Friday, February 15, 2019
I normally try to avoid too much self-promotion on the blog, but I wanted to post a new draft article of mine. Hopefully the topic is of interest, but I post it mainly because I'd love comments and thoughts, which you can send me directly (I'm going through the journal submission process now, but still need to work on some things, especially citations). The article is called Future Work and is available on SSRN. The abstract:
The Industrial Revolution. The Digital Age. These revolutions radically altered the workplace and society. We may be on the cusp of a new era—one that will rival or even surpass these historic disruptions. Technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and cutting-edge monitoring devices are developing at a rapid pace. These technologies have already begun to infiltrate the workplace and will continue to do so at ever increasing speed and breadth.
This Article addresses the impact of these emerging technologies on the workplace of the present and the future. Drawing upon interviews with leading technologists, the Article explains the basics of these technologies, describes their current applications in the workplace, and predicts how they are likely to develop in the future. It then examines the legal and policy issues implicated by the adoption of technology in the workplace—most notably job losses, employee classification, privacy intrusions, discrimination, safety and health, and impacts on disabled workers. These changes will surely strain a workplace regulatory system that is ill-equipped to handle them. What is unclear is whether the strain will be so great that the system breaks, resulting in a new paradigm of work.
Whether or not we are on the brink of a workplace revolution or a more modest evolution, emerging technology will exacerbate the inadequacies of our current workplace laws. This Article discusses possible legislative and judicial reforms designed to ameliorate these problems and stave off the possibility of a collapse that would leave a critical mass of workers without any meaningful protection, power, or voice. The most far-reaching of these options is a proposed “Law of Work” that would address the wide-ranging and interrelated issues posed by these new technologies via a centralized regulatory scheme. This proposal, as well as other more narrowly focused reforms, highlight the major impacts of technology on our workplace laws, underscore both the current and future shortcomings of those laws, and serve as a foundation for further research and discussion on the future of work.
February 15, 2019 in Employment Discrimination, Labor and Employment News, Pension and Benefits, Public Employment Law, Scholarship, Wage & Hour, Worklife Issues, Workplace Safety, Workplace Trends | Permalink | Comments (0)
Some recent L&E stories that I've been too busy lately to post on (see my follow-up post):
- The Denver teachers strike ends after three days. Looks like the deal will significantly increase salaries and the .parties agree to study the bonus scheme that helped precipitate the strike. As an aside, this year seems to be one of more traditional, union teacher strikes, as opposed to the previous years' non-union teacher protests and strikes. I'm not sure if it's just coincidence or something else (e.g., state politicians did more to pacify teachers prior to the November elections), but it's worth watching.
- The Seventh Circuit just held en banc that the ADEA does not permit disparate impact claims by applicants. This issue has Supreme Court review written all over it. I'm not sure when, as there's some question whether there's an active circuit split (the 7th & 11th have held the same; to the best of my knowledge, all the circuits going the other way did so before the Smith v. Jackson case from the Supreme Court that clarified the ADEA's disparate impact analysis). In the meantime, it's a great teaching case because it's going some good statutory interpretation aspects, weaving a tension of textual factors, past Court precedent, and statutory purpose.
- In other Seventh Circuit news, the court just ruled on Scabby the Rat (who seems to be going out of his way to define the modern labor movement). It held that a town ordinance prohibiting Scabby did not violate the union's First Amendment rights because the ordinance was content neutral and wasn't enforced in a discriminatory fashion. At the same time, the NLRB's General Counsel has indicated a desire to go after the use of Scabby and other inflatables (which employers really hate, thereby showing their effectiveness). So expect Scabby to stay in the news.
- The NLRB has invited briefs regarding whether it should decline jurisdiction over charter schools. Note this would be a decision to voluntarily decline jurisdiction, not a ruling that the Board lacks jurisdiction (like the Northwestern college football case). I'm not a huge fan of this tactic, especially in a case like charter schools where you lack the conflict in public and private teams playing each other. But note that if the NLRB follows through, they're not going to be able to totally avoid the issue because employees could still bring individual complaints alleging ULPs.
Dispatch from Lise Gelernter (Buffalo):
The issue of the FAA § 1 exemption for “transportation workers” has led to court decisions that I think take an over-narrow view of the exemption. FAA § 1 says that the FAA does not apply to “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” And in Circuit City, the Supreme Court said that the group of “any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” was confined to “transportation workers.” 532 U.S. 105, 119 (2001). The Court did not provide its own definition of what it considered “transportation workers,” but it did cite to and quote the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in Cole v. Burns International Security Services, 105 F.3d 1465 (D.C. Cir. 1997), which stated that transportation workers were workers who were “actually engaged in the movement of goods in interstate commerce.” 105 F.3d at 1471. The Cole case involved a security guard at a railroad station, Union Station in Washington, D.C. One issue in that case was whether the guard’s arbitration agreement was exempt from the FAA; the court held that the guard was not a “transportation worker” and therefore not exempt. It should be noted that Cole, the guard, did not work for the railroad, but for the security service hired by the station.
