Nonprofits Misuse of Volunteers During the Holidays Can Be Frightful

Although every penny saved may help support a valuable cause, it is important that an organization not let its use of volunteers lead to legal liability. Volunteers are the foundation upon which many successful nonprofits are built. Properly utilized, volunteers enable a nonprofit to devote valuable capital and resources elsewhere in the organization, allowing it to have a greater impact on its desired cause. Although the work of volunteers is valuable to a nonprofit’s mission, an organization’s management must exercise caution in engaging volunteers to ensure the nonprofit does not inadvertently misclassify individuals as volunteers when they may be considered employees under applicable law. With the holidays upon us, nonprofit organizations often rely more heavily on volunteers. Consequently, they should take extra care that its volunteers are not in fact employees.

As Ryan Portugal explains in our latest edition of Requisite, which focuses on issues related to the operation, management, and sustainability of nonprofit organizations, circumstances in which a volunteer will be treated as an employee under wage and hour laws can have costly legal ramifications for nonprofit organizations.

Read the full article. 

For more articles, giving data, and an interview with A.G. Lafley, view the digital version of Requisite X – The Nonprofit Edition.

Office Holiday Parties: Avoid Adding Your Company to the Naughty List

Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Michael Oreskes, Brett Ratner, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer are a few well-known names that have already appeared on the naughty list for 2017. Although the Mad Men days of the sexy secretary sitting on Santa’s lap (the boss’s lap) with his arms wrapped around her while both are drinking a dry martini SHOULD be a vestige of the past, there are those that believe that “keep your hands to yourself” does not apply to them.  And, there are those that understand the “hands-off” rule, yet when under the influence of alcohol, find their inhibitions on the copy room floor.

This year, with stories of sexual harassment and abuse dominating the news, it is more important than ever for employers to consider the potential risks associated with any planned celebration. Employers should keep in mind that office policies that are generally recognized in the workplace sometimes are forgotten when there is a party, especially a party with libations. A holiday office party can embolden inappropriate behavior, from simple innuendos to unwelcome touching that could lead to claims of sexual harassment. The office holiday party can be a quagmire of potential employment issues, even beyond sexual harassment. These issues can include claims due to on-the-job injuries (workers compensation), unpaid wages for attending the party (the Fair Labor Standards Act), or other types of workplace harassment or discrimination (e.g. religion).

As you prepare for your office party, consider whether alcohol should be available, as most issues arise due to someone bending the elbow a bit too much. If you do decide to provide spirits make sure you have someone (a designated responsible adult) that is watching to ensure that your workforce does not get too “relaxed” and cross the line. Possibly limit how much alcohol is served and make sure any employee that drinks a little too much has a ride home. Evaluate in advance whether the party is going to be mandatory or not. If its voluntary and employees do not feel compelled to attend, then employers are not required to compensate employees for their attendance. Review the plans for the party in advance to see if there are any activities that could be considered inappropriate or offensive to members of any protected class.  Finally, make sure that employees understand that the company’s policies and procedures, especially those related to conduct, are still in effect at the party. Most parties are benign and conclude with no real issues to speak of, but you don’t want to be the exception to the rule. You do not want your CEO or VP added to the naughty list.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
941-552-2558

A Clue to the NLRB’s Future Focus?

In regulatory action last week, the current board of the National Labor Relations Board not-so-subtly identified several areas where the Board wants to reverse course. Specifically, on October 16, 2018, the Board’s General Counsel released four advice memorandums issued during the Obama administration addressing several topics, including dress codes, replacement of striking employees, and video recordings of workplace strikes.

It is uncommon for advice memos to be released, especially those from prior administrations.  Most times, such releases happen after a matter has been resolved or the General Counsel has directed a region to dismiss a case. When memos are released, it is because the Board wants to draw attention to a trending topic or point of emphasis. In this instance, the Board released advice memos that were quite favorable to labor unions and workers:

  • In two advice memos involving Walmart dating to 2013, the Board’s General Counsel at that time recommended that the regional director bring unfair labor practices when the retailer (1) told a plainclothes security guard that he could not wear union clothing while undercover; and (2) prohibited workers from wearing union insignia shirts and then disciplined them for engaging in a work stoppage (which the General Counsel opined was not an unprotected sit-in strike);
  • In a different 2013 memo, the General Counsel found that Boeing acted unlawfully when it recorded union solidarity marches that happened on its property while it also had a rule in its employee handbook that blocked employees from using cameras on its property; and
  • In another advice memo issued in early 2017, the then-General Counsel concluded a California fishery committed an unfair labor practice when it unlawfully replaced striking employees by giving temporary employees permanent positions.

