A few weeks ago, a jury in New Jersey federal court found that Lockheed Martin discriminated against a former employee. The employee claimed that Lockheed violated federal and state laws by discriminating against him on the basis of age, including by paying him less than his younger co-workers. The jury’s award: $51.5 million ($1.5 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages).  Although the claim was only partially based on unequal pay, and although the punitive damages award is constitutionally suspect (U.S. Supreme Court precedent holds that punitive damages should generally not be more than ten times the amount of compensatory damages), the award is indicative of an ever-emerging emphasis on pay equity.

Since January of 2016, several states have enacted equal pay statutes, and several others have pending legislation. California, New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts all have statues that prohibit pay discrimination on the basis of sex (Maryland’s also includes gender identity). Each of these statutes makes it easier for employees to establish pay discrimination claims, including requiring no proof of intent. One state, however, allows employers to establish an affirmative defense. Under Massachusetts’ statute, which is set to go into effect in July 2018, an employer has an affirmative defense if it completed a self-evaluation of its pay practices within three years of the claim, and it made reasonable progress toward eliminating pay differences revealed by the self-evaluation.

It is not just states that have turned their focus toward compensation. Our federal contractor subscribers – recognizing that Lockheed Martin is a federal contractor (the biggest, actually) – may find themselves wondering how aggressive the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has become with respect to compensation. If its lawsuit against Google is any indication, OFCCP has become quite aggressive. Typically, during a compliance audit OFCCP will require employers to provide compensation data for all current employees to ensure no disparity across races and genders. With Google, it went further. It demanded wage histories, changes in compensation, and employee contact information. When Google refused, OFCCP filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction and threatened to cancel all of Google’s federal contracts.

Finally, even if you are not in a state that has current or pending pay equity statutes, and even if you are not a federal contractor, employers may need to report compensation in the future. For employers with 100 employees or more, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has proposed to collect compensation data by sex, race, and ethnicity for each job category. Thus, starting in March 2018 – assuming no changes occur under the new Trump administration – those employers will be required to include compensation information in their EEO-1 report. According to the EEOC, this “will provide a much needed tool to identify discriminatory pay practices where they exist in order to ensure that fair pay practices are put in place.”

Considering all this momentum toward ensuring pay equity, compensation has possibly become one of employers’ greatest vulnerabilities.  Now may be the time to conduct an internal analysis – preferably one shielded by attorney-client privilege – to determine whether disparities exist within your compensation structure. Stay tuned for future podcasts, webinars, and seminars that will address this issue in part.

On November 3, 2016, the National Labor Relations Board issued a Decision and Order in Trump Ruffin Commercial, LLC, finding that the Trump International Hotel, Las Vegas unlawfully refused to bargain with UNITE HERE International Union after the union won a representation election among the Hotel’s housekeeping, food and beverage and guest service employees.

….In other news, just five days later, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States with the pledges to Make America Great Again, to cultivate more good paying jobs for Americans and to undo much of the agenda of the Obama administration.

Over the past several Presidential transitions, the Human Resources community has become accustomed to the swinging pendulum in the areas of labor and employment law.  We know change is coming.  We’re just not always sure what exactly it will involve.   Everyone remembers the threat of unions being certified on the basis of a card check, right?  That didn’t happen in 2009, but of course quickie elections did.  So making specific predictions on Inauguration Day can be dangerous.   But as the new Administration now has officially taken over, we have to at least try.

Here’s an easy one:  President Trump is unlikely to be appointing what we would call traditional candidates to run the departments and agencies that regulate the American workplace.    While he has nominated some people who have significant governmental service on their resumes, the current list includes a fair share of people with no such experience – – CEOs, philanthropists, investment bankers, a neurosurgeon, even the co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment.   These appointments do not signal “business as usual” for the federal government, nor did the President who, in his inaugural address, pledged to transfer power from Washington back to the American people.

At first blush, this would portend wholesale rollback of workplace regulations.  Indeed, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, has been a critic of substantially increasing the minimum wage and a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s efforts to make more workers eligible for overtime pay.  And critics have noted similar opposition by other nominees to what has been the recent mission or focus of the agency that they may be leading (See Governor Rick Perry and Betsy DeVos).

But here’s the rub:  a substantial portion of President Trump’s electoral base of support likely will not support the pendulum swinging back in ways that make their workplaces less safe or adversely impact their earnings.  So…this will be a bit more complicated.

What can we say now in January 2017 with confidence?