This has led many courts to find that for “transportation workers” to be exempt from the FAA, they must be involved in the “movement of goods” across state lines. The case of Kowalewski v. Samadarov has a good discussion of the debate over who is a “transportation worker.” 590 F.Supp.2d 477 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (finding that car service drivers transporting passengers across state lines were not “transportation workers” exempt from the FAA). As Rick Bales has pointed out, this begs the question of what happens when an Uber driver transports a salesperson from New York to New Jersey carrying samples of her products. Moreover, why should Uber drivers be treated any differently than railroad engineers and airline pilots who carry passengers in interstate commerce? All airline and railroad workers should be exempt under FAA § 1 if the reference to “railroad employees” includes anybody covered by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. §§ 151-187 (airline employees became subject to the RLA by virtue of an amendment adding §§ 181-187). The RLA provides that it applies to: “every common carrier by air engaged in interstate or foreign commerce, and every carrier by air transporting mail for or under contract with the United States Government, and every air pilot or other person who performs any work as an employee [for the carrier].” The RLA also goes beyond pilots – there are any number of RLA cases involving flight attendants, mechanics and other airline employees.
Justice Kennedy appeared to endorse the concept of FAA exemption for all employees covered by the RLA in Circuit City when he stated:
When the FAA was adopted, moreover, grievance procedures existed for railroad employees under federal law, see Transportation Act of 1920, §§ 300–316, 41 Stat. 456, and the passage of a more comprehensive statute providing for the mediation and arbitration of railroad labor disputes was imminent, see Railway Labor Act of 1926, 44 Stat. 577, 46 U.S.C. § 651 (repealed). It is reasonable to assume that Congress excluded “seamen” and “railroad employees” from the FAA for the simple reason that it did not wish to unsettle established or developing statutory dispute resolution schemes covering specific workers.
532 U.S. at 121. In TWA v. Sinicropi, the District Court stated flat out: “Contracts of airline employees, however, are exempted from the Federal Arbitration Act.” 887 F.Supp. 595, n. 13 (S.D.N.Y. 1995), aff’d on other grounds, 84 F.3d 116 (2d Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 149 (1996).
It seems clear to me that the Appellate Division, First Department of the New York Supreme Court got it all wrong when it held that Jet Blue pilots were not exempt from the FAA because they were not “transportation workers” whose primary activity was moving goods across state lines. JetBlue Airways Corp. v. Stephenson, 88 A.D.3d 567 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dept. 2011). Instead, because they moved passengers, the court said, they could not claim the “transportation workers” exemption. This, of course, ignored the exemption for “railroad workers,” which I am pretty sure should mean everyone covered by the RLA.
I doubt that the Supreme Court would find that the FAA § 1 exemption is applicable only to airline or railroad employees who actually transport goods across state lines; I think they would have to find the exemption covers all RLA-covered employees (but of course, the Supreme Court has recently often done the unexpected). Therefore, if “transportation workers” are supposed to be people in the transportation industry who perform work similar to the airline and railroad employees covered by the RLA, why should there be a “goods” requirement for them?
Thanks to Orly Lobel (San Diego) for alerting us that the Open Markets Institute is petitioning the Federal Trade Commission to write a rule banning employee non-competes as an unfair method of competition. To add your name to the petition as a signatory, email OMI Legal Director Sandeep Vaheesan.
Thursday, February 14, 2019
Thanks to Michael Oswalt (NIU) for sending word, and getting permission to post, about the adjuncts at Elon voting next week in an SEIU organizing drive. Here's Michael's description of what's happening:
I'm writing to ask if you might consider signing a legal academic letter of support for non-tenure-track faculty who are organizing a union at Elon University. Throughout the process, administrators have argued that the adjuncts are managers excluded from the NLRA. While the Region recently rejected this claim and scheduled an election for next week, the local (Workers United Southern Region) and the International (SEIU) fear that the University will appeal to the Board. This would not only delay the process at Elon, it would endanger one of the most successful and inspiring unionization trends of the past few years.
The campaign is hoping to finalize the letter by COB Saturday; here's the sign-on page.
