Thursday, March 30, 2017
The White House just announced that Ivanka Trump will no longer be a White House volunteer or "informal advisor," but will instead be an "unpaid employee." The move to employee status is a positive development, as it ensures that the usual ethical rules that apply to White House workers will apply to her as well. It's also understandable that, given her personal wealth, she would eschew a salary.
This does raise a question for the labor & employment law geeks among us: what about the FLSA's minimum wage? Normally, the FLSA would apply to federal employees, who can't agree to a salary below the minimum. However, I believe that there is a process for seeking a waiver--in this case, likely from the Office of Personnel Management, which enforces the FLSA for federal employees--but there's no mention of whether a waiver is currently being sought (or whether I'm even right about this).
If any readers have more insight, please add a comment.
Friday, March 10, 2017
Last week's The Economist ran a couple of stories on how "gender budgeting" can help persuade governments to pay more than lip service to women's rights. Below is an excerpt from the summary Making Women Count; an extended-play version is Tax is a Feminist Issue: Why National Budgets Need to Take Gender into Account.
... [S]ome policymakers have embraced a technique called gender budgeting. It not only promises to do a lot of good for women, but carries a lesson for advocates of any cause: the way to a government’s heart is through its pocket.
At its simplest, gender budgeting sets out to quantify how policies affect women and men differently. That seemingly trivial step converts exhortation about treating women fairly into the coin of government: costs and benefits, and investments and returns. You don’t have to be a feminist to recognise, as Austria did, that the numbers show how lowering income tax on second earners will encourage women to join the labour force, boosting growth and tax revenues. Or that cuts to programmes designed to reduce domestic violence would be a false economy, because they would cost so much in medical treatment and lost workdays.
Partly because South Korea invested little in social care, women had to choose between having children, which lowers labour-force participation, or remaining childless, which reduces the country’s fertility rate. Gender budgeting showed how, with an ageing population, the country gained from spending on care. Rwanda found that investment in clean water not only curbed disease but also freed up girls, who used to fetch the stuff, to go to school. Ample research confirms that leaving half a country’s people behind is bad for growth. Violence against women; failing to educate girls properly; unequal pay and access to jobs: all take an economic toll.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Elizabeth Tippett (Oregon), Charlotte S. Alexander (Georgia State), and Zev J. Eigen (Littler) have just published their explosive article When Timekeeping Software Undermines Compliance (19 Yale J.L. & Tech. 1 ). When I say "explosive" I am not exaggerating one iota. Their article exposes how choices and algorithms deliberately built into timekeeping systems cheat workers out of time worked or overtime owed. I am reproducing the abstract below, but strongly encourage everyone to read the full article. I expect this article will spawn loads of high-dollar litigation; more optimistically, I would hope the article will encourage software firms and their corporate clients to be far more diligent in complying with wage & hour law.
Here's the abstract:
Electronic timekeeping is a ubiquitous feature of the modern workplace. Time and attendance software enables employers to record employees’ hours worked, breaks taken, and related data to determine compensation. Sometimes this software also undermines wage and hour law, allowing bad actor employers more readily to manipulate employee time cards, set up automatic default rules that shave hours from employees’ paychecks, and disguise edits to records of wages and hours. Software could enable transparency, but when it serves to obfuscate instead, it misses an opportunity to reduce costly legal risk for employers and protect employee rights. This article examines thirteen commonly used timekeeping programs to expose the ways in which software innovation can erode compliance. Drawing on insights from the field of behavioral compliance, we explain how the software presents subtle situational cues that can encourage and legitimize wage theft. We also examine gaps in the Fair Labor Standards Act’s recordkeeping rules – unchanged since the 1980s – that have created a regulatory vacuum in which timekeeping software has developed. Finally, we propose a series of reforms to those recordkeeping requirements that would better regulate timekeeping data and software systems and encourage wage and hour law compliance across workplaces.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
District Court Enjoins New Overtime Salary Threshold (and Basically Holds that Salary-Basis Test is Unlawful)
Today, the Eastern District of Texas just issued a nationwide preliminary injunction barring application of the Department of Labor's (DOL) new minimum salary threshold for overtime exclusions under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The decision is stunning. The court relies almost exclusively on dictionary definitions of the terms of the FLSA's overtime provisions. In so doing it states repeatedly that the FLSA's statement that the DOL may define and delimit the meaning of "administrative, exccutive, and professional" does not include the authority to set minimum salary thresholds. According to the court, the DOL can only update the duties. Thus, if an employee meets the duties of, say, an administrative employee, they should be excluded no matter their salary. However, perhaps recognizing that this line of reasoning runs contrary to decades of overtime law, the court drops a footnote saying it wasn't questioning the salary-basis test generally -- the court was addressing only the new salary threshold was under issue. But as far as I can tell, the only logical conclusion from the court's reasoning is that the salary-basis test in general is illegal (if someone sees a way around this in the decision, definitely let me know). In other words, if this decision stands, I think the only logical conclusion is that there will no longer be a salary-basis test for overtime exemptions.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
