If you ever read the state labor laws (wait, you haven’t?), you sometimes come across provisions that seem like they were written for another generation.

And indeed, they were.

Take, for example, Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-23.  It prohibits children under the age of 16 from working in the “manufacturing, mechanical, mercantile or theatrical industry”.

That seems to make some sense as far as child labor laws are written. Then it goes on.

It also prohibits working in a “restaurant or public dining room.”

Public Dining Rooms? I was about to write this off entirely as just outdated but there is at least one reference I’ve found in Connecticut to a “public dining room”.  Grasso Tech’s culinary arts program advertises a “public dining room” on Facebook, so perhaps we can give them a break.

And then the statute singles out three other businesses to add to the prohibition: any bowling alley, shoe-shining establishment or barber shop.

It seems an odd arrangement for businesses. Some of it can certainly be seen rooted in safety — you wouldn’t necessarily want minors dealing with sharp tools if a barber shop or the equipment of a bowling alley.

Indeed, Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-25 prohibits minors from operating elevators! Tell that to my kids who love pushing the buttons.

My best guess from review of the legislative history, though, is that the statute is rooted in something more nefarious — that these industries would somehow show the dark side of society.

Now, there are some exceptions for other businesses over the last decade or so that I’ve covered previously; golf courses, or cashiers in supermarkets etc. all have some exceptions.

But the bowling alleys and shoe shining establishment bar still stands.

Some laws are hard to change.

It was the last semester of my senior year in college – right after Spring Break – when I heard the news that would forever shape my views on mental illness.

A friend and fellow editor of the college newspaper I worked for, Steven Ochs jumped to his death from one of the many bridges near his hometown in Pittsburgh, PA.

A group of us ended up driving out there across the fields of Pennsylvania to mourn his passing. It was the first time I was a pallbearer at a funeral and I knew then that was something I never wanted to be for a friend again.

Steven was a remarkable young adult.

I wish you could’ve known him.  He wrote amazing columns for our college paper and editorials nearly every weekday.  Thanks to the internet, you can still read a few here.

I can still remember sitting in his newspaper office couch and hearing him talk; he was always a few steps ahead of me.  I thought he had a promising future.

I thought about Steve a bunch last week, when the celebrity suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Boudrain became headlines.

Those people, along with Steve, seemingly had everything that would want.

And yet.

As anyone who has had a friend or relative commit suicide, there’s a certain amount of second guessing that goes on. What signals did I miss? What could I have done differently? Was I a good enough friend? Why didn’t he ask for help?

And a lot times, it just comes down to a simple question too: Why?

Every suicide of a employee impacts the workplace as well.  And sometimes it is at the workplace itself – but regardless, suicides have been on the rise the last several years. As a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this year noted:

Nationwide, the numbers are small but striking. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, suicides at workplaces totaled 291 in 2016, the most recent year of data and the highest number since the government began tallying such events 25 years ago. U.S. suicides overall totaled nearly 45,000 in 2016, a 35% increase compared with 10 years earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Who is most at risk? According to the BLS study, 45- to 54-year-old males had the highest likelihood of committing workplace suicide. And workers in the public sector had a higher propensity for workplace suicide while workers in the private sector suffered the majority of these fatalities. The private industry sectors with the highest propensities for workplace suicide were finance and insurance; professional, scientific and technical services; and health care and social
assistance.

The solutions are far more complex than a simple employment law blog post can capture.  Some of them are rooted in society.  But discussions regarding mental health — and bringing those discussions in the workplace — is often seen as one important step that can be done.  A renewed emphasis on making sure employees know about and use Employee Assistance Programs is also another important step.

HR staff can sometimes be at the front lines.  Figuring out that an employee might need help can be a part of a solution but as we all know, it might still not be enough.

We can only hope that as we raise awareness of this, that we can stop some suicides from occurring so that 25 years from now, someone else isn’t writing a blog post about one of their friends as well.

 

 

As I noted earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court has approved of the use of class action waivers in arbitration agreements with employees.

My colleague, Gabe Jiran, has a recap of Epic Systems v. Lewis on my firm’s blog, Employment Law Letter, that you can access here.

So, it’s a foregone conclusion that employers of all shapes and sizes will start using arbitration agreements and insert provisions with class action waivers, right?

Not so fast.

As Jon Hyman astutely noted in his Ohio Employer’s Law Blog yesterday, this decision may not be the panacea employers are looking for.

For example, it might end up being more costly for employers because arbitration may be more costly than litigation.

