Employment Law Lookout

The Employment Law Lookout is taking a holiday break this week, but will resume delivering insightful discourse and updates on the day’s most pressing workplace issues next week.

In the meantime, we want to wish all of our readers, contributors, and editors a safe and happy Fourth of July holiday.  We hope you are able to spend time with family, friends, and loved ones and rest assured knowing that we’ll be on the lookout for more management insights to bring you soon.

Thank you and Happy Fourth.

By Jeryl L. OlsonPatrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  In another business-friendly move, the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) recently directed its Attorneys to not use its civil enforcement authority for violations based on agency guidance documents.

On January 25, 2018, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand released an Department memo “Limiting Use of Agency Guidance Documents In Affirmative Civil Enforcement Cases.” (“Brand Memo”), directed to the Heads of Civil Litigating Components within the USDOJ directing that the Department no longer prosecute cases based solely on violations of various agencies’ “guidance documents”.

The USDOJ, (which effectively acts as “outside counsel” to departments and agencies including the DOL, EPA, OSHA, ATF and DEA, among others, in cases exceeding certain penalty thresholds and other criteria) may no longer prosecute cases against alleged violators unless the violations are of properly promulgated regulatory requirements, not agency guidance documents or policies. The practice of agencies, such as EPA, pursuing enforcement actions against companies who have failed to comply with “guidance” has long been a concern of the regulated community and their defense counsel; we frequently challenge and object to EPA’s efforts to enforce “guidance” that has not gone through public notice ad comment rulemaking. It is a relief that the USDOJ will no longer be a party to such enforcement cases.

The Brand Memo is a follow-up to an earlier memo issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on November 16, 2017 (“Guidance Policy” or “Sessions Memo”), which instituted a new policy that prohibits the Department of Justice from using its civil enforcement authority to convert agency guidance documents into binding rules. The Sessions Memo “prevents the Department of Justice from evading required rulemaking processes by using guidance memos to create de facto regulations. In the past, the Department of Justice and other agencies had blurred the distinction between regulations and guidance documents.”

The Brand Memo states that “…consistent with our duty to uphold the rule of law with fair notice and due process, this policy helps restore the appropriate role of guidance documents and avoids rulemaking by enforcement.” “Although guidance documents can be helpful in educating the public about already existing law, they do not have the binding force or effect of law and should not be used as a substitute for rulemaking.”

Under the USDOJ’s new policy, USDOJ civil litigators are “prohibited from using guidance documents—or noncompliance with guidance documents—to establish violations of law in affirmative civil enforcement actions.”The Brand Memo also indicates that “the Guidance Policy . . . prohibits the Department from using its guidance documents to coerce regulated parties into taking any action or refraining from taking any action beyond what is required by the terms of the applicable statute or lawful regulation.” Finally, the Brand Memo confirms that the USDOJ “…should not treat a party’s noncompliance with an agency guidance document as presumptively or conclusively establishing that the party violated the applicable statute or regulation.”

While the Brand Memo applies only to future affirmative civil enforcement actions brought by the Department, as well as, “wherever practicable,” those matters pending as of January 25, 2018, we see the Guidance Policy and the Brand Memo as welcome relief from arbitrary use of guidance by departments and agencies such as the DOL, OSHA, or EPA in enforcement proceedings of regulated industry.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Seyfarth Labor & Employment Group, OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team, or the Environmental Compliance, Enforcement & Permitting Team.

The Employment Law Lookout Team is taking the holiday week off to recharge and reflect on the year that was.  We look forward to bringing you more interesting and though provoking content as we enter into 2018.  We wish all of you a peace-filled week.  (Stay warm!)

Seyfarth Synopsis: Last week, members of the Chicago L&E Team hosted the Fourth Quarter Breakfast Briefing to a packed room.  This Briefing looked at four key governmental agencies/trends (OSHA, OFCCP and equal pay, EEOC, and NLRB) to review key highlights from 2017 and how 2018 was shaping up.

In case you missed it, here are the slides from the presentation.

Please consider joining us for Firm Breakfast Briefings (which also offer CLE credit if that’s on your yearly “to do” list).  Upcoming topics likely include the ongoing issues impacting ADA/FMLA and other leave laws; paid sick leave; and other emerging topics in HR and employment law. We will be announcing dates for 2018 Chicago briefings in the next several weeks; so be on the (Employment Law) “Lookout” for those emails.

