Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Richard Moberly (Nebraska) has somehow found time from his decanal duties to write and post to SSRN his new article (North Carolina L. Rev.) Confidentiality and Whistleblowing. Here's an excerpt from the abstract:
... [T]the federal government has aggressively courted employees to become whistleblowers. In response, corporations have tried to mitigate potential damage by relying on broad confidentiality provisions to discourage employees from revealing insider information. As a result, uncertainty abounds when the corporate desire for confidentiality clashes with the government’s desire for employees to blow the whistle.
This Article is about the increasing tension between these countervailing trends. Ultimately, the Article concludes that the government’s ability to rely on insiders to monitor organizational behavior by blowing the whistle will depend on its willingness to regulate the ability of an organization to protect its secrets through contract.
Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Congratulations to Francis Mootz (Pacific-McGeorge), Leticia Saucedo (Cal.-Davis), and Mike Maslanka (North Texas) on the publication of their book Learning Employment Law (West 2019). Here's the publisher's description:
Learning Employment Law provides concise and clear text, examples, and case excerpts that empower students to engage in sophisticated problem-solving regarding the most pressing issues in contemporary workplace law. The book succinctly reviews the historical backdrop of each issue to ensure that students gain the wider understanding necessary to effectively address contemporary problems. The book is comprised of 44 independent Lessons that can be structured by the professor to highlight different themes. Students will be exposed to common law and regulatory regimes, with a focus on the new workplace challenges of the platform economy, outsourced labor, and immigrant labor. Students will gain a sophisticated understanding of the challenges facing lawyers in this rapidly developing area of the law.
Friday, February 15, 2019
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.
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.
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.
Friday, November 16, 2018
Congratulations to Nestor Davidson (Fordham), Michèle Finck (Oxford), and John Infranca (Suffolk) on the publication of their book The Cambridge Handbook of the Law of the Sharing Economy (Cambridge U. Press). I had the pleasure of serving as a peer reviewer on the original proposal, and can verify that the book takes a comprehensive look at the sharing economy -- not just the employment stuff that readers of this blog mostly focus on. Here's the publisher's description:
This Handbook grapples conceptually and practically with what the sharing economy - which includes entities ranging from large for-profit firms like Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, Taskrabbit, and Upwork to smaller, non-profit collaborative initiatives - means for law, and how law, in turn, is shaping critical aspects of the sharing economy. Featuring a diverse set of contributors from many academic disciplines and countries, the book compiles the most important, up-to-date research on the regulation of the sharing economy. The first part surveys the nature of the sharing economy, explores the central challenge of balancing innovation and regulatory concerns, and examines the institutions confronting these regulatory challenges, and the second part turns to a series of specific regulatory domains, including labor and employment law, consumer protection, tax, and civil rights. This groundbreaking work should be read by anyone interested in the dynamic relationship between law and the sharing economy.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
CBS’ announcement of CEO Les Moonves’ departure offers a welcome example of a company willing to cut bait on a star employee based on reports of repeated sexual harassment. Even more noteworthy is the news that Moonveslikely will receive no severance pay.
CBS’ refusal to offer Moonves a cushioned exit could presage a new level of accountability post-#MeToo, one where harassers can expect neither a pass nor a golden parachute. But there are reasons to be less sanguine. Moonves’ employment contract, like that of many C-suite employees imposes steep penalties on the company in the event of a termination without cause. For CBS, the cost could reach a reported $120 million, even discounting $20 million that the company has pledged to the #MeToo movement.
It can boggle the mind to imagine that Moonves’ termination is anything but justified. The allegations against him include forced oral sex, bodily exposure, physical violence, intimidation and retaliation. If even a fraction of it is true, then there is clearly cause to terminate him under any ordinary meaning of the word.
But it is not the ordinary meaning of “cause” that applies. High-level contracts typically define cause in idiosyncratic ways — requiring that the employee willfully fail to perform, commit a felony, or engage in gross misconduct materially harming the company. Courts interpret such language to mean conduct far exceeding ordinary wrongdoing. In cases of doubt, the burden usually is on the employer to justify its decision based on proven facts.
