Tag Archives: Employers

The Tax Act May Limit Resolutions of Sexual Harassment Complaints

One aspect of the new Tax Act (the Act) that has not been widely reported impacts employers that amicably resolve claims of sexual harassment. The provision denies tax deductions for any settlements, payouts, or attorneys’ fees related to sexual harassment or sexual abuse if such payments are subject to a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement. Specifically, Section 162(q) to the Internal Revenue Code provides:

PAYMENTS RELATED TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND SEXUAL ABUSE.—No deduction shall be allowed under this chapter for—

(1) any settlement or payment related to sexual harassment or sexual abuse if such settlement or payment is subject to a nondisclosure agreement, or
(2) attorney’s fees related to such a settlement or payment.

The intent of this provision is to deter confidentiality provisions in settlements of harassment claims. It is unclear if this provision will actually have the desired impact. Companies may value the confidentiality provisions more than the tax deductions permitted in their absence, and thus continue to enter into confidential settlement agreements. Alternatively, this provision of the Act may end up hurting those bringing harassment claims. Alleged victims may want confidentiality provisions in order to avoid any publicity about their claims. However, by removing tax incentives for employers, an employer may reject a higher settlement amount or settlement of claims altogether.

Section 162(q) of the Act is bound to create confusion as to its applicability as it fails to define key terms. Namely, the Act fails to define “sexual harassment” or “sexual abuse,” both of which are pivotal to the application of the new provision. The Act also fails to contemplate how the provision is to be applied in settlement arrangements involving a variety of claims. Are the sex-based claims separable from a universal confidentiality covenant? Causing further confusion, the Act fails to explain what attorney’s fees are considered to be “related to such a settlement or payment.” Are these only the fees related to settlement negotiations, drafting the agreement, and execution or payment? Or does it extend to the claim’s inception and include the underlying investigation of the claims?

In light of the numerous questions raised by Section 162(q), employers should review their standard settlement agreements and practices and consider revising the breadth of any releases, nondisclosure provisions, or any representations or remedies.

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

A NLRB Christmas Story

If the NLRB is Santa, then Santa just left employers a Millennium Falcon under the Christmas tree. One day after issuing two well-received pro-employer decisions, the NLRB overruled one of its most detested decisions from the last eight years, E.I. du Pont de Nemours, 364 NLRB No. 113 (2016), that broke from long-standing board precedent and dramatically altered what constitutes a “change” in the terms and conditions of employment and thus, when an employer is required to bargain with a union. In the DuPont decision, the Board held that bargaining would always be required, even if the parties had not yet agreed to a contract, in every case where the employer’s actions involved some type of “discretion.”

However, on December 15, 2017, in Raytheon Network Centric Systems, 365 NLRB No. 161, the Board continued its Fast and Furious dismantling of many of the more controversial decisions issued during the Obama administration, by rejecting DuPont and returning to what had been long-standing board precedent. The majority of the Board opined:

We conclude that the Board majority’s decision in DuPont is fundamentally flawed, and for the reasons expressed more fully below, we overrule it today. DuPont is inconsistent with Section 8(a)(5), it distorts the long-understood, commonsense understanding of what constitutes a “change,” and it contradicts well established Board and court precedent. In addition, we believe DuPont cannot be reconciled with the Board’s responsibility to foster stable bargaining relationships. We further conclude that it is appropriate to apply our decision retroactively, including in the instant case.

*  *  *

In sum, and for the reasons stated above, we overrule DuPont as well as Beverly I and Register-Guard, and we reinstate Shell Oil, Westinghouse, Winn-Dixie Stores, Beverly II, Capitol Ford, and the Courier-Journal cases. Henceforth, regardless of the circumstances under which a past practice developed—i.e., whether or not the past practice developed under a collective-bargaining agreement containing a management-rights clause authorizing unilateral employer action—an employer’s past practice constitutes a term and condition of employment that permits the employer to take actions unilaterally that do not materially vary in kind or degree from what has been customary in the past. We emphasize, however, that our holding has no effect on the duty of employers, under Section 8(d) and 8(a)(5) of the Act, to bargain upon request over any and all mandatory subjects of bargaining, unless an exception to that duty applies.”

The retroactive application of this decision is of particular importance and may impact many disputes currently pending with the NLRB. This decision will also have great impact on management-union negotiations, and will provide employers greater ability to act without being required to ask for permission from a union. This is particularly true in the context of employers that do not have a collective bargaining agreement in place.

[I wonder if unions are feeling as if they are Randolph and Mortimer Duke in Trading Places, Hans Gruber in Die Hard (one of my favorite holiday flicks), or Ted Maltin in Jingle All the Way.]

In addition to overruling the DuPont decision on December 15, the Board also overruled Specialty Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, 357 NLRB 934 (2011) enfd. sub nom. Kindred Nursing Centers East, LLC v. NLRB, 727 F.3d 552 (6th Cir. 2013). The Specialty Healthcare decision made it easier for unions to organize so-called “micro-units.”  With PCC Structurals, 365 NLRB No. 160, the Board reinstated its pre-Specialty Healthcare, community-of-interest approach for determining  “whether a proposed bargaining unit constitutes an appropriate unit for collective bargaining when the employer contends that the smallest appropriate unit must include additional employees.”

We are well into Hanukkah and only a few days before Christmas, let’s hope that the NLRB continues to shower employers with gifts this holiday season and that this Miracle on 34th Street continues.

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

BREAKING NEWS: Federal Judge Halts Implementation of the DOL’s New Overtime Regulations

On Tuesday evening, just days before the U.S. Department of Labor’s new overtime regulations were set to go into effect, a Texas federal judge blocked the December 1, 2016 implementation of the regulations, issuing a temporary injunction with nationwide applicability. The regulations blocked by this order not only provided for a substantial increase in the salary threshold required for the “white collar” exemptions, but also provided for automatic increases in the salary threshold every three years. The judge stated that, in drafting these rules, the DOL exceeded its authority and ignored congressional intent.

This order is not a final order, but merely a finding by the court that the plaintiffs have established they will likely succeed in their challenge to the rules. What happens next is yet to be determined. The DOL may appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Congress could pass one of the two pending bills drafted to alter the DOL’s regulations or draft a compromise bill, or the case is litigated absent a DOL appeal.  For now, the walk away for employers is that the rule will not take effect on December 1, 2016.

For employers that were not quite ready for the new rules, this decision will provide some additional time to evaluate and plan, just in case the temporary injunction is overturned. For employers that have already made changes to employees’ pay structures, there is no legal requirement or prohibition that such changes be maintained.

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

“One-Stop” Online Portal for Workers to Submit Complaints about their Employers?

For years, employers have been required to post notices providing employees with information about their rights and the government agencies that can assist them if they believe that their rights have been violated. Now, the Department of Labor, along with the Department of Justice, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the National Labor Relations Board, is developing a website, www.worker.gov, that will be a “one-stop” platform for employees to electronically submit complaints with the appropriate government agencies. The website will help workers understand and exercise their rights and will operate as a portal that predicts workers’ needs without forcing them to guess which federal agency or statute covers their situation.

The website is currently under development. At this time, the site merely provides guidance to specific types of employees (day laborers and office, nail salon, restaurant, and construction workers) regarding their rights and how to file complaints. Through a series of questions, the website directs employees to the appropriate government agency responsible for dealing with the specific complaint.

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