These memos are noteworthy since the current General Counsel, Peter Robb, and the Board at large are unlikely to support the positions espoused in the Obama era memos. For instance, in December 2017, the Board has changed course in the Boeing matter, concluding that the Board’s previous edicts on handbooks gave too much credence to employees’ rights and too little to employers’ interests.

Considering the reversal in Boeing matter, the fact that the General Counsel released the other advice memos on the same day potentially signals those advice memos do not reflect the Trump-era General Counsel or Board’s position. For that reason, employers may wish to challenge similar unfair labor practice findings in other settings.

Still, although these advice memos may be a relic of the Obama-era Board, another administration’s Board could renew the legal theories and positions contained in the advice memos. Thus, at the very least, employers should remain mindful of the views taken in the advice memos and consider potential protective steps.

John Getty*
jgetty@williamsparker.com
(941) 329-6622
*Admitted in Louisiana and Georgia

The NLRB Shifts its Strategy in its Attempts to Change the Joint-Employer Standard

After a failed attempt to change the joint-employer standard through legal decision arising out of a pending case before the NLRB, on September 14, 2018, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register regarding its joint-employer standard. The proposed rule would overturn the standard set by the Board in Browning-Ferris, 362 NLRB No. 186 (2015) to determine if an employer is a joint employer. Under the Browning-Ferris standard, the inquiry turns on whether the alleged joint employer had the potential to control aspects of the workplace, either directly or indirectly, regardless of whether the employer actually exercised that authority.

The proposed rule would revert to the pre-Browning-Ferris standard for determining whether an employer will be considered a joint employer of a separate employer’s employees. Under this proposed rule, an employer may be considered a joint-employer of another employer’s employees only if it possesses AND exercises substantial, direct, and immediate control over the essential terms and conditions of employment and has done so in a manner that is not limited and routine. This would effectively reverse the Browning-Ferris standard and render indirect influence and contractual reservations of authority insufficient to establish a joint-employer relationship.

The 60-day period for public comments on this proposed rule began on September 14, 2018, and continues through November 13. After the Board receives and reviews the public comments and replies, it will issue a final rule regarding the joint employer standard. If issued without substantial changes, this rule would be great news for employers as this stricter standard is clearer, provides more consistency, and reduces the likelihood of an employer inadvertently becoming a joint employer.

Ryan P. Portugal
rportugal@williamsparker.com
941-329-6626

Unleashing Weingarten Rights

When conducting investigations of employees in a unionized workforce, employers often feel like the lion tamer in the cage with nothing but a whip and stool between them and legal jeopardy. Unfortunately, a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board, In re Circus Circus Casinos, may have just taken the stool away and, in doing so, created a real circus.

The National Labor Relations Act has been interpreted to allow employees to request preferred union representation for investigatory interviews that may reasonably lead to discipline. Up until [this] Circus, this right was understood to arise only if an employee requested representation. Moreover, it was well confirmed that the employee’s selection of a representative could not be used to delay an employer’s investigation. In fact, as recently as September 2017, when the NLRB released to the public an advice memorandum addressing Weingarten rights, in which it noted that:

“[I]f the employee requests an unavailable representative, it is the employee’s obligation to request an alternative available representative in order to remain under Weingarten’s protections; the employer is not required to postpone the interview, secure an alternate representative, or otherwise accommodate the employee’s specific request.”

Nonetheless, in Circus Circus the panel broke with these seemingly settled principles.

So, what led to the three-ring circus of Circus Circus? First, employer directed an engineering department temporary employee to be fitted with a respirator to comply with OSHA regulations. Citing anxiety, the employee advised the third party that was fitting the employee that he wanted to speak with a doctor. The third party denied this request and advised the employer that the temporary employee refused to cooperate.  The employer suspended the employee pending an investigation.