  • We’re not going to get back all of that time we spent learning the ever changing minutiae of the Affordable Care Act.  But we can certainly anticipate that there will be new regulation impacting employer provided health insurance.
  • We will see change in leadership at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The current EEOC Chair’s term will end in July 2017, and the new Chair will likely fill the now vacant EEOC General Counsel position.   That new leadership is less likely to retain the current EEOC’s focus upon pay equity issues and seeking to expand gender identity and sexual orientation protections through selective litigation.   And let’s not forget the agency’s proposed regulations that would require employers to provide compensation data and hours for all employees as part of the EEO-1 reporting process.  We think that it is unlikely that these requirements will become effective in March 2018, as currently planned.
  • The NLRB will be looking at the bureaucratic version of Extreme Home Makeover.  Readers of our Annual NLRB Year in Review will recall that the Obama Board has involved itself in everything from revising the representation election timeline, to creating rights to use your email system for organizing activity to uncovering the dastardly hidden meaning of the most innocuous provisions of your employee handbook.  They expanded the concept of joint employment to the point you might have to sit at the bargaining table to discuss wages, benefits and working conditions of people who are not even your employees.  And then when they were done with that, they even tried to get involved in college football!  The party’s soon over at the Board.  President Trump will have the opportunity to fill two current Member vacancies on the Board as soon as he gets down to work.  More critically, by November he will have the opportunity to replace NLRB General Counsel Richard Griffin Jr., an Obama appointee, former union lawyer and spearhead for most of the NLRB’s most aggressive initiatives.
  • OSHA recordkeeping requirements should be reduced.  We know how this has been an area of focus over the past 8 years and has caused more work for employers.  And the new silica rules and anti-retaliation rules that seek to effectively prohibit mandatory post-accident drug testing and safety incentive programs may soon be on the cutting room floor.

So, that’s enough prognostication on Day 1 of the Trump Administration.  Stay tuned!

 

The Philadelphia City Council recently passed Bill No. 160840, a wage equity ordinance (the “Ordinance”), that will amend Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance to prohibit employers or employment agencies from inquiring about the wage history of potential employees.  Among other things, the Ordinance also includes an anti-retaliation provision, which prohibits any form of retaliation against a prospective employee for failing to comply with a wage history inquiry.

More specifically, the Ordinance provides that it is an unlawful employment practice for a covered employer to:

  1. inquire about a prospective employee’s wage history;
  2. require disclosure of wage history;
  3. condition employment or consideration for an interview on disclosure of wage history; or
  4. retaliate against a prospective employee for failing to comply with any wage history inquiry.

Furthermore, the ordinance also makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to “rely on the wage history of a prospective employee from any current or former employer when determining the wages for such individual at any stage in the employment process,” which includes the negotiation or drafting of any employment agreement.  However, the Ordinance does provide an exception that permits an employer to rely on any wage information that is knowingly and willingly disclosed by an applicant.

It is important to note that this Philadelphia Ordinance will take effect 120 days after it is signed into law by Mayor Jim Kenney, who has expressed his support.  Accordingly, if the Ordinance is signed this month, employers in Philadelphia can expect to see the Ordinance take effect in May of this year.

In anticipation of the enactment of this Ordinance, Philadelphia employers can prepare by:

  1. removing any questions on employment applications that may in any way seek information about salary or wage history;
  2. train hiring managers and interviewers to avoid asking questions about an applicant’s wage history;
  3. refrain from relying on an individual’s wage history (if known) when deciding the appropriate wages/salary to pay a prospective employee; and
  4. review existing policies and practices to ensure compliance with the Ordinance.

This Philadelphia Ordinance is recent example of a growing trend to prohibit employers from requesting and relying on an applicant’s wage history.  This trend has emerged in an effort to address what many call the “gender pay gap.”  In light of these recent actions by state and local governments, employers across Pennsylvania and beyond should stay informed about further developments in this area, as similar laws may soon be proposed and enacted in other locations.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry recently announced that all employers in the Commonwealth will be required to pay their share of unemployment compensation taxes online.  The new rule takes effect January 1, 2017 and aims to reduce paperwork while streamlining the payment process.  The time for making these electronic payments will depend on whether an employer is considered “contributory” or “reimbursable” under the Unemployment Compensation Law.

Private, for-profit entities are contributory employers and pay unemployment taxes based on a contribution rate and their taxable wage base.  For these employers, the electronic payment requirement begins with the first calendar quarter filing period in 2017.

Political subdivisions and some nonprofit organizations may qualify as a reimbursable employer under the Law.  Reimbursable employers pay back the Unemployment Compensation Fund for the amount of unemployment benefits charged to their account.  These entities are billed either monthly or quarterly and must begin using the electronic payment system with the first 2017 benefit charge period.

