NLRB Returns to Employer Friendly Independent Contractor Test

On January 25, 2019, the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) chose to overturn an Obama-era Board decision that made it easier for workers to be classified as employees, rather than independent workers. The Board’s recent decision in SuperShuttle DFW, Inc., 367 NLRB No. 75 (2019), greatly broadens the independent contractor test under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) which previously subjected a myriad of workers to being categorized as employees if they did not render services as part of an independent business.

In SuperShuttle DFW, Inc., the Board reinstated the employer friendly independent contractor test which balances the following factors in order to determine if an “employer” exercises sufficient control over an individual to entail the individual is an employee:

  1. The extent of control which, based on the agreement, the employer exercises over the details of the work.
  2. If the person performing the work is engaged in a distinct business or line of work.
  3. The type of skill required in the particular occupation.
  4. If the kind of occupation is usually performed under the supervision or direction of the employer or if the occupation is executed by a specialist without supervision.
  5. The length of time a person performed the work for the employer.
  6. If the employer or person provides the place of work to perform the job or supplies the tools or instrumentalities required for the job.
  7. Whether the work is or is not part of the employer’s regular business.
  8. How the person performing the work is paid, whether by the specific job or by an amount of time spent working on a job.
  9. Whether the employer is or is not in business.
  10. If the parties believe they are creating an employer-employee relationship.

The Board found in SuperShuttle DFW, Inc. that airport shuttle franchisees were independent contractors. The Board found that the franchisees were not employees based on the facts that the drivers either owned or leased their work vans, which required the drivers to make a significant investment in the tools and instrumentalities of their jobs, they were responsible for and controlled their daily work schedules and working conditions, and they were paid by each customer per fare instead of hourly or daily. The Board concluded that franchisees were provided with a significant entrepreneurial opportunity for economic loss or gain, indicating that they were independent contractors and could not be categorized as employees.

The Board’s recent decision provides great benefits to businesses engaging workers for short-term or temporary services. Moreover, this decision restores a more logical, middle ground type analysis when determining who counts as an employee under the NLRA. However, employers should note that the entrepreneurial factor should not be an overriding consideration or trump card under the independent contractor analysis test. Rather, the test should balance all of the factors stated above to determine whether a worker should be deemed an independent contractor or an employee.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tips for Dealing with Workplace Conflicts

Unfortunately, disputes between employees are inevitable. At some point or another, the differences in employees’ personalities, moods, opinions or lifestyles will lead to disagreement and conflict. The resulting discord in the workplace ultimately affects everyone in the office. Not only does the unwanted tension make the workplace environment uncomfortable, but it can negatively affect your company’s productivity. Although it can be argued that not all tension is bad, when tension and conflict are left unattended to fester, that negativity can become stressful and distracting.

Since every dispute and disagreement is different, there is no foolproof manual for managers to follow when a conflict arises. When dealing with employee disputes, many factors should be taken into consideration, including your company’s culture and regulations, the employees’ unique or unknown personal circumstances, and conflicting personalities. Once a conflict is brought to the attention of manager or supervisor, they must be equipped with the right skills to manage and resolve the dispute. Poorly trained managers may make the conflict worse, which can lead to disengaged employees, increased employee turnover, and low morale. Provided below are some practicable tips to help managers forage through employee conflicts to find resolutions and to prevent minor disagreements from snowballing into more serious issues.

Before managers can step in to resolve an employee dispute, they must first assess the situation. What is the degree of hostility between the disagreeing parties? Could you meet with the disagreeing parties together or should you meet with each person separately? This first step can save a lot of time. If the parties show great animosity towards one another, having a meeting with both will not likely be a success and could lead to an even larger disaster.

Importantly, managers should also ignore any gossip they might hear around the office and must focus on the facts. The only way to get the facts is by speaking with the conflicting employees and hearing each side of the argument. When a manager determines that speaking to the employees together is a good idea, the manager should provide each party with uninterrupted time to tell their fact-based side of the story. Making sure each party is not interrupted is important, since each party will want to feel listened to and acknowledged. It is likely that letting each party speak while the other parties listen can lead to the realization that there was simply a miscommunication and a resolution can be reached quickly. Objectivity is required during this meeting; managers must not take sides since this will only make matters worse.

During this conversation the employees should state their desired outcomes from the dispute. This should not simply be a statement “to resolve the conflict.” The employees should state what each believes the resolution should entail and how a working solution can be reached.

Next, have each employee highlight and categorize the problems. The employees should state the major impediments that each party must overcome in order to achieve the desired resolution. They might discover that some obstacles, such as personality traits or personal beliefs, cannot be overcome, and that trying to control them will not yield a different outcome. Instead, if the employees can understand the issues objectively, they may be able to focus on the problems that are within their control in order to tactically solve the problem.