How much of your wages would you be willing to give up for more control over what days and how much you work? In a new working paper, Alexandre Mas and Amanda Pallais, “Valuing Alternative Work Arrangements,” NBER Working Paper No. 22708 (Sept. 2016), the authors conducted a field experiment to find out. Here’s the abstract:
We use a field experiment to study how workers value alternative work arrangements. During the application process to staff a national call center, we randomly offered applicants choices between traditional M-F 9 am – 5 pm office positions and alternatives. These alternatives include flexible scheduling, working from home, and positions that give the employer discretion over scheduling. We randomly varied the wage difference between the traditional option and the alternative, allowing us to estimate the entire distribution of willingness to pay (WTP) for these alternatives. We validate our results using a nationally-representative survey. The great majority of workers are not willing to pay for flexible scheduling relative to a traditional schedule: either the ability to choose the days and times of work or the number of hours they work. However, the average worker is willing to give up 20% of wages to avoid a schedule set by an employer on a week’s notice. This largely represents workers’ aversion to evening and weekend work, not scheduling unpredictability. Traditional M-F 9 am – 5 pm schedules are preferred by most job seekers. Despite the fact that the average worker isn’t willing to pay for scheduling flexibility, a tail of workers with high WTP allows for sizable compensating differentials. Of the worker friendly options we test, workers are willing to pay the most (8% of wages) for the option of working from home. Women, particularly those with young children, have higher WTP for work from home and to avoid employer scheduling discretion. They are slightly more likely to be in jobs with these amenities, but the differences are not large enough to explain any wage gaps.
Puzzled by the low willingness to pay for a flexible number-of-hours option, the authors posed the same choice to Mechanical Turk workers, and asked them to explain their choice. The Mechanical Turk workers are more likely to prefer flexibility. Of those who preferred the M-F 9 am - 5 pm option, they “typically mentioned that they liked having someone else set the schedule and tell them how many hours they should work. They expressed concern that if they could choose it would be difficult to force themselves to work their desired number of hours.” (p. 14).
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Congratulations to our friend Susan Bisom-Rapp (Thomas Jefferson) whose book (with Malcolm Sargeant, Middlesex Univ., London), Lifetime Disadvantage, Discrimination and the Gendered Work Force is available to pre-order from Cambridge University Press. It will be out September 30. From the press release:
In many countries, including the United States, women are significantly more likely to fall into poverty in retirement than are men. Understanding why this is so and what can be done about it is the aim of this new book.
"Susan Bisom-Rapp's scholarship tackles some of the most pressing real world challenges facing the modern workplace," said Thomas Jefferson School of Law Dean and President Thomas F. Guernsey. "I am delighted about the publication of her latest book."
Beginning in girlhood and ending in advanced age, "Lifetime Disadvantage, Discrimination and the Gendered Workforce" examines each stage of the lifecycle and considers how law attempts to address the problems that inhibit women's labor force participation. Using their model of lifetime disadvantage, Professor Bisom-Rapp and her British co-author Malcolm Sargeant show how the law adopts a piecemeal and disjointed approach to resolving challenges with adverse effects that cumulate over time.
"The problem unfolds over the working lives of women," said Bisom-Rapp. "Women's experiences with education, stereotyping, characteristics other than gender like race and age, caregiving, glass ceilings, occupational segregation, pay inequality, part-time work, and career breaks over a lifetime make it difficult to amass the resources necessary for a dignified retirement."
In order to achieve true gender equality, Bisom-Rapp and her co-author recommend a more holistic approach. Employing the concept of resiliency from vulnerability theory, the authors advocate changes to workplace law and policy, which acknowledge yet transcend gender, improving conditions for women as well as men.
"One must know the end goal – decent work and dignified retirement – and monitor progress towards it in order effectively address the problem," noted Bisom-Rapp.
The book is the culmination of nearly a decade of collaboration between Professor Bisom-Rapp and Professor Sargeant, who teaches at Middlesex University Business School in London. Beginning with a project that examined the plight of older workers during the global economic crisis, they have been struck by differences in workplace law and protections in their respective countries; the United Kingdom is far more protective.
