Employment LawScene Alert:
New Year – New Labor and Employment Law Developments Every Employer Should Know


In 2019, several federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the National Labor Relations Board have either issued new regulations, new guidelines, or employer-friendly decisions that every employer should be aware of as we begin our journey into this 2020 election year. Most of the changes coming at the federal level are the result of the Trump administration’s agenda to level the playing field for employers by tilting back for employers the shift that occurred in the legal landscape during the Obama administration. Here are the latest labor and employment law developments every employer should know as we venture into 2020.

U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)

New Overtime Regulations Go into Effect January 1, 2020

Effective January 1, 2020, the salary threshold necessary to exempt executive, administrative and professional employees from the Fair Labor Standard Act’s minimum wage and overtime pay requirements increases from $23,660 (or $455 per week) to $35,568 (or $684 per week). The DOL’s new rule is the product of the Trump administration’s efforts to reset the Obama administration’s 2016 final rule that established the salary threshold at $47,476 per year or $913 per week. Now is the perfect time for employers to audit their payroll data to make sure that every employee who is being treated as an exempt executive, administrative or professional employee is being paid at least the salary threshold amount of $35,568 (or $684 per week). Employees who do not meet this new minimum salary threshold should be treated as non-exempt and employers should begin to pay these newly minted non-exempt employees overtime compensation (1.5 times their regular rate) if they work over 40 hours in a workweek.

DOL Issues Final Rule Clarifying the Regular Rate of Pay

In December, the DOL announced a final rule clarifying for employers what “perks” and benefits must be included in the regular rate of pay when calculating overtime compensation. The “regular rate” is the hourly rate that is paid to employees and must not only include an employee’s hourly wage rate, but it must also include in its calculation other forms of compensation received in a workweek, including bonuses, commissions, and other forms of compensation, subject to eight specified exclusions. Perplexing to employers, and exposing employers to additional risk for overtime liability, was the uncertainty as to whether certain kinds of “perks,” benefits, or other miscellaneous payments must be included in the regular rate. The DOL attempted to eliminate this uncertainty in its final rule by confirming what employers may offer to employees through the following non-exhaustive list of “perks” and benefits without the risk of additional overtime liability:

The DOL’s final rule becomes effective on January 15, 2020.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

Employers Can Cut-Off Union Dues Upon CBA Expiration

In a 3-1 ruling, the NLRB overturned an Obama-era decision (Lincoln Lutheran of Racine, 362 NLRB 1655 (2015)) requiring employers to continue to honor the dues checkoff provision in an expired labor contract. In Lincoln Lutheran of Racine, the NLRB held that an employer’s statutory obligation to check off union dues continues to be enforceable under Section 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relation Act after expiration of a collective bargaining agreement that establishes the checkoff arrangement. The Obama-era Board reasoned that the “dues checkoff” provision could not just dissipate once a contract expired, but instead could be ignored only if all parties to the contract agreed. On December 16, 2019, the NLRB reversed course in Valley Hospital Medical Center, 368 NLRB No. 39 (2019), holding that while dues checkoff provisions are mandatory subjects of bargaining, they also fall into a special “limited category” of unique union rights that are contractual in nature and do not necessarily relate to wages, pensions, welfare benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. Given its special category, a dues-checkoff provision remains enforceable only during the term of the agreement in which those contractual obligations were created by the parties. Consequently, the Board held that there is no independent statutory obligation to check off and remit dues after expiration of a collective-bargaining agreement containing a checkoff provision, just as no such statutory obligation exists before parties enter into such an agreement. The Board’s ruling brings more balance to the bargaining table and provides the employer some leverage when contract negotiations may extend beyond the expiration of the labor agreement. It also incentivizes the union to reach an agreement before expiration of the labor agreement to avoid loss of union dues. Of course, the right to cut-off union dues under the Board’s Valley Hospital decision does not exist when the employer and the union agree to extend the labor agreement during the pendency of negotiations.