Managers should then try to find some common ground between the employees to lead to a solution. Often, there is some part of the conflict that both parties can both agree upon and that can become the foundation for managers to bridge the gap between the employees. Managers need to understand that employees do not need to be best friends; they just need to get the job done. Encouraging compromise based on a common ground between the employees may be helpful. Instruct the employees to develop possible alternatives to the solution to help lead to a compromise. In order to arrive at the best possible solution, the employees should brainstorm as many alternative solutions as possible. This will allow the conflicting employees to eliminate the least suitable options, leading them to discover the best compromise to resolve the conflict. It may take a while to reach a compromise each party is agreeable to since each party must be willing to give in a little. However, once a compromise is reached, everyone will feel like they at least won a little bit.

Once a compromise has been reached, have the employees define the specific steps each must take to implement the agreed upon solution. This is the most important step for employees to take when resolving disputes because it defines each party’s part in the execution of the solution. This also lets all employees involved know what the others must do to dissolve the conflict and holds everyone accountable to do their part in resolving the issue.

Lastly, managers should document the incident in writing. It is important to create a record of the dispute even if the employees do not want the incident documented. This will help managers monitor employee behavior over time and will help to identify repeat offending employees. This will also provide management with a description of the agreed upon resolution and will enable management to see if each employee followed through with the solution. Should an employee fail to adhere to the agreed upon solution, management can intervene before another conflict escalates.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Management Can Address Personal Hygiene Issues In The Workplace

There are few situations that are as uncomfortable for an employer or manager to deal with than an employee’s personal hygiene issues. However, although the topic is uncomfortable to address it is important for employers to know how to appropriately respond when presented with these situations. Not only can an employee’s poor hygiene negatively impact clients and other employees, but even worse a poor response from management may lead to discrimination claims and costly lawsuits. Hence, management must learn to handle these delicate matters seriously. Here are some helpful tips for management when dealing with workplace personal hygiene matters.

Employers must adopt and implement a dress code policy. This policy should set clear expectations concerning employees’ grooming and personal hygiene, which may help avoid the uncomfortable conversations having to address these issues. It is a good idea to provide examples of the company’s expectations and to be as specific as possible. When there is a clear policy stating the level of hygiene that is expected of all employees, your employees will be put on notice of what is expected of them. When new employees are hired, management or HR should go through the employee handbook and highlight these areas.

If there is a situation involving an employee’s personal hygiene, management must identify the issue for themselves. Prior to having any conversation with an employee regarding his or her personal hygiene, a manager or HR personnel should have firsthand knowledge of the situation. Whoever is planning to speak with the employee should personally gather information regarding the issue. This will allow for an open and honest discussion instead of needing to involve other employees and make the situation more awkward for everyone involved.

It must be understood that not all personal hygiene issues are the same and employers should never assume they know the cause of the problem. There are a variety of causes for things like one’s unkempt appearance, body odor, or clothing. For example, a hairstyle may be attributed to one’s religious or cultural customs. An employee’s cultural heritage may include cooking with strong scented spices that leave his or her hair or clothing with a strong odor. Deodorant may be against an employee’s religion. An employee may also be dealing with medical issues that may be the cause of the odor. A medical treatment could be affecting the employee’s odor or appearance. Or the employee’s medications or treatments that result in sensitive skin, rashes, loss of hair, etc., may make frequent bathing difficult or painful. An employee’s tattered clothes might be due to financial issues. Emotional distress may also cause an employee to disregard his or her self-care.

Employers need to understand what protections employees are afforded when it comes to his or her personal appearance. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects your employees’ religious beliefs and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides protections for individuals with disabilities.

If management has verified that a personal hygiene issue exists, a manager or HR representative should have a conversation with that employee in private. It is important that the manager or HR representative approach the conversation with delicacy and with respect. They must do their best to be respectful of the employee’s privacy; hence the conversation should be had in private area where other employees cannot hear what is being said. Keep the conversation as direct and to the point as possible. Communicate the issue in plain terms without any tone of judgment and be sensitive, since it will be very uncomfortable for the employee to have this conversation with his or her manager or HR representative. The employee should also be afforded an opportunity to respond. The employee may explain that his or her religious practices or beliefs conflicts with the dress code and grooming policy and you might try to come up with an effective reasonable accommodation. Or the employee may indicate the cause of the personal hygiene issue is due to his or her disability. If that is the case, the employer is responsible to initiate an interactive process to determine if the ADA is applicable and whether there are accommodations the employer could make to resolve the problem.