Friday, May 18, 2018
Diane Ring (Boston College) has just posted on SSRN her article Silos and First Movers in the Sharing Economy Debates. Here's the abstract:
Over the past few years, a significant global debate has developed over the classification of workers in the sharing economy either as independent contractors or as employees.... Classification of a worker as an employee, rather than an independent contractor, can carry a range of implications for worker treatment and protections under labor law, anti-discrimination law, tort law, and tax law, depending on the legal jurisdiction....
Two interacting forces create the most serious risk for inadequate policy formulation: (1) silos among legal experts, and (2) first-mover effects. Both of these factors ... emerge in sharing economy debates in the United States. Tax experts and other legal specialists operate in distinct silos leading to a misunderstanding by non-tax analysts of the tax ramifications of worker classification, and to an underappreciation on the part of tax experts of the potential influence of “modest” tax rule changes on worker classification generally. The risks of such misunderstandings can be amplified by first-mover efforts, such as: (1) platforms’ contractual designation of workers as independent contractors to bolster a claim of nonemployer/employee status; (2) platforms’ support for proposed tax legislation that would “clarify” the status of sharing workers as independent contractors for tax purposes if they satisfy a multiple-prong (relatively easy) safe harbor test; and (3) sharing economy worker litigation to secure employee status.
This Article identifies the incompleteness in the worker classification debates and argues for the active formulation of policy through a process that looks beyond individual fields. A more complete conversation requires analytical engagement across multiple fields and recognition of the de facto power of reform in one arena to influence others. Moreover, it is by no means clear that just because tax might arrive at the legislative drawing table first (due to first mover effects), that it should drive or shape the broader worker classification debate.
Sunday, January 21, 2018
Ken Dau-Schmidt asks the following question--if anyone has a case that comes to mind you can email Ken or, better yet, post a comment, as I couldn't think of an example but would love to see one:
Are there any cases where a worker is an employee under the right to control test, but NOT an employee under the economic realities test? You’d need a worker who was controlled, but not economically dependent. It’s not hard to find cases where workers are employees under the economic realities test but not an employee under the right to control test (the news boys case under the NLRA or the pickle picker cases under the FLSA) but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a case the other way around.
Monday, January 15, 2018
Shu-Yi Oei & Diane M. Ring (both of Boston College Law) have just posted on SSRN their essay Is New Code Section 199A Really Going to Turn Us All into Independent Contractors? Here's the abstract:
There has been a lot of interest lately in new IRC Section 199A, the new qualified business income (QBI) deduction that grants passthroughs, including qualifying workers who are independent contractors (and not employees), a deduction equal to 20% of a specially calculated base amount of income. One of the important themes that has arisen is its effect on work and labor markets, and the notion that the new deduction creates an incentive for businesses to shift to independent contractor classification. A question that has been percolating in the press, blogs, and on social media is whether new Section 199A is going to create a big shift in the workplace and cause many workers to be reclassified as independent contractors.
Is this really going to happen? How large an effect will tax have on labor markets and arrangements? We think that predicting and assessing the impact of this new provision is a rather nuanced and complicated question. There is an intersection of incentives, disincentives and risks in play among various actors and across different legal fields, not just tax. Here, we provide an initial roadmap for approaching this analysis. We do so drawing on academic work we have done over the past few years on worker classification in tax and other legal fields.
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Shu-Yi Oei and Diane Ring (both Boston College) have just posted on Tax Prof Blog The Senate Tax Bill and the Battles Over Worker Classification. Their post is extensive and detailed and well worth a full read. Here's a quick summary; the take-away is in bold at the bottom:
Senate Republicans released their version of tax reform legislation on Thursday, November 9. The legislative language is not available yet, but the Description of the Chairman’s Mark (prepared by the Joint Committee on Taxation) suggests that one of the key provisions in the bill will clarify the treatment of workers as independent contractors by providing a safe harbor that guarantees such treatment. The JCT-prepared description tracks the contents of the so-called “NEW GIG Act” proposed legislations introduced by Congressman Tom Rice (R-S.C.) in the House and Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) in the Senate in October and July 2017, respectively. “NEW GIG” is short for the “New Economy Works to Guarantee Independence and Growth (NEW GIG) Act.” But notably, and as we further discuss below, the legislation is not limited in its application to gig or sharing economy workers.