Saturday, February 9, 2019
Nicole Porter (Toledo) has just posted on SSRN a pair of articles well worth reading. Here's the abstract for the article A New Look at the ADA's Undue Hardship Defense (forthcoming Missouri L. Rev.):
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must provide accommodations to their disabled employees unless those accommodations cause an undue hardship to the employer. When the ADA was being enacted in 1990, many thought that the undue hardship defense would be hotly debated in the courts and by academics. And yet, the undue hardship defense is very rarely outcome determinative and has not been the subject of a significant piece of scholarship since the mid-1990s. This article takes a fresh look at the under-developed case law surrounding the undue hardship defense. From a data set of over 1,600 potential undue hardship cases, I identified only 120 that address undue hardship in depth. These cases reveal that cost — which both the statute and conventional wisdom suggest is the focus of the inquiry — plays only a minor role. Instead, these cases revealed three recurring themes: (1) courts often confuse or conflate the reasonable accommodation inquiry and the undue hardship defense; (2) whether an accommodation places burdens on other employees (what I call “special treatment stigma”) frequently is relevant to the undue hardship defense; and (3) the phenomenon of “withdrawn accommodations” often influences courts’ analysis of the undue hardship defense. These themes not only provide a deeper insight into the undue hardship defense, but also help to more broadly illuminate the scope of an employer’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodations.
Here's the abstract for Mixed Signals: What Can We Expect From the Supreme Court in This Post-ADA Amendments Act Era? (forthcoming Touro L. Rev.):
The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 was intended to breathe new life into the ADA after the courts, especially the Supreme Court, had drastically narrowed the ADA’s protected class. But since the ADA was amended in 2008, the Supreme Court has not decided any ADA cases. Thus, there are many ADA issues, especially in the employment context, that remain unresolved. This paper will attempt to determine whether we can expect a disability-friendly Supreme Court or whether the Court will once again narrowly construe individuals with disabilities’ rights under the ADA. In doing so, I have uncovered some mixed signals. On the one hand, the body of Tenth Circuit ADA cases decided by our newest jurist, Justice Gorsuch, suggests an anti-disability bent. On the other hand, one possible source of good news for individuals with disabilities are two recent IDEA Supreme Court cases decided in 2017: Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools and Endrew F. ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas County School Dist. RE-1. Both of these cases were very plaintiff-friendly and both were unanimous (the Fry case had a two-justice concurrence). But are these plaintiff-friendly cases signaling a disability-friendly Supreme Court? Or is the plaintiff-friendly outcome of these cases not because they involve individuals with disabilities but because they involve educating children? And if the latter is true, what can we expect from the Supreme Court if and when it decides the unresolved ADA employment issues? This paper will attempt to answer these questions.
Friday, February 8, 2019
Thanks to Susan Bisom-Rapp (Thomas Jefferson, and a member of the Biagi Foundation's Academic Advisory Board) for sending word of the Seventeenth International Conference in Commemoration of prof Marco Biagi. The conference is entitled "The Collective Dimension(s) of Employment Relations. Organizational and Regulatory Challenges in a World of Work in Transformation", is organized by the Marco Biagi Foundation at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, and will take place in Modena (Italy) on March 18th and 19th, 2019. Attendance to the conference is free. Here's more information, including the Conference program and the registration form.
Monday, February 4, 2019
Friend-of-blog Leora Eisenstadt (Temple, Fox School of Business) has just posted on SSRN a fascinating new piece on data analytics and the workplace, Data Analytics and the Erosion of the Work/Non-Work Divide (forthcoming American Business Law Journal). The abstract is below:
Numerous statutes and common law doctrines conceive of a dividing line between work time and non-work time and delineate the activities that must be compensated as work. While technological innovations and increasing desires for workplace flexibility have begun to erode this divide, it persists, in part, because of the ways in which the division protects employers and employees alike. Nonetheless, the explosion of data analytics programs that allow employers to monitor and rely upon a worker’s off-duty conduct will soon weaken the dividing line between work and non-work in dramatically greater and more troubling ways than ever before. Examples of these advances abound. Employers have begun to rely on algorithms that harvest massive quantities of data from employees’ social media and other online profiles and use this data to screen for the most productive teams and the best workers. Employers can now use data analytics to track and predict their employees’ family planning thoughts and healthcare concerns or use facial recognition technology and sentiment analysis to forecast employees’ emotional states. The emergence of these programs allowing employers to track, predict, rely upon, and possibly control non-work activities, views, preferences, and emotions represents a major blurring of the line between work and non-work. Data Analytics and the Erosion of the Work/Non-work Divide contends that these advances in predictive analytics suggest a need to re-examine the notion of work vs. non-work time and to question whether existing protections adequately consider a world in which these lines have been so significantly muddled. As a society, we need to acknowledge the implications of the availability of massive quantities of employees’ off-duty data and to decide whether and how to regulate its use by employers. Whether we, as a society, decide to allow market forces to dictate acceptable employer behavior, choose to regulate and restrict the use of off-duty data for adverse employment decisions, or find some middle ground that requires disclosure and consent, we should be choosing a course rather than allowing the technological innovations to be the guide.
