IMG_7083My colleagues, Clarisse Thomas, Keegan Drenosky and I have been busy keeping track of the developments in New York which may impact Connecticut employers with cross-border business.  Here are two of the most recent developments.

Freelance Isn’t Free

The New York City Council has enacted and the Mayor has signed a new law applicable to employers who hire contractors for work in New York City.

The “Freelance Isn’t Free Act”, which goes into effect on May 15, 2017, will formalize the relationship between the freelance worker and the hiring party, and require the parties to sign a written agreement.  Freelancers are considered to be those individuals or one person corporations who offer their services to the public.

Under the new law, if the arrangement with the freelancer involves payment that is $800 or more in a 120 day period, there must be a written contract.

A sample contract is being posted on the City’s Office of Labor Standards’ website.

The contract must have 1) the name and mailing address of both parties; 2) an itemization of the services being provided; 3) the value of the services; 4) the rate and method of compensation; and 5) the date payment is to be made.  If no date of payment is specified then payment must be made no later than 30 days from the completion of the services.  After the price is agreed upon, the hiring party is prohibited from requiring as a condition of timely payment that the freelancer accept anything less than the contracted amount.  Each party must retain a copy of the contract.

The City has also established a complaint procedure to resolve disputes, while giving the freelancer the right to bring a lawsuit for damages, costs and attorneys’ fees.  There are statutory damages of $250 if the freelancer only prevails on a claim that no written contract was executed.  However, the freelancer can recover additional damages in certain circumstances equal to the value of the contract, plus the value of the services, attorneys’ fees and costs.

In addition, civil penalties of up to $25,000 can be imposed on any hiring party who is found to have engaged in a “pattern or practice” of violating the law.

Because this law applies equally to both indivual employers and companies, care must be taken by anyone hiring a freelancer to ensure that a contract is in place if the fees at issue are $800 or more.

Ensuring Pay Equity

On January 9, 2017, Gov. Cuomo signed Executive Order No. 162, which is an Order for “Ensuring Pay Equity by State Contractors.”  This is an effort to ensure that there is no pay discrimination based on gender, race and ethnicity.

The Order requires state contractors (and their subcontractors) to specifically set forth the job title and salary of all the employees who are working directly on a State contract or, if they cannot be separately identified, then all the contractor’s employees.  This information is in addition to existing equal opportunity information already required to be submitted.

All State contracts, agreements and procurements executed on or after June 1, 2017 will contain this requirement.

 

If you should never judge a book by its cover, you can never judge a legislative bill from its title.

After all, you would think that a bill about "Penalties for Violations of Certain Personnel Files Statutes" (H.B. 6185) would actually be a bill about those violations.

While that may have been in the original bill, a Senate amendment to that bill — which passed both chambers yesterday — makes some of the most sweeping changes we have seen in some time to the state’s laws banning employers from discriminating based solely on gender in the amount of compensation paid to employees. (The amendments’ provisions are mainly lifted from Senate Bill 362 (S.B. 362).)

This bill — which now moves on to the Governor for signing — will be effective October 1, 2009 if and when signed.

Summary of Key Provisions

The key provisions of the measure:

  • allow employees to go directly to court to file gender wage claims;
  • expand possible employer defenses against gender wage claims;
  • permit, rather than requires, a court to order awards when an employer is found to violate the law;
  • extend the period to make a claim of discrimination (the statute of limitations) from one to two years following a violation (or in some cases, three years);
  • expand the whistleblower protections to include those who testify or assist in a gender wage proceeding;
  • permit possible compensatory and punitive damages for violations of the whistleblower protections; and

The Office of Legislative Research has a thorough summary here.  Among other provisions that employers may find interesting, the bill also allows employees to ask the court for legal or equitable relief, but the labor commissioner will not have that option. The bill allows employees to seek attorney’s fees and costs (but eliminates the labor commissioner’s ability to seek such fees.) 

Of course, there is still a provision in there about violating the personnel files act. Employers who violate the provisions of that act are subject to a $300 civil penalty for each violation. 

In some ways, the bill is a codification of some of the changes that were made at a federal level under the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. For example, under this bill, the starting of a statute of limitations period would be relaxed.  It would occur::

when a discriminatory compensation decision or practice is adopted, when an individual is subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or practice, or when an individual is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or practice, and shall be deemed to be a continuing violation each time wages, benefits or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or in part from such a decision or practice.

What Does This Mean For Employers and What Defenses Are Available?

For employers, the bill is definitely a mixed bag. On the one hand, it greatly expands the type of claim and the time for bringing a claim for employees and adds a great deal more gravitas to the state’s wage discrimination laws. On the other hand, it does provide some additional defenses for employers to use, which, in turn, allows employers to plan their business in a way that is in compliance with the law.