Assuming the Senate Bill adopts the basic parameters of the NEW GIG proposed legislation — which looks to be the case based on the JCT-prepared description — we have some concerns. In brief, this legislation purports to simply “clarify” the treatment of workers as independent contractors and to make life easier for workers by introducing a new 1099 reporting threshold and a new withholding obligation. But the legislation carries potentially important ramifications for broader fights over worker classification that are raging in the labor and employment law area. Despite possibly alleviating tax-related confusion and reducing the likelihood of under-withholding, we worry that there are quite a few underappreciated non-tax hazards for workers if these provisions go through.
The legislation (assuming the Senate Bill more or less tracks the NEW GIG Act language) purports to achieve such “clarification” of worker classification status by [, among other things, introducing] a safe harbor “which, if satisfied, would ensure that the worker (service provider) would be treated as an independent contractor, not an employee, and the service recipient (customer) would not be treated as the employer.”...
At first blush, this legislation looks like it does good things for workers by clarifying their tax treatment, providing peace of mind, lowering previously unclear information reporting thresholds, and solving some of their estimated tax/mis-withholding issues.... The problem is that it’s not just about tax....
Our worry is that tax clarification of independent contractor status is a strategic step designed to win this broader (non-tax) regulatory war over worker classification. The risk is that “clarifying” the independent contractor status of workers for tax purposes through the introduction of an easy-to-meet safe harbor risks influencing and tilting the worker classification battle that is occurring in labor and employment law. While determinations of independent contractor status in other areas are theoretically independent from the tax determination, clarification on the tax side may help create presumptions elsewhere that independent contractor classification is normatively correct. While the precise legal tests governing worker classification differ across areas — we have, for example, the common law agency test, the ABC test, the economic realities test, and the IRS 20-factor test — the tests have elements in common: They all examine to some degree the nature of the relationship between the business and the worker, and they all pay attention to the control exercised by the business over the worker. If one field decides the classification question a certain way, there is likely to be some reverberation for the analysis in other fields.
Our specific concern is that “forced clarity” in tax can tilt the direction of the worker classification debate in a way desired by the platform businesses, industry lobbyists and the legislation’s supporters....
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
A huge congratulations to Joe Seiner (South Carolina) on the publication this week by Cambridge University Press of his book The Supreme Court's New Workplace: Procedural Rulings and Substantive Worker Rights in the United States. Here's the publisher's description:
The US Supreme Court has systematically eroded the rights of minority workers through subtle changes in procedural law. This accessible book identifies and describes how the Supreme Court’s new procedural requirements create legal obstacles for civil-rights litigants, thereby undermining their substantive rights. Seiner takes the next step of providing a framework that practitioners can use to navigate these murky waters, allowing workers a better chance of prevailing with their claims. Seiner clearly illustrates how to effectively use his framework, applying the proposed model to one emerging sector - the on-demand industry. Many minority workers now face pervasive discrimination in an uncertain legal environment. This book will serve as a roadmap for successful workplace litigation and a valuable resource for civil-rights research. It will also spark a debate among scholars, lawyers, and others in the legal community over the use of procedure to alter substantive worker rights.
Saturday, August 26, 2017
Monday, August 14, 2017
Charlotte Alexander (Georgia State) and Liz Tippett (Oregon) have just posted on SSRN their article (forthcoming Missouri L. Rev.) The Hacking of Employment Law. Here's the abstract of this timely (pun intended!) article:
Employers can use software in ways that erode employment law, through noncompliance and avoidance. The software exploits outdated regulations that do not anticipate the scale and precision with which employers can manage and manipulate the work relationship. Consequently, employers can implement systems that are largely consistent with existing laws, but violate legal rules on the margin. Employers can also use software to engage in lawful workaround tactics that avoid triggering some or all of the costs of complying with employment law. However, such tactics can cause harm to workers beyond the loss of the specific workers' rights or protections being avoided. Avoidance can create new norms about what work looks like that can degrade wages and working conditions across the labor market. Finally, when employers use software to avoid the employer-employee relationship entirely, employment law itself is weakened, as more workers operate in spaces beyond the law's reach, and employment rights are left only for a privileged few. The result is a weakened employment law regime, where legal rules struggle to keep up with employers’ software-enabled innovations in noncompliance, or are rendered irrelevant as employers innovate in spaces that regulation simply does not reach. We conclude by suggesting ways that regulators can better adapt to workplaces where employers implement their decisions and define the structure of work through software.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
A few weeks ago, Missouri’s governor signed SB43. That law amends the State’s employment law, including the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), its anti-discrimination statute—mostly in employer-friendly ways. (For media reports on the legislative politics, see, e.g., here, here, and here.) Among the many changes, I’ll highlight (1) MHRA’s new causation requirement and (2) a remarkably broad preemption provision.