This is an area of the law and workplace that is starting to receive much-needed attention, and Professor Eisenstadt's piece represents a great new significant contribution to the field.
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Yesterday, the NLRB issued a decision in the SuperShuttle DFW case, providing yet another analysis to determine whether an individual is an employee or independent contractor under the NLRA. The Board's new approach is basically just to adopt the D.C. Circuit's test from the 2011 FedEx case, which I've examined (and criticized) elsewhere. That test relies most heavily on whether the worker has "entrepreneurial opportunity."
As a preliminary matter, it is important to remember that the Supreme Court has held multiple times that when a statute lacks a meaningful definition of "employee," the common-law "right-to-control" test for determining whether someone is an employee or independent contractor should apply. The Court, in Roadway Systems, explicitly held that the NLRA is one of those statutes. So the question for the NLRB is to determine what the common-law test requires.
Note that the analysis is not referred to as the "common-law 'entrepreneurial opportunity'" test. That's because, for its long history, that test has stressed that the most important factor is the purported employer's right to control the manner and means of work of the purported employees. Entrepreneurial opportunity may be relevant, along are numerous other factors, but the right to control is the focal point of the test (I'm actually being generous here because entrepreneurial opportunity isn't explicitly a factor in the common-law test, although other factors hint at a similar concern). In fact, in an ironic twist, the D.C. Circuit just last month stressed this exact point with regard to the NLRB's joint-employer test. In that case, the D.C. Circuit gave a pretty strong warning that the Board needs to be careful not to stray too far from the common-law's focus on right-to-control.
Despite all of this, in SuperShuttle, the NLRB adopted a D.C. Circuit test that makes entrepreneurial opportunity the overriding concern in the analysis. The NLRB downplayed that that's what the D.C. Circuit did, but that interpretation is just wrong. The court held, among other things, that it was "shift[ing the] emphasis’ away from the unwieldy control inquiry in favor of a more accurate proxy: whether the ‘putative independent contractors have significant entrepreneurial opportunity for gain or loss.’" And that shift, to my mind, is indefensible.
You'll note that SuperShuttle has exactly zero citations showing judicial support for the notion that entrepreneurial opportunity is an "important animating principle" of the common-law test other than the D.C. Circuit's decisions. Those decisions, in turn, elevated entrepreneurial opportunity based on an erroneous (one might even say disingenuous) interpretation of the common law. There is simply no reasonable way to say both that the NLRB uses the common law test and that the test's primary focus is entrepreneurial opportunity. The first proposition, as the Board majority itself acknowledges, is undoubtably true; the second is just as clearly untrue. (Member McFerran makes the same point in her dissent.) The common-law test simply does not consider entrepreneurial opportunity as a key principle. Indeed, a closer question is whether it considers it at all. Thus, the Board could reasonably argue that entrepreneurial opportunity should be the animating factor, but it can't make that happen without defying the Supreme Court's clear mandate that when Congress doesn't provide a meaningful definition of "employee," the common-law test applies.
As bad as the NLRB's and D.C. Circuit's manipulation of the common-law test's history is, if that's all that was going on, this might not have too big of an impact. But it's not. What I view as the biggest practical effect of the D.C. Circuit's standard is how it define entrepreneurial opportunity. In particular, the court would allow a business to classify a worker as an independent contractor based simply on theoretical entrepreneurial opportunity, even if it is virtually impossible to take advantage of in practice. This means that businesses can manipulate their agreements with workers to give the appearance of entrepreneurial opportunity, while ensuring that workers lack any genuine opportunity to act like anything but employees. In SuperShuttle, the Board didn't explicitly get into this question, so it's not entirely clear how close they're going to hew to that aspect of the D.C. Circuit's approach, although the Board implied that they were doing the same thing, particularly by failing look into whether drivers had any real ability to use their vans for other work. But the reason why they didn't address this issue may be more disturbing. The Board failed to consider whether the drivers had the option to sell their services to other business--something that is a key characteristic of an independent contractor. Instead, the Board merely stressed that the drivers had control over how much they would work for SuperShuttle and, therefore, how much they earn. You know who else controls how much they earn by determining how much they work? Virtually every hourly and piece-rate employee (albeit with varying ability to control their hours).
