectively enforced its policies to the detriment of the protected group. Employers should base any disciplinary or discharge actions on previously established and promulgated workplace policies, including attendance rules and no-call/no-show policies. Employers also should ensure that they have acted consistently with respect to past employee absences (like the parade in Cleveland after the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals). A prior, consistent history of discipline or discharge in similar situations will help protect against allegations of discrimination.

Employers in union settings know that they generally cannot make changes to their employees’ wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment without first negotiating to impasse with the union. The exception to this rule has historically been that the employers could make changes, as long as they could show that their labor contract had a management rights clause that allowed certain changes to be made without bargaining. A recent decision from the National Labor Relations Board, however, will make it more difficult for employers to show that a management rights clause actually allows these types of changes to be made without bargaining.

The NLRB’s recent decision (Graymont, PA, Inc. and Local Lodge D92, 364 NLRB No. 37) involved a situation that is common in unionized workplaces. The employer and the union had a collective bargaining agreement in place with a management rights clause which provided that the employer:

[R]etains the sole and exclusive rights to manage; to direct its employees; . . . to evaluate performance, . . . to discipline and discharge for just cause, to adopt and enforce rules and regulations and policies and procedures; [and] to set and establish standards of performance for employees…

The employer relied on this clause to announce changes to the work rules and the attendance and progressive discipline policies. The union objected to this move and requested a meeting with the employer. The union also requested that the employer provide information about the changes. The employer met with the union, but took the position that it was not required to bargain over the changes (due to the management rights clause). The employer also took the position that it was not required to respond in any way to the request for information. After a single meeting with the union, the employer implemented the revised policies.

Click here to read the full client alert.

In a win for organized labor, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) reinstated a union-friendly standard under which both temporary and permanent employees may collectively bargain as a single unit without employer consent. On July 11, 2016, the NLRB’s 3-1 decision in Miller & Anderson, Inc., 364 NLRB No. 39 (2016), made it easier to combine workers who are temporarily employed by a staffing agency’s client company with workers permanently employed by that client company to form a union.

Under the new standard, if a staffing agency and its client company are deemed to be joint employers of the temporary workers, the temporary workers may join forces with the client company’s permanent workers, provided that they satisfy the “community of interest” factors demonstrating that it is appropriate to treat them as a single unit. Some of the factors used to determine whether a proposed unit of workers share a community of interest are whether the employees are subject to the same working conditions, are subject to common supervision, and have similar wages and benefit packages.

Click here to read the full client alert.