Equally noticeable, however, are similarities in outcomes, including women's economic disadvantages in retirement. By examining why more protective law in one country coexists with comparable outcomes to the other country, the book reveals lessons for understanding a problem that is global in nature. At a time in which an aging population makes a retirement crisis a distinct possibility, and employment has become increasingly insecure, they recommend a regulatory approach that would enhance work life and retirement for all.
Susan and Malcolm have published a few articles related to these topics in the last few years in the Employee Rights Employment Policy Journal, the Elder Law Journal, and the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal. I can't wait to read more of their work.
September 21, 2016 in Books, Employment Common Law, Employment Discrimination, International & Comparative L.E.L., Labor Law, Pension and Benefits, Scholarship, Wage & Hour, Worklife Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, August 26, 2016
The Center for Applied Feminism (Baltimore) has a call for papers that will be of interest to some of our readers:
CALL FOR PAPERS
APPLIED FEMINISM AND INTERSECTIONALITY:
EXAMINING LAW THROUGH THE LENS OF MULTIPLE IDENTITIES
The Center on Applied Feminism at the University of Baltimore School of Law seeks paper proposals for the Tenth Anniversary of the Feminist Legal Theory Conference. We hope you will join us for this exciting celebration on March 30-31, 2017.
This year, the conference will explore how intersecting identities inform -- or should inform -- feminist legal theory and justice-oriented legal practice, legal systems, legal policy, and legal activism. Beginning in 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw identified the need for law to recognize persons as representing multiple intersecting identities, not only one identity (such as female) to the exclusion of another (such as African American). Intersectionality theory unmasks how social systems oppress people in different ways. While its origins are in exploring the intersection of race and gender, intersectionality theory now encompasses all intersecting identities including religion, ethnicity, citizenship, class, disability, and sexual orientation. Today, intersectionality theory is an important part of the Black Lives Matter and #SayHerName movements. For more information, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/24/why-intersectionality-cant-wait/.
We seek submissions of papers that focus on the topic of applied feminism and intersecting identities. This conference aims to explore the following questions: What impact has intersectionality theory had on feminist legal theory? How has it changed law and social policy? How does intersectionality help us understand and challenge different forms of oppression? What is its transformative potential? What legal challenges are best suited to an intersectionality approach? How has intersectionality theory changed over time and where might it go in the future?
We welcome proposals that consider these questions from a variety of substantive disciplines and perspectives. As always, the Center’s conference will serve as a forum for scholars, practitioners and activists to share ideas about applied feminism, focusing on connections between theory and practice to effectuate social change. The conference will be open to the public and will feature a keynote speaker. Past keynote speakers have included Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, Dr. Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Senators Barbara Mikulski and Amy Klobuchar, NOW President Terry O’Neill, EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum, and U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner.
To submit a paper proposal, please submit an abstract by Friday October 28, 2016 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your abstract must contain your full contact information and professional affiliation, as well as an email, phone number, and mailing address. In the “Re” line, please state: CAF Conference 2017. Abstracts should be no longer than one page. We will notify presenters of selected papers in November. About half the presenter slots will be reserved for authors who commit to publishing in the annual symposium volume of the University of Baltimore Law Review. Thus, please indicate at the bottom of your abstract whether you are submitting (1) solely to present or (2) to present and publish in the symposium volume. Authors who are interested in publishing in the Law Review will be strongly considered for publication. For all presenters, working drafts of papers will be due no later than March 3, 2017. Presenters are responsible for their own travel costs; the conference will provide a discounted hotel rate as well as meals.
We look forward to your submissions. If you have further questions, please contact Prof. Margaret Johnson at email@example.com. For additional information about the conference, please visit law.ubalt.edu/caf.
August 26, 2016 in Conferences & Colloquia, Employment Common Law, Employment Discrimination, Labor Law, Labor/Employment History, Pension and Benefits, Public Employment Law, Religion, Scholarship, Wage & Hour, Worklife Issues, Workplace Safety | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Illinois became the sixth state to adopt a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights when Governor Rauner signed the bill last Friday. Domestic workers there will be covered by the state minimum wage laws, guaranteed rest periods, meals, and one day off a week, protected from discrimination including harassment, and protected from being paid "an oppressive and unreasonable wage." These protections are especially important because domestic workers are excluded from federal protections under the FLSA, the NLRA, OSHA, and other laws. Moreover working conditions for childcare workers contribute to poverty and may impair the care those workers can give. According to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Illinois joins New York, Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon. Connecticut also has extended some protections to domestic workers, although not passed the full-blown model bill of rights. The Illinois law will take effect Jan. 1, 2017.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Women tend to suffer significantly more wage and hour law violations than men. That's a conclusion of a recent paper: Miruna Petrescu-Prahova and Michael W. Spiller, "Women’s Wage Theft: Explaining Gender Differences in Violations of Wage and Hour Laws", Work and Occupations (published online July 2016). Here's the abstract:
In this study, the authors identify and analyze a distinct and understudied source of gender inequality: gender differences in violations of wage-related workplace laws. The authors find that women have significantly higher rates of minimum wage and overtime violations than men and also lose more of their earnings to wage theft than men. In the case of minimum wage violations, the authors also find that nativity and immigration status strongly mediate this gender difference. Multivariate analysis suggests that demand-side characteristics—occupation and measures of nonstandard work and informality—account for more of the gender difference in minimum wage violations than do worker characteristics.