Subsequently, the employer’s HR representative spoke with the employee, informing him that he was to report for a “due process” meeting the next day. The HR representative advised the employee “that if he wanted Union representation that he needed to bring the steward with him.” The employee repeatedly called and left a message with his union about representation for the meeting, but he never received a return call.

The day of the meeting, the employee appeared at the employer’s facility, walking past where the union steward worked. The employee, however, did not attempt to speak with the shop steward. Instead, the employee looked around the HR representative’s office before entering, allegedly searching for a union representative. Nevertheless, no union representative was there. When the meeting began, everyone agreed that the employee stated:

“I called the Union three times [and] nobody showed up, I’m here without representation.”

After the meeting, the employee was separated. The employee would later claim that he told the employer’s representative that he wanted the union at the meeting and, moreover, the representative told him he did not need anyone present because the matter was not a disciplinary action. The employer’s representative denied these allegations.

Focusing on the employee’s statement that he attempted to reach the union, the NLRB panel, in a 2-1 decision concluded that this statement was, in fact, a request for representation. Alluding to the fact that no magic words were needed to invoke Weingarten rights, the majority decided that the employee’s statement about his unsuccessful attempt to reach a representative—standing alone—was sufficient to invoke Weingarten rights. The NLRB affirmed the administrative law judge’s order of reinstatement and backpay.

Although Circus Circus Casinos has since appealed this decision, employers will still be well-served to tread carefully when conducting employee investigations in the interim—lest they wake the lion. As such, employers may want to consider any statement by a union employee referencing their union, their steward, a witness, or a representative as invoking Weingarten rights. A failure to do so may put an employer at risk of taking a nasty bite in the form of reinstatement or back pay.

Attorney John Getty* assisted in preparing this blog post.
*Admitted in Louisiana and Georgia

Arbitration Update: Eleventh Circuit Finds in Favor of Florida Employers

Florida employers are beginning to benefit from recent U.S. Supreme Court and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) rulings.  On June 26, 2018, the federal Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued two decisions in favor of Florida employers in which it rejected NLRB rulings that the employers had violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The cases are Everglades College, Inc. v. NLRB and Cowabunga, Inc. v. NLRB.

Applying the Supreme Court’s Epic Systems decision (for further information on Epic, click here), the Eleventh Circuit held in both cases that the inclusion of class and collective action waivers in these employers’ mandatory arbitration agreements did not violate the NLRA. Additionally, relying on the Board’s Boeing decision (for more information, on Boeing click here), the Eleventh Circuit vacated the NLRB’s holdings that the arbitration agreements were unlawful because employees could “reasonably believe that they were prohibited from filing unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB.”

In Boeing, the NLRB retroactively changed the rationale it used to evaluate the lawfulness of facially neutral employee policies, thus eliminating the broadly applied “reasonably believe” standard that prohibited any rule that could be interpreted as covering protected activity. Without that standard, the Board could not defend its prior decisions in the appeals. Therefore, the Eleventh Circuit remanded the remaining issues in the cases to the NLRB so that it can apply its new Boeing rationale, which does not interpret ambiguities against the drafter and does not ban all activity that could conceivably be included in generalized provisions.

Even with the NLRB General Counsel’s recent memo addressing the application of the Boeing standard (for more on the memo, click here), it is unclear how the Boeing rationale will apply to arbitration agreements. Regardless, employers should remain hopeful as the new standard provides for a more balanced review.

Gail E. Farb
gfarb@williamsparker.com
941-552-2557

[Editor’s Note: Williams Parker attorney Gail E. Farb represented the employer in the Everglades College, Inc. case cited above.]

The NLRB Continues to Retreat on Its Assault of Handbook Policies

In a recently released memo, the NLRB General Counsel confirmed the Board’s December 2017 signal of a shift in how the Board will scrutinize employer personnel policies. In December 2017, the NLRB changed course when it replaced the Lutheran Heritage standard, which had been aggressively used by the Board to invalidate personnel policies, with the Boeing standard (as discussed in our post from December 2017, “The NLRB’s Holiday Gift to Employers”). The Lutheran Heritage standard evaluated whether employees could “reasonably construe” a policy as barring them from exercising their rights under the NLRA. If the answer was “yes,” the policy was improper. The Lutheran Heritage standard was often applied in a manner that gave the appearance that the NLRB thought employees were lacking in intellect or common sense. Thus, the switch to the Boeing standard was generally celebrated by employers.