- But-For Causation
Most have rightly focused on how MHRA will now require but-for causation. The legislature amended the MHRA to use “because of” to denote causation and by adding these definitions:
(2) "Because" or "because of ", as it relates to the adverse decision or action, the protected criterion was the motivating factor
. . .
(19) "The motivating factor", the employee's protected classification actually played a role in the adverse action or decision and had a determinative influence on the adverse decision or action.
By these definitions, especially the word “determinative” (and “the” in “the motivating factor”), the legislature overrode Daugherty v. City of Maryland Heights, 231 S.W.3d 814, 819 (Mo. 2007). There, the court had read MHRA not to require “a plaintiff to prove that discrimination was a substantial or determining factor in an employment decision; if consideration of age, disability, or other protected characteristics contributed to the unfair treatment, that is sufficient.”
By adopting but-for causation, the MHRA will become more stringent than section 703 of Title VII, see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(m), while matching up more with how the US Supreme Court reads the federal age-discrimination statute and Title VII’s retaliation provision.
- Preemption of Common Law Claims
SB43 also substantially preempts common-law employment claims, in two ways. First, MHRA now includes this: “This chapter, in addition to chapter 285 and chapter 287, shall provide the exclusive remedy for any and all claims for injury or damages arising out of an employment relationship.” The phrase “arising out of an employment relationship” is not further defined.
Second, a new "Whistleblower’s Protection Act" contains this provision: “This section is intended to codify the existing common law exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine and to limit their future expansion by the courts. This section, in addition to chapter 213 and chapter 287, shall provide the exclusive remedy for any and all claims of unlawful employment practices.” (The Act then declares what counts as an “unlawful employment practice” under the Act.)
Courts must usually read statutes to give meaning to all their terms, and cannot read them to make certain provisions superfluous. So, what more does the MHRA preemption provision cover than the whistleblower preemption provision?
If we read “arising out of an employment relationship” broadly, that provision seems to cover all Missouri common law claims predicated on an employment relationship. That would include all the ones that apply to conduct that might not violate the new whistleblower statute (e.g., tortious interference with contract, negligent hiring, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, fraud). That’s because neither chapter 287 (workers’ compensation) nor chapter 285 (miscellaneous) expressly provide for a way to bring all employment-related claims under Missouri common law.
But, does that mean that the MHRA preemption provision covers common-law contract claims for breach of an employment contract? Such claims certainly “aris[e] out of the employment relationship” and entail some allegation of “injury or damages.” It’s unlikely that Missouri’s legislators wanted to stop, for example, an employer who sues for breach of an employment contract. And yet, the text of the MHRA preemption provision doesn’t distinguish between contract and tort claims. It simply covers “any and all claims for injury or damages arising out of an employment relationship.”
SB43 goes into effect on August 28.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Friends of the blog Susan Bisom-Rapp (Thomas Jefferson) and Urwana Coiquaud (HEC Montreal) have posted their latest paper on SSRN. This comparative law collaboration, examining the actions of the state in undermining the standard employment relationship and increasing nonstandard work, is called The Role of the State towards the Grey Zone of Employment: Eyes on Canada and the United States. Here is the abstract:
In most countries, precarious working is on the rise and nonstandard forms of work are proliferating. What we call the “grey zone” of employment is generated by transformations at and with respect to work both in standard and nonstandard forms of working. Focusing on legal and policy regulation, and on the role of the state in the creation and perception of the grey zone, our contribution explains the way the government acts or fails to act, and the consequences of that activity or inactivity on the standard employment relationship. Examining and juxtaposing conditions in our two countries, Canada and the United States, our thesis is that the state plays a paradoxical role in the growth of nonstandard work and increasing precariousness. To assist the analysis, we construct a matrix for understanding the efforts or inertia on the part of the government. We conclude that there are seven ways in which to comprehend the role played by the government vis-à-vis the grey zone.