 

By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  A recent active shooter incident at an international airport illustrates both how quickly an incident may be over, yet how ancillary impacts take much longer to resolve. While the shooter was apprehended in less than two minutes, the international airport was shut down for most of a full day, impacting over 500 employees and 10,000 customers, and 20,000 personal items were lost.  The after-action report offers some lessons learned.

At the World Safety Organization International Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health Symposium last month, William G. Thompson, IV, the Occupational Safety & Health Manager and Safety Management System Administrator at Broward County Aviation Department, including the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (Airport), presented the findings from the January 6, 2017 active shooter incident at the Airport.  Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Active Shooter Incident and Post-Event Response January 6, 2017 After-Action Report (August 15, 2017) (Report or Findings).  Thompson was at the Airport that day, watched the events unfold, and cooperated in the resolution and the preparation of the Report.

The Report indicates that “on January 6, 2017, a lone gunman intentionally discharged a firearm at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport killing five and wounding six innocent bystanders.  Approximately 90 minutes after the initial incident, speculation of additional firearms discharged in other areas within [the Airport] caused panic and led to a chaotic self-evacuation of persons throughout the airport.”  The Report states that it was developed in accordance with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program.  Specifically, the Report analyzes the response, the emergency and operational coordination, and the facility recovery and post event activities.

Factually, the Report shows that the actual shooting event, in the Terminal 2 baggage area,  lasted less than 80 seconds and ended when the “perpetrator ran out of ammunition, laid down on the ground, and surrendered to law enforcement officers at the scene.”  Of the eleven people who were shot, six (6) were wounded, and five (5) were killed.  Approximately 40 others were injured in the panic during the initial shooting event (First Incident). Terminals 1, 3, and 4 remained operational at this time.

The Second Incident started at approximately an hour and a half later, when radio communications indicated unsubstantiated reports of additional shots fired in Terminal 1, and one of the parking garages. As a result, the “response among passengers, tenants, and airport employees triggered uncontrolled and unmanaged self-evacuation of personnel, many of whom ran into secured areas and onto active aprons. Some received minor injuries during the self-evacuation.”  Because of the breach of restricted areas on the airfield during the self-evacuation, and the ongoing investigation of the actual crime scene in Terminal 2, law enforcement began sweeping and clearing each of the four (4) terminals at the Airport to ensure that all areas were clear of any threats and to re-establish secure areas.

Because of the incurrence into secure zones, the FAA issued a ground stop notice closing the Airport to all but emergency flights.  Subsequently, airport operations were officially terminated and all airport roadways were closed to incoming traffic.  Law enforcement continued clearing the rest of the airport until approximately 8:30 PM, over seven hours later. The airport remained closed for the remainder of the day, but reopened to commercial flights early the following day.

This incident provides a good reference for business to consider in developing their own corporate active shooter programs.  For instance, in this case responding airport employees were initially denied access to areas to which access was required to support response operations.  In addition, while the actual shooting incident was over in ninety seconds, during the subsequent response approximately 500 airport employees were interrupted in their jobs, and 10,000 passengers were bused to a nearby facility for food and shelter, and to assist them in connecting to other means of transportation “As result of the chaos that ensued following the shooting, more than 20,000 personal items were left unclaimed at the airport.”  The active shooter incident response must be planned for as well as the incident itself.

The Report provides “Lessons Learned,” including several points to support preparedness within the aviation sector and among aviation stakeholders.  Many of their recommendations are well placed in any industry:

  • Ongoing periodic incident command system training and exercises, support capabilities-based planning, coordination with airport stakeholders, and development of competencies among airport personnel to support critical incident response.
  • Airport emergency plans should be updated and reviewed at least annually or when changes in resources, personnel, or threats occur.
  • Airport emergency plans and/or companion response plans should address a full range of hazards and threats, identify a concept of operations in an incident command system context, and address all areas of the airport including public areas and auxiliary properties, such as rental car facilities.
  • Building relationships with external response partners through advanced planning, training and exercises is vital to support a common understanding of roles, responsibilities, resources, facility design and layout, and communication procedures under single or unified command conditions.
  • Coordination between airports and jurisdictional (city/county/state) emergency management agencies supports emergency response operations through effective communications, resourcing and resource management.
  • Airports should consider developing a written description of airport operations and airport physical layout specifically for external emergency responders who may respond to airport emergencies. Periodic tours for external emergency responders are also recommended to support an effective understanding of resources, evacuation plans, and other potential response needs.
  • Exercises conducted at airports should include active shooter scenarios as well as other locally-relevant hazard and threat scenarios identified local emergency management agencies).