Even so, many employers felt that although the Boeing standard was a step in the right direction, it was somewhat complicated. In response to these criticisms, on June 6, 2018, NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued GC 18-04 “Guidance on Handbook Rules Post-Boeing.” This guidance provides examples of the policies (which he refers to as rules) that would fit into each of the three categories, and also makes it clear that the NLRB will no longer interpret ambiguities in rules against the drafter, “generalized promises should not be interpreted as banning all activity that could be considered included.”

The memo explains that the Boeing standard balances the personnel policy in question’s impact on NLRA-protected rights with the employer’s legitimate business justifications. The Boeing analysis uses three categories to determine the legality of rules:

Category 1: Rules that are Generally Lawful to Maintain

Category 2: Rules Warranting Individualized Scrutiny

Category 3: Rules that are Unlawful to Maintain

The memo goes on to state that Category 1 includes rules that may have been found unlawful under the Lutheran Heritage standard. It also explains that the types of rules in this category are generally lawful because the rules do not prohibit or interfere with the exercise of NLRA-protected rights or because there are business justifications associated with the rule. Rules in this category include:

(a) civility rules;

(b) no photography, no-recording rules;

(c) rules against insubordination, non-cooperation, or on-the-job conduct that adversely affects operations;

(d) disruptive behavior rules;

(e) rules protecting confidential, proprietary, and customer information or documents;

(f) rules against defamation or misrepresentation;

(g) rules against using employer logos or intellectual property;

(h) rules requiring authorization to speak for company; and

(i) rules banning disloyalty, nepotism, or self-enrichment.

The memo provides that charges alleging that rules in Category 1 are facially unlawful are to be dismissed, recognizing however, that special circumstances could render a normally lawful rule in Category 1 unlawful. Facially lawful rules cannot be used to prohibit protected activity or to discipline employees for engaging in protected activity.

Category 2 rules are to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Such rules are not facially lawful or unlawful. If rules in this category restrict NLRA-protected rights, then the question is whether the employer’s business interest in having the rule outweighs the restriction on NLRA-protected rights. Some “possible examples” of Category 2 rules are:

(a) broad conflict-of-interest rules that do not specifically target fraud and self-enrichment and do not restrict membership in, or voting for, a union;

(b) confidentiality rules that encompass employer business or employee information;

(c) rules regarding disparagement or criticism of the employer;

(d) rules regulating the use of the employer’s name;

(e) rules generally restricting speaking to the media or third parties;

(f) rules banning off-duty conduct that might harm the employer; and

(g) rules against making false or inaccurate statements.

Category 3 rules are unlawful to maintain because they prohibit or limit NLRA-protected conduct and the adverse impact on NLRA-protected rights outweigh any justifications for them. Category 3 rules include:

(a) confidentiality rules specifically regarding wages, benefits, or working conditions; and

(b) rules against joining outside organizations or voting on matters concerning.

In light of Boeing and GC18-04, employers should be more confident in their ability to maintain appropriate policies for their workplaces, including those that dictate professional behavior. The new approach is clearer and provides for a balancing of employer justifications with employee rights, resulting in common-sense personnel policies being upheld as lawful. Employers are now better positioned to defend attacks on their well drafted, common-sense personnel policies.

Summer associate Ryan Larson assisted in preparing this blog post.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
941-552-2558

Employers Hear Music as the Supremes Cut into Employee Class Actions

The United States Supreme Court recently decided two cases addressing class-action proceedings. These cases show that “Things Are Changing” and employers will no longer have “Nothing But Heartache.” Both decisions are employer-friendly, in that these opinions effectively limit participation in class-action lawsuits.

In Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, the Supreme Court upheld the enforceability of class-action waivers in employee arbitration agreements. Arbitration is an alternative means of resolving a dispute without proceeding to a court trial. A class-action waiver in the employment context is a contract provision in an arbitration agreement that prevents employees from resolving employment disputes in a group. The Court found that employers can put these waivers in their arbitration agreements, and the waivers do not invalidate the agreements. Opponents to these waivers are now screaming, “Stop, In the Name of Love.”