Of course, the new rule comes with a set of teeth to encourage participation.  Failure to comply with the electronic payment requirement may result in a penalty of 10% of the payment up to a maximum of $500.00 per occurrence.  The minimum penalty for noncompliance is $25.00 per occurrence.

Employers that are unable to comply with the electronic payment requirement can submit a request for a waiver.  The Department will review each request and issue determinations on a case-by-case basis.  Waiver request forms are available  online.

The electronic payment process will be managed through the Unemployment Compensation Management System, which can be accessed here.  The site also contains useful information about how to register for and make electronic payments.

With the holiday season officially upon us, many employers are finalizing plans to host a party for their employees.  These festivities offer a time for colleagues to celebrate the year’s accomplishments, to extend season’s greetings, and to bond with one another in a less formal environment.  Sometimes, though, the holiday cheer can turn into a nightmare for employers.

By keeping an eye out for the many issues that may arise during an office holiday party, and by sticking to a few simple rules, you can ensure that your organization stays on the “nice” list this year.

Remember that Holidays Aren’t the Same for Everyone

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and many state laws, including the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, protect employees from discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, and religion, among other things.  Unfortunately, holiday celebrations have landed some employers in legal hot water during the most wonderful time of the year, including: disciplining a Muslim employee for refusing to participate in Christmas activities (EEOC v. Norwegian Am. Hosp.) and forcing a Jehovah’s Witness employee to use vacation time to skip a holiday party (Westbrook v. NC A&T State Univ.).  You can avoid these potential problems by taking the following steps:

  • Hold holiday parties off-premises and during non-work hours if possible.
  • Make attendance optional. If the party is held outside of work hours and optional, then employees who may not celebrate holidays for religious or ethnic reasons can miss the party without forfeiting pay or suffering discipline.
  • Consider offering a “holiday party” or “end of year party” instead of a celebration linked to a particular religious observance. Although you may not get sued for simply having a “Christmas Party” or “Hanukkah Party,” adding religious overtones to your celebration may leave some workers feeling alienated or unwelcome.
  • If an employee has a religious or cultural objection to participating in your company’s holiday celebration, explore whether there’s a reasonable accommodation that will alleviate that employee’s concerns.

Keep an Eye Out for Bad Santas

Cultural and religious issues aren’t the only ones that can cause headaches for employers this time of year. In Brennan v. Townsend & O’Leary Enterprises, Inc., an employer held a holiday party for its employees.  A supervisor dressed as Santa Claus and asked his female subordinates to sit on his lap while he asked questions about their love lives.  One female employee sued on the basis of sexual harassment.  Ultimately, the case went to trial, where a jury awarded the employee $250,000.  The verdict was overturned on appeal, but the employer’s legal costs in defending the claim figure to be astronomical.

Work to prevent similar unfortunate scenarios by reminding employees that while holiday parties are meant to be fun and informal, they are still work-related functions and employment policies, including your anti-harassment policy, apply.  At your party, everyone should treat each other with same dignity and respect as they do during a normal workday.  Employees should be encouraged to report any questionable behavior so that it can be immediately corrected if necessary.  If you follow our blog, you already know that your workplace should be free from sexual harassment; your holiday party should be too!

If you’re Serving Egg Nog (or Other Alcoholic Beverages)…

Many employers choose to serve alcohol to add to the cheer and festive atmosphere at their holiday parties.  There’s usually nothing wrong with this from a legal perspective, and employees often appreciate the ability to enjoy an adult beverage while having a good time with work colleagues.  Serving alcohol at a work function does have its risks, though.  For instance, personal inhibitions often dissolve the more one drinks.  So what can you do to slow employees down while still keeping the party going?  Well…

  • Offer a certain number of drink tickets to each employee. By limiting the number of drinks available to your workers, you’re taking a big step toward keeping someone from drinking too much.
  • Fill your drink menu with beverages that contain relatively low amounts of alcohol. Stick to beer and wine, and leave the hard stuff at home.  Also offer plenty of non-alcoholic drink choices.
  • Make food available to help slow the absorption of alcohol.
  • Consider finding a few volunteers who will not drink (good luck!) and monitor the party. These folks can see whether someone has had too much to drink and help arrange for cabs and/or designated drivers.
  • Close the bar well before the event is over. Allow an hour or so for employees to continue mingling after last call.
  • Provide some form of transportation to and from the event.

Although there are ways for your festivities to turn into trouble, you certainly don’t need to be a Grinch to avoid the hassle.  Just remember that establishing and following a set of reasonable ground rules will foster a safe and happy holiday event for everyone.

