Wednesday, September 30, 2020
California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed a law -- SB 1384 -- that augments the authority of the state's Labor Commissioner, an office that typically handles wage claims for low-wage and unrepresented workers in what are called "Berman Hearings". The text of the new law follows the page break below. This new law authorizes the Commission to represent financially strapped workers when a court has compelled arbitration under a mandatory arbitration agreement, if the Commission decides the case has merit. The Commissioner already has this authority for poor claimants in regular civil cases if the individual already has prevailed. The law responds to systemic problems shown by research that individual employees who are obliged to arbitrate claims pro se, without counsel, lose most of the time.
Below the break is the legislative counsel's digest and the test of the statute.
Friday, September 4, 2020
Matthew Miller-Novak (Barron Peck Bennie & Schlemmer) sends this guest post describing a recent case:
Restaurants should proceed with caution when handling their employees’ tips. Recently, an Ohio bartender filed a class action against Local Cantina in the Southern District of Ohio for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). See, Smith v. Local Cantina, LLC et al, Case No: 2:20-cv-03064 (S.D. Ohio 2020). The lawsuit alleges that: (1) Local Cantina paid its frontline workers a salary of $1,000 a week but failed to pay them overtime rates; and (2) Local Cantina took all the servers’ tips for itself. Although Local Cantina argues that its servers made more money in this manner, Local Cantina’s decision was likely not lawful.
First, it is well established that a salary alone does not exempt an employee from the overtime requirements of the FLSA. For example, an employee does not fall under the “administrative exemption” unless she has managerial duties with independent decision-making authority. Thus, a waiter or bartender is not exempt from overtime rates regardless of her salary’s size. Regarding the employees’ tips in this case, the FLSA does permit restaurants to institute tip-sharing systems (with proper notice). However, the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018,” which Congress passed, and President Trump signed on March 23, 2018, amended the FLSA’s tip-sharing rules. The amendment expressly stated that employers and managers are not permitted to take employees’ tips. Therefore, under the new language of the FLSA, employers cannot take an employee’s tips for itself or its managers regardless of whether the employer takes the minimum wage tip credit or pays the tipped-employee an amount equal or greater than the minimum wage.
Therefore, regardless of how much an employer pays a customarily-tipped employee, the employer should always pay time-and-a-half for overtime hours, and the employer should not help itself to its employees’ tips or give those tips to its managers.
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
A group of authors from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and the University of Indiana have just posted on SSRN Using the Eye of the Storm to Predict the Wave of Covid-19 UI Claims. Here's the abstract of this timely article:
We leverage an event-study research design focused on the seven costliest hurricanes to hit the US mainland since 2004 to identify the elasticity of unemployment insurance filings with respect to search intensity. Applying our elasticity estimate to the state-level Google Trends indexes for the topic “unemployment,” we show that out-of-sample forecasts made ahead of the official data releases for March 21 and 28 predicted to a large degree the extent of the Covid-19 related surge in the demand for unemployment insurance. In addition, we provide a robust assessment of the uncertainty surrounding these estimates and demonstrate their use within a broader forecasting framework for US economic activity.
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
The Italian Labour Law E-Journal has published a special issue describing the global labor responses to covid-19. Here's a description:
This special issue of the Italian Labour Law e-Journal intends to provide a systematic and informative overview on the measures set out by lawmakers and/or social partners in a number of countries of the world to address the impact on the Covid-19 emergency on working conditions and business operations. The aim is to understand which labour law norms and institutions and which workplace arrangements are being deployed in the different legal systems to tackle the global health crisis. Another aim is to find whether and to what extent the established body of laws is proving able to cope with the problems raised by the current extraordinary situation or whether, on the contrary, new special regulations are being introduced. The national reports may be subject to updating in case of major changes.
Friday, March 27, 2020
The ABA International Labor & Employment Law Section has published a Special COVID-19 edition of its Newsletter, describing the myriad different responses that countries have taken to adjusting LEL laws to respond to the virus. Here's a description:
COVID-19 is now a truly global pandemic and is affecting hundreds of millions of people at both deeply personal and professional levels. Countries are attempting to respond in different ways, from quarantines to special health care initiatives to financial stimulus packages. Countries also are responding in myriad ways that affect workers and workplaces.