NLRB Provides Employers, Once Again, the Power to Control Company-Owned Email

On December 17, 2019, in Caesars Entertainment (368 NLRB No. 143) the NLRB overturned its 2014 controversial Purple Communications decision (361 NLRB No. 126) which had held that employees have the right to use their employers’ email systems for non-business purposes, including communicating about union organizing. The NLRB’s Purple Communications’ decision overturned its 2007 Register Guard decision (351 NLRB No. 70) where the Board recognized the long-standing precedent that the NLRA generally does not restrict an employer’s right to control the use of its equipment, which applies to company-owned email systems, and held that while union-related communications cannot be banned because they are union-related, facially neutral policies regarding the permissible use of employers’ email systems are not rendered unlawful simply because they have the “incidental” effect of limiting the use of those systems for union-related communications. The Purple Communications decision upset this precedent and held, for the first time in the history of the Board, that employees do have the right to use company-owned equipment for non-work purposes. The Board’s decision in Caesars Entertainment basically restored the standard set forth in the Register Guard decision before the Purple Communications decision stripped employers of an important property right with the only exception being those rare cases where an employer’s email system provides the only reasonable means for employees to communicate with one another. Now, under the Caesars Entertainment decision, employers may prohibit employees from using company-owned email systems for non-work-related purposes, including communications concerning union organizing activities. Employers, however, are permitted to implement such a prohibition only if the employer’s rules or policies are not applied discriminatorily by singling out union-related activities or communications.

NLRB Restores Employers’ Right to Impose Confidentiality in Workplace Investigations

On December 16,2019, in a 3-1 decision, the NLRB overruled a 2015 NLRB precedent (Banner Estrella Medical Center, 362 NLRB 1108) that required a case-by-case determination of whether an employer may lawfully require confidentiality in specific workplace investigations. The Board had ruled that employees have a Section 7 right to discuss discipline and ongoing investigations involving themselves and other co-workers. In Apogee Retail, 368 NLRB No. 144 (2019), however, the NLRB returned to its previous standard, and now allows employers to implement blanket nondisclosure rules requiring confidentiality in all workplace investigations. The NLRB’s ruling aligns itself with the EEOC’s position against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement where confidentiality rules imposed during a workplace sexual harassment investigation encourage victims and witnesses to come forward. The standard set forth by the Board in Apogee Retail only applies to open and-on-going investigations and only to those employees directly involved in the investigation. Obviously, on the other hand, any confidentiality order or rule imposed by the employer cannot be imposed on employees not involved in the investigation or to an investigation that has concluded. The Board’s decision in Apogee Retail provides employers an important tool to maintain the integrity of its internal investigations without fear that imposing the safeguards of confidentiality requirements during the pendency of an investigation violates Section 7 rights.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

EEOC Rescinds Policy Against Binding Arbitration

The EEOC voted 2-1 to rescind its 1997 Policy Statement on Mandatory Binding Arbitration where the EEOC had stated its position that mandatory arbitration agreements that keep workers’ discrimination claims out of court clash with the civil rights laws the agency enforces.

The EEOC based its decision to rescind its policy regarding binding arbitration based on the fact that its policy statement did not reflect current law, especially given the Supreme Court’s numerous and consistent decisions since 1997 that favor agreements to arbitrate employment-related disputes as being enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The EEOC found that its 1997 policy conflicted with the arbitration-related decisions of the Supreme Court where the Court rejected the EEOC’s previously enunciated concerns with using the arbitral forum – both within and outside the context of employment discrimination claims. It should be noted by employers, however, that the EEOC’s decision to rescind its 1997 policy statement on mandatory arbitration should not be construed to mean that employees cannot file charges of discrimination with the agency if they signed an agreement to arbitrate or that the EEOC is prohibited from investigating such charges. Moreover, the EEOC makes clear that its rescission of its 1997 policy should not be interpreted as limiting the EEOC’s ability, or that of the employee, to challenge the enforceability of any agreement to arbitrate. This change in the EEOC’s policy position regarding mandatory arbitration of employment disputes is not surprising given the long-line of Supreme Court decisions favoring arbitration in employment disputes. Given the positive change in the EEOC’s position on mandatory arbitration agreements in employment, along with strong precedent-setting federal court decisions favoring arbitration, employers should consider revisiting whether they should be utilizing agreements with their employees for mandatory arbitration of employment disputes.




