Should I Pay Exempt Employees Who Miss Work Due to Bad Weather Conditions?

As Florida prepares for a potential direct hit by Hurricane Irma, employers have many concerns. At some point, when decisions have been made about if a business will stay open and if goods or people need to be moved out of harm’s way, the following question will most likely be asked: “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 worksite 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 see this opinion letter from the U.S. Department of Labor.

As for non-exempt employees, the FLSA only requires that employees be paid for the hours they actually work. However, those non-exempt employees on fixed salaries for fluctuating workweeks, must be paid their full weekly salary in any week for which work was performed.

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

BREAKING NEWS: Overtime Rules Overruled

Employers, the wait is over. You finally have an answer regarding the 2016 overtime regulations. Yesterday afternoon, a Texas federal judge issued an order invalidating the U.S. Department of Labor’s overtime rules that had been set for implementation on December 1, 2016, but preliminarily stopped nationwide only days before by that same judge.

As noted in our earlier blog posts (“Breaking News: Federal Judge Halts Implementation of the DOL’s New Overtime Regulations” from November 23, 2016 and “2016 Overtime Regulations: They Are Still Out There” from June 13, 2017), the DOL had issued a final rule that was predicted to affect over 4.2 million workers, with Florida as the third most effected state. Those workers would no longer be exempt from overtime compensation due to increases in the minimum salary level for “white collar” exemptions from $455 per week ($23,660 annually) to $913 per week ($47,476 annually) and highly compensated employees from $100,000 to $134,000 annually.

The DOL quickly appealed the preliminary injunction to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which left employers wondering whether the hold would be lifted by the appellate court or the appeal withdrawn. The uncertainty increased on July 25, 2017, when the DOL published a formal Request for Information so the DOL could issue a new proposal related to overtime regulations.

In the order, the court granted summary judgment to the business group and other plaintiffs who had challenged the new overtime rules and issued a final judgment on their behalf. The court held that the white collar exemptions were intended to apply to employees who perform “bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity” duties, and that the DOL does not have the authority to use a salary-level test that will effectively eliminate the duties test or exclude those who perform the duties based on salary level alone.  Because the new overtime rules would have “exclude[d] so many employees who perform exempt duties” and are “not based on a permissible construction of [the law]”, the DOL did not carry out Congress’s unambiguous intent, exceeded its authority, and has “gone too far” with the rules.  In sum, the overtime rules have been overruled, and may be disregarded by employers.

Read the full order here.

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

Managing Political Activism and Avoiding Unlawful Pitfalls in Employment Relationships

Later this month in Orlando, one of the largest HR conferences in the state will take place, the 2017 HR Florida Conference & Expo*. The conference will be held August 28 – 30. This year, two of Williams Parker’s labor and employment attorneys are scheduled to speak.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes will present two presentations on the opening day of the conference, and she will be featured in one of several “discussion dens.” A discussion den is a 30-minute opportunity for a small group of attendees to have a short conversation with speakers where it is anticipated that participants may want to have an extended conversation about the topic. Jennifer’s presentations are:

  • “Managing Employee Participation in Social Movements: What to do When Political Activism Impacts Your Organization”
  • “HR Professionals Just Want to Have Fun: Weird and Wacky Employment Cases”

Jennifer’s first presentation will address many situations where political activism can impact the workplace and will provide suggested employer responses. In light of ongoing political turmoil that has been in the news, Jennifer’s presentation on employee political activism will be featured in a discussion den following the presentation. Jennifer’s second presentation reviews the legal framework of several employment laws through analysis of some of the more wild and wacky employment cases.

Gail E. Farb will help to bring the event to a great close, and will present on the final day of the conference. Gail’s presentation, “Error-Free Employment Relationships – Avoiding Top Legal Mistakes from Hire to Fire” a/k/a “How to Steer Your Spaceship Away from Employment Law Black Holes” is designed to help employers recognize unlawful pitfalls in the employment relationship and overcome hazards.

If you are interested in the event, you can learn more and register online at hrflorida.org (the link to the registration page is at the bottom left of the webpage, under Quick Links).

*The HR Florida Conference & Expo is the annual conference of the HR Florida State Council, a state affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Each year the event attracts 1,500+ human resource professionals and vendors throughout the state of Florida and across the globe. These individuals represent virtually every industry, and companies ranging from small businesses to large industrial centers. Earn credits for both the HR Certification Institute certification and SHRM Competencies certification.

The Form I-9 Changes Yet Again

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued yet another revision to the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. The previous version was imposed on employers less than a year ago (released November 14, 2016; effective date January 22, 2017), and now that employers are finally getting accustomed to the version released in November, they must quickly adapt to the even newer Form I-9, as its use is mandatory effective September 18, 2017.

The revised Form I-9, which you can download from USCIS is a modest update to the Form I-9 dated November 14, 2016. In the revised Form I-9 instructions, the name of the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices has been changed to reflect its new name, Immigrant and Employee Rights Section. Less notably, in the instructions, “the end of” has been removed from the phrase “the first day of employment.”