In particular, the authors find "no significant gender difference in minimum wage violations among U.S.-born workers; the gender gap is concentrated among immigrants, especially those who are undocumented." (p. 21). The study's findings are based on the 2008 Unregulated Worker Survey, a representative survey of 4,387 frontline workers (that is, not manager, professional or technical workers) in low-wage industries and occupations in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Congratulations to Miriam Cherry (Saint Louis), Marion Crain (Washington University) and Winifred Poster (Washington University, Sociology) whose book Invisible Labor has just hit the shelves. The book is a collection of chapters by authors from, primarily, sociology and law, exploring types of labor that are unpaid and unseen. From the synopsis:
Across the world, workers labor without pay for the benefit of profitable businesses—and it's legal. Labor trends like outsourcing and technology hide some workers, and branding and employer mandates erase others. Invisible workers who remain under-protected by wage laws include retail workers who function as walking billboards and take payment in clothing discounts or prestige; waitstaff at “breastaurants” who conform their bodies to a business model; and inventory stockers at grocery stores who go hungry to complete their shifts. Invisible Labor gathers essays by prominent sociologists and legal scholars to illuminate how and why such labor has been hidden from view.
The collection brings together what previously seemed like disparate issues to show common threads among the ways labor can be invisible, and the breadth of contributions is impressive. I had the chance to attend a symposium set up by the editors to flesh out these ideas a couple of years ago and found the topics fascinating then. I can't wait to read the book!
July 19, 2016 in Books, Disability, Employment Common Law, Employment Discrimination, International & Comparative L.E.L., Scholarship, Wage & Hour, Worklife Issues, Workplace Trends | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
A twofer from the Supreme Court already this week. First, on Monday, the Court granted cert. in NLRB v. SW General. The case addresses the question whether an individual can continue serving as an acting official once he or she has been officially nominated. In this case, the individual is Lafe Solomon, whom President Obama designated as Acting General Counsel in 2010, under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. In 2011, the White House nominated Solomon to the Senate. The D.C. Circuit held that once Solomon was nominated, the FVRA barred him from continue to serve as Acting General Counsel; the issue boils down to which provision of the act Solomon was designated when he became Acting GC.
Second, today the Court issued its decision in Encino Motorcars v. Navarro, which addressed a 2011 Department of Labor rule that said that car dealership employees who handle service appointments were not excluded from overtime--overturning many years of prior precedent that had included such employees under the "primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles" exception of the FLSA. In its decision, the Court held that the DOL didn't deserve any deference because it failed to provide an explanation for its change of position. However, the Court did not settle the issue and instead remanded to the Ninth Circuit to determine whether the employees were excluded under the FLSA. Scotusblog has a good summary of the splintered decision, including the various opinions--especially with regard to whether the Court should have addressed the underlying issue of the exclusion's application, and how.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Our own Joe Seiner has just uploaded an essay to SSRN: Tailoring Class Actions to the On-Demand Economy, 77 Ohio State L.J. __ (2017) (forthcoming). From the abstract:
In O’Connor v. Uber, 2015 WL 5138097 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 1, 2015), a federal district court permitted a class-action case to proceed on the question of whether 160,000 drivers were misclassified by their employer as independent contractors rather than employees. The case has garnered widespread interest, making headlines across the country. Yet it represents only one of many class-action cases currently pending against technology companies in the modern economy. Indeed, similar systemic claims have already been brought against Yelp, GrubHub, Handy, Crowdflower, Amazon, and many others.
The courts have largely floundered in their efforts to address the proper scope of class cases brought against corporations in the on-demand economy. This is likely the result of a lack of clarity in this area as well as the unique fact patterns that often arise with technology-sector claims. Nothing has been written on this issue in the academic literature to date, and this paper seeks to fill that void in the scholarship.