At the end of the discussion with the employee, it is a good idea to agree upon set expectations to resolve the issue and communicate the next steps to be taken. If the employee is responsible to take corrective action, the manager or HR representative should document any potential consequences of the employee’s failure to rectify the issue and should set a time line to follow-up with the employee. If the conversation has led to a reasonable accommodation as the solution, be sure to document all specifics involved regarding the employee’s need for the accommodation, any possible alternatives, and how the employee and employer will implement the accommodation.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Proposed Predictive Scheduling Regulations For New York

The New York State Department of Labor (“NYSDOL”) has recently issued new proposed regulations which impose additional requirements for “on-call” or “call-in” scheduling for employees. The new revised language was the NYSDOL’s response to public comments after the NYSDOL published its initial proposed regulations in November 2017. The present version of the proposed regulations now includes explanations and definitions not found in the previous proposed regulations, in addition to providing clarification of many of the proposed rules. Employers should note that currently there is no effective date for the revised proposed regulations.

Background:

The NYSDOL’s first proposed regulations were issued as a result of the rising concern that certain practices, such as unscheduled shift changes, on-call responsibilities and shift cancellations, created many problems for employees with multiple jobs, or who have family, childcare, or school commitments. Governor Andrew Cuomo instructed the NYSDOL to issue regulations to afford employees some protections against unpredictable scheduling that benefit employers.

Who Will Be Affected:

The NYSDOL’s revised proposed regulations will generally apply to all employees covered under the Miscellaneous Wage Order. However, certain employees such as companions, babysitters, children’s camp counselors, taxi drivers, hotel and restaurant employees, and those employed by a municipal, State or Federal government are excluded from these new proposed regulations.

Revised Proposed Regulations:

Under the NYSDOL’s current proposed regulations, employees will be entitled to, among other things, “call-in pay” calculated at the basic minimum hourly wage, in the following five scenarios.

  • Reporting To Work: When an employee reports to work for any shift, but is sent home prior to working at least four hours, the employer must pay the employee at least four hours of “call-in pay.” If the scheduled shift was for fewer than four hours, the employee is entitled to “call-in pay” for the number of hours in the shift. Under current New York law, an employee would not be entitled to “call-in pay” if the employee’s regular rate was sufficiently above the minimum wage so the amount the employee earned in excess of the minimum wage was more than the required “call-in pay.” The revised proposed regulations now eliminate that exception, so all covered employees will be entitled to “call-in pay” if they report to work but are sent home, regardless of their wage rate.
  • Canceled Shifts: If an employer cancels an employee’s shift without at least 14 days’ notice, the employee is entitled to two hours of “call-in pay” at minimum wage. If an employer cancels a shift with less than 72 hours’ notice, employees must be paid four hours of “call-in pay” at minimum wage. This regulation removes an employer’s ability to instruct employees not to report to work because they are overstaffed and don’t want to pay all employees or because it is a slow day for the business.
  • Unscheduled Shifts: If an employee is required to work a shift and did not receive at least 14 days’ advance notice from the start of the scheduled shift, the employer is required to pay the employee an additional two hours of “call-in pay” at minimum wage. This revised proposed regulation will hopefully encourage employers to give employees a minimum of two weeks’ notice of scheduled shifts to afford employees ample time to schedule childcare or reschedule any personal commitments.
  • On-Call Responsibilities: If an employee is required to be “on-call,” meaning the employee is available to report to work for a shift, the employee is entitled to at least four hours of “call-in pay” at minimum wage.
  • Call For Schedule: If an employer requires employees to be in contact with the employer within 72 hours prior to the start of a shift to confirm if the employee must report to work, the employee is entitled to four hours of “call-in pay” at minimum wage.

Exceptions:

Employers should note that the revised proposed regulations contain many exceptions. Some exceptions to the revised proposed regulations include the following:

  • Employees subject to a valid collective bargaining agreement that expressly provides for call-in pay will not be subject to the current proposed regulations.
  • An employee who earns more than 40 times the minimum wage during the week will be excluded from most of the requirements, except for show-up pay.
  • When an employee’s duties are directly dependent on weather conditions, or are necessary to protect the safety or health of the public or any person, or if an employee’s assignment is subject to a work order or the cancellation of a work order, those employees are excluded from the revised proposed regulations, other than the requirement for show-up pay.
  • Employees whose shifts were cancelled due to an act of God or other causes not within the employer’s control will not be covered by the current proposed regulations.
  • If an employee volunteers for an unscheduled shift, that employee will also be excluded from the revised proposed regulations. The revised proposed regulations set forth the proper documentation employers may use to create a record of the employee’s choice to volunteer for the unscheduled shift.
  • Newly hired employees during their first two weeks of employment.
  • Any individual who does not fall under the proposed regulations’ definition of “employee” will also be excluded.

