An Employer’s Response to #MeToo

If you did not know the name Harvey Weinstein prior to October 2017, you should now, following the well-publicized allegations against him of sexual assault and harassment spanning decades. The focus on the allegations against Weinstein has resulted in women and men sharing their personal accounts of sexual assault and harassment. Often these personal accounts of improper sexual behavior are tied to the workplace and are prompting a national conversation of the abuse of power in the workplace. Many of these accounts are being made with the hashtag #MeToo. Even persons not willing to share the specifics of their experiences have been using #MeToo to confirm that they were indeed victims. The hashtag itself is not a specific call to action but instead aims to raise awareness of the magnitude of the problem of sexual assault and harassment.

Improper conduct by those in positions of power in several large companies is now being highlighted, and high-ranking officials in several of those companies are having to answer for their conduct, even if such conduct is outside of a relevant limitations period for a legal claim. On November 1, 2017, NPR’s senior vice president for news resigned on the heels of allegations of sexual harassment against him by several women, including two that, according to the Washington Post, claim that “he unexpectedly kissed them on the lips and stuck his tongue in their mouths.” Questions are now being asked regarding when NPR, and other companies, first learned of allegations of harassment and why firmer action was not taken by the company.

Due to this intense focus on harassment in the workplace, companies may want to evaluate if the policies and procedures that they have in place are sufficient, if their leadership truly understands what is appropriate behavior, and if employees are familiar with how to make complaints. To do this employers should consider the following:

  • Review written policies to ensure they are easily understood and provide the proper protections for employees
  • Conduct management training regarding harassment and appropriate behavior
  • Conduct employee training to ensure employees are aware of policies in place to protect them and understand the reporting procedures

Employers should anticipate that, with the increased focus on sexual misconduct, an issue may come up within their own companies. Understanding the issue and being prepared to provide a proper response is usually a better option for employers than merely responding to an issue when it arises.

You may also want to read our past posts relating to sexual harassment.

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

Florida’s Minimum Wage Is Set to Increase: What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

It is only October and across the state, in department stores not named Nordstrom, holiday decorations are appearing. It may seem that, like these stores, reporting to you that on January 1, 2018, Florida’s minimum wage will increase, may be premature. But, like the holidays, the new minimum wage will be here before you know it. If you are not prepared, then you may be updating your payroll on New Year’s Eve.

Great, now I have Harry Connick Jr’s melancholy version of the 1947 classic by Frank Loesser stuck in my head (and it’s only October):

Maybe it’s much too early in the game
Ooh, but I thought I’d ask you just the same
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s Eve?

On January 1, 2018, Florida’s minimum wage will increase from $8.10 to $8.25 an hour. Employers should be prepared to make adjustments to their minimum wage earners. Failing to pay non-exempt employees Florida’s statutory minimum wage can result in claims against employers pursuant to Section 24, Article X of the State Constitution and Section 448.110, Florida Statutes. The maximum tip credit ($3.02) that can be taken by Florida employers with tipped employees will remain the same, but the direct wage paid to tipped employees will increase from $5.08 to $5.23 an hour.

In addition to raising the minimum wage, Florida employers are required to post a minimum wage notice in a conspicuous and accessible location. Before the beginning of 2018 you will be able to download the 2018 Florida Minimum Wage Notice from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s website. This notice requirement is in addition to the requirement that employers post regarding the federal minimum wage (which has not been increased). There will also be commercially available Florida-specific “all-in-one posters” that satisfy both the federal and state notice requirements. The 2018 “all-in-one” posters should also be available in the near future.

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

Reinforcing Florida Employers’ Ability to Protect Valuable Business Relationships

Florida employers and their attorneys received good news in September when the Florida Supreme Court finally issued its opinion in White v. Mederi Caretenders Visiting Services of Southeast Florida, LLC, 42 Fla. L. Weekly S803a (Fla. 2017). At issue in White, was whether referral sources could constitute protectable legitimate interests under Florida Statute s. 542.335. The Florida Supreme Court answered this question in the affirmative, holding that referral sources can be protectable interests sufficient to support a restrictive covenant in a non-compete/non-solicitation agreement.

For more information on how employers can protect their valuable information and business relationships see our previous post.

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

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