Now, some “Reflections.” In light of this decision, employers should keep two things in mind.

  • The Epic Systems decision does not represent a blanket endorsement of arbitration agreements; rather, this decision requires courts not to overturn arbitration agreements solely because they contain class-action waivers. This case does not prevent courts from refusing to enforce arbitration agreements for other reasons.
  • Epic Systems does not mean all employers should declare, “I’ll Try Something New,” and adopt arbitration agreements. Employers considering using arbitration agreements should evaluate whether arbitrating their disputes is the right choice. Employers should keep in mind that by agreeing to arbitration, they are generally giving up their right to appeal an adverse decision.

In the second case, China Agritech v. Resh et al., which was not an arbitration case, the Court held that employees/former employees who were not certified as members of a class-action lawsuit before the legal deadline to join the lawsuit could not file a new class-action suit after the passage of the statute of limitations on the initial class action. Thus, some employees/former employees who do not timely protect their rights will no longer be able to belt, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”

“No Matter What Sign You Are,” as an employer these decisions are “Automatically Sunshine” and maybe even a bit of “Buttered Popcorn.”

Summer associate Kelley Thompson assisted in preparing this blog post.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
941-552-2558

Planning for the Next Hurricane: Employee Pay During and After a Storm

With the onset of the 2018 hurricane season and the effects of Hurricane Irma still being felt by many, employers have a number of concerns. These concerns range from preparing facilities to determining whether a business will stay open. At some point, after decisions have been made about whether a business will stay open and if goods or people need to be moved out of harm’s way, the questions relating to employee pay may arise.

One question that is frequently asked is “Should I pay exempt employees who miss work due to bad weather conditions?” When it comes to deductions from exempt employees’ salaries, it is easy to get into trouble. The general rule is that an exempt employee is entitled to receive his or her entire salary for any workweek he or she performed work. This means, if the work site closes for a partial week due to bad weather conditions (such as a hurricane) and the exempt employee has worked during that workweek, the employee is entitled to his or her full salary. However, if the employer has a leave benefit, such as PTO, and the employee has leave remaining, the employer can require the employee to use paid time off for this time away from work. If the employee does not have any remaining leave benefit, he or she must be paid.

If the work site remains open during inclement weather and an employee is absent (even if due to transportation issues), the employee can be required to use paid time off. If the employee does not have any paid time off remaining, the employer may deduct a full-day’s absence from the employee’s salary. For a more detailed explanation visit dol.gov.

Other issues that arise relate to what constitutes compensable time for non-exempt employees. The FLSA only requires that non-exempt employees be paid for the hours they actually work. However, those non-exempt employees on fixed salaries for fluctuating workweek(s) must be paid their full weekly salary in any week for which work was performed. Further, those businesses, such as hospitals and nursing homes that remain open during a storm and require employees to remain onsite during the storm may have to pay employees required to be onsite during a storm for all time they are at the employer’s place of business, as they may be considered to be “on call.”

It is important for businesses to start planning in advance for the next hurricane. Such plans should include evaluating which employees may be required to continue working during a storm and what portion of their time during a storm is considered compensable.

Heathcare employers also have new ACHA rules to comply with relating to storm preparation (not specifically related to employee compensation). For further information on these regulations see my colleague Steven Brownlee’s recent article, “Senior Living Providers: Are you ready for the Beryl, Chris, and Debby?

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
941-552-2558

A New W-4

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has several provisions that impact payroll, employment tax, and employee benefits. In accordance with these changes, the IRS released new withholding tables, as well as a new W-4. Although the IRS is not requiring employers have its entire workforce (hired before March 30, 2018) complete the new W-4, as of February 15, 2018, employers were required to begin withholding from employee wages based on new withholding tables.

At this time, employers should, at a minimum, have all new hires and any employee that has a change in their tax status (e.g., marriage), complete the new 2018 W-4. Further, if employers are not requiring all employees to complete new forms, employers should at least encourage their employees to review their withholdings, as the Act eliminated certain exemptions and allowances. As a result, some employees’ allowances may be overstated, resulting in under-withholding for the year. If employees want to submit a new W-4, they should be allowed.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
941-552-2558