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

Co-authored by Noah A. Finkel, David S. Baffa, and Andrew L. Scroggins

 

Seyfarth Synopsis: Following oral argument, employers should be cautiously optimistic that the Supreme Court will allow mandatory arbitration programs containing waivers of the ability to bring collective and class actions.

In Monday’s oral argument, in one of the most significant employment law cases we have seen in some time, a divided Supreme Court appeared more likely than not to give the green light to employers’ mandatory arbitration programs that contain waivers of collective and class actions. Our summary of the issues this case presents can be found here: http://www.wagehourlitigation.com/arbitration-agreements/will-the-supreme-court-finally-remove-doubt-that-an-employer-can-mandate-that-employees-enter-into-arbitration-agreements-with-class-waivers/

Reading tea leaves from oral argument is always a challenge, especially for those who have a stake in the matter.[1] But the three authors of this post attended Monday’s argument and, judging from the questions from the Court, the various Justices’ reactions to the answers to those questions, and the prior rulings from the Court, are optimistic that the Court ultimately will issue a closely-contested ruling in favor of class waivers.

Four Justices Appear Ready to Invalidate Class Waivers in Employment Cases

While our prediction is somewhat uncertain, there is one aspect in which we are completely confident: there will not be a unanimous decision. Indeed, it appeared that there are four solid votes to hold that Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act provides an employee with a right to bring a collective or class action, that requiring an employee to waive that right as a condition of employment violates NLRA Section 8’s prohibition against employer restraint of that right, and that, therefore, an employer’s arbitration agreement including a class waiver cannot be enforced either because the class waiver is illegal or because the NLRA constitutes a contrary congressional command to the general rule that, under the Federal Arbitration Act, arbitration agreements are to be enforced according to their terms.

Justice Ginsburg asserted in her questions that “the driving force of the NLRA was the recognition that there was an imbalance, that there was no true liberty of contract,” which is why concerted activity — including, in her apparent view, class and collective action — is protected against employer interference. She further contended that the Court’s prior precedents regarding the FAA concerned only commercial contracts and did not involve NLRA rights. (As the employers’ counsel Paul Clement rightly pointed out, however, the Court has twice reviewed the propriety of arbitration agreements between employers and employees, and neither time did the Court reason that arbitration agreements in the employment context are entitled to any less weight than those in the commercial context.)

Justice Kagan relied on the Court’s prior precedent to argue that the NLRA protects “employees seeking to improve working conditions through resort to administrative and judicial forums” and thus implied that filing a class action also is protected by the NLRA. But the employers’ counsel retorted that Court precedent merely protects “resort to” courthouses, and that “there is no right to proceed as a class once you get there.” Once in court, nothing prohibits an employer from asserting all available defenses to class treatment, including moving to enforce an agreement between an employer and employee to arbitrate all disputes on a bilateral basis.

Justice Sotomayor questioned that argument by maintaining that an employer cannot enforce a contract that is “illegal” even under the FAA. In response to that, employers’ counsel Clement retorted that the Court has decided two other cases (Circuit City v. Adams and Gilmer v. Interstate Johnson/Lane Corp.) in which employees had agreed to bilateral arbitration and in which it could have been argued that the NLRA makes such an agreement unlawful. “But no dog barked at that point . . . and that’s because the NLRA in no other context extends beyond the workplace to dictate the rules of the forum,” Clement told the Court.

The most vigorous questioner was Justice Breyer, who appeared offended by the idea of a class waiver. He went so far as to say that he is worried that the employers’ position “is overturning labor law that goes back to, for FDR at least, the entire heart of the New Deal” and that “I haven’t seen a way that you can, in fact, win the case, which you certainly want to do, without undermining and changing radically what has gone back to the New Deal.” Clement explained, however, that “for 77 years” — from the passage of the NLRA until its 2012 D.R. Horton decision — “the [NLRB] did not find anything incompatible about Section 7 and bilateral arbitration agreements” and the NLRB’s General Counsel issued a memorandum on the issue in 2010 in which it found that a mandatory class waiver does not violate the NLRA.

But From Where Does the 5th Vote Come?