What are those defenses to a claim of wage discrimination? According to the bill, an employer must demonstrate that such differential in pay is made pursuant to "(1) a seniority system; (2) a merit system; (3) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (4) a differential system based upon a bona fide factor other than sex, such as education, training or experience."

The last category of a "bona fide factor defense" will only apply if the employer demonstrates that the factor  (A) is not based upon or derived from a sex-based differential in compensation, and (B) is job-related and consistent with business necessity.

And even then, the employee can overcome the "bona fide factor defense" if he or she can demonstrate that an alternative employment practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing such differential and that the employer has refused to adopt such alternative practice.

I’ll continue reviewing the bill (which was just passed in its current form last night) and will post  details on an upcoming program recapping this bill soon.

 You might have missed it in the midst of the discussion of abortion and the Supreme Court but the issue of pay discrimination got a brief airing by Senator Obama during Wednesday’s Presidential Debate. (You can view the transcript here). 

Here was the entire portion:

Obama: So this is going to be an important issue. I will look for those judges who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through.

I’ll just give you one quick example. Sen. McCain and I disagreed recently when the Supreme Court made it more difficult for a woman named Lilly Ledbetter to press her claim for pay discrimination.

For years, she had been getting paid less than a man had been paid for doing the exact same job. And when she brought a suit, saying equal pay for equal work, the judges said, well, you know, it’s taken you too long to bring this lawsuit, even though she didn’t know about it until fairly recently.

We tried to overturn it in the Senate. I supported that effort to provide better guidance to the courts; John McCain opposed

I think that it’s important for judges to understand that if a woman is out there trying to raise a family, trying to support her family, and is being treated unfairly, then the court has to stand up, if nobody else will. And that’s the kind of judge that I want.

Schieffer: Time’s up.

McCain: Obviously, that law waved the statute of limitations, which you could have gone back 20 or 30 years. It was a trial lawyer’s dream.

The subject was the decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear.  The Manpower blog has a post earlier this week on the case that summarized it pretty succinctly (if overly so).  There’s been a lot written on it as well including this good piece from The Word on Employment Law this spring. 

Unfortunately, the case has gotten so whittled down to a soundbite that the central holdings of the case — regarding statute of limitations — gets lost.  But you can read the bill that was proposed last year here.

 I summarized the issue in a post this summer: on a related bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act and reviewing it again, I think my comments are fairly on point with what occurred in the debate.

The issue in Ledbetter case was, in many ways, a technical question of how far back an employee should be able to go to challenge past pay practices — in other words, about deadlines and "statute of limitations".  The Supreme Court said that the 180-day deadline found in the statute should apply. 

Should the statute of limitations remain at 180 days? 1 year? 2 years? 5 years? 20 years?  I don’t suggest to know what the right answer is.  Ultimately, the answer to that question will help shape the Paycheck Fairness Act bill’s final outcome and it should be the one that the politicians focus on. 

Employers would certainly like shorter statute of limitations and have good arguments that because supervisors leave, short statute of limitations prevent stale claims from being brought. But employees have decent arguments that a longer statute of limitations should apply because discriminatory pay practices are often learned of only after they occur. 

For employers, the debate over the Paycheck Fairness Act is one worth paying attention to because the real-world consequence of the bill’s passage (whether now or next year) will be to increase the importance of documenting pay practices and to give employers another reason to preserve such documents for future litigation.   

Hopefully, as the bill progresses, we’ll see more debate on the pros and cons on having longer deadlines to file suits.

We didn’t hear much in the specifics tonight but we’ll see if anything transpires in the closing weeks of the election.

There’s lots of good content that is out there in the blogosphere and I thought I would pass along a few of the noteworthy entries I’ve read this week. 

  • Credit: Morguefile.com - Public DomainMichael Moore over at the Pennsylvania Employment Law Blog has a great recap on the fallout of this week’s sexual harassment case with his own tips on investigation.
     
  • Will Schendel over at the Alaska Employment Law Blog has chimed in as well and points readers to a lack of standards in some other standards for how to deal with sexual harassment investigations and training. 
  • Kris Dunn, over at the HR Capitalist, has a fascinating look at a EEOC-filed case where the employer allegedly required employees returning to work after a sick leave to sign a release allowing the employer access to their physician records. 
  • Workplace Horizons has a detailed summary of what’s going on with the pay discrimination legislation pending in Congress. 
  • Fisher & Phillips has an interesting look at sensitivity to fragrances and whether that can constitute a disability. 

Lastly, I strongly recommend using an RSS feed reader, like Google Reader, to broaden your reading and save time. I’ve written a "how-to" article to make it easy. Google Reader is also now out of beta and its a great tool for people unfamiliar to RSS feeds.  It’s the best way to keep up with all that’s out there.