Finally, one other significant impact of SuperShuttle was to reject the Obama Board's test in another FedEx decision (see a trend here?), in particular its use of economic dependency. On this point, I'm in agreement with the current Board. While I prefer a more expansive test that considers economic dependency, that's not what the Board should be using. Again, the Court has said that statutes like the NLRA with no real definition of "employee" should use the common-law test. That test doesn't stress economic dependency, unlike the test under the FLSA and FLRA, which have statutory language that suggest a broader classification. So while as a policy matter I prefer using economic dependency, that's not what the NLRB should be doing. The way to fix this is for Congress to better define "employee" or for the Supreme Court to move away from its common-law default.
In sum, SuperShuttle is a a vey poorly reasoned decision, no matter what you think the best test should be from a policy perspective. What will be interesting is to see how the SuperShuttle test fares in the circuit courts. I suspect some circuits are going to squarely reject the new rule, while some may approve. Even more interesting will be the D.C. Circuit's take. The court will have to grapple with its equally bad FedEx decision, which seems to run directly counter to its recent holding on the joint-employer issue, not to mention explicit Supreme Court precedent.
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Rebecca Morrow (Wake Forest) has posted on SSRN an interesting approach to challenging noncompete violations -- as tax code violations. Her article is Noncompetes as Tax Evasion, 96 Wash. U. L. Rev. ___ (2018), and it caught my attention over at Tax Prof Blog. Here's an excerpt from the abstract:
Policymakers should use a [tax-violation] approach to curtail the excessive, exploitative, and anticompetitive use of employment noncompete agreements. Currently, nearly one in five (or thirty million) American workers is bound by an employment noncompete. Employers claim that they adequately compensate employees for noncompete restrictions with higher wages, bigger raises, and/or more generous bonuses. Policymakers scoff at this claim and use contract law to attack them. Unfortunately, employment noncompetes are like Al Capone in that they have flourished despite the law’s efforts to restrain them. Recently, the largest study of noncompetes in U.S. history paradoxically found that their prevalence is unaffected by their enforceability. In states like California that refuse to enforce employment noncompetes, they are as common as in states that uphold them. Contract law has proved ill-equipped to respond to the pervasive, expanding, and damaging use of noncompetes.
This Article is the first to shift the focus and to argue that employment noncompetes, as employers currently use them, constitute tax evasion and should be attacked as such. If employers pay employees for noncompetes through compensation, then by employers’ own account, this compensation is not purely an expense associated with immediate benefits; rather, it is an expenditure associated with future benefits — benefits that the employer will enjoy years after payment. Thus, the IRS should stop allowing employers to fully immediately deduct the compensation they pay to employees subject to noncompetes and instead should require that an adequate portion of total compensation be allocated to the noncompete and amortized over the restricted period, beginning when employment ends.
Friday, January 18, 2019
The Wall Street Journal reports today that data from the Department of Labor show union density continuing to fall. Total density in 2018 was 10.5%, down from 10.7% in 2017. Density in the public sector fell from 34.4% to 33.9%). Here's a link to the DOL BLS press release with links to the relevant tables; below is an excerpt from the WSJ article:
The overall rate of union membership in the U.S. fell last year, largely reflecting a decline in the rate of state employees’ unionization, according to the latest Labor Department data.
The union membership rate, or the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions, dropped to 10.5% in 2018 from 10.7% a year earlier, the Labor Department said Friday.
The decline stems mainly from a decrease in union membership among state employees, whose membership rates fell to 28.6% in 2018 from 30.3% a year earlier.
Thursday, January 17, 2019
New Prime and the Gig Economy, Rick Bales (ONU).
New Prime and the Viability of State Arbitration Acts, Lise Gelernter (Buffalo, & NAA Member).
New Prime and Old Faults, Imre S. Szalai (Loyola New Orleans)
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Two increasingly rare events occurred today in the same case: [a subset of] workers got a win, and the Supreme Court narrowed (yes, you read that correctly) the scope of the Federal Arbitration Act. Though the case at first blush appears narrow, it may have much broader implications in the Uber litigation.