Employment LawScene Alert:
Breaking News: DOL Sets Overtime Salary Exemption Threshold at $35,568


On September 24, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a final rule to increase the salary threshold necessary to exempt executive, administrative and professional employees from the Fair Labor Standard Act’s (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. The final rule raises the annual salary threshold from $23,660 (or $455 per week) to $35,568 (or $684 per week). The FLSA requires covered employers to pay employees a minimum wage and, for employees who work more than 40 hours in a week, overtime premium pay of at least 1.5 times the regular rate of pay. Section 13(a)(1) of the FLSA, commonly referred to as the “white collar” or “EAP” exemption, exempts from these minimum wage and overtime pay requirements “any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity.” Now for an employee to qualify for one of the EAP exemptions, generally, that employee has to be paid on a salary basis and earn at least $35,568 per year or $684 per week. The final rule becomes effective January 1, 2020.

The final rule also allows employers to use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to ten percent of the standard salary level as long as such payments are paid annually or on a more frequent basis. In addition, if an employee does not earn enough in nondiscretionary bonus or incentive payments in a given year (52-week period) to retain his or her exempt status, the employer may make a “catch-up” payment up to ten percent of the total salary level for the preceding 52-week period. This “catch-up” payment must be paid within one pay period following the end of the 52-week period. In plain terms, each pay period an employer must pay the EAP employee on a salary basis at least 90 percent of the standard salary level and, if at the end of the 52-week period the sum of the salary paid plus the nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) paid does not equal the standard salary level for the 52-week period, the employer has one pay period to make up for the shortfall (up to 10 percent of the required salary level). Any such catch-up payment will count only toward the previous 52-week period’s salary amount and not toward the salary amount in the 52-week period in which it was paid.

Today’s final rule is the product of the Trump administration’s efforts to reset the Obama administration’s 2016 final rule that had established the salary threshold at $47,476 per year or $913 per week. The Obama administration’s controversial final rule was struck down on November 22, 2016 by a federal district court in Texas because it “makes overtime status depend predominately on a minimum salary level, thereby supplanting an analysis of an employee’s job duties.” An appeal of that decision is still pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. However, given the release of today’s final rule, the DOL will rescind the Obama administration’s 2016 final rule making the pending appeal moot.

The final rule also raises the total annual compensation requirement for “highly compensated employees” (HCE) from the currently enforced level of $100,000 per year to $107,432 per year. The HCE salary level of $107,432 is set at the 80th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally using updated 2018/2019 salary data. However, Wisconsin employers should note that Wisconsin law does not recognize the HCE exemption, and, as a result, Wisconsin employers should not rely or utilize this exemption when classifying employees for wage and hour purposes.

Finally, the DOL’s proposed rule published on March 7, 2019 rejected the Obama administration’s 2016 rule that provided for automatic adjusting every three years of the salary threshold for the EAP exemptions. Instead, the DOL’s March, 2019 proposed rule rejected automatic adjusting and favored that the Secretary of Labor review the salary threshold every four years preceded by a period of public comment. The DOL’s final rule, however, reaffirmed the DOL’s intent to update the standard salary level and HCE total annual compensation threshold more regularly in the future using notice and comment rulemaking, but declined to make a commitment to do so every four years believing that prevailing economic conditions, rather than fixed timelines, should drive future updates.