This special edition of the newsletter contains a series of short articles describing how several countries from throughout the world are using workplace laws to combat the spread of COVID-19 and to mitigate its effects on workers and workplaces. Though our survey is not comprehensive, it nonetheless provides a snapshot of the often thoughtful and creative ways that countries are responding to the crisis. We hope it will provide guidance not only to the international labor and employment attorneys who regularly read this newsletter, but also to policymakers worldwide considering how their countries might best restructure workplaces and protect workers in a time of crisis to mitigate both the devastating health effects of the virus and its disruption of the economic activity on which we all depend for our livelihoods.
Monday, January 27, 2020
Thanks to Jon Harkavy for word that the Clean Slate for Worker Power project has issued its final report A Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy. Here's a brief excerpted description from Kelsey Griffin:
An initiative of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program — called Clean Slate for Worker Power — released its final report Thursday calling to overhaul American labor laws and increase workers’ collective bargaining power. Law School Faculty members Sharon Block and Benjamin I. Sachs led the project. The initiative brought together leading activists and scholars to recommend policies aimed at empowering working people.
The report claims that an extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of few people has created economic and political inequality in the United States. It argues that current labor laws have fostered systematic racial and gender oppression. It also asserts that labor laws exclude vulnerable workers from vital labor protections and devalue the work performed by these workers.
Block and Sachs said they believe addressing this economic and political inequality would require a completely new system of labor law, rather than simply adjusting current policies. The report recommends that labor laws better enable working people to build collective organizations to increase their leverage with employers and in the political system. The policy recommendations aim to increase worker representation and inclusion by expanding the coverage of labor laws for independent contractors, as well as undocumented, incarcerated, and disabled workers. The report lays out an array of options for alternative worker representation in addition to labor unions, such as work monitors — employees who would ensure compliance with federal labor regulations.
Monday, June 3, 2019
Special thanks to Richard Fincher (arbitrator & adjunct - Cornell ILR) for sending word (via the Employee Rights Advocacy Institute and Construction Dive) that Colorado has enacted a bill making wage theft a criminal offense. Under the Human Right to Work With Dignity Act, unscrupulous employers who intentionally withhold more than $2,000 in wages could be found guilty of felony theft.
Friday, March 15, 2019
Thanks to Aaron Halegua, who has been working on this case, for updating us. Here's an excerpt from the Associated Press story:
Seven Chinese men allege in a lawsuit that they were victims of a forced labor scheme while constructing a Saipan casino.
The casino and its contractors violated U.S. trafficking laws by exploiting the workers, the lawsuit said. Saipan is part of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The lawsuit was filed in December. It was amended Friday to add trafficking claims and to include casino owner Imperial Pacific as a defendant.
According to the lawsuit, the men were subjected to 12-hour workdays, dormitories without showers or air-conditioning and a dangerous construction site.
Friday, March 8, 2019
Today--International Women's Day--every current player on the U.S. Women's Soccer team filed a sex discrimination suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. The suit is also seeking class status that would cover players as far back as 2015. This is essentially the next step in an earlier complaint filed by players with the EEOC in 2016. The violations claimed are under the Equal Pay Act (paying women players less than male players for substantially the same work) and sex discrimination under Title VII (based on disparate wages and treatment in comparison to male players). The Washington Post summarizes some of the factual allegations listed:
In the lawsuit, the women claim that in 2016, U.S. Soccer made more than $17 million in unexpected profits thanks largely to the women’s team, while paying the women players substantially less than their male counterparts. According to the lawsuit, a comparison of pay schedules for the two teams shows that if each team played 20 exhibition games in one year, members of the men’s team could earn an average of $263,320 each, while women’s players could earn a maximum of $99,000.
The lawsuit also highlights differences in World Cup bonuses for the two teams. After 2014 World Cup, U.S. Soccer paid out a total of $5.375 million in bonuses to the men’s team, which lost in the round of 16. In 2015, U.S.Soccer paid out $1.725 million in bonuses to the women, who won their World Cup, the lawsuit states.
One interesting element is that many of these conditions are rooted in a 2017 collective-bargaining agreement, which U.S. Soccer is sure to cite. However, traditionally, there was an expectation that unions can't waive Title VII and similar rights. Of course, there also used to be the same expectation when it came to mandatory arbitration clauses covering Title VII and similar claims, which the Court later abandoned. So stay tuned.