Clarifications:

The NYSDOL’s current proposed regulations also provides clarifications for some terms left open to interpretation in the 2017 proposed regulations. The 2017 version of the NYSDOL’s proposed regulations stated that the “unscheduled shift” provision would not apply to newly hired employees in their first two weeks of employment, or to any employee who volunteered to cover a new or previously scheduled shift. Additionally, the 2017 proposed regulations failed to define the terms “new shift”, “volunteers”, or “previously scheduled shift.” The revised proposed regulations now provide the following definitions:

  • “New shift” is defined as the first two weeks of an additional shift that results in a net increase in staffing at a single workplace during the period of time covered by such shift.
  • “Volunteers” are defined as employees who may refuse to cover the new or previously scheduled shift.
  • “Previously scheduled shift” is defined as a shift that would not have been subject to unscheduled shift “call-in pay” if worked by the employee who was originally assigned to work that shift.

Safe Harbor Provision:

Unlike the 2017 proposed regulations, the current proposed regulations include a “safe harbor” provision. Generally, this provision allows an employer to assign an employee to cover a shift without any additional “call-in pay” for an unscheduled shift by creating the presumption that an employee volunteered to cover a new or previously scheduled shift. The rebuttable presumption that an employee volunteered is created when an employer provides a written good faith estimate of hours to all employees upon hiring (or after the effective date of the regulations for previously hired employees), and if the request to cover a new or previously scheduled shift is either: (i) made by the employee whose shift would be covered; or (ii) made by the employer in a written communication to a group of employees requesting a volunteer from among the group and identifying a reasonable deadline for responses. Should no employee volunteer prior to the deadline, the employer may then assign an employee to cover the shift without being required to pay the additional “call-in pay” required for unscheduled shifts.

Penalties:

An employer’s failure to comply with the current proposed regulations will be subject to the penalty provisions included in New York Labor Law Article 19 regarding minimum wages. Section 662 of Article 19 of the New York Labor Law provides that any employer, officer, or agent of any corporation, partnership, or limited liability company, who underpays an employee, shall be found guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction will be fined between $500 and $20,000 and may face up to one year’s imprisonment. A second or subsequent offense within six years will be a felony. Employees are also permitted to recover any underpayments from employers.

Employers in New York City:

It should be noted that the current proposed regulations do not include an explanation on the implications of the state proposed regulations on already-implemented laws, such as the NYC Fair Workweek Law, which govern predictive scheduling. There are also certain provisions in the current proposed regulations that conflict with sections included in the NYC Fair Workweek Law. For example, the NYC Fair Workweek Law does not permit certain retail employers to require employees to work on-call, while the current proposed regulations provide an employee is entitled to at least four hours of “call-in pay” at minimum wage when that employee is required to be on-call.

Next Steps For Employers:

Once an effective date for the proposed regulations is released, employers should draft and distribute a predictive scheduling policy. The policy should identify all employee rights under the proposed regulations, including the right to file a complaint. Additionally, the policy should also state how an employee will consistently receive his or her schedule. It is also a good idea to include who employees can go to if they have questions or concerns regarding their schedules.

Employers should also train all employees who deal with scheduling. Whether a business will violate the proposed regulations will likely be the result of whether the employees responsible for setting employee schedules understand the regulations.

Employers may also consider implementing and maintaining a notice system that can be archived. This would provide employers with a record of all communications made to employees regarding scheduling or shift changes in the event an employee makes a complaint or brings an action under the proposed regulations.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I-9 Audits: An Employer’s Best Defense is a Good Offense

In 2018, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) nearly quadrupled the number of I-9 audits and investigations it conducted in 2017.  It should come as no surprise to employers that the government will continue to heavily focus on immigration issues, including enforcement activities aimed towards businesses such as I-9 audits and worksite investigations.  Hence, it is now vital that employers are vigilant when complying with all records and verification requirements for new employees through I-9 forms and be prepared to handle an I-9 audit or worksite investigation.

What many employers fail to understand is the importance of I-9 compliance.  ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit has the ability to audit any company from a tip from the public, another business, a disgruntled employee, or from other government agencies, or it may randomly audit a company.  This should be of great concern to employers due to the broad range of penalties ICE may impose on employers.  The penalties can range from civil penalties, including paperwork violations ranging from $220 to $2,191 per form and unauthorized worker violations ranging from $548 to $19,242 per unauthorized worker, to criminal penalties.

How can employers prepare ahead of time for an I-9 audit and worksite investigation?

First, employers should develop an action plan ahead of time.  Employers should educate all employees on what they should do in case ICE chooses to audit the company through an ICE Notice of Inspection (NOI) or conduct an unannounced worksite investigation.  This means informing all managers that employers are not required to produce I-9 forms immediately without an administrative subpoena or warrant.  It is also a good idea to assign a point person who is familiar with ICE so, if an emergency comes up, employees know to reach out to that point person.