Employment LawScene Alert:
Wage & Hour Liability—the Hidden Danger in Asset Acquisitions


One of the critical keys to a successful asset acquisition is recognizing potential liabilities and negotiating around those liabilities through a well-drafted asset purchase agreement (“APA”). However, certain liabilities that may attach to the buyer following the sale may not be apparent from the seller’s balance sheet or from a typical due diligence review—making the risk a hidden liability. One such potential hidden liability in an asset acquisition is the seller’s past wage and hour violations under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Even when the potential liability is identified by the buyer and the parties have negotiated contractual terms in the APA for the buyer not to assume such liability, the buyer may still have exposure for such wage claims when it is deemed a successor under federal common law.

Wage and hour claims under the FLSA can result in significant liability to an employer. Most FLSA claims are brought as a collective action (similar to a class action) on behalf of all similarly situated employees which can result in penalties up to double back wages for up to three years for willful violations plus the opportunity for the recovery of attorney’s fees. This can oftentimes lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in liability and even millions of dollars if the collective class is large enough and the violation involves significant underpayment of lawfully required wages. Typical claims under the FLSA include: (i) misclassification of employees as exempt; (ii) failing to pay employees for hours worked such as for travel time, donning and doffing, meals and rest periods; (iii) failure to properly calculate an employee’s “regular rate” of pay in the calculation of overtime; and (iv) improperly classifying workers as independent contractors rather than as employees.

Many business people operate under the general assumption that when a company is sold in an asset sale, as opposed to a stock sale, the buyer acquires the company’s assets “free and clear” of the seller’s liabilities unless expressly or implicitly assumed by the buyer. However, many federal circuit courts have recognized that when liability is based on a violation of a federal statute involving labor relations or employment, then application of successor liability under federal common law is appropriate in suits to enforce federal labor or employment laws, like the FLSA, to prohibit employers who violated those laws from avoiding liability by selling, or otherwise disposing of, their assets and dissolving. For example, we previously addressed in this blog (click here for the post) the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Teed v. Thomas & Betts Power Solutions, L.L.C. where the Seventh Circuit imposed successor liability upon the buyer in an asset acquisition for the seller’s FLSA violations despite language in the APA that expressly disclaimed such liability by the buyer.

Because a buyer could be held liable as a successor for the seller’s past wage and hour violations, it is incumbent upon the buyer to perform a thorough due diligence of the seller’s compliance with wage and hour laws. If potential wage and hour compliance issues are detected, then the buyer can take necessary steps to protect itself by: (i) drafting appropriate representations and warranties regarding the seller’s compliance with labor and employment laws; (ii) shifting the potential obligation back to the seller through a carefully drafted indemnification provision that properly defines “losses” to include all potential liabilities under the FLSA; (iii) either negotiating a reduced basket (a threshold amount of losses or damages the buyer must incur before it is entitled to indemnification from the seller) or excepting any FLSA liability imposed on the seller from the basket; (iv) negotiating an increased escrow fund to cover any potential indemnification obligation created from any past wage and hour liabilities that may be imposed on the buyer as a successor; and (v) negotiating a purchase price adjustment.

Having an experienced law firm with both transactional and employment attorneys on your side who can recognize and address a buyer’s potential exposure to FLSA liability can make the difference between a successful acquisition or an acquisition where the buyer is saddled with a liability it never saw coming. Click here to meet your OCHD&L business law team.




Employment LawScene Alert:
NLRB’s General Counsel Issues Guidance on Handbook Rules Post-Boeing


On June 6, 2018, the NLRB’s General Counsel issued a memorandum (GC 18-04) to all NLRB Regional Directors providing regional offices general guidance on the new standard regarding the lawfulness of handbook rules under Section 7 as established by the NLRB in The Boeing Co., 365 NLRB No. 154 (2017). In Boeing, the NLRB overturned the onerous “reasonably construe” standard that was previously established by the NLRB in Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia, 343 NLRB 646 (2004).