Yesterday, the Department of Labor announced its much anticipated proposed new overtime regulation. This goes to whether employees can be considered exempt from overtime as administrative, executive, or professional employees. The only real change is to the minimum salary threshold required to count an employee as exempt from overtime (that is, no matter what employees' duties are, if they don't make the minimum, they must get overtime if they are otherwise qualified). As readers will remember, the Obama DOL increased the salary threshold to about $47,000 a year initially, and added a measure that would have it change automatically based on average wage increases; this rule was then put on hold by a district court, largely based on a holding that the DOL relied to much on salary and not enough on employees' duties.
The new proposed rule increases the minimum salary, but only to $35,308 per year (up from the current, Bush II-era $23,660 per year that is in place after the decision striking down the previous increase). It also raised the "highly-compensated employee" rule, which makes it easier to exempt employees making over a certain amount, from $100,000 a year to $147,414. The DOL did not propose an automatic increase to these salary levels, but committed to reviewing them regularly (I'll believe that when I see it). Moreover, it left the duties test untouched.
As is the usual practice, this announcement kicks off the comment period, after which the DOL will produce a final rule. And, as is also the norm these days, there will be lawsuits. Some will argue that the increase in salary goes to far, while others will argue that the rule still makes it too easy to exempt employees. Expect mixed messages from the district courts, which parties will handpick to try to get more favorable rulings. The key, therefore, will be to wait for the appeals courts to step in. So, we should see something of a final word on the final rule in, I'd guess, a couple of years from now.
Thursday, March 7, 2019
USA Today Sports has an interesting article on minor league baseball players and their low--and, during major league spring training, nonexistent--pay. Major League Baseball classifies minor league players as being involved in "short-term seasonal apprenticeships." The article does a nice job showing why that's a stretch, to put it mildly. How has MLB pulled this off? Lobbying, and lots of it. The article explains some of the special legal maneuvers at play (pun intended):
Minor league players earn salaries that amount to less than minimum wage for up to seven years on their first pro contracts, and the rigorous spring-training schedule doesn’t exactly allow time for moonlighting.
After a lobbying effort by MLB, last year’s $1.3 trillion congressional spending bill — signed into law by Donald Trump in March — included an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act to exempt minor-league baseball players from federal minimum-wage protection. The so-called Save America’s Pastime Act, originally introduced in 2016 by a pair of congresspersons who received campaign donations from MLB’s PAC, appeared on page 1,967 of the 2,232 omnibus 2018 spending bill.
This winter, the league endorsed a bill in the Arizona House of Representatives to extend the federal exemption into state law in Arizona, the spring-training home for half of Major League teams. Representative T.J. Shope, who sponsored the bill, told the Arizona Capitol Times in January that spring training is “essentially a tryout,” even though all players training in every camp are already under contract with their organizations.
Shope told For The Win by email that the Arizona bill did not pass and “was probably dead before it began.” It didn’t get out of committee, meaning it never reached the statehouse floor for a vote.
That dead bill, like the inclusion of the Save America’s Pastime Act in the 2018 budget, undoubtedly reflects Major League Baseball’s efforts to combat a lawsuit first filed in 2014. Spearheaded by St. Louis-based attorney and former minor-league pitcher Garrett Broshuis, the suit seeks to apply federal minimum-wage laws to the salaries of minor leaguers. Pro players in low minor-league levels make as little as $1100 a month, only get paid during the regular season, and do not receive overtime compensation.
“MLB has signed these players up to seven-season employment contracts,” Broshuis said by phone this week. “They’re enjoying the benefits of controlling these players for seven years. On the contract, it calls them employees. They have a responsibility to treat them as normal employees should be treated. They can’t enjoy the benefits of it and not be required to meet the responsibilities that come with it.
Even if you're not a sports fan, this issue is a good reminder that wage and classifications issues didn't start with Uber. In fact, I see a lot of parallels with other industries that manage to dangle low probability/high reward opportunities in front of individuals who will work for nothing, whether as an apprentice, volunteer, or intern (I'm looking at you, fashion and entertainment industries).
Definitely read the article, as it provides a lot of detail about what's going on and the severe disparities that exist on the same field.
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)
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 . . . .
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Some recent labor and employment news:
- Wages look like they're finally rising in a significant way. A DOL report showed an almost 3% increase in wages for this time last year, which outpaces inflation and is the highest increase in a decade.