Employers should also develop a policy and plan to properly catalog and maintain I-9 forms of both current employees and former employees.  The I-9 forms of former employees should be kept separate from those of current employees, and I-9 forms should be maintained separately from general employee personnel files.

Employers must also review all I-9 forms to check that they are filled out correctly, since errors on I-9 forms can lead to violations, which can add up very quickly.  It is a good idea for employers to conduct routine formalized self-audits and to document each internal audit.  Below, we provide a breakdown of the I-9 form and point out where many common violations occur.

In section 1, the employee must fill out all required items such as address, social security number, phone number and email.  Where appropriate, the employee can simply write “none” or “N/A”.  The employee must also sign and date section 1 of the I-9 form.  If the date it is signed is later than the first day of pay, it is a violation.

Section 2, which confirms the identity and work authorization status of an employee, must be completed by the employer within three (3) days from the employee’s first day of pay.  This section has three columns – A, B, and C.  Employers must fill out either columns A or B and complete column C.  Each column lists the acceptable authorization documents an employee is required to bring to the employer to complete this section accurately.  Employees must physically bring the documents to the employer within three (3) days of starting work for pay.  If an employer fails to complete the I-9 form by the employee’s third day, it is a violation.  By law, employers must terminate the employee if they fail to provide the required documentation to complete this section.  Failure to terminate employment will lead to a violation and fine.  In addition, if there are inconsistencies between sections 1 and 2 of the form, employers should investigate the issue since it can lead to violations that they are responsible for.

Employers should only fill out section 3 of the form when an employee’s employment authorization document has expired.  For example, it is up to the employer to document whether an employee’s work visa is expiring and section 3 should be completed to document the extension of the work authorization.  It is the employer’s responsibility to track the expiration of an employee’s work authorization forms, or it could likely lead to additional violations.

Third, employers must prepare their employees in the event that ICE does choose to conduct an unannounced worksite investigation.  It is important that employers are complaint with the investigation while protecting their business.  Employers do not want to harm their business by answering questions or signing paperwork, so they should consult with an expert before saying or signing anything.

As you can imagine, ICE might show up at your business and obtain access to your I-9 forms through the consent of fearful employees.  This is why employers must train their staff to understand that generally the government must provide three (3) days’ notice prior to an inspection through an NOI.  Employees should also know that they are only required to open the doors to ICE agents during an audit or raid if ICE has a written warrant that is signed by a judge.  An administrative warrant is not sufficient.  If ICE produces a warrant signed by a judge and requests I-9s, employers will have up to seventy two (72) hours to turn the forms in.  If there is an emergency or a business necessity, employers may be permitted to request a longer period of time to comply with the warrant.

What should employers expect if violations are found?

If after an audit, inspection or raid, technical or procedural violations are found, employers are given ten (10) days to correct them.  If those violations are not corrected within the ten (10) day limit, substantive violations, such as failing to produce an I-9 form, and technical violations, are likely to be subject to fines ranging from $220 to $2,191 per violation.  Additionally, any violations tied to an employer who knowingly hired and continued to employ individuals who are unauthorized to work may be fined from $548 to $19,242 per violation.  In determining the appropriate penalty to award an employer, ICE considers the following five (5) factors: (1) the size of the business, (2) the employer’s good faith effort to comply with the audit or investigation, (3) the seriousness of the violation, (4) whether the violation involved unauthorized workers, and (5) the employer’s previous history of violations.

Since it is likely that the government will continue to scrutinize I-9s in the future, employers must be proactive and strive to maintain a culture of compliance in their workplace.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When Inclement Weather Strikes: How to Pay Your Employees

Q:  Must a company pay an hourly, non-exempt employee for the day(s) when the business was closed due to inclement weather?

A: The general rule for non-exempt employees is to pay only for time worked – this is true under federal and state law.  A company may require the hourly non-exempt employee to use vacation days.  However, it should be noted that New York’s Department of Labor requires employers to pay an employee who reports for work on any day at least four hours (or the number of hours in the employee’s regularly schedule shift, if fewer than four) at minimum wage.  If the business was closed and the employer did not notify an employee not to report, he or she is entitled to this minimum amount as “show-up pay”.

Q: Does a company have to pay salaried, exempt employees when the business was closed?

A: The general rule for exempt employees is that an employee who performs any work in a workweek must be paid for the entire week.  This includes time spent working remotely from home or another location.  Alternatively, if the business was closed for an entire week due to inclement weather, the employer is not required to pay the employee his or her salary that week, so long as no work was performed.  Where an employee has any amount of paid time off in his or her “bank”, the employer may apply it to all or part of the missed week, in accordance with a company policy.