In Lutheran Heritage, the NLRB held that employers can’t maintain workplace policies that workers could “reasonably construe” as barring them from exercising their Section 7 rights. Section 7 provides that “[e]mployees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities…”

The Lutheran Heritage standard was criticized as rendering unlawful every policy, rule and handbook provision—such as rules governing workplace civility, open door policies, fraternization, use of recording devices, use of cameras, confidentiality, use of social media, interactions with media, and use of logos and trademarks—that an employee might “reasonably construe” to prohibit any type of Section 7 activity. Simply, the Lutheran Heritage standard was unworkable for employers in drafting legitimate and effective workplace policies.

Under the new Boeing standard, however, the NLRB will apply a balancing test (balancing employees’ Section 7 rights with employer’s legitimate business interests) in evaluating whether an employer’s facially neutral policy interferes with employees’ Section 7 rights by considering two things: (i) the nature and extent of the potential impact on NLRA rights, and (ii) legitimate justifications associated with the rule.

In applying this new balancing test, the NLRB will delineate three categories of facially neutral employment policies, rules and handbook provisions:

The above three categories will represent a classification of results from application of the new Boeing balancing test. The categories are not part of the test itself.

The NLRB’s June 6th memorandum will assist NLRB regional offices in assessing on how to handle or process unfair labor charges alleging that a particular employer’s policy or handbook rule violates employees’ Section 7 rights. In addition, the NLRB’s General Counsel’s memorandum will guide regional offices regarding the placement of various types of rules into the three categories set out in Boeing providing the regional offices a balanced common sense approach in evaluating and processing such unfair labor practice charges against the new standard set forth in Boeing.




Employment LawScene Alert:
Federal Court Holds Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work 30-day Revocation Provision Unconstitutional


Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law provides employees the ability to choose as to whether they want to become or remain members of a labor union. Intertwined with that decision is an employee’s right to decide not to pay union dues. In order for an employee to effectively exercise his or her right not to be a member of a union without coercion or duress is the ability to also timely revoke their dues check-off authorizations so they are not committed to pay union dues when they no longer want to be a member of the union.

Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law was designed to address this issue by prohibiting any dues checkoff authorizations unless such authorizations are revocable upon 30 days’ written notice by an employee. This means, under Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law, that an employee can terminate a dues checkoff authorization upon 30 days’ written notice and, moreover, a labor union cannot bind an employee to a period of more than 30 days in which to exercise that right. However, this provision under Wisconsin law runs contrary to the federal Labor Management Relation Act (29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(4)) which permits an employee’s authorization for dues check-off to be effective for a period of up to one year or up until the termination date of the applicable collective bargaining agreement, whichever occurs sooner.

Recently, a federal district court in Wisconsin addressed this conflict between the two laws and found that the 30-day revocation provision for dues checkoff authorizations under Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law to be preempted by the federal Labor Management Relation Act (29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(4)), and, as a result, unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The federal district court premised its holding on a finding that a state law limiting the irrevocability of dues checkoff agreements to 30 days directly conflicts with the federal law permitting unions to bargain for longer periods of irrevocability. The federal district court further held that the fact that this provision was made part of Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law does not exempt it from federal preemption within the § 14(b) exception to federal preemption.

The federal district court’s decision means that a dues check-off authorization that is not revocable for more than one year is lawful and enforceable under 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(4) despite Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law to the contrary limiting the irrevocability of such authorizations.

The significance of this decision is that labor unions can and will bind employees to continue to pay union dues for up to a year before they can exercise their right to revoke their dues check-off authorization (and usually within a tight revocation window) even though the employee may have decided they no longer want to remain a member of the union. As a result, this federal court decision will have a chilling effect upon employees’ right to decide as to whether they want to remain a member of a labor union when they will be compelled by the same union they want to disassociate themselves from into continuing to pay union dues – exactly what labor wanted to accomplish in commencing the lawsuit challenging this provision of Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law.