- A couple of joint-employer items. First, the NLRB has extended the time to comment on a proposed new rule to Dec. 13. Also, the tussle between Congressional Democrats and the Board over the proposed change continues. As this Bloomberg Law (subscription required) article details, the Democrats want evidence supporting the claim that the current, broader joint-employer test is causing the problems that critics claim. This touches on a broader area--the NLRB is really bad at using actual evidence to support its policy views. Some of this is the legacy of the ban on economic analysis (which is so stupid--why in the name of all that is rational can't we have a bipartisan agreement that analysis is useful for labor law, like, say, the rest of the government?). But some of this, frankly, is just lazy. There's nothing stopping the Board from citing others' studies, which it does far less that it could. And this is an equal-opportunity offense. Although some members have been better on this, Board from both parties tend to be woefully inadequate on this score.
- As is the case when the White House changes parties, the DOL has been adjusting how it regulates union finance requirements. Unsurprisingly, they're ratcheting up the requirements by increasing the number of entities covered and expanding what covered entities need to provide. This is shades of the Bush II administration, where the changes were challenged in court. Expect the same here.
- The General Counsel has announced that it's changing its approach to allegations of union negligence. In contrast to the long-standing deferential approach the Board has taken, the GC says he will now prosecute unions for negligence under Section 8(b)(1)(A) (for failure of the duty of fair representation) when it does things like lose a complaint or fails to return a call.
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Two Fight for $15 stories today. The first is that Amazon has agreed to pay all of its U.S. workers at least $15 an hour. Notably, this includes part-time and temp workers. Effective November 1, this change is expected to apply to 350,000 workers (although I can't find a number on the number of those workers who currently make less than $15 an hour). Amazon is also raising pay in Britain. This follows other increases or promised increase by major companies like Target, but given Amazon's size and profile, it's unsurprising that this is making a bigger splash.
In related news, the Fight for $15 movement has organized a series of national walkouts, rallies, and protests from October 2-4. The aim of these actions are for higher pay and to help candidates that support labor rights. Its still early, but thus far some of the more notable actions seem to be focused in the Midwest, although there are certainly others as well.
Thursday, August 9, 2018
NYC's City Council just passed legislation to stop issuing new ride-hailing licenses for one year. The legislation also requires Uber and similar companies to ensure that drivers earn at least $17.22 per hour (calculated over a week)--like the FLSA tip rule, if drivers don't make that much, the companies must pay the drivers the difference. This can be significant especially in a city like NYC, where almost 85% of drivers make below $17.22/hour and two-thirds of drivers work full-time for ride-hailing companies.
I find the minimum pay provision to be interesting because it puts in motion something I've been thinking about for a while. One of the difficulties in the current "employee"/"not-employee" dichotomy is how much rides on that distinction (pun intended). It's always struck me that this definitional question misses the point. We're stuck with this outmoded definitional hang-up because of current law, but the real question we should be asking is what type of protections do we want for which type of workers. There will always be difficult line drawing, but I think there are areas of agreement. For instance, we've got a long-standing policy of ensuring a minimum pay for the vast majority of "employees." Are there many workers--even those currently classified as independent contractors--who shouldn't also receive at least $7.25/hour? I don't think so. Same for workplace safety and other protections. The devil's in the details, to be sure, but NYC's new legislation represents one step in the direction of ensuring worker rights, rather than just employee rights. And it's a move I'm glad to see.
Finally, a brief plug for a recent article I co-authored with Joe Seiner exploring non-traditional collective action in ride sharing and other modern industries. There's a lot of interesting things going on, but also a lot of legal questions prompted by new activity fitting into old laws.
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
Yesterday, the California Supreme Court issued what is likely to be a bombshell decision in Dynamex Operations v. Lee. Dynamex involved a wage claims brought by a driver under California law. The employer defended with the oft-used (and often successful) argument that the driver and his similar colleagues were independent contractors, not employees. You can check out the decision for the facts, but they will be very familiar to those who spend any time looking at this area. What is more important is how the court analyzed them.
In Dynamex, the court decided to change its standard for determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor under the part of the state wage statute that defines "employ" as "to suffer or permit work" (there are two other definitions of "employ"). In particular, it adopted what is referred to as the "ABC test." Under this rule, a worker is presumed to be an employee unless the purported employer can establish three factors. Because of its importance, I'm going to quote the court's formulation, while editing the layout for easier reading:
This [ABC] standard, whose objective is to create a simpler, clearer test for determining whether the worker is an employee or an independent contractor, presumes a worker hired by an entity is an employee and places the burden on the hirer to establish that the worker is an independent contractor. Under the ABC standard, the worker is an employee unless the hiring entity establishes each of three designated factors:
(a) that the worker is free from control and direction over performance of the work, both under the contract and in fact;
(b) that the work provided is outside the usual course of the business for which the work is performed; and
(c) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation or business (hence the ABC standard).