Despite these fairly clear votes to invalidate class waivers, four votes does not a majority make.  And in questioning of counsel for the NLRB and counsel for the employees, it appeared that it will be difficult to find that fifth vote. Justice Thomas, in keeping with his usual demeanor, did not ask a question, but he has been in the Court’s majority in other cases enforcing arbitration agreements and is regarded as generally receptive to employer’s views. Nor did Justice Gorsuch ask a question. He, however, thus far has joined the Court’s conservative majority in all decisions in which he has been a part.

Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito clearly were skeptical of the NLRB’s position. Indeed, in questioning its General Counsel Richard Griffin, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito led Griffin into a significant admission, providing the most dramatic moment of the morning. They asked Griffin a series of questions that led Griffin to agree that it would not be an unfair labor practice for a mandatory arbitration program to require use of a forum whose rules did not allow class arbitration. Justice Alito quickly realized the significance of this point: “if that’s the rule, you have not achieved very much because, instead of having an agreement that says no class, no class action, not class arbitration, you have an agreement requiring arbitration before the XYZ arbitration association, which has rules that don’t allow class arbitration.” Griffin did not dispute this.  He commented that “the provisions of the [NLRA] run to prohibitions against employer restraint.”

Interestingly, counsel for the employees, Daniel Ortiz of the University of Virginia School of Law, did not agree with that concession, thus highlighting fundamental dissent from the NLRB’s position. These cases at the Supreme Court already were notable because the Solicitor General took a position opposite that of the NLRB. Oral argument added another layer of disagreement: even the employees urging the Court to adopt the Board’s view of the NLRA don’t agree with the concession made by Griffin. In other words, the employees and the NLRB are asking the Supreme Court to recognize a right that overrides the FAA, but they cannot agree on what that right is.

As in any close case recently at the Supreme Court, most eyes were on the swing vote, Justice Kennedy. Going into the argument, he appeared to be the Justice most likely to join Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Breyer, the four justices who dissented from the Court’s enforcement of a bilateral arbitration agreement in the consumer context in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion. Justice Kennedy did not tip his hand as much as the other Justices. But he did appear to be interested in the concession that NLRB General Counsel Griffin made (and clarified Chief Justice Roberts’ question that induced that concession), and his questioning of the Board and the employees’ counsel suggested that he believed that, even with a collective and class action waiver, employees still can exercise Section 7 rights in various ways, and that he did not wish to “constrain[] employers in the kind of arbitration agreements they can have.”

Little of the argument focused on the FAA and the nature of its saving clause or what constitutes a “contrary congressional command.” The Justices seemed more interested in exploring whether the NLRA contains a right to a class action in the first place.

What Next?

Our predicted close victory for the employers is just that: a prediction. After all, even the Justices who appeared to favor permitting class waivers did not strongly signal how they might reach that result or whether any guidelines or restrictions might accompany the rule. We do not recommend that employers bank on our prediction, because one never knows what is in the minds of the Justices or how they will come out after discussing the cases with each other. Until a decision is issued — which likely will be early 2018 — there will be no definitive answer as to whether a class waiver in an arbitration program provides a defense to an employment class or collective action. Employers should continue to consider whether an arbitration program with a class or collective action waiver is right for them and, if it is, be ready to implement one if the Supreme Court rules in the employers’ favor in these cases.

[1] Seyfarth Shaw LLP is counsel for Epic Systems Corporation — one of the three companies whose arbitration programs are at issue in the three consolidated cases at the Supreme Court — and represents Epic at the district court in this case, was counsel for Epic in the appellate court, and is co-counsel for Epic at the Supreme Court.  The views expressed in this blog post are Seyfarth Shaw’s and not necessarily those of Epic.

 

 

 

Seyfarth Synopsis: Seyfarth’s Chicago Office hosted its Third Quarter Breakfast Briefing — an extremely well attended event. 

On Tuesday, September 12, 2017, five attorneys from our Chicago Labor and Employment team presented to a packed house of guests.  The group offered an overview of, and their insights on, new and pending legislation impacting Illinois employers, generally, and those within the Chicago Metropolitan area, more specifically.  The topics included Kin Care, Amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act, The Chicago and Cook County Minimum Wage Ordinances; and the Chicago and Cook County Paid Sick Leave Laws, among others.   As you can imagine, the audience had a lot of questions, which made for a very lively discussion.  Our thanks to all who were able to join us at the briefing.

Checkout the slides from the Breakfast Briefing.  Should you have questions on any of these topics, please contact your Seyfarth attorney.