Moreover, these costs only increase if you are arbitrating dozens, or hundreds, or thousands, of individual claims instead of one class or collective action. Don’t think for a second that this decision will end wage and hour litigation. Instead, plaintiffs’ lawyers, who currently have claimants opt-in to FLSA collective actions, will instead merely file a plethora of individual arbitration claims.

It’s a valid point but I’m not sure I buy into this entirely.  Arbitration may be cheaper in many instances.

Moreover, part of the attraction that some lawyers have to wage/hour class actions are the attorneys’ fees that can get added on to the case automatically.  Filing a lot of individual arbitration cases may be good in theory, but in practice? That’s still a lot of work for a plaintiff’s-side attorney to follow.  While some enterprising attorneys will continue, we may see a thinning in the practice area as a result.

That said, I could certainly see unions encouraging this type of action at some workplaces — the death by 1000 paper cuts is something to keep in mind.

Employers may also be wary of entering into arbitration agreements with class action waivers because of the public backlash against forced arbitration, particularly  in sexual harassment matters.

This is not new — indeed, there was a Law Tribune editorial in 2014 before #metoo was well-known that suggested legislative reforms in the area.

Employers that are seen as enforcing “coercive” arbitration provisions may face a social media or publicity campaign. Each employer will have to figure out its risk tolerance and how it wants to be seen by its employees and the public before implementing arbitration agreements.

Moreover, in states like California, there are statutes that allow for an employee to sue over workplace violations individually as well as on behalf of others, allowing for “representative suits”, similar to class actions.  These “Private Attorneys General Act” cases may become the norm in California.

Could Connecticut follow?

These are just a few of the considerations that employers ought to be thinking about in light of the Epic Systems decision.  The decision certainly provides employers with another tool in managing their workforce. The question on the table now is whether that tool is useful or not.

In an important 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning held, for the first time, that class or collective action waivers, particularly in wage/hour cases, and contained in arbitration agreements between employers and employees are valid and enforceable.

Because wage and hour class and collective actions are quite costly for employers to defend against, this decision should cause employers in Connecticut (and nationwide) to re-evaluate their employment relationships with employees and consider enacting wide-ranging arbitration agreements that include class-action and collective action waivers.

The decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis (download here) was just released at 10 a.m. this morning, so I’ll have more in an upcoming post after I’ve had time to digest it, but here’s the summary from the Supreme Court itself:

In each of these cases, an employer and employee entered into a contract providing for individualized arbitration proceedings to resolve employment disputes between the parties. Each employee nonetheless sought to litigate Fair Labor Standards Act and related state law claims through class or collective actions in federal court. Although the Federal Arbitration Act generally requires courts to enforce arbitration agreements as written, the employees argued that its “saving clause” removes this obligation if an arbitration agreement violates some other federal law and that, by requiring individualized proceedings, the agreements here violated the National Labor Relations Act. The employers countered that the Arbitration Act protects agreements requiring arbitration from judicial interference and that neither the saving clause nor the NLRA demands a different conclusion.

Until recently, courts as well as the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel agreed that such arbitration agreements are enforceable. In 2012, however, the Board ruled that the NLRA effectively nullifies the Arbitration Act in cases like these, and since then other courts have either agreed with or deferred to the Board’s position.

Held: Congress has instructed in the Arbitration Act that arbitration agreements providing for individualized proceedings must be enforced, and neither the Arbitration Act’s saving clause nor the NLRA suggests otherwise.

In doing so, the court relies on two main arguments. First, the Federal Arbitration Act compels this and notes that the Concepcion decision from a few years back foretold this (which I previously previewed in a prior post).  Second, the National Labor Relations Act doesn’t compel a different result.

Justice Gorsuch writes the majority opinion here and concludes: “The policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress
has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written. ” He criticizes the dissent for its language suggesting a retreat from modern day labor laws:

In the dissent’s view, today’s decision ushers us back to the  Lochner era when this Court regularly overrode legislative policy judgments. The dissent even suggests we have resurrected the long-dead “yellow dog” contract. … But like most apocalyptic warnings, this one proves a false alarm. … Our decision does nothing to override Congress’s policy judgments.

Justice Ginsburg writes the dissent and concludes:

If these untoward consequences stemmed from legislative choices, I would be obliged to accede to them. But the edict that employees with wage and hours claims may seek relief only one-by-one does not come from Congress. It is the result of take-it-or-leave-it labor contracts harking back to the type called “yellow dog,” and of the readiness of this Court to enforce those unbargained-for agreements. The FAA demands no such suppression of the right of workers to take concerted action for their “mutual aid or protection.”

It’s an “Epic” day at the Supreme Court.   Will this have the same effect for state law claims? How should employers implement these changes? When? For all employees?

Lots of questions but today, at least, the Supreme Court answered one of the biggest employment law questions out there.