The case is New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira. Dominic Oliveira was a truck driver for Prime under a contract calling him an independent contractor and containing an arbitration clause. Oliveira filed a class action alleging underpayment of wages. Prime moved to dismiss and send the case to arbitration, on two grounds: (1) the arbitration clause gave the arbitrator the authority to decide arbitrability issues -- so Prime argued the case should go straight to arbitration for the arbitrator to decide first the arbitrability issue and then, presumably, the merits; and (2) because Oliveira was an independent contractor, he was not covered by the FAA Section 1 exclusion of "contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce." Because, Prime argued, Oliveira wasn't excluded by Section 1, he was covered by the FAA, and his dispute should be subject to the same nearly irrebuttable presumption of arbitrability applied to all other contracts covered by the FAA.
The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 (Kavanaugh did not participate) for Oliveira on both counts. On the arbitrability issue, the Court characterized the "arbitrator decides arbitrability" clause as merely a specialized form of an arbitration clause. Like any other arbitration clause, the Court reasoned, this type of arbitration clause is not enforceable under the FAA if it's excluded by Section 1. And courts -- not arbitrators -- decide "substantive" arbitrability questions such as the scope of the Section 1 exclusion.
As noted above, Prime argued that the Court should interpret the FAA Section 1 exclusion as applying only to "employees", not to independent contractors. The Court, however, rejected that argument as inconsistent with the common understanding of those terms in the 1920s when the FAA was drafted and enacted. At the time, the Court said, "employment" was more-or-less a synonym for "work" -- and "work" is what Oliveira was doing regardless of whether he is today classified as an "employee" or an "independent contractor".
This is a rare win for workers under the FAA, but it's a narrow one. The Court already has restricted the Section 1 exclusion to transportation workers (Circuit City v. Adams). But Uber drivers are transportation workers, and there's a ton of pending litigation over whether they are employees or independent contractors. After New Prime, Uber drivers may be excluded by the FAA regardless of their legal designation.
Among the many NLRB doctrines that have swung in various directions is the one in which an individual employee's actions or words may be concerted activity protected by Section 7 of the NLRA. The Meyers I and Meyers II cases are the foundation for this doctrine, but we've seen many subsequent Board decisions applying the doctrine in different ways depending on the Board members involved. This week's decision in Alstate Maintenance continues that trend, as the full Board (well, the current four members at least) purports to "begin the process of restoring the Meyers standard." Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that, purely from a doctrinal perspective, that statement is an overreach and the decision is a bit of tempest in a teapot.
Under the Meyers standard and related cases, the General Counsel can show that an individual employee is engaging in concerted activity if the employee was attempting to initiate or to prepare for group action, or if the employee was engaging with or on behalf of a group of employees (there are other ways as well, such as enforcing rights under a collective-bargaining agreement). The Board doesn't attempt to alter these underlying rules, but instead goes all in for a stingy interpretation of individual-concerted activity. In essence, the Board distinguished cases where it felt it could do so, and overruled the one case that it believed to be too much of an impediment (WorldMark by Wyndham). In particular, the Board rejected statements in that case that an employee who protests in a group meeting in engaging in concerted activity by attempting to intimate group action and that complaining in a group setting is necessarily concerted activity (the dissent disputes this characterization of WorldMark). Instead, the Board in Alstate reiterated the need to engage in a fact-specific inquiry under Meyers II. The money quote is:
Rather, to be concerted activity, an individual employee’s statement to a supervisor or manager must either bring a truly group complaint regarding a workplace issue to management’s attention, or the totality of the circumstances must support a reasonable inference that in making the statement, the employee was seeking to initiate, induce or prepare for group action. Consistent with Whittaker and Chromalloy Gas Turbine, relevant factors that could tend to support drawing such an inference include that (1) the statement was made in an employee meeting called by the employer to announce a decision affecting wages, hours, or some other term or condition of employment; (2) the decision affects multiple employees attending the meeting; (3) the employee who speaks up in response to the announcement did so to protest or complain about the decision, not merely (as in WorldMark) to ask questions about how the decision has been or will be implemented; (4) the speaker protested or complained about the decision’s effect on the work force generally or some portion of the work force, not solely about its effect on the speaker him- or herself; and (5) the meeting presented the first opportunity employees had to address the decision, so that the speaker had no opportunity to discuss it with other employees beforehand.
 We do not hold that all these factors must be present to support a reasonable inference that an employee is seeking to initiate or induce group action. In keeping with Meyers II, the determination of whether an individual employee has engaged in concerted activity remains a factual one based on the totality of the record evidence. . . .