If the hirer fails to show that the worker satisfies each of the three criteria, the worker is principal federal wage and hour legislation.
Although it remains to be seen how soon and how big an effect this decision will have, I'm not going out on a limb by predicting that this represents a major change. The ABC test is clearly broader than the FLSA's "economic realities" test, so at a minimum more California workers will enjoy protection under the relevant statute. But California's size and the fact that this is likely to impact gig work could lead to a shift in how some companies classify and pay their gig workers in other states. Time will tell . . . .
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Yesterday, the US Supreme Court decided Encino Motorcars v. Navarro in a way that rejected past precedent requiring courts to read FLSA’s statutory exemptions narrowly. In a 5-4 ruling, the Court ruled that FLSA exempts a service adviser at a car dealership from its overtime protections under the exemption for “any salesman . . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(10)(A).
In doing so, however, Justice Thomas, writing for the majority, rejected the general “principle that exemptions to the FLSA should be construed narrowly.” Encino, Slip Op. at 9. Here’s his reasoning:
We reject this principle as a useful guidepost for interpreting the FLSA. Because the FLSA gives no “textual indication” that its exemptions should be construed narrowly, “there is no reason to give [them] anything other than a fair (rather than a ‘narrow’) interpretation.” Scalia, Reading Law, at 363. The narrow construction principle relies on the flawed premise that the FLSA “‘pursues’” its remedial purpose “‘at all costs.’” American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, 570 U. S. 228, 234 (2013) (quoting Rodriguez v. United States, 480 U. S. 522, 525-526 (1987) (per curiam)); see also Henson v. Santander Consumer USA Inc., 582 U. S. ___, ___ (2017) (slip op., at 9) (“[I]t is quite mistaken to assume . . . that whatever might appear to further the statute’s primary objective must be the law” (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted)). But the FLSA has over two dozen exemptions in § 213(b) alone, including the one at issue here. Those exemptions are as much a part of the FLSA’s purpose as the overtime-pay requirement. See id., at ___ (slip op., at 9) (“Legislation is, after all, the art of compromise, the limitations expressed in statutory terms often the price of passage”). We thus have no license to give the exemption anything but a fair reading.
In so reasoning, Justice Thomas’s majority opinion didn’t “acknowledg[e] that it unsettles more than half a century of our precedent.” Dissent of Justice Ginsburg, Slip. Op. at 9-10 n.7. See A.H. Phillips, Inc. v. Walling, 324 U.S. 490, 493 (1945) (FLSA “was designed ‘to extend the frontiers of social progress’ by ‘insuring to all our able-bodied working men and women a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.’ Message of the President to Congress, May 24, 1934. Any exemption from such humanitarian and remedial legislation must therefore be narrowly construed, giving due regard to the plain meaning of statutory language and the intent of Congress. To extend an exemption to other than those plainly and unmistakably within its terms and spirit is to abuse the interpretative process and to frustrate the announced will of the people.”); accord Citicorp Industrial Credit Co. v. Brock, 483 U.S. 27, 35 (1987); Mitchell v. Kentucky Finance Co., 359 U.S. 290, 295 (1959)(“It is well settled that exemptions from the Fair Labor Standards Act are to be narrowly construed.”)(citations omitted). In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg called this FLSA precedent a “well-grounded application of the general rule that an ‘exception to a general statement of policy is usually read . . . narrowly in order to preserve the primary operation of the provision.’” Dissent Slip. Op. at 9 n.7 (quoting Maracich v. Spears, 570 U.S. 48, 60 (2013)).
Management-side lawyers will likely now invoke Encino often in FLSA exemption litigation. But, it’s hard to know how much this will affect FLSA case outcomes, because it’s unclear how much the “narrowly-read FLSA exemptions” rule had affected FLSA case outcomes in any event, that is, how often that rule operated as makeweight versus a genuine tie-breaker.