Employment LawScene Alert:
Wisconsin Court of Appeals Finds Nonsolicitation of Employees Provision Unenforceable Under Restrictive Covenant Statute


In Manitowoc Co. v. Lanning, 2015AP1530 (Aug. 17, 2016), the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled—for the first time—that Wisconsin Statute § 103.465, which governs the enforceability of restrictive covenants in employment relationships, applies to employee non-solicitation provisions.

In 2008, John Lanning, an employee at The Manitowoc Co., entered into an agreement that prohibited him, for a period of two years after his employment ended, from either directly or indirectly soliciting, inducing, or encouraging “any employee to terminate their employment with Manitowoc” or to “accept employment  with any competitor, supplier or customer of Manitowoc.” The Manitowoc Co. claimed that, after leaving the company in 2010 to work for a direct competitor, Lanning communicated with at least nine employees in connection with possible employment opportunities at his new employer. The Manitowoc Co. claimed this was a violation of the employee non-solicitation provision and filed suit against Lanning. The Circuit Court granted summary judgment in The Manitowoc Co.’s favor, awarding damages and attorneys’ fees. Subsequently, Lanning appealed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, which ultimately reversed the lower court’s ruling.

On appeal, The Manitowoc Co. argued that § 103.465 should not apply to employee non-solicitation provisions but, rather, only to covenants not to compete  The Court quickly dismissed that argument, stating that any covenant between an employer and employee that “seeks to restrain competition” or operates as a “trade restraint” clearly falls within the confines of § 103.465. The Court noted that the employee non-solicitation provision limited how Lanning could compete with The Manitowoc Co. and “did not allow for the ordinary sort of competition attendant to a free market, which includes recruiting employees from competitors.” Therefore, the Court determined that the employee non-solicitation provision had to comply with § 103.465.

With the applicability of § 103.465 to employee non-solicitations decided, the Court then embarked to determine whether the provision The Manitowoc Co. sought to enforce was reasonably necessary to protect the Company’s legitimate business interests from unfair competition from a former employee. The Manitowoc Co. argued that it had a legitimate interest in preventing Lanning from “systematically poaching” its employees, and it believed the provision was narrowly tailored to protect it from such a threat.

The Court disagreed, however, determining that the actual terms of the agreement, as written, were far too broad and, therefore, unenforceable. As drafted, the non-solicitation provision prevented Lanning from soliciting any employee, whether entry level or a key employee, to leave The Manitowoc Co. for any reason, whether to retire to spend more time with family or work for a competitor. Because the Court found that the provision restricted “an incredible breadth of competitive and noncompetitive activity,” it concluded that the employee non-solicitation provision, as drafted, did not protect a legitimate business interest and, as such, the provision could not pass the strict scrutiny that § 103.465 required and, accordingly, found the covenant unenforceable.

In light of this decision, employers should review their current agreements that contain employee non-solicitation agreements. Although employers have the right to require employees to enter into agreements with employee non-solicitation provisions, the provisions must be crafted narrowly and carefully—just like covenants not to compete—to meet the strict scrutiny analysis  required by § 103.465. To be enforceable, employee non-solicitation provisions must focus on protectable interests, such as restricting former employees from soliciting current employees with whom the former employee had a direct business relationship with from ending their employment in order to engage in direct competitive activity adverse to the employer. An experienced management-side employment attorney can assist employers with drafting such provisions in order to meet the enforceability standards required by the Wisconsin restrictive covenant statute.

 




Employment LawScene Alert:
Your Arbitration Agreements with Employees May Be Invalid


Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision stating that class waivers in arbitration agreements for employees are invalid. The Court in Lewis v. Epic Systems Corp. adopted the controversial position of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and found that a collective and class action waiver in an employer’s contract violated Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by prohibiting employees from engaging in collective activity and forcing them into individual arbitration for their wage and hour claims.