One thing that's odd about this case is that it involved not only an employee's comment (a skycap who initially stated that a group of skycaps had helped a similar group arriving at the airport previous and didn't receive a tip) but also a partial work stoppage (the employee and others refused to help the new group). Alas, the GC only focused on the comment, although one might wonder why the fact that group action actually occurred did play a bigger role in the Board's analysis. Nevertheless, I don't see Alstate as making any major, substantive changes to the Meyers standard. Rather, it seems to be an example of a restrictive reading of Section 7 that we'd except from a Republican Board, announced in a way to send a message to parties about what it's doing. That said, as Michael Duff emphasized to me, even if the doctrine isn't effected much, this can have real impacts on employees who are protesting conditions at work.
Yes, says Erin McHenry-Sorber (Assistant Professor of Higher Education, West Virginia University -- and thanks to Paul Harpur for sending me the link). Here's an excerpt from her recent article in The Conversation:
The Los Angeles teachers strike suggests that the wave of teacher protests is not over.
Teacher strikes and work stoppages have been preceded by a nationwide teacher shortage that continues to grow across many states, which do not have enough certified math, special education, science, and in increasing cases, elementary teachers – to meet the needs of their students. In California 80 percent of districts reported a teacher shortage in the 2017 to 2018 school year.
Teacher shortages are most often blamed on low teacher pay, one of the commonalities across teacher strikes. These shortages are arguably exacerbated by an increase in the “teacher pay penalty,” the term used to describe disparities in teacher salary compared to professions requiring comparable levels of education.
At the same time teachers find themselves increasingly undervalued, most states are still funding their public education systems at levels below that of the 2008 recession. This includes California, which is ranked 41st nationwide in per pupil spending when adjusted for cost of living. As long as public schools remain underfunded, the nation can expect to see more teacher strikes in other school districts and states in the near future.
Wednesday, January 9, 2019
This Article argues employers should be required to engage in the same interactive process with employees seeking religious accommodations as they are with employees seeking disability accommodations. The interactive process generally obligates the employer and employee to work together in good faith to determine whether the employee can be reasonably accommodated. Neither the Americans with Disability Act nor Title VII of the Civil Rights Act explicitly mandates the interactive process, yet courts routinely read this requirement into the former statute but not the latter. The practical effect of this distinction is that religious accommodations generally are more difficult to obtain, and employees seeking such accommodations have less control over the process and outcome. Consequently, employees may be forced to choose between their jobs and their religious beliefs—the very conundrum Title VII seeks to avoid.
The legal justification for mandating the interactive process for disability accommodations but not religious accommodations is uncompelling, prompting a handful of courts to require the interactive process for both types of accommodations. More courts should follow suit. There is considerable upside, and virtually no downside, to extending the interactive-process requirement to religious accommodations. It benefits employees and employers alike by increasing the odds of a mutually agreeable accommodation, which in turn reduces the risk of litigation. Moreover, good-faith participation in the interactive process better positions a party to prevail when litigation does ensue. The interactive process also benefits courts, not only by lightening dockets through reduced litigation, but also by providing a straightforward, highly adaptable, and familiar framework through which to more effectively evaluate accommodation claims. As religious-accommodation requests increase, both in number and types, the interactive process can help reduce conflict by ensuring employers and employees work together to determine whether a reasonable accommodation is possible.
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
The American Federation of Government Employees has initiated a suit on behalf on of two federal corrections officers who have not received earned overtime pay. The class is likely to grow substantially if the shutdown continues past Jan. 5, as that's the next regularly scheduled payday. Indeed, it is estimated that over 400,000 employees have been deemed essential and are required to continue working during the shutdown.
Like a similar suit brought during the 2013 shutdown by the same law firm--Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch--the employees are claiming FLSA violations. What I hadn't realized is that despite a win in the 2013 suit, 25,000 employees still haven't received damages (they were awarded liquidated/double damages). If anyone knows why, I'd love to hear it. In any event, the prospect of double damages for over 400,000 employees for heaven knows how many hours of work would, I hope, give politicians extra incentive to get this resolved. That said, no matter how big an FLSA award might be, it still pales in comparison to a $5 billion wall . . . .
Monday, December 31, 2018
The D.C. Circuit has just ruled on the NLRB's Browning-Ferris joint-employer test, largely approving the standard that made many on the employer-side of things apoplectic. In Browning-Ferris v. NLRB, the court approved of the joint-employer rule, but remanded because it held that the Board didn't apply part of the rule correctly. This issue is becoming increasingly convoluted, so let me break down some of what's going on.
- Why did the court decide this case in the first place? As we've been following, the Board has already reversed the Browning-Ferris test once, which they had to vacate because of a recusal issue. They are now in the process of reversing course via rulemaking. Despite that, the Board asked the court to decide the case, which the majority readily agreed to do, over a dissent. The reason the court did this brings me to the second point.