Susan and Urwana note that their analysis is both descriptive, in that it reveals the government’s complicity in the rise of employment insecurity, and normative, because it provides a mechanism for applauding or indicting the actions of the state in the face of changing work relations in the 21st century.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
This Nutshell provides an overview of individual employee rights and responsibilities. It addresses a number of areas, including establishing and ending the employment relationship, protection of employee privacy and reputation, discrimination, regulation of wages and hours, employee physical safety, fringe benefits, and employee duties of loyalty. This edition includes a substantially revised treatment of discrimination law, expanded discussion of employment-based health care, and takes into account a number of recent Supreme Court decisions and the use of executive orders. It further addresses how employment law directly impacts the modern economy, discussing how this area of the law effects on-demand workers in the technology sector.
Monday, May 8, 2017
Congratulations to Sandra Sperino (Cincinnati) and Suja Thomas (Illinois) on the publication of their new book Unequal: How America’s Courts Undermine Discrimination Law (Oxford Univ. Press May 2017). Here's a description of this critical and timely book:
It is no secret that since the 1980s, American workers have lost power vis-à-vis employers. Along with the well-chronicled steep decline in private sector unionization, American workers alleging employment discrimination have fared increasingly poorly in the courts. In recent years, judges have dismissed scores of cases in which workers presented evidence that supervisors referred to them using racial or gender slurs. In one federal district court, judges dismissed more than 80 percent of the race discrimination cases filed over a year. And when juries return verdicts in favor of employees, judges often second guess those verdicts, finding ways to nullify the jury's verdict and rule in favor of the employer.
Most Americans assume that that an employee alleging workplace discrimination faces the same legal system as other litigants. After all, we do not usually think that legal rules vary depending upon the type of claim brought. As the employment law scholars Sandra A. Sperino and Suja A. Thomas show in Unequal, though, our assumptions are wrong. Over the course of the last half century, employment discrimination claims have come to operate in a fundamentally different legal system than other claims. It is in many respects a parallel universe, one in which the legal system systematically favors employers over employees. A host of procedural, evidentiary, and substantive mechanisms serve as barriers for employees, making it extremely difficult for them to access the courts. Moreover, these mechanisms make it fairly easy for judges to dismiss a case prior to trial. Americans are unaware of how the system operates partly because they think that race and gender discrimination are in the process of fading away. But such discrimination remains fairly common in the workplace, and workers now have little recourse to fight it legally. By tracing the modern history of employment discrimination, Sperino and Thomas provide an authoritative account of how our legal system evolved into an institution that is inherently biased against workers making rights claims.
Monday, April 17, 2017
Congratulations to Catherine Fisk on her contribution to the Sunday NYT column "The Workologist". She was cited liberally in a Q&A about employment references. For the entire article, see When a Potential Employer Seems Unnervingly Nosy.
Friday, April 7, 2017
The book is the first Canadian text to explore in depth all three regimes of work law, including Common Law, Regulatory Law, and Collective Bargaining Law and it emphasizes the interaction between the three regimes. For those interested in understanding Canadian work law, this is the book. Also, you might be interested in knowing that the book was written to be accessible to non-lawyers, including the thousands of business, HRM, industrial relations, labour studies students learning work law in Canada. I wrote it because I frequently teach business students and there was no book in Canada that explained the law of work in a sophisticated, contextual manner but that doesn’t also assume the readers have already studied law for a year or two. Finally, the book also extends the subject matter beyond most labor law texts, by including chapters on subjects such as work and intellectual property law, work and privacy law, trade law, immigration law, and bankruptcy law.