The Seventh Circuit based its decision on the concept that the NLRA prohibits an employer from barring workers from engaging in concerted activity. The Court’s reasoning followed that, because class and collective actions could be considered concerted activity, an agreement that prohibited such activity was a violation of the NLRA. The Court found that individual arbitration was not bargained for by the employees and could not be rejected without penalty to the employees. Because it found that the provision was illegal under the NLRA, the Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) did not mandate enforcement because, under the FAA, an arbitration agreement is not valid where grounds exist for the revocation of the agreement. The Seventh Circuit determined that violation of the NLRA constituted such ground for revocation. Use of arbitration agreements with class and collective prohibitions has long been a point of contention with the NLRB, but until now, it had been an issue that the NLRB was finding little success with in the circuit courts. However, the Seventh Circuit’s decision gives the NLRB additional standing for its position, particularly in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, where the decision applies.

This decision creates a circuit split because the Fifth Circuit has ruled in two separate cases (Murphy Oil and D.R. Horton) that mandatory individual arbitration clauses in employment agreements are enforceable. The Fifth Circuit found that the NLRB, in determining that collective and class waivers were illegal under the NLRA, did not give proper deference to the FAA because the NLRA does not contain any specific language that prevents arbitration agreements from being enforced pursuant to their terms. The Fifth Circuit found that the NLRB’s interpretation that such clauses violated the NLRA by prohibiting concerted activity was not entitled to the level of deference that the Seventh Circuit found it was. The Second and Eighth Circuits have issued rulings similar to those of the Fifth Circuit. Now with a split in the federal circuits, the issue is ripe for consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, with Justice Scalia’s recent death, the Court’s precarious 4-4 split, and the political balance of the Court dependent upon the outcome of the Presidential election, the outcome on this issue before the U.S. Supreme is anything but certain, even taking into consideration the Supreme Court’s recent strong support for the enforceability of arbitration provisions.

Therefore, until this decision is overruled by the Supreme Court, employers in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana should not limit their employees to individual arbitration or should, at the least, allow employees to opt out of mandatory individual arbitration without penalty.




Upcoming Events—Lunch and Learn: New DOL Overtime Rules


Please RSVP to Julie Dietz at julie.dietz@wilaw.com or 414-291-4667.

 




Employment LawScene Alert:
Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016: Employers Must Include New Whistleblower Immunity Notice in Confidentiality or Non-Disclosure Agreements


On May 11, 2016, President Obama signed into law the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (“DTSA”) which amends the Economic Espionage Act (18 U.S.C. § 1831, et seq.).

The DTSA creates a private cause of action for trade secret misappropriation under federal law and opens a direct avenue for trade secret cases to proceed in federal court. While making it easier for employers to bring suits for trade secret misappropriation in federal court, the DTSA does not replace or preempt state trade secrets laws such as the Wisconsin Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“WUTSA”) (Wis. Stat. § 134.90 et seq.). This means that an employer who believes that one of its trade secrets may have been misappropriated may proceed under either the DTSA or the WUTSA, or both, to enjoin the misappropriation of a trade secret and remedy the harm.

The DTSA has a similar definition of “trade secrets” that is found in the WUTSA. Like the WUTSA, the DTSA defines the term “trade secret” to include all forms and types of financial, business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information where reasonable measures are taken to keep such information secret and the information derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to the public. The DTSA also defines the term “misappropriation” relative to the theft of a trade secret identically to the way it is defined by the WUTSA.

While appearing similar, the DTSA, however, differs significantly from the WUTSA on two fronts. First, the DTSA, unlike the WUTSA, permits an owner of a trade secret to obtain an ex parte seizure order providing for the seizure of property necessary to prevent the further dissemination or use of a misappropriated trade secret. Similar seizure remedies are found in the Copyright Act and the Lanham Act. Such an order could include, for example, an order seizing an employee’s computers or smartphone or even an order seizing an employee’s new employer’s computers if evidence exists that the misappropriated trade secret was transferred and disseminated by a former employee to his/her new employer. This ex parte seizure remedy is only available under extraordinary circumstances. Realizing that such a powerful remedy could be subject to abuse, Congress included a provision within the DTSA that permits a person who is subject to a wrongful or excessive seizure to recover civil damages.