Navigating the statutes, case law, and procedural rules, this Essay proposes a workable five-part framework for analyzing systemic claims brought in the technology sector. This paper sets forth a model for the courts and litigants to follow when evaluating the proper scope of these cases. The Essay seeks to spark a dialogue on this important—yet unexplored— area of the law.
As Joe writes in the abstract, classification issues in the on-demand or platform economy are a very hot topic right now, and this essay on systemic claims is a valuable contribution to the broader issues.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Miriam Cherry (SLU) just posted on SSRN her article (forthcoming Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal) Beyond Misclassification: The Digital Transformation of Work. Here's the abstract:
The first part of this article provides a brief litigation update on various worker lawsuits within the gig economy. While the O’Connor v. Uber case has received the lion’s share of attention and analysis, similar lawsuits on labor standards have been filed against other on-demand platforms. Analysis of the ongoing litigation reveals several important themes, including an emphasis on the labor law of California. The second part of the article shifts from the doctrinal issues around misclassification to look at broader trends, arguing that we are currently experiencing a far-reaching digital transformation of work. The changes include the growth of automatic management and a move toward ever more precarious work. To the extent that technology can help us realize an increase in skilled knowledge work that is a positive goal. It is questionable, however, if present forms of crowdwork extend that framework. In fact, some forms of the new crowdwork seem to be a throwbacks to a Taylorist deskilling of the industrial process, but without the loyalty and job security. These results are not inevitable, but we need to pay attention to them if we hope to arrest the race to bottom in labor standards online.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
A pretty interesting, and pro-employee, case out of the Eighth Circuit. Cuellar-Aguilar v. Deggeller Attractions, Inc. reversed a district court's dismissal of two claims against the employer -- a traveling carnival. One was that it failed to pay the workers, who were in the country on H-2B visas, the prevailing wage rate and the second was that it misreported on federal tax forms the wages it did pay.
The first claim was treated as a state contract claim and, although the workers lacked a formal contract so providing, federal regulations conditioned issuance of visas on the employer's paying the prevailing US wage rate for the region. For the court, hiring foreign workers was sufficient to find a contract under Arkansas law and the terms of that contract can be influenced by the law in effect at the time of formation, in this case the prevailing wage rate. The court even cited an Arkansas case that suggested that such background laws might trump an express agreement to the contrary, although that seems doubtful from a pure contracts perspective.
Even more interesting -- because potentially more broadly applicable -- was the second claim that the employer had underreported their income, presumably to reduce business and FICA liabilities.
The tax laws, 20 USC 7434, provide a cause of action against "any person willfully files a fraudulent information return with respect to payments purported to be made to any other person," and set liability as " an amount equal to the greater of $ 5,000 or the sum of actual damages," costs and attorneys fees (emphasis added).
While plaintiff apparently did not argue any actual harm, the court found a claim stated for the statutory damages. A little research suggests that this is a growing theory: although the cases asserting such claims are still relatively few, most have arisen in the last few years. And, while the claim in Deggeller was that the employer sought to avoid FICA by reporting less than it in fact paid, other 7434 suits have challenged the employer's issuance of a 1099 instead of a W-2, thus suggesting that the employee/independent contractor distinction can arise in yet another civil liability setting.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Friend of the blog and Southeastern Association of Law Schools Labor and Employment Law Workshop organizer extraordinaire Michael Green (Texas A & M) sends along this call for papers for the 2016 SEALS annual conference:
The Southeastern Association of Law Schools(SEALS) is pleased to host the fourth annual “New Voices in Labor and Employment Law” program during the 2016 SEALS Annual Meeting in Amelia Island, Florida. This year we have extended the program to also include “Existing Voices in Labor and Employment Law.” The purpose of this works-in-progress program is to give junior and existing scholars feedback on papers from senior scholars before the upcoming submission cycle. We are seeking submissions from labor and employment law scholars with five or fewer years of full-time teaching experience (not counting the 2015-16 academic year) and will also consider drafts from existing labor and employment scholars regardless of experience.
Submissions should be drafts of papers relating to labor and employment law that will be near completion by the time of the SEALS meeting held August 3-9, 2016. To be considered for participation in the program, please send an email to Professor Michael Z. Green, Texas A&M University School of Law, at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by 5:00 p.m. E.S.T., Monday, January 11, 2016. In your email, please include the title of your paper, a short description of the context (e.g., “Disparate Impact after Dukes”), and a full abstract. Full-time faculty members of SEALS member or affiliate member schools, who have been teaching labor and employment law courses for five or fewer years as of July 1, 2015, will be given a preference in the selection of those contacted to submit final papers but we hope that labor and employment scholars with even more experience will submit papers as well.