The List of acceptable documents has received some minor updates as well. The Consular Report of Birth Abroad (Form FS-240) has been added to list C and will now be selectable from the drop-down menus available in List C of Sections 2 and 3. It will also be available for selection for E-Verify users when creating a case for an employee who has presented this document for Form I-9. Additionally, the certifications of report of birth issued by the Department of State (Form FS-545, Form DS-1350, and Form FS-240) have been combined into selection C#2 in List C, and with the exception of the Social Security card, all List C documents have been renumbered.

USCIS has included these changes in the revised Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9 (M-274).

This post was co-authored by Jennifer Fowler-Hermes and Ryan P. Portugal.

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

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

Employers and Florida’s New Medical Marijuana Law

On June 23, 2017, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill implementing the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment. You can view the full law here. The new law provides some clarity for employers. The statute provides, in relevant part:

This section does not limit the ability of an employer to establish, continue, or enforce a drug-free workplace program or policy. This section does not require an employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace or any employee working while under the influence of marijuana. This section does not create a cause of action against an employer for wrongful discharge or discrimination. Marijuana, as defined in this section, is not reimbursable under chapter 440.

Although this law fails to specifically state that an employer is not required to provide any type of accommodation to employees relating to the use of medical marijuana, it does directly address several employment related questions that have made employers a little uneasy ever since voters made medical marijuana part of the Florida constitution in 2016.

Jimmy John’s Takes on Disloyal Employees and the NLRB and Wins

Doling out a refreshing victory, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit sided with Jimmy John’s in a protected, concerted activity case brought under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). On July 3, the full en banc court reversed an earlier decision of a three-member panel of the court that had affirmed a National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) ruling for the employees. Unless appealed to the Supreme Court, this decision brings to an end a torturous legal saga lasting over six years.

This case was set in motion in October 2010 when an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)-affiliated union lost a union election to represent Jimmy John’s employees at ten franchised stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, owned and operated by MikLin Enterprises. After the unsuccessful election, several union supporters continued to pressure the franchisee’s management to adopt workplace policy changes, including the adoption of paid sick leave. The disgruntled sandwich-makers claimed that current attendance policies forced them to work while sick.

The dispute escalated when six of these employees placed posters in and around the restaurants, calling attention to their claims. The posters featured two identical side-by-side pictures of a Jimmy John’s sandwich. One was labeled as being made by a “sick” employee and the other by a “healthy” employee. The caption below the picture read “Can’t tell the difference?” and was accompanied by a message criticizing the employer’s attendance policies. The employer terminated the six employees responsible for these posters.

The employees challenged their terminations claiming that the employer’s actions were in retaliation for concerted protected activity under the NLRA. Both the NLRB and the three-member panel of the Eighth Circuit agreed. However, the full panel of the Eighth Circuit ruled that the terminations were lawful. Specifically, it found that the claims about food safety were false and misleading and therefore, sufficiently “disloyal” to place the actions of the six employees outside of the protections of the NLRA.

The decision is heartening for employers, as many recent NLRB decisions have been overly protective of worker actions that were calculated to harm a company’s reputation.

John M. Hament
jhament@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2555

The United States against the United States? A Government Flip-Flop That May Help Employers

On June 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice did an about-face when it filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of the United States in an important labor arbitration case, NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA. The Murphy case presents the question of whether arbitration agreements can restrict employees from participating in class or collective actions. The brief filed by the Department of Justice argues that employers can impose such restrictions. See the full brief here.

Arbitration agreements have traditionally required employees to submit their claims to arbitration rather than through the court system. The trend over the last several years is for employers to include class action or collective proceeding waivers in such agreements. Such provisions are believed to reduce litigation costs associated with class and collective actions (which are on the rise). In response to this trend, the NLRB ruled that such waivers violate the NLRA when they are a condition of employment.

Several of the NLRB’s cases regarding such arbitration agreements have been appealed to the circuit courts, resulting in contradictory decisions on this issue. The Second, Fifth, and Eighth Circuits held that such arbitration agreements are enforceable, with the Seventh Circuit finding that these agreements violate the NLRA. There are similar challenges to agreements being made in other circuits, including the Eleventh Circuit. Based on the split of authority on this issue, the Supreme Court accepted review of the case argued before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

When the NLRB submitted its petition for writ of certiorari in Murphy, the Department of Justice supported the NLRB and its argument that the ability for an employee to engage in concerted activities is the “core substantive right” of the NLRA, and prohibiting class and collective actions infringe on that right. However, in its new brief, the Department of Justice argues that the NLRB failed to give adequate weight to the congressional policy of favoring arbitration agreements. This change of heart by the Department of Justice creates the potential for an unusual situation. Typically, when the Solicitor General’s office files an amicus brief, a lawyer for the government will present oral argument before the court on that side of the case. Given that the NLRB sits on the other side of the case, the upcoming oral arguments may consist of a lawyer for the United States arguing against a lawyer for a U.S. agency: the United States arguing against the United States.