Today is the last day of the General Assembly session and there are only so many hours to debate and pass bills.

And so, in a year when so many labor & employment law bills were up for consideration, it’s come down to a finish line where just one or two might pass.

The Pay Equity bill I highlighted earlier this week is on to the Governor’s desk, where he has indicated he will sign it.

But the bill making broad changes to the harassment and discrimination laws in the state now appears to be on life support. Perhaps even “mostly dead”.

You will recall from my post earlier this week that the bill passed the Senate with an overwhelming majority with language that seemed to have broad support.

According to a report in CT News Junkie, a deal has yet to be reached in the House and there may be too many issues with it to come to a deal today.

At issue has been the language eliminating the statute of limitations for some sex crimes.  It’s possible that a fix that revises the training requirements could perhaps see it’s way out of the mess but that is seeming increasingly unlikely according to news reports.

There are other bills still floating out there: Paid FMLA, changes to minimum wage, etc. None of them though seems to have enough steam at this stage to get over the finish line.

So stay tuned.  There’s a budget bill that is still up for grabs and the last day always has a way of surprising.

I’ll have a full legislative recap once the dust settles.

Over the weekend, the General Assembly approved a bill prohibiting employers, including the state and its political subdivisions, from asking, or directing a third-party to ask, about a prospective employee’s wage and salary history.

I have previously discussed the measure here.  There were a few versions floating around and it was House Bill 5386 that carried the day (as amended).

The prohibition does not apply in two situations:

  • if the prospective employee voluntarily discloses his or her wage and salary history, or;
  • to any actions taken by an employer, employment agency, or its employees or agents under a federal or state law that specifically authorizes the disclosure or verification of salary history for employment purposes.

While salary may not be inquired, the bill DOES allow an employer to ask about the other elements of a prospective employee’s compensation structure (e.g., stock options), but the employer may not ask about their value.

The bill has a two year statute of limitations. Employers can be found liable for compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and costs, punitive damages, and any legal and equitable relief the court deems just and proper.  This bill amends Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-40z

As amended, the effective date of the bill is now January 1, 2019.

The final bill is different from a prior bill because it eliminates provisions that generally would have (1) allowed employers to ask about the value of a prospective employee’s stocks or equity, (2) allowed employers to seek a court order to disallow compensatory or punitive damages, and (3) required certain employers to count an employee’s time spent on protected family and medical leave towards the employee’s seniority.

For employers, upon signature from the governor, this bill will become law.  As such, employers should notify all of their hiring personnel of the new restrictions that are likely to go in place effective January 1, 2019. I’ll have more updates after the legislative session winds down this week.

Like most of America, I spent a few hours this weekend seeing the new Avengers movie.

(Don’t worry – no spoilers here in this post.)

But it’s amazing how much the Marvel Universe has permeated our pop culture the last few years.

So, it is with tongue firmly in cheek, when I use this post to talk about a presentation I’m doing tomorrow with my colleagues that plays off one such segment of these movies.

Entitled, “Guardian of Your Own Galaxy: Making Informed Decisions on Hiring (Legally) and Sharing Information (When Appropriate)”, we’re going to talk a lot about how the hiring decisions of Tony Stark (i.e. Iron Man), Pepper Potts and how Stark Enterprises is run.

Ok, one spoiler alert: No Tony Stark.

Instead, we’re going to talk all things related to the hiring process: Background checks, interview questions, school-related employment history checks, registry checks, credit checks, ban the box, etc.

We’re also going to talk about personnel files and how FOIA requests should be addressed in the context of information about personnel.

All of this is part of my firm’s Labor & Employment Spring Seminar: 2018 Public Sector Legal Update tomorrow.

Star-Lord and Drax will not be there but we hope to see you there.

With the final few working days of the General Assembly session, we’re starting to see the outlines on bills that are pretenders vs. contenders.

Yesterday, the House passed a contender on the subject of pay equity in a bi-partisan vote.  Unless the Senate decides not to bring up the matter (as it decided last year), employers should start preparing for its likely overall passage and implementation later this year.

Four other states (including Massachusetts) have a bill of this type on the books.

So what does House Bill 5386 say exactly?

Well, less than it originally said. At the vote yesterday, the House passed “Amendment A” that eliminated some of the more controversial provisions of House Bill 5386.

Ultimately, the bill would expand the prohibitions on pay secrecy now found in Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-40z, and prohibit an employer from:

Inquiring or directing a third party to inquire about a prospective employee’s wage and salary history unless a prospective employee has voluntarily disclosed such information, except that this subdivision shall not apply to any actions taken by an employer, employment agency or employee or agent thereof pursuant to any federal or state law that specifically authorizes the disclosure or verification of salary history for employment purposes. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an employer from inquiring about other elements of a prospective employee’s compensation structure, as long as such employer does not inquire about the value of the elements of such compensation structure.