To ensure enough time for adequate feedback, space will be limited to 6 participants; additional registrants will be placed on a waiting list and invited to participate on a space available basis. Those individuals accepted into the program must submit a complete draft by 5:00 p.m. E.S.T., Friday, June 10, 2016. Please submit your drafts electronically to the email addresses above. The draft should be accompanied by a cover letter with the author’s name, contact information, and confirmation that the submission meets the criteria in this call for papers.
Submissions are limited to a maximum 40,000 word limit (including footnotes). Papers can be committed for publication prior to their submission as long as they are not actually scheduled to be printed prior to August 9, 2016. Each professor may submit only one paper for consideration. No papers will be accepted after the deadline and the submission of an incomplete draft may limit participation in this workshop. Paper commentators may include Professors Brad Areheart (Tennessee), Anthony Baldwin (Mercer), Richard Bales (Ohio Northern), Scott Bauries (Kentucky), Theresa Beiner (Arkansas-Little Rock), Miriam Cherry (St. Louis), Brian Clarke (Charlotte), Michael Green (Texas A&M), Wendy Greene (Samford), Stacy Hawkins (Rutgers Camden), Jeff Hirsch (North Carolina), Nancy Levit (Missouri-Kansas City), Natasha Martin (Seattle), Marcia McCormick (St. Louis), Angela Onwuachi-Willig (Iowa), Elizabeth Pendo (St. Louis), Nicole Porter (Toledo), Jessica Roberts (Houston), Veronica Root (Notre Dame), Ani Satz (Emory), Paul Secunda (Marquette), Kerri Stone (Florida International), Michael Waterstone (Loyola), and others to be determined.
Please be aware that selected participants and commentators are responsible for their own travel and lodging expenses related to attending the SEALS Annual Meeting, including the SEALS registration fee. Any inquiries about the SEALS New and Existing Voices in Labor and Employment Law Program should be submitted to Professor Michael Green at the email above.
SEALS is a great conference because it is not overly formal, and people are quite approachable. Also, like many workshops in the labor and employment community, the commentators are usually supportive and really engaged. I always leave with more energy than I had when I arrived. We'll keep you posted on other programming as it's set.
December 17, 2015 in Conferences & Colloquia, Disability, Employment Common Law, Employment Discrimination, Faculty Presentations, International & Comparative L.E.L., Labor Law, Labor/Employment History, Pension and Benefits, Public Employment Law, Religion, Scholarship, Wage & Hour | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, October 1, 2015
The Uber litigation (O’Connor v. Uber Technologies) and its progeny have inspired many to tackle the employee-independent contractor puzzle as applied to the so-called “on-demand” economy. We’ve highlighted some of this commentary before (e.g., Rogers 2015). Here are two recent entries, both focusing on the role of worker flexibility:
Benjamin Means and Joseph Seiner, “Navigating the Uber Economy” (here, forthcoming U.C. Davis Law Review), argue that worker classification under the Fair Labor Standards Act, among other laws, should turn primarily on “how much flexibility” the worker has in the work relationship: “Those who can choose the time, place and manner of the work they perform are more independent than those who must accommodate themselves to a business owner's schedule.” Means and Seiner criticize the Department of Labor’s recent Administrator’s Interpretation -- on who counts as an “employee” under the Fair Labor Standards Act—for not affording enough weight to worker flexibility and, if courts follow it, making it “nearly impossible for on-demand businesses to argue that their workers are independent contractors.” In today’s economy, worker flexibility deserves a lot more weight than other factors: “[W]hen the worker has significant discretion to decide when to work, the worker has, as a matter of economic reality, a greater degree of independence than a worker who must abide by a schedule set by the employer.”
Meanwhile, over at onLabor, Ben Sachs argues against the claim that “if Uber drivers were to be deemed employees – rather than independent contractors – the drivers would lose the flexibility that defines their jobs.” This view, he writes, “gets the causal arrows backward,” because a judicial finding that a worker is or is not an “employee” is the result, not the cause, of how much control or flexibility a worker experiences on the job. To be sure, it’s possible that, in response to a legal determination that their drivers are “employees”, Uber might decide to provide their drivers with less flexibility. Sachs calls this “entirely speculative" and "contrary to everything Uber has said about its business model.” Besides, that result would be “based on” Uber’s strategic decision--a choice--and not "the result of a legal determination of employee status.” For prior commentary making this point, see here.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
The most recent issue of the journal Industrial Relations -- a special issue in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act--includes these papers on pay secrecy, reporting pay, and proposed amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime provisions:
In “Pay Secrecy and the Gender Wage Gap in the United States,” Marlene Kim studies the relationship between the gender pay gap and pay secrecy statutes. From the abstract:
Using a difference-in-differences fixed-effects human-capital wage regression, I find that women with higher education levels who live in states that have outlawed pay secrecy have higher earnings, and that the wage gap is consequently reduced. State bans on pay secrecy and federal legislation to amend the FLSA to allow workers to share information about their wages may improve the gender wage gap, especially among women with college or graduate degrees.