Second, the DTSA has a whistleblower protection provision that is not found in the various Uniform Trade Secrets Acts enacted by various states, like in Wisconsin under the WUTSA. Specifically, the DTSA amends 18 U.S.C. § 1833(b) to provide criminal and civil immunity under any federal or state trade secret law for the disclosure of a trade secret that either is made: (i) in confidence to a federal, state, or local government official or to an attorney solely for the purpose of reporting or investigating a suspected violation of law; or (ii) is made in a complaint or other document filed in a lawsuit or other proceeding, if such filing is made under seal.

Overlaying this immunity protection under the DTSA is also a notice requirement. Specifically, starting May 12, 2016 employers must give employees, contractors, and consultants notice of this potential immunity in any contract or agreement that governs or protects the use of a trade secret or other confidential information entered into or amended after this date. The DSTA requires that this whistleblower immunity notice be expressly provided in a contract protecting trade secrets or should at least contain a notice provision that cross-references a policy that contains the employer’s whistleblower reporting policy for a suspected violation of law. Failure to provide this notice, however, does not invalidate the enforceability of the agreement or preclude an employer from bringing a claim under the DTSA. Rather, failure to provide the required whistleblower immunity notice simply precludes an employer from recovering exemplary damages or attorneys’ fees under the DTSA.

To comply with the new whistleblower immunity notice requirement under the DTSA, all employers must include this notice in any contract protecting the use of trade secrets or confidential information entered into or modified on or after the effective date of the DTSA (May 12, 2016) involving any employee or any non-employee individual performing work as a contractor or consultant for the employer. Employers are not required to amend existing contracts. Employers should take immediate action to incorporate the DTSA’s new required whistleblower immunity notice in all new or modified confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements entered into on or after May 12, 2016.

 




Employment LawScene Alert:
New OSHA Anti-Retaliation Provision Requires Employers to Rethink Their Safety-Related Policies


Last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized new record-keeping and reporting rules that require certain employers to electronically submit information about workplace injuries and illnesses to OSHA. The electronic reporting requirements of the rule apply only to employers with 250 or more employees and to employers with between 20 and 249 employees in certain “high-risk” industries, such as construction and manufacturing. A full list of the affected industries can be found here . The full rule (which can be found here) goes into effect January 1, 2017, while certain provisions, like the anti-retaliation provision, go into effect August 10, 2016.  Non-personal injury and illness information reported under the rule will be posted on a publicly accessible OSHA website. The new rule does not change the requirement that employers with 10 or more workers in most industries prepare injury reports, compile a log of these incidents, and complete an annual summary of work-related illness and injuries, which OSHA can access during an investigation.

The new rule further requires employers to inform workers of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses without fear of retaliation and provides additional information on employees’ rights to access workplace injury data. Moreover, OSHA’s new rule prohibits any workplace policy or practice that could discourage employees from reporting workplace injuries or illnesses. Such policies subject to greater scrutiny under OSHA’s new anti-retaliation rule could include post-accident drug testing policies. Employers will have to review their safety-related policies to determine if their policies or practices run afoul of OSHA’s new anti-retaliation rule or otherwise discourage employees from reporting workplace safety incidents. The anti-retaliation provisions apply to all employers.

OSHA’s stated purpose for the additional reporting and public access are to increase workplace transparency and to encourage employers to increase their efforts to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses. However, employers should be cautioned that such information will make it easier for OSHA to target companies with multiple injuries or illnesses for compliance and enforcement actions, despite any precautions that are being taken, as well as open up companies with high rates of illness or injury to increased union organization.

Employers of all sizes and in all industries should continue to strive to achieve workplace safety. They should also immediately review their workplace safety policies to make sure that appropriate anti-retaliation provisions are included.