Seyfarth’s next quarterly Breakfast Briefing will be held on Wednesday, December 13, 2017.  Hold the date and be on the lookout for further details.

By Christopher Im and Sharisse R. Deal

Seyfarth Synopsis: Private employers can face competing obligations when it comes to responding to employees’ expressive conduct. Employee rights may collide with employer obligations to maintain a safe and harassment-free work environment, not to mention the employer’s interest in maintaining productivity and avoiding adverse publicity. Here are some guiding principles.

“How’s work?” A common question, whether at a party, catching up with an old friend, or just as small talk. It is also a common topic of online conversation. It would be nice if work-related remarks were always positive, agreeable and civil, but, of course, they are not. The reality is that employees sometimes say offensive things about work, their employer, their co-workers, or a co-worker’s cherished political hero or ideals.

And what of the employee who attends a political rally—either as a protester or counter-protester—or does not attend, but merely posts or tweets an incendiary opinion about the event?

What is an employer’s recourse when such communications cross the line? Where is the line?

As a general rule, unless the employee is using company-owned equipment or systems, employers cannot police their employees’ expression. Various California statutes protect employees’ rights to engage in lawful, off-duty conduct (Lab. Code §§ 96, 98.6) and political activity (Lab. Code §§ 1102, 1103), to say nothing of the California constitutional right to privacy, which applies in both the public and private sectors. Meanwhile, the federal National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from chilling employee participation in concerted activity with respect to their terms and conditions of employment.

Generally, as long as controversial comments and ideas are lawfully expressed, do not implicate a protected class (such as race, religion, gender), do not name or implicate the employer, and remain out of the workplace, they are none of the employer’s business.

The trouble starts when a controversial comment is not lawfully expressed, implicates a protected class, implicates the employer, or has a deleterious effect in the workplace. Competing against the employee rights set out above are the employer’s duties to prevent and correct harassment in the workplace and to provide a safe workplace. Failure to do so can lead to hostile work environment or retaliation claims, regardless of whether the harassment comes from a supervisor or a co-worker.

Not all offensive remarks will be cause for concern: to get from “how’s work?” to a hostile work environment claim, an employee’s comments must relate to a protected status and be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter working conditions. But in todays’ highly charged political environment, many people look to their places of employment as the last bastion of civility and stability. Discussion of events, images, symbols, or social media memes concerning topics as varied as immigration, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, and the history of American slavery and its aftermath may, depending on the communication’s content and context, be freighted with racial or gender connotations.

For most people, perception is reality. Remarks or conduct that several years ago would not have raised an eyebrow may now lead to multiple disgruntled people in the HR office, seeking action. And while California employees are guaranteed privacy, the privacy right does not prevent an appropriate reaction from an employer in response to a public online posting, text message, or comment. As someone once said: “Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.”

There is no magic bullet to making sure your employees play nice. But there are several steps you can take to ensure that they know what will and will not be tolerated. You can set employee expectations by implementing or reminding them of your anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policy, your code of conduct, your “zero tolerance” policy regarding violence, your social media policy, and your rules concerning use of company internet and other electronic communication systems. We recommend that employers articulate a strong business purpose to justify any occasions when they must intrude on an employee’s privacy, and never intrude more than is necessary to serve that business purpose.

Interpretation of the laws around employee workplace rights and the intersection with employer duties to comply with anti-harassment and OSHA laws are constantly evolving, particularly with the ever-increasing use of social media. To help stay current, don’t hesitate to contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney.

 

Just a reminder that until July 30, 2017, voting is open for the American Bar Association’s annual 100 Best Legal Blogs competition, though this year the contest is a “Web 100” and will include websites and social media along with legal blogs. We hope you will cast your vote today to help Seyfarth’s Employment Law Lookout blog get on the ABA’s list for 2017.

The Employment Law Lookout Blog is a resource for employers seeking intelligent discourse and updates on the today’s most pressing workplace issues. Our mission is two-fold: to provide critical, real-time updates on employment law matters to in-house counsel and HR executives, and to keep our audience apprised of new trends and developments on the horizon.

Seyfarth’s bloggers draw upon their own first-hand experiences counseling businesses large and small to provide you with their insights about the most cutting-edge issues on new regulations, guidance, and court decisions.

Help us gain some extra recognition by casting your vote in the ABA’s Web 100 competition!

Click here to vote. Simply provide a short explanation of why you like this blog.

The deadline to nominate the blog is Sunday, July 30, 2017, so don’t delay. Polls are open!