In “Underwork, Work-Hour Insecurity, and A New Approach to Wage and Hour Regulation,” Charlotte Alexander and Anna Haley-Lock discuss the reporting pay guarantee as a way to address fluctuating and unstable work schedules. From the abstract:
We begin by examining the problem of work-hour insecurity, particularly employers’ practice of sending workers home early from scheduled shifts. We then move to a detailed assessment of state laws that require reporting pay, as well as reporting pay guarantees in union contracts and private-employer practices that attempt to address the problem of work-hour insecurity. We conclude by considering paths for strengthening such protections in law.
In “FLSA Working Hours Reform: Worker Well-Being Effects in an Economic Framework,” Lonnie Golden models and predicts the effects of recently proposed FLSA amendments on workweek and overtime. From the abstract:
The model contrasts allowing compensatory time for overtime pay for private nonexempt employees to “rights to request” reduced hours. Hours demanded are likely to rise for workers who request comp time, undermining the intention of family-friendliness and alleviating overemployment, unless accompanied by offsetting policies that would prevent the denied use or forced use of comp time and that resurrect some monetary deterrent effect. A unique survey shows that the preference for time over money and comp time is relatively more prevalent among exempt, long hours and women workers; thus, worker welfare is likely better served if comp time were incorporated into an individualized, employee-initiated right to request.
Friday, August 14, 2015
I'm in Hanoi today for the annual LawAsia Employment Conference, and was intrigued by Ujin Ahn's description of the "wage peak system" legislation currently pending in South Korea. Whereas wages tend to increase steadily over a worker's lifetime, this proposed legislation would change that so a worker's wages would rise steadily from early career until retirement minus c. 5-7 years, peak, and then fall until retirement. The premise, as argued by its government and employer proponents, is that this would (a) align wages with actual productivity, (b) thereby increasing job security for older workers, and (c) it would free up wage-money that then could be used to hire more younger workers. The system is opposed by employees/unions as just a pretense to decrease real wages -- they argue that the wage-savings will be retained by employers as excess profits. Calculating when a worker's salary should peak is possible because the country has a mandatory retirement law.
I had never heard of a "wage peak system", and have no idea whether it exists elsewhere.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
How do you know whether a worker counts as an “employee,” not an independent contractor, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? On this often-litigated issue, the US Department of Labor has released Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2015-1, dated July 15, 2015, in order to help “the regulated community in classifying workers and ultimately in curtailing misclassification.”
Much of this fifteen-page document covers familiar ground. DOL stresses that FLSA defines “employ” broadly as including “to suffer or permit to work,” 29 U.S.C. § 203(g); that courts use an expansive multi-factor “economic realities” test – not the traditional common-law test—to decide whether workers count as “employees” under FLSA; and that, given both, “most workers are employees under the FLSA.”
DOL also discusses each of the typical factors of the FLSA “economic realities” test, emphasizing throughout that each factor is not a necessary condition but just a guide: “Ultimately, the goal is not simply to tally which factors are met, but to determine whether the worker is economically dependent on the employer (and thus its employee) or is really in business for him or herself (and thus its independent contractor).”
For example, for the “control” factor of “economic realities” test—itself not dispositive—DOL writes:
Technological advances and enhanced monitoring mechanisms may encourage companies to engage workers not as employees yet maintain stringent control over aspects of the workers’ jobs, from their schedules, to the way that they dress, to the tasks that they carry out. Some employers assert that the control that they exercise over workers is due to the nature of their business, regulatory requirements, or the desire to ensure that their customers are satisfied. However, control exercised over a worker, even for any or all of those reasons, still indicates that the worker is an employee.