More puzzling: The Court could have easily sidestepped the issue by saying that, given the strength of all the other reasons to read § 213(b)(10)(A) the way it did, there was, in this case, really no tie for the “narrowly-read FLSA exemptions” rule to break. Instead, the Court’s majority seems to have wanted to overrule this prior FLSA precedent but without expressly saying that it was directly overruling it as precedent. The mystery is which Justice(s) in the Encino majority (Thomas, Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, Gorsuch) wanted this in the opinion, and why.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
On March 5, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that settlements totaling $13.9 million and covering over 2,400 workers with four Chinese contractors building the Imperial Pacific casino in Saipan. Many of these workers paid $6,000 or more to labor brokers in China, incurring significant debts with high interest rates, based on false promises of high-paying jobs in the United States. Instead, upon arriving in Saipan, the workers were stripped of their passports, forced to work long hours under dangerous conditions, and paid below minimum wage. OSHA also imposed significant fines against these contractors and the Department of Justice prosecuted several managers of these companies. News of the settlement was published by numerous media outlets, such as the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, and South China Morning Post, and included a quote from Aaron Halegua, a lawyer and NYU research fellow who assisted the workers in this process and has written about the situation in Saipan elsewhere. Aaron discussed the importance of the settlement and necessary measures to prevent similar abuses from happening again. Specifically, he recommended that the casino, at a minimum, require contractors to purchase surety bonds, train workers about their rights, and hire a third-party monitor to oversee safety and labor conditions. One of the challenges will be distributing the settlement monies as almost all of the workers are now back in China.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
The US Department of Labor (DOL) unveiled yesterday a new six-month pilot program to encourage employer compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under the Payroll Audit Independent Determination program (PAID), DOL would cover any back pay employers owed to workers under FLSA (wages owed under FLSA’s minimum wage or overtime provisions). In exchange, the employees would release any of FLSA claims for those violations, and employers would agree to self-auditing procedures for their pay practices. See here, the PAID website here, along with mixed reactions reported here.
One DOL-touted benefit of PAID: Participating employers won’t have to pay FLSA “liquidated damages or civil monetary penalties” so long as those employers “proactively work with WHD to fix and resolve the compensation practices at issue.” DOL won’t make them and, it seems, employees would at least release the employer from any liquidated damages otherwise owed under FLSA for the “identified violations” and relevant time period.
This matters. An employer that violates FLSA is on the hook not just for the wages it should have paid but didn’t (back pay) but also “an additional equal amount as liquidated damages,” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), unless the employer can show that it’d acted “in good faith” and had “reasonable grounds for believing that his act or omission” didn’t violate FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 260. So, if a worker is owed $40 in unpaid wages, she may recover up to $80, that is, the $40 in unpaid wages plus and the “additional equal amount” (another $40, the “liquidated damages”).
The FLSA liquidated damages provision isn’t just a damages multiplier. Rather, according to the US Supreme Court, it refers a separate item of compensatory damages: the loss that results because the employer didn’t pay the owed wages on time. Such as loss is real, especially where the worker needs the wages paid on time to maintain a minimal standard of living, but Congress thought that type of loss “too obscure and difficult of proof for estimate other than by liquidated damages.” Brooklyn Savings Bank v. v. O’Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 707-08 (1945).
Accordingly, the employer who gets PAID stands to save up to double–not just the back pay they’d owe the employee, but also the liquidated damages they’d also pay, in cases where the employee would otherwise sue and win. Since FLSA has a fee-shifting statute, employers stands to save more still in such cases. (Even more still if employers fear a FLSA hot-goods injunction. More on that here.) By the same token, however, employees who sign FLSA releases under PAID stand to give up any liquidated damages award, that is, up to half of what they’d recover if they sue and win. DOL’s view: Under PAID, employees will get all their owed back wages “faster” than if they had to sue, and “without having to pay any litigation expenses or attorneys’ fees.”
Now, a puzzle: How would an employer getting PAID fare under parallel State wage and hour law? Like FLSA, many States have wage and hour laws with liquidated damages provisions. See, e.g., Cal.Labor Code § 1194.2; Md. Labor and Employment Code § 3-427(a)(2); W. Va. Code § 21-5B-4(a). In States where the employer’s acts or omissions violated both FLSA and a State’s wage and hour law, would the employee’s release under PAID cover only any FLSA claim or any and all legal claims (including State law claims) arising from the employer’s underpayment? In some States and localities, this matters, because the minimum wage and overtime provisions are more generous there. This issue matters less in, for example, the five States with no State minimum wage.