- De novo review for the joint-employer test. The court emphasized that determination of the Board's joint-employer rule is reviewed de novo. Because the joint-employer standard is based in common law, according to the court, no deference to the agency is required (as opposed to application of the standard, which is a mixed question of law and fact). And because the court wasn't giving the Board any deference, the court determined that there was no need to wait for the Board's new rule. Note that this is not good news for the Board's draft joint-employer rule, although may be good news for those who prefer a more consistent rule over the long-term.
- Reserved and indirect control is relevant to joint employment. As a reminder, the big argument is whether and to what extent the joint-employer test should consider reserved and indirect control. Browning Ferris said that actual and direct control is not required; the current Board disagrees. In this case, the court was crystal clear that the argument made by the employer and dissenters in Browning-Ferris that joint employment can be based only on exercised control and direct and immediate control are wrong. Full stop. As the court noted, the common law is riddled with examples and statements that reserved control and indirect control are relevant to joint employer determinations. So this extreme view--that joint employers must have actual and direct control--is currently dead in the D.C. Circuit. But there's a middle ground that may still available, which I'll get to in a moment. But first . . .
- Remand. Despite uphold the Browning-Ferris test, the court held that the Board mis-stepped in this case. In particular, when applying the new rule in this case, the Board didn't make clear whether it relied on evidence on indirect control over essential terms and conditions of work (which is relevant) versus indirect control over "routine parameters of company-to-company contracting," like a cost-plus contract or advance description of tasks (which is not relevant). Thus, the court remanded to the Board to clarify whether there is enough relevant evidence to support a joint-employment finding.
- Meaningful collective bargaining. The court also tacitly approved the Board's inquiry into whether a putative joint employer controls enough essential terms and conditions of employment to permit meaningful collective bargaining, but wanted the Board to define terms of that inquiry more in a case, unlike here, when the Board actually applies invokes that question. That's good news for folks, like yours truly, who have argued for a more collective-bargaining focused joint employer test.
- Finally, the money question: What next? I was talking this morning to Robert Iofalla at Bloomberg News (I will link to his article when it comes out), who is exploring this question. One option is that the Board will press an extreme position during its rulemaking and thumb its nose at the court's admonition that reserved and indirect control is relevant (which could then lead to the Board's nonacquiescence policy, possible circuit split, and cert. petition). But my guess--and I stress guess--is that the Republican majority of the Board will go as far as it can without directly conflicting with the court's decision. In other words, as it did in Hy-Brand, the Board could acknowledge that evidence of reserved or indirect control can be relevant. And, then, it can answer the questions that the court expressly left open: whether only indirect and/or reserved control is enough to find joint employment. The current Board will obviously say "no," which will leave us with basically the same test we had before Bronwing-Ferris. The Board could still lose when the D.C. Circuit or another court takes up that question, but this seems to be a lower risk strategy than going the extreme route. The "relevant-but-not-sufficient" strategy still leaves plenty of room for a narrow joint employer test, especially when a Trump Board is applying it, while avoiding the time-consuming litigation that would result from defying the D.C. Circuit and seeking a circuit split. Avoiding these types of risks are especially important when the Board is doing something it rarely does by engaging in substantive, formal rulemaking.
Still plenty more to come, so stay tuned.
Friday, December 21, 2018
Today our employment law provides workers with far more protection than once existed with respect to hiring, firing, salary, and workplace conditions. Despite these gains, continued progress towards justice is currently in jeopardy due to companies’ imposition of mandatory arbitration on their employees. By denying their employees access to court, companies are causing employment law to stultify. This impacts all employees, but particularly harms the most vulnerable and oppressed members of our society for whom legal evolution is most important. If companies can continue to use mandatory arbitration to eradicate access to court, where judges are potentially influenced by social movements, social movements will no longer be able to assist the overall progressive trend of our jurisprudence. While the phenomenon of mandatory employment arbitration is not new, recent Supreme Court opinions have encouraged an even greater number of employers to use this practice to force employees to take any disputes to arbitration, rather than to court. Focusing particularly on the #MeToo movement, this Article will consider this reality and its detrimental implications for the evolution of legal precedent affecting our most vulnerable employees.
Sunday, December 16, 2018
Thanks to Jon Harkavy (Patterson Harkavy) for sending word of the Fourth Circuit case Netter v. Barnes. Although the plaintiff lost, Judge Motz's opinion for the Court rejects a broader rationale that would have hampered enforcement of section 704 of Title VII in "protected activity" cases generally.