Though not expressly addressing them, this view—and DOL’s guidance as a whole—may matter to the recent debates about employee/independent contractor status and the so-called sharing economy.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
In recent legal challenges, Uber, Lyft, and other so-called “ride-sharing” companies have argued that the drivers who contract with them are independent contractors, not their employees, for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and other laws. Their argument: We’re each mostly a technology platform for matching drivers and riders, not a transportation company. This argument has not persuaded. See, e.g., O’Connor v. Uber Techs. Inc., No. 3:13-CV-03826, 2015 WL 1069092, at *6-7 (N.D. Cal., March 11, 2015) (“Uber does not simply sell software; it sells rides. Uber is no more a ‘technology company’ than Yellow Cab is a “technology company” because it uses CB radios to dispatch taxi cabs . . . Uber only makes money if its drivers actually transport passengers.”).
Yet, even if they lose the employee/independent-contractor fight, this comparison to taxicab companies might well cut partly in their favor down the road, because section 13(b)(17) of FLSA exempts from its overtime protections “any driver employed by an employer engaged in the business of operating taxicabs.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(17). Some State wage and hour laws do something similar. E.g., N.Y. Labor Law § 651(5) (defining “employee” to exclude anyone employed “as a driver engaged in operating a taxicab”); 43 Penn. Stat. § 333.105(b) (exempting from State overtime requirements “[a]ny driver employed by an employer engaged in the business of operating taxicabs”); Calif. Industrial Wage Commission Order No. 9-2001, § 3(M) (2014) (“provisions of this section [on overtime] shall not apply to taxicab drivers”).
So, is Uber, Lyft, or another “ride-sharing” company engaged in the “business of operating taxicabs” under FLSA § 13(b)(17)? The U.S. Department of Labor’s Field Operations Handbook (1999 ed.) (DOL-FOH), chapter 24, says this:
24h01 “Business of operating taxicabs.” The taxicab business consists normally of common carrier transportation in small motor vehicles of persons and such property as they may carry with them to any requested destination in the community. The business operates without fixed routes or contracts for recurrent transportation. It serves the miscellaneous and predominantly local transportation need of the community. It may include such occasional and unscheduled trips to or from transportation terminals as the individual passengers may request, and may include stands at the transportation terminals as well as at other places where numerous demands for taxicab transportation may be expected.
DOL adopted this view in August 1974. See also DOL-FOH 24h03(a)(4) (“airport limousine service” as example of work that falls outside this exemption).
Since then, some judges have deferred to the DOL Handbook view in deciding whether a defendant-employer—often those that advertise as a limousine service—falls within this exemption. E.g., Cariani v. D.L.C. Limousine Services, 363 F. Supp. 2d 637, 645 (S.D.N.Y. 2005); Arena v. Plandome Taxi Inc., 2014 WL 1427907, at *15 (E.D.N.Y., April 14, 2014). In contrast, in Rossi v. Associated Limousine Services, 438 F. Supp. 2d 1354, 1363 (S.D. Fla. 2006), the judge emphasized that while the defendant there let its customers “determine the destination of the vehicle,” it mattered more that it “advertises itself as a limousine company”; it was “not licensed to provide taxicab transportation”; its drivers “do not cruise for customers and cannot be hailed down by customers,” but prearrange transport; and it sets fares in advance based on a flat or hourly rate, not based on a taximeter.
How does all this apply to Uber and other “ride-sharing” companies? In some ways, they seem like a “taxicab” business described in DOL’s Handbook—their drivers provide mostly local transportation, without fixed routes, and they largely go where the customer tells them to go. In other respects, it’s not so clear. When you use the Uber app, is it like “hailing” or “flagging down” a taxicab on the fly? Or is it more like prearranging transport, because Uber drivers are not supposed to pick up customers who don’t use the app to set up the ride? See Opinion Letter, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. DOL, 1998 WL 852774, at *1 (April 17, 1998) (“The ordinary meaning of [“taxicabs”] contemplates vehicles that are offered for hire to the general public on city streets. While it is not necessary that all the transportation be provided to persons who ‘flag down’ the vehicles, that is an important aspect of the common meaning of ‘taxicab which your client's vehicles do not possess.”).
In grappling with all this, it might matter that FLSA’s exemptions are supposed to be read narrowly, see Mitchell v. Kentucky Finance Co., 359 U.S. 290, 295 (1959), and consistent with their purpose. So, what’s that purpose? Actually, it’s not at all clear. One court searched the FLSA legislative history and couldn’t find “any explicit explanation for the taxicab exemption.” Arena, 2014 WL 1427907, at *13. Perhaps Congress exempted the taxicab business, because back then it was hard for employers to verify how many hours a driver spent looking for customers to pick up. If so, that’s less of a problem now, because ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have the technology to monitor precisely when a driver makes himself available for rides (via the ride-sharing app) and how long an actual ride takes from pick-up to drop-off.