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

2016 Overtime Regulations: They Are Still Out There

Like a science fiction television show from the 90s, the 2016 overtime regulations are still out there, as is the injunction preventing their implementation. To bring those that may just be returning from Close Encounters of the Third Kind up to date, in the latter part of 2016 employers rushed to get ready for December 1, 2016, the effective date for the regulations. On November 22, 2016, just days before the effective date and as employers scrambled to make their final preparations for the changes, a federal judge blocked the implementation. With the speed of Quicksilver, the Obama administration initiated an appeal. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted expedited review of the injunction, and many anticipated witnessing The War of the Worlds play out during oral argument. Then, as if a spacecraft had landed in Roswell and this time everyone stopped to watch the aliens disembark, the momentum came to a crashing halt just like a hirsute alien spacecraft piloted by Jeff Goldblum.

Shortly after President Trump took office, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) requested a postponement of its deadline to submit a reply brief. This request was granted. Just as that deadline was filed, the DOL again requested a postponement. Currently, the DOL’s reply brief is due on June 30, 2017. Although the new Administration could have withdrawn the appeal, it has not. Therefore, there still may be a chance for a strategic showdown such as that seen in Pixels.

Wage Theft Ordinances: Dandelions in the Spring

“Wage theft” ordinances have been popping up in Florida like dandelions in the spring. At first glance, these ordinances look like a lovely spring flower providing employees an administrative and/or legal avenue to recover unlawfully withheld wages. However, these ordinances are really weeds causing headaches not only to employers, but also to employees who are not prepared to navigate the unique procedures for making such claims. A growing list of municipalities, including Miami-Dade County, Broward County, City of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, and Hillsborough County, have all implemented some variety of a wage theft ordinance, and there is a lack of uniformity among procedures and rules for bringing claims pursuant to these ordinances. Companies operating in one or more of these areas should be aware of the additional regulations that may apply to their businesses, some of which call for triple damages and attorneys’ fees. This task can be quite daunting for any company that operates statewide or in two or more of the participating municipalities. Now, in addition to defending wage claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Florida Minimum Wage Act, Florida Statute Section 448.08, and common law unjust enrichment claims, companies will also be defending claims brought pursuant to these ordinances and sometimes will be defending such claims in two different forums, possibly at the same time.

Knowledge of these ordinances can serve as legal Roundup to help employers defeat attempts by employees to obtain damages. This is best evidenced by Green v. Stericyle, Inc., No. 1:16-CV-24206-CMA (S.D. Fla. Dec. 15, 2016), a case in which an employee brought a wage theft claim that was dismissed by the court because the employee failed to comply with the prescribed procedure. The ordinance did not grant an initial private right of action, but rather provided an exclusive administrative procedure to bring the claim to the county. The employee failed to follow the administrative procedure, thereby compelling the court to dismiss the case. As this case illustrates, although emergence of wage theft ordinances causes problems for employers, the onus remains with the employee to navigate a municipal code to bring a proper claim. Failure to do so could be fatal to the claim.

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

Offensive Facebook Posts May Be Protected Speech

Human resources experts often recommend a detailed analysis before disciplining an employee for offensive statements. On April 21, 2017, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals highlighted this requirement and forced an employer to reinstate an employee who had been fired for posting highly offensive comments about his supervisor. Although this case, National Labor Relations Board v. Pier Sixty LLC, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 6974 (2d Cir. April 21, 2017), involved a union organizing campaign, such a dispute can arise outside the union context. It can arise in a breakroom conversation, a media interview, a picket sign, or a social media post. If the content involves protected speech, such as criticism of the terms and conditions of the employee’s employment, and especially if the speech purports to speak on behalf of or for the benefit of others, the speech may be protected, whether or not there is a union involved.

In Pier Sixty, the employee posted on Facebook that his supervisor is a “NASTY MOTHER F—ER” and “F—his mother and his entire f—ing family!!!”  The post criticized his supervisor’s communications style, saying, “…don’t know how to talk to people!!!!”  The post also included a pro-union statement, “Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!”

The court weighed the protections (here, concerted activity) versus how abusive or “opprobrious” the comments were. The court reviewed the context of the statements, including that the employer was found to have permitted past vulgarity and to have engaged in other efforts to impede unionizing efforts. Commenting that these posts fall on the “outer bounds” of protected activity, the court declared the posts to be within the bounds of protected concerted activity and required the employer to bring the discharged employee back to work.

Employers should ensure that workplace rules are consistently enforced and that the reason for discharge does not involve and does not appear to involve a protected reason. Employers should be prepared to articulate and, if required, prove the lawful reason for discharge rather than relying on at-will status.

Kimberly Page Walker
kwalker@williamsparker.com
(941) 329-6628