Q: If the business re-opens or remains open, and a salaried, exempt employee is unable to make it to work as a result of impassible roads, loss of transportation, etc., may the employer dock his or her pay without jeopardizing the exemption?

A: Typically, yes.  However, deductions may be made for full-day absences only if there is a relevant company policy.  An employee’s inability to report to work due to severe weather or hazardous road conditions is considered to be a “personal reason.”  Employers should ensure that the pay of exempt employees who are performing work remotely is not being docked simply because the employee did not report to the office.  Therefore, if an exempt employee worked remotely during a workweek, even if only for an hour, his or her pay cannot be docked.

Q:  Must a company pay a non-exempt employee overtime for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours if the non-exempt employee is unable to leave the company’s facility due to severe weather and continues to work?

A:  Yes.  If a non-exempt employee has worked more than 40 hours in a workweek, the employer must pay overtime compensation at time-and-one-half his or her regular rate.

PMP is here to help you navigate the not-so-obvious effects inclement weather has on your business.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New York’s Suffolk County Imposes Salary History Ban

In an effort to narrow the pay gap that exists between men and women, Suffolk County is the most recent locality in New York State to prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their salary history.  Suffolk County now joins New York City, Albany County, and Westchester County in adopting legislation that bans employers from asking about an applicant’s salary history.

On November 20, 2018, the Suffolk County Legislature passed the Restrict Information Regarding Salary and Earnings Act (“RISE” Act) by a vote of 17-0.  As stated in the RISE Act’s legislative intent section, the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) issued a report in April 2018 which found that women in Suffolk County earn 78.1% of what their male counterparts earn, compared to the State-wide percentage of 86.8%.  Since employers often use salary history to determine a prospective employee’s wages or salary, an applicant’s prior salary can thus perpetuate the inequitable pay scale that women face with each successive job.  The RISE Act aims to close the pay gap between men and women by restricting employer’s access to a potential employee’s salary history.

Effective June 30, 2019, employers with four (4) or more employees in Suffolk County may not:

  • Inquire, in any form of application or otherwise, about a job applicant’s wage or salary history, including but not limited to, compensation and benefits.
  • Rely on the salary history of an applicant for employment in determining the wage or salary amount for such applicant at any state in the employment process including the offer or contract.

Suffolk County employers should note that the RISE Act expressly excludes any actions taken that are (1) pursuant to any federal, state or local law which requires the verification or disclosure of an applicant’s salary for employment purposes, or (2) pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement.

Importantly, current or prospective employees are permitted to file complaints for violations of this new law with the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission.  Violations under the RISE Act may result in an award of compensatory damages to the individual, payment to the County general fund, and civil fines and penalties in an amount not to exceed $50,000 ($100,000 if the violation is found to be willful, wanton or malicious).

Suffolk County employers and employee agencies must now take proactive measures to ensure their pre-employment practices comply with this new legislation.  This means employers should instruct hiring managers not to engage in any discussion involving an applicant’s compensation history during the interviewing process.  Additionally, employers should review all job application forms to determine that their hiring practices do not require applicants to submit any information regarding their salary history.  Employers should also verify that their procedures to check references of job applicants do not result in obtaining an applicant’s salary history.

As more local New York jurisdictions pass such laws banning salary history, employers must continue to review and update their hiring processes, including employment applications, hiring documents, and interview notes to ensure compliance with the law.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Heads Up New York! Here are the 2019 Minimum Wage and Overtime Salary Threshold Increases

The New York State Budget provides that the minimum wage rates and overtime salary thresholds will increase under a phased-in schedule based on the employer’s location in the state.  Unlike most other states, New York has one of the most complicated minimum wage rate structures.  Not only does New York set a minimum wage rate, but the state minimum wage law also sets forth specific wage requirements in industries such as building services, fast food and resort services.  New York is also unique in that its wage rates will change on December 31, not January 1, unlike most other states which implement rate changes on January 1.

 

 

As of December 31, 2018, the minimum wage rate structure will increase as follows:

What does this mean for employers?  To put it simply, employers must know which category they fall under to understand how these wage rate increases will impact cash flow, hiring and other administrative duties.

Recently, the New York State legislature introduced its own increases to overtime salary thresholds.  Like the minimum wage rate increases, the increases to overtime salary thresholds will depend on where the employer is located and possibly the number of employees.

As of December 31, 2018, the overtime salary threshold will increase as follows:

Many employers will notice that based on the increases in overtime salary thresholds, their currently employed white-collar, salaried employees may soon be compensated at a wage that falls below what their overtime salary threshold will increase to.  This means that some white-collar employees who were once deemed to have exempt status, will fall into the non-exempt status.  Employers have three options to deal with this change.

