Most employers promulgate a wide range of employee-related policies and work rules, which some compile in employment manuals. All too frequently, these policies and work rules contain ambiguities that employees try to parse to understand what rules really apply, and why. What if employees interpret – or might reasonably interpret – an ambiguity in a way that appears to restrict employees’ rights to organize themselves? Do these provisions violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)?Read More
Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog
Does your employer’s Hazard Communication program pay attention to cleaning agents used in the workplace – bleaches, disinfectants, glass cleaners, etc? If it does more than mention their existence and note that they’re probably corrosive and maybe toxic, you’re almost certainly in the minority. In most workplaces, workers who use cleaners are exposed to undisclosed or unexplained chemical hazards. And even if your organization’s employees do receive this information, does your employer contract out janitorial and other service work without ensuring that those night janitors are fully trained and protected?Read More
If someone receives occupational direction and/or compensation from more than one entity, then who’s the boss? Sometimes it’s obviously one or the other, sometimes it’s not clear which one is, and sometimes the answer may be “both.” The answer has important implications, not just for who writes a paycheck but for who is subject to legal requirements and prohibitions under federal, state and local laws. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) upended established definitions in 2015, in a decision that Browning-Ferris Industries of California (BFI) was a joint employer with the company (Leadpoint Business Services) that provided employees who worked at one of BFI’s sanitary landfills, since BFI reserved the right to intervene in a variety of labor decisions. By a party-line 3:2 vote (with Democrats in the majority) NLRB “restated” agency and judicial precedent and found that the two companies were indeed joint employers, which realigned the employees’ access to collective bargaining (NLRB’s area of jurisdiction). The other two members dissented vociferously, for a variety of reasons.
After the BFI decision, employer groups and many Republican legislators argued that the correct standard was actual control not potential control, and that the majority was abandoning the common law approaches it claimed to follow. Early in December 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to write a definition of “joint employer” into the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), in order to reverse this expansive interpretation (HR 3441, the “Save Local Business Act”). However, on December 14 the NLRB – now with a 3:2 Republican majority after President Trump filled two intervening vacancies – voted on a party line vote to rescind the BFI case analysis and return to an actual control test. The new decision is in Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. and Brandt Construction Co., as a single employer and/or joint employers. The remainder of this note discusses the issue and this decision, which probably resolves the issue … until the next election that changes the balance of power again.
Who Can Be a “Joint Employer” Under the NLRA?
The NLRA does not presently include a statutory definition of “joint employer” (or even “employer”, for that matter, other than to clarify that “any person acting as an agent of an employer” is also considered an employer (29 USC § 152(2))). In the absence of a statutory definition, NLRB and courts look to other labor laws and the “common law” when considering whether an employer-employee relationship exists. This case-specific review allows flexibility to adapt policies to changing workplace realities, but also means that guidance can be unclear and tends to vary with the opinions of a majority of the five NLRB Board members.Read More
On December 14, the FCC voted to rescind its “net neutrality” rules barring Internet service providers from either favoring or disfavoring certain online content over other content by providing faster, prioritized access to the favored content. As expected, the changes came in a three-to-two vote of the commission members.
This issue has had a convoluted history, dating back to when dial-up was the primary means to access materials online. In 2002, the commission decided that then-emerging broadband access should be classified under the law as an “enhanced information service,” which is subject to little regulation, rather than as a “basic telecommunications service,” which is more highly regulated, like a public utility.
For example, the regulation of old-fashioned telephone service as a basic service means that telephone companies cannot keep their customers from calling customers of other phone companies, or from receiving such calls.
The commission then tried to enact “net neutrality” rules in 2008 and in 2010, both of which were struck down by the courts because of the prior classification of broadband access as an enhanced service. So in 2015, the FCC reclassified Internet access as a “basic service” and imposed new net neutrality regulations on the basis of that classification. With the reclassification in place, the commission’s net neutrality rules were upheld by the courts last year.
Now the commission has voted to again classify Internet access as an enhanced service and rescind the net neutrality regulations. FCC Chair Ajit Pai has said that if Internet service providers unfairly favor some online content over others, the issue should be handled by the Federal Trade Commission as an anti-competitive business practice.
It is important to note that many of the concerns of net neutrality advocates are so far primarily theoretical. But without net neutrality regulations, Internet service providers could favor content from their corporate siblings or subsidiaries, or from content providers that have paid for such priority.
Without net neutrality rules in place, the accessibility of an individual business’s website or cellphone app could depend on the specific circumstances in their markets. Large companies may, for example, be able to afford prioritization from ISPs and dominant businesses may have enough customer support to avoid being deprioritized, so that customers would object if an ISP blocked or limited access. But smaller and independent businesses may not have the clout, in terms of either funds or user demand, to avoid having access to their online material slowed.
The FCC’s vote eliminating the net neutrality rules is not likely to be the last word on the issue. Several state attorney generals have already announced a court challenge and other groups are likely to file separate lawsuits. The changes will probably be put on hold until the court challenges are resolved. Some members of Congress have endorsed legislation on the issue.
In the Internet era, we’ve become used to instant answers and results, but it appears that the question of net neutrality, like many legal issues, will be resolved the old-fashioned way: slowly.
This column is for educational purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice.
Highly-publicized revelations about extensive workplace harassment have cost many alleged harassers their high-powered positions (including US Senator Al Franken), and are producing a variety of proposals to toughen standards. One of the first new provisions was enacted by the U.S. Senate on November 9. The Senate Anti-Harassment Training Resolution of 2017 (S.Res. 330) will require anti-harassment training in Senate offices. The Resolution applies to internal governance of the Senate, so does not apply to any other body, such as the House of Representatives (where House Resolution 630, requiring annual training by each member, officer and employee in employee rights, including anti-harassment and anti-discrimination, was passed on November 29 but is being reconsidered).Read More
As the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt made his national reputation suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reverse or delay the agency’s attempts to expand environmental controls and the scope of its authority. Now that he’s EPA Administrator, Pruitt is moving to ensure that his agency doesn’t make use of the second major type of agency-defendant litigation, in which an agency is sued and then settles on terms favorable to the plaintiff’s goals. In a Directive and Memorandum issued October 16, Pruitt argues that this “sue and settle” litigation represents collusion between agencies and advocates, bypassing normal legislative and administrative processes and allowing agencies to redirect their efforts through “regulation by litigation.” And because litigation settlements typically involve only the active parties and the judge, these approaches tend to freeze out others – states, groups, and individuals – who lose the opportunities to participate that they’d be provided by normal legislative and regulatory proceedings.Read More
The Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines for testimonials and endorsements require disclosure of any payment or benefit that endorsers receive for their endorsements.Read More
Nearly all regulatory laws provide for civil – and sometimes even criminal – penalties for noncompliance. Penalty amounts (“XXX dollars per day of violation” for example) are typically adopted as part of the original legislation. But over time, the relative sting of these penalties declines with inflation. To counteract the possibility that less painful penalties will be less effective incentives for compliance, U.S. federal law has directed most agencies to make periodic “cost of living” adjustments to maximum available civil penalty levels (there are no provisions for standing periodic adjustments to criminal penalties).
How Did These Requirements Work During 1990-2016?
The first version of this approach was enacted by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, which directed the President to report annually on any adjustments made under existing statutory authority, and to calculate what such adjustments would have been if more agencies had the authority to make them.
Congress amended the Act in 1996 to require most agencies to make inflation adjustments every four years, but precluding adjustments to penalties under the following:
If bloggers and other social media posters need a reminder that they can be held accountable for their online musings, a $600,000 jury verdict against an online poster in Georgia is such an example.Read More