On November 18, 2016, the IRS recently announced limited relief for employer reporting on Forms 1094 and 1095 for the 2016 tax year. The relief extends the deadline for furnishing statements to individuals, but does not extend the deadline for filings with the IRS. The IRS also provided penalty relief for some filers. The relief set forth in Notice 2016-70 provides:

  • Statements to Individuals Extended. The deadline for furnishing Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals is extended by 30 days, from January 31 to March 2, 2017. No further extension may be obtained by application to the IRS.
  • No Extension for Returns Filed With IRS. The Notice does not extend the due date for filing Forms 1094-B and 1094-C (and related Forms 1095) with the IRS. Accordingly the deadline remains February 28, 2017 for paper filings, and March 31, 2017 for electronic filings. However, filers may obtain an automatic 30-day extension by filing Form 8809 on or before the regular due date.
  • Good Faith Penalty Relief. The IRS will again provide penalty relief for entities that can show they have made good faith efforts at compliance. No penalties will be imposed on entities that report incorrect or incomplete information—either on statements furnished to individuals or returns filed with the IRS—if they can show they made good faith efforts to comply with the reporting requirements. Penalty relief is not available to entities that fail to furnish statements or file returns, miss an applicable deadline, or are otherwise not making good faith efforts to comply.

While the Notice indicates that the IRS does not anticipate providing similar relief for the 2017 tax year, much will depend on changes to the Affordable Care Act under the Trump administration.

Now that we have all had some time to absorb the national election results, many are wondering how the Affordable Care Act will change during a Trump presidency.  While there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the future of the ACA, our recommendation to those currently covered by the Act is to continue to comply until any changes have been finalized.

Many believe that an immediate and complete repeal of the ACA is unlikely because the Republicans lack a congressional super-majority (e.g., control of the House of Representatives and a filibuster-proof Senate) and without a comprehensive alternative approach in place, 20 million Americans could lose health coverage in the event of a complete repeal.

Even though an immediate and complete repeal is unlikely, we do expect that there will be changes to specific sections of the Act through the budget reconciliation process, which reaches only the revenue components of the Act or by regulatory action, which modifies the official interpretation of certain aspects of the law.  Any modification or repeal of portions of the Act will require congressional action, which will not be filibuster-proof because the Republican-controlled Senate falls short of the 60 votes required to prevent filibuster.  On the other hand, changes brought by regulatory action would not involve Congress, but would require issuance of new regulations by the newly appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services.

While we can easily predict those sections of the Act that are likely to be targeted under the new administration (e.g., individual mandate, Cadillac tax, employer mandate, employer reporting), such changes are unlikely to be immediate.  However, as this election has shown us, anything is possible.  Nonetheless, we recommend that our clients stay the course with respect to ACA compliance and continue preparing for 2017 as though the Act will remain through the end of 2017.  We will continue to monitor developments in Washington in order to keep our clients up-to-date on changes to the Act and its regulations.

We have been following litigation in Pennsylvania challenging the use of payroll debit cards by employers to pay employees. In one such case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court recently ruled that an employer violated the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law (WPCL) by requiring employees to accept their wages on a payroll debit card, rather than in cash or by check.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has stepped in to modernize the law and bring some welcome clarity to this issue. On November 4, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law Act 161, which amends the Pennsylvania Banking Code to expressly permit the use of payroll debit cards, with certain conditions.  These conditions include the following:

  • Payment of wages by payroll debit cards must be optional for the employee, and the employer cannot mandate such use to receive wages;
  • The employer must comply with various notice and authorization requirements;
  • The card must allow one free withdrawal of wages each pay period and one in-network ATM withdrawal at least weekly;
  • The employee must have the ability to check the card’s balance electronically or via telephone without cost to the employee; and
  • There must be no fees associated with various actions associated with the card, including the issuance of the initial card and one replacement card per calendar year, the transfer of wages to the card itself, and for non-use of the card for a period of less than 12 months.

The Act makes clear that it supercedes any inconsistent provision in any other statute, rule, or regulation, confirming that payment of wages with a payroll debit card in compliance with the Act’s requirements will comply with the WPCL. The Act will take effect in 180 days of its enactment on November 4.

For employers who wish to use payroll debit cards to pay wages, Act 161 provides a blueprint for how to do so in a manner that complies with Pennsylvania law. These requirements are somewhat complicated, however, and should be followed closely. Also, Act 161 confirms that use of payroll debit cards in a manner inconsistent with its requirements will violate Pennsylvania law. Employers who wish to use this new technology to pay employees should keep these points in mind to avoid future legal trouble.