Require employees to track their hours and do not allow employees to work more than 40 hours per week. This seems like the simplest fix, it may require employers to implement a new time keeping process.  However, this leads to major implications and consequences for a business if the employee’s sudden reduction in hours causes great difficulty to complete projects.

Transition employees to hourly pay and pay them overtime. This option may be costly for employers who have employees averaging between 45 and 50 hours per week.  Since the overtime rate is 1.5 times the normal hourly rate, this essentially means employers would give those employees a substantial raise.

Simply raise salaries above the new overtime threshold. This permits employers to award employees with a fairly sizable raise which will increase employee morale and productivity.  This is also much less costly than the second option and allows those employees to maintain their exempt status.  Additionally, this won’t require employees to track their time and cap their weekly hours at 40 hours, and employers won’t have to pay substantial overtime wages.

Although this process may seem simple when dealing with one employee who is about to lose his/her salaried, exempt status, it becomes extremely complex when employers need to account for several employees in this situation.  Hence, it is important for employers to take these changes into consideration in order to make the best decisions for your business.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Employers Need to Know About Medical Marijuana and The Workplace

As of today, eight states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized or legalized the use of recreational marijuana, and 30 states have adopted measures to legalize medical marijuana use.  Prior to the legalization of marijuana in some states, employers could simply terminate employment for employees or rescind job offers from prospective employees if they tested positive for a prohibited or controlled substance.  However, employers are now faced with an ill-defined problem since over half of the states in the United States have legalized the use of medical marijuana.  In states where medical marijuana is legal, it is imperative that employers review their company policies regarding the use of medical marijuana to avoid the risk of expensive and unwanted litigation arising under state law claims.

Although marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance and is still illegal under federal law, many states, including New York, have passed legislation providing medical marijuana users with employment protections under state disability laws.  Hence, a blanket policy prohibiting the lawful use of marijuana may no longer be legal in states that have adopted reasonable accommodation laws for the use of medical marijuana off duty.  Employers must address any legal issues that arise out of marijuana usage on a state-by-state basis.

Despite the fact that some states categorize medical marijuana users as having a disability, federal law does not follow suit.  For example, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) provides employee protections from discrimination on the basis of a disability and requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of his/her job (unless such accommodations impose an undue hardship on the employer).  Although individuals with disabilities that typically qualify for the employee protections under the ADA are often prescribed medical marijuana as part of their treatment, the ADA specifically excludes protections for individuals with a disability who currently engage in the use of drugs deemed unlawful by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  Since marijuana is still a prohibited Schedule I Substance under the CSA, courts will generally find that employers do not have to accommodate the use of medical marijuana under the ADA.

However, employers in states that have legalized medical marijuana may need to accommodate an employee’s use of medical marijuana.  For example, in 2014 New York passed the Compassionate Care Act (CCA) that legalized the use of medical marijuana for seriously ill patients under the care of a doctor’s orders.  The CCA only permits the use of medical marijuana for certain approved conditions including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and Huntington’s disease.  Under the CCA, patients who are “certified”, meaning they are prescribed medical marijuana, are categorized as having a disability under the New York State Human Rights Law.  Employers with four or more employees may not refuse to hire nor can they fire an employee based on their status as a medical marijuana card holder.  Further, the CCA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for those employees.  Employers may be vulnerable to an employment discrimination claim should they refuse to hire or if they terminate an employee who is legally permitted to use medical marijuana.

Drug testing employees for marijuana in states that have legalized medical marijuana has created a hazy problem for employers.  Random drug testing used to provide employers with an obvious method to enforce the company’s zero-tolerance policy for marijuana.  However, unlike a breathalyzer test for alcohol, drug tests for marijuana are unable to yield the precise results to indicate impairment.  Since marijuana may take a long period of time to be metabolized out of an employee’s system, routine testing for marijuana can lead to many false positives.  For this reason, employers in states which have legalized medical marijuana must tread very carefully when making employment decisions based on an employee’s positive drug test.

Even in states where medical marijuana users are afforded employer protections under state law, employees who use medical marijuana on the job will not be shielded by state laws.  For example, in New York, the CCA does not bar an employer from enforcing a policy that prohibits employees from using a controlled substance while performing job duties.  Additionally, the CCA does not require a business to take any action that could potentially violate a federal law or cause the company to lose funding.

It is also important to note that employers in safety-sensitive fields or who have federal contracts in states where use of medical marijuana is legal, may not have a choice regarding their stance on the use of medical marijuana.