So, while there is a general prohibition about asking applicants about their salary history, it does not apply (1) if the prospective employee voluntarily discloses his or her wage and salary history or (2) to any actions taken by an employer, employment agency, or its employees or agents under a federal or state law that specifically authorizes the disclosure or verification of salary history for employment purposes.

The bill also allows an employer to ask about compensation structure, but the employer may not ask about the value of the compensation structure’s elements, except for the value of stocks or equity.

Ultimately, the compromise that was reached was applauded by business groups like the CBIA:

Approval today of legislation addressing gender-based pay inequity is the result of discussions and compromise between multiple parties, including the business community, Democratic and Republican legislative leadership, and the governor’s office, and we thank them for all their commitment to forge a consensus.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the bill would take effect January 1, 2019.

You’ve agonized over firing an employee.  You hired her over a year ago and it just isn’t working out.  The employee is kind, conscientious and punctual, but just doesn’t have the skills needed for the particular position.

But you’ve made up your mind. You’re firing her at a meeting this afternoon.

In that meeting, the employee stops you part way to say that she too has been thinking the job hasn’t been a good fit and asks if she can resign instead.

Can you still accept the employee’s resignation?

It may seem obvious, but I’ve had more than a few discussions with employers who are caught offguard with such a request.  (In some other circumstances, the employer may ask if they can allow the employee to resign in lieu of termination. Gets to the same point.)

The answer is yes, you can allow the employee to resign. Even if you originally were firing them.

There’s no law that requires employers to stick with a decision that they are having second thoughts. You can withdraw a termination, you can change the termination to a resignation. It’s really up to you and the employee.

But here’s a related question. Can the employee still collect unemployment benefits if they “resign”?

Again, the answer is yes.  Mostly.

As the Department of Labor notes, the “general  rule  is  that  a  person who  voluntarily  leaves  suitable  work without good cause attributable to the employer is not eligible for benefits.”

But an employer who indicates that it is going to fire an employee and “allows” the employee to resign, is probably establishing the “good cause to be attributable to the employer” because it relates to the wages, hours or working conditions of the job.

There are exceptions, of course, but employers who contest unemployment of an employee that they “allowed” to resign in lieu of termination, should really be thinking long and hard about such a decision.

And, as another blog post reminds, “forcing” an employee to resign isn’t going to fly in many instances either.

Firing an employee isn’t easy. It shouldn’t be. But doing it the right way isn’t that hard either.

Three years ago, I floated the idea that perhaps an agency could come up with a modest “amnesty” program that would give employers a chance to get into compliance with FLSA laws, without facing the draconian consequences such an admission might entail.

Now, late yesterday, the United States Department of Labor announced its own pilot program doing exactly this. 

It’s being called the “PAID” program (Payroll Audit Independent Determination), and is designed to expedite “resolution of inadvertent overtime and minimum wage violations under the FLSA.”

According to a press release:

Employees will receive 100 percent of the back wages paid, without having to pay any litigation expenses, attorneys’ fees, or other costs that may be applicable to private actions.

The PAID program facilitates resolution of potential violations, without litigation, and ensures employees promptly receive the wages they are owed.  Under this program, the Wage and Hour Division will oversee resolution of the potential violations by assessing the amount of wages due and supervising their payment to employees.

The Division will not impose penalties or liquidated damages to finalize a settlement for employers who choose to participate in the PAID program and proactively work with the Division to fix and resolve their potential compensation errors.

But there will be limits.  Employers who are in litigation or currently under investigation are excluded, for example.  Moreover, it is a one-time use; employers can’t keep coming back under it.  And it will require employers to take other steps as well.

The pilot program is being run nationwide for approximately six months, after which the Department will evaluate the pilot program and consider future options.

Employers and their counsel are going to need to do a crash course to learn about its availability.  Some FAQ are available on the DOL website but there’s still more that needs to be filled in.

It’s clear, for example, that this won’t necessarily prevent a private lawsuit from flowing or from employees who might reject this and seek out their own counsel.

And for employers in Connecticut, a word of extreme caution:  There will still be the issue of STATE law violations that aren’t addressed by this program.

Indeed, when I floated this idea with a CT Department of Labor official years ago, he noted that legislation would have to be written because the CTDOL didn’t have the ability to create such a program.

I will continue to monitor this as well as my firm but if you have any interest in FLSA issues, you’ll want to contact your employment counsel to stay up to date on this very important development.