By existing OSHA regulations, most employers (those with more than 10 employees) are required to complete and maintain records pertaining to serious work-related injuries and illnesses, using the OSHA 300 Log, OSHA 301 Incident Report and OSHA 300A Annual Summary. Certain employers in low-risk industries as determined by OSHA (such as law offices, realtors) are exempt and not required to keep these records. In addition, all employers that are required to keep injury and illness records must report to OSHA any workplace incident resulting in a fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.

Under a new rule that becomes effective January 1, 2017, certain covered employers will be subject to additional reporting obligations requiring the electronic submission of certain workplace illness and injury information to OSHA. (Under current regulations, employers are not required to provide illness and injury data to OSHA except upon request, as in the case of an OSHA inspection, or in the case of fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.) The new rule will not change the existing recordkeeping requirements noted above.

The employers covered by the new rule and the additional reporting requirements are as follows:

  • Establishments with 250 or more employees in non-exempt industries (those currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records) must electronically submit information from OSHA Forms 300 – Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses, 300A – Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses, and 301 – Injury and Illness Incident Report.
  • Establishments with 20-249 employees in certain industries with historically high rates of occupational injuries and illnesses (such as construction and manufacturing operations) must electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300A. This link lists industries with historically high workplace injury/illness rates.  Covered employers must electronically submit the required injury and illness information annually. OSHA will provide a secure website with three electronic submission options: manual entry of the data into a webform. Uploading of CSV files to process single or multiple establishments at the same time, and electronic data transmission via an API (application programming interface) for users of automated recordkeeping systems. The site is scheduled to go live in February 2017.

The new reporting requirements will be phased in over two years according to the following schedule:

– For covered employers with 250 or more employees in industries covered by the recordkeeping regulation

  • only 2016 Form 300A information must be submitted in 2017 – by July 1
  • all required 2017 injury and illness information (Forms 300A, 300, and 301) must be submitted by July 1, 2018, and
  • beginning in 2019 and every year thereafter, the required information must be submitted by March 2

– For covered employer establishments with 20-249 employees

  • 2016 Form 300A information must be submitted by July 1, 2017,
  • 2017 Form 300A information must be submitted by July 1, 2018, and
  • beginning in 2019 and every year thereafter, the information must be submitted by March 2.

Some of the electronically submitted data will also be posted to the OSHA website and become accessible to the public. According to OSHA, Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that could be used to identify individual employees will be removed and not posted. OSHA believes that public disclosure will encourage employers to improve workplace safety and provide valuable information to workers, job seekers, customers, researchers and the general public. However, employers and industry groups have expressed concern that increased reliance upon recordkeeping information when targeting establishments for inspection, and the public availability of the information, will serve to hold employers accountable for the mere occurrence of a recordable incident and create other unwarranted consequences detrimental to employers. The recordkeeping standards have historically been thought of as a no-fault system: work-related incidents need to be recorded even if they are unpreventable. The new rule could create an incentive to under-report and reward employers that do so, while punishing employers with robust safety programs and effective incident reporting systems. But the new rule is here to stay, so only time will tell if these employer concerns are warranted.

The new rule also includes provisions designed to promote complete and accurate reporting of work-related injuries and illnesses. These include: employers must inform employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses free from retaliation, which can be satisfied by posting the OSHA Job Safety and Health – It’s the Law worker rights poster; an employer’s procedure for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses must be reasonable and not deter or discourage employee reporting; and, an employer may not retaliate against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses. These provisions were originally intended to became effective August 10, 2016, but enforcement has been delayed by OSHA until December 1, 2016.

Please feel free to call any member of our Labor and Employment Law Practice Group if you have any questions about this post/the new reporting rule, and for further guidance regarding OSHA compliance and workplace safety issues.

On September 28, 2016, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill that would postpone implementation of the FLSA’s new salary threshold for “white-collar” overtime exemptions. As we noted earlier this month, the Department of Labor’s regulation will more than double the minimum weekly salary requirement to $913 and is set to take effect December 1. The recently passed House bill would push the effective date to June 1, 2017.

Employers shouldn’t get their hopes up for breathing room, however. Even if the bill makes it past the Senate and onto President Obama’s desk, the Commander-in-Chief has threatened a veto. With the overwhelming majority of congressional Democrats supporting the salary requirement increase, the chances that Congress will override the President’s veto are slim.

So, employers should stay the course and continue planning as if the new regulations will take effect on December 1, 2016. A helpful list of considerations and action steps can be found here.