In light of the recent legalization of medical marijuana, here is what employers in states such as New York, Connecticut and Delaware can do to comply with both federal and state laws:

  • Review the current state regulations where the employer operates to determine whether their substance use policy should change.
  • Review all job descriptions that are related to safety-sensitive positions.
  • Communicate to all employees and potential job applicants through a written memorandum the company’s drug screening policies and the consequences of the use of those substances on the job and positive test results.
  • Explain the process and procedures of how employees who are deemed certified to legally use medical marijuana may seek reasonable accommodations if necessary.
  • Train all managers and supervisors on the proper procedure to handle the potential use of marijuana on the job and how to identify signs of use during work hours.
  • Educate and inform all managers and supervisors on the appropriate manner in which to handle “for cause drug testing.”
  • Obtain approval from professionals prior to finalizing all policies.

Even though many states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, employers who still feel strongly about their employees steering clear of marijuana must explicitly state their position by adopting and implementing a clear company policy outlining their expectations and consequences of a positive test result.  Employers will still be able to reserve their right to legally terminate employees for their recreational use of marijuana, but not medical use of marijuana, if the employer enforces a prohibitory policy at the workplace.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cocktails & Co-Workers: 10 Helpful Hints to Avoid Disaster at This Year’s Company Holiday Party

With the holidays just around the corner, many employers plan to host a holiday party.  Holiday parties are a great way to show appreciation for employees, enhance teamwork, and allow employees to form a different type of bond aside from what they do on a day-to-day basis in the 9-to-5 world.  Whereas these events intend to enhance workplace spirits, holiday parties can land employers in hot water if they are not careful.  Before planning your holiday party, consider the potential liabilities that could accompany your event.  Many situations that could result in liability for your company can easily be prevented with some foresight.

Here are some steps you can take to protect both your company and your employees:

Limit the hours.  Start the event right after work so employees don’t have the chance to pre-party before they arrive.  The party should also be limited to about three hours to avoid letting any guest become too intoxicated.

Make the party voluntary.  While it would be nice for all of your employees to attend the holiday party, don’t make it a requirement.  Remember that some employees may already have plans or other commitments.  It might be a good idea to make the party during the week so it is less likely employees will have conflicting plans and because employees are less likely to binge during the week.  Also, it could possibly create wage confusion and problems if the party is mandatory for employees to attend.

Limit the alcohol.  Although this might sound obvious, many people do not know what limiting alcohol looks like at a party.  While completely nixing alcohol at your party will minimize a lot of risk, employers do not have to go that far to reduce liability.  One suggestion is to prohibit executives from drinking or limit them to just one alcoholic beverage.  This isn’t to say that executives can’t have fun, but employers want executives to be the eyes and ears of your company to ensure everyone else is safe and on their best behavior.  Another idea is to hire professional bartenders or work with your vendor to set parameters for serving alcohol.  It might be a good idea to instruct bartenders not to serve shots, serve light pours, or have a designated cut-off time.  Employers may choose to host a cash bar where employees purchase the alcohol.  A cash bar can reduce consumption and can reduce the risk of a claim that the employer directly provided alcohol to employees.

Provide rides.  Employers should think about ways to get their employees home safely.  Arrange for designated drivers or work out an arrangement with a local hotel with a shuttle service or a car service to offer discounted rates to all employees.  Even if you don’t plan to or want to provide a taxi service, don’t think twice about calling and paying for one if an intoxicated employee plans to drive himself home.  From a cost-benefit point of view, the cab fare may be the best money your company has ever spent.

Instruct leaders of your company to set the example.  Leaders and executives of your company should set the tone for the holiday party.  It is important that they understand that they set the example of professional behavior at your holiday party.  Additionally, someone should monitor the party to stop problems and make sure nothing gets out of hand.

Communicate expectations ahead of time.  It is a good idea to send an office-wide memo a few days before the party to let employees know you look forward to a fun party and reminding them that it is still a work setting in which they are expected to exhibit decorum and professionalism.  This memo should also include the company’s policies on harassment and conduct as well as the dress code.

Invite the spouses.  Many employers choose to allow employees to bring their spouse or a guest to the holiday party.  A spouse or partner can act as someone’s “better half” and can help employees to make better decisions.

Do more than serve drinks.  Planned activities can keep guests from making constant trips to the bar and can keep a party from spinning out of control.  An activity, such as a white elephant gift exchange, can let employees interact in a way they normally wouldn’t interact with each other.

Excluding the mistletoe, decorations are okay.  Holiday decorations can create a festive atmosphere at your party, but forget about hanging mistletoe.  This could lead to all sorts of harassment issues and potential complaints.

Consider an alternative.  Some employers may altogether want to reduce risks associated with evening events by throwing a casual day party or by doing something more low-key such as volunteering together for a charity or holding a family-friendly affair at a bowling alley.  These kinds of activities still allow employees to get into the holiday spirit without having to endure the higher-risk party atmosphere.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment