Employment Contracts

NLRB General Counsel Releases Guidance on Board’s McLaren Macomb Decision

April 4, 2023

By Patrick V. Melfi and Gianelle M. Duby

On Feb. 21, 2023, the National Labor Relations Board (the Board) ruled in McLaren Macomb, 372 NLRB No. 58, that the mere proffer of a draft severance agreement containing broad confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). You can read our prior blog post outlining the details of the Board’s decision here.

Read More >> NLRB General Counsel Releases Guidance on Board’s McLaren Macomb Decision

The NLRB’s Latest Decision Restricts the Use of Broad Confidentiality and Nondisparagement Clauses in Severance Agreements

March 7, 2023

By Peter A. Jones, Patrick V. Melfi, and Gianelle M. Duby

On Feb. 21, 2023, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) issued its decision in McLaren Macomb, 372 NLRB No. 58 (2023), where it held that severance agreements with broad confidentiality and/or nondisparagement provisions impermissibly chill and restrain employees’ exercise of rights protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The decision applies in both union and non-union workplaces. The decision is significant in that it overruled prior Board precedent and signals the Board’s unwillingness to enforce or otherwise accept severance agreements, or key provisions of those agreements, that bind signatory employees’ confidentiality and nondisparagement obligations that the Board considers to be too broad. The Board’s decision would not apply to supervisors, managers, or individuals not otherwise subject to Section 7 of the NLRA.

Read More >> The NLRB’s Latest Decision Restricts the Use of Broad Confidentiality and Nondisparagement Clauses in Severance Agreements

NLRB Restores Obama-Era Bargaining Unit Test

December 16, 2022

By Peter H. Wiltenburg

On Dec. 14, 2022, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) issued a decision that (again) modifies its standard for bargaining-unit determination cases where a labor union seeks to represent a unit that contains some, but not all, of the job classifications at a particular workplace. The decision, in American Steel Construction, Inc., revives the Board’s prior test governing such determinations set forth in Specialty Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, 357 NLRB 934 (2011), which was overruled in PCC Structurals, 365 NLRB No. 160 (2017), and The Boeing Co., 368 NLRB No. 67 (2019).

In its 2011 Specialty Healthcare decision, the Board identified the elements to be satisfied if the proposed union was to be recognized. Among these were that the unit is “sufficiently distinct.” If a party contested the petitioned-for unit on this ground – thereby arguing that certain employees not included in the proposed unit should have been – it would bear the burden of proving that there was an “overwhelming community of interest” between the petitioned-for employees and excluded employees in order to add the excluded employees to the petitioned-for unit. This was a difficult standard for employers to meet and widely recognized as a boon for union organizing.  In the wake of Specialty Healthcare, unusual “microunits” were organized, including cosmetic and fragrance counter employees at a Macy’s department store.  

In its 2017 PCC Structurals decision, the Board overruled Specialty Healthcare and adopted a different test for the “sufficiently distinct” element: instead of the “overwhelming community of interest” test, the Board adopted a test whereby “the interests of those within the proposed unit and the shared and distinct interests of those excluded from that unit must be comparatively analyzed and weighed.” This test therefore removed the burden from the employer challenging the composition of the unit and instituted a balancing test that did not explicitly begin with deference to the petitioned-for unit. The test gave employers far greater ability to oppose recognition of a unit consisting of some, but not all, of the employees within their workplace.  

This week’s decision in American Steel expressly overrules PCC Structurals and Boeing and reinstates the “overwhelming community of interest” standard of Specialty Healthcare. The Board elaborated that this means that when there are only “minimal differences, from the perspective of collective bargaining… then an overwhelming community of interest exists, and that classification must be included in the unit.” The Board indicated that meeting this standard would be akin to showing that “there is no rational basis for the exclusion.” So long as the petitioned-for unit consists of a clearly identifiable group of employees with a shared “community of interest,” the Board will presume the unit to be appropriate. The impact of this decision is to again empower unions and employees to organize along narrower lines of job classification. Even prior to American Steel, employers have seen a significant uptick in organizing activity in the last several years. This decision will likely further invigorate unions to again focus on “micro units” as a path to organizing workplaces, and employers again face the prospects of multiple distinct bargaining units among their employees.

If you have any questions or would like additional information regarding this decision, or other legal developments, please contact Peter Wiltenburg or any attorney in Bond’s labor and employment practice.

Earned Safe and Sick Time Act Proposal

December 9, 2022

By Jane M. Sovern and Paige Carey

New York City’s Earned Safe and Sick Time Act (ESSTA or Act) provides covered employees with the right to use safe and sick leave as it accrues for a delineated list of circumstances. On Aug. 11, 2022, the New York City Council introduced a proposal to amend the ESSTA’s definition of “employee.” Under this proposal, certain independent contractors would qualify as employees and receive benefit coverage under the Act. The proposal would require hiring entities to engage in detailed analyses of individuals providing services to determine wither they are independent contractors or employees.

Read More >> Earned Safe and Sick Time Act Proposal

New York Lowers Overtime Threshold for Agricultural Workers

October 18, 2022

By Patrick V. Melfi and Gianelle M. Duby

On Sept. 30, 2022, State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon announced that she has accepted the New York Farm Laborers Wage Board’s recommendation to lower the overtime threshold for agricultural workers from 60 hours down to 40 hours. During its Sept. 6, 2022 meeting, the Board voted 2-1 in favor of submitting its report recommending a 10-year phase in schedule for a 40-hour threshold. The overtime threshold will be reduced by four hours every two years beginning on Jan. 1, 2024 until it reaches 40 hours in the year 2032.

Read More >> New York Lowers Overtime Threshold for Agricultural Workers

NLRB Proposes New Rule That Would Expand the Scope of Joint Employment

September 12, 2022

By Gianelle M. Duby

On Sept. 6, 2022, the National Labor Relations Board (Board) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would revise the standard for determining joint-employer status under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The proposed standard would rescind and replace the joint-employer rule that has been in effect since April 27, 2020.

Read More >> NLRB Proposes New Rule That Would Expand the Scope of Joint Employment

OFCCP’s Pay Equity Directive Takes Aim at Federal Contractors 

April 22, 2022

By Monica C. Barrett and Christa Richer Cook

On March 15, 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued a new directive addressing pay equity audits. The new Directive 2022-01 sets forth what OFCCP views as its apparent authority to obtain access to and review federal contractors’ pay equity audits that are conducted in connection with contractors’ compliance mandates. 


Read More >> OFCCP’s Pay Equity Directive Takes Aim at Federal Contractors 

DOL Sends Proposed New Joint Employer Rule to White House for Review

February 25, 2021

By Nihla F. Sikkander

On February 23, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) sent a proposed new regulation on joint employment status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to the White House for regulatory review. This action is indicative that new guidance will follow for determining joint employer status when an employee performs work that benefits more than one employer. 

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Arbitration Agreement Does Not Bar New York State Division of Human Rights Proceeding

January 28, 2021

By Nicholas P. Jacobson and Thomas G. Eron

Earlier this month, the federal court for the Western District of New York issued a decision in Charter Communications, Inc. v. Derfert, No. 20-cv-915, 2021 WL 37726 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 4, 2021) holding that an employment arbitration agreement did not preclude a hearing before the New York State Division of Human Rights (the Division) on an employee’s discrimination claim.

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Adding Inevitability to the Often Disfavored Inevitable Disclosure Doctrine

April 28, 2017

By Howard M. Miller
In a prior blog post, we used the Star Wars Universe as the backdrop for a discussion about obtaining a preliminary injunction in the context of a noncompete agreement.  But we left a discussion of the inevitable disclosure doctrine for another day.  Today is that day. By way of background, the inevitable disclosure doctrine typically plays out as follows.  A key employee of a company who possesses all manner of company secrets leaves for a competitor without a trail, digital or otherwise, of actually taking records with him or her to the competitor.  Nonetheless, even in the absence of physical copying, the company’s secrets are still in the employee’s head.  In the words of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of PepsiCo, Inc. v. Redmond, this leaves the company in the predicament of a "coach, one of whose players has left, playbook in hand, to join the opposing team before the big game." Common experience tells us that, even assuming good faith, the former employee simply cannot help using confidential information to lure away his/her former employer’s customers or otherwise help the new employer gain a competitive advantage.  For example, if the employee knows the confidential pricing for a specific customer, how would he/she not use that information in a sales pitch for the new employer?  Indeed, that would likely be a primary reason for the competitor’s recruitment of the employee in the first instance. As is often the case, however, gut feel of misuse or misappropriation of a trade secret is not necessarily accompanied by direct proof of it.  Even when there is proof, using it may not be so easy.  For example, when a loyal customer reports an improper solicitation by the former employee, do we really want to drag that customer in to testify in a hearing on a preliminary injunction? This all begs the question:  How can the company convince a judge to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction barring the employee’s use of confidential information without proof of the employee’s misconduct?  Enter the inevitable disclosure doctrine. The inevitable disclosure doctrine, at its core, is a rule of pragmatics.  It recognizes the practical reality that once employees have knowledge of a company’s confidential business information, it is impossible to compartmentalize that knowledge and avoid using it when they go to work for their new employer in the same industry. The doctrine in New York has roots going back to 1919, in the case of Eastman Kodak Co. v. Powers Film Products, Inc.  In the 1990s, the doctrine hit its peak in two contexts.  First, in Lumex, Inc. v. Highsmith, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York held that when the departing employee had signed a noncompete agreement, the doctrine supplied the missing element of actual proof of use of trade secrets on a motion for a preliminary injunction even when the departing employee acted with the utmost good faith.  Second, in DoubleClick Inc. v. Henderson, the New York State Supreme Court in New York County held that, even in the absence of a noncompete agreement, when the departing employee left with physical or electronic files, the inevitability of use of the trade secrets in such a circumstance springs from the already proven misconduct of the employee. The decisions in Lumex and DoubleClick seemed to usher in a more welcoming attitude towards the doctrine.  But that was somewhat short-lived.  The doctrine receded from its high water mark when employers attempted to broadly use it as a substitute for a noncompete agreement.  In Earthweb v. Schlack, decided by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the employer sought to enjoin its former employee from working for a competitor even though the parties’ agreement contained no such prohibition.  The Court held that in absence of evidence of actual misappropriation of confidential information, it would not essentially draft a noncompete for the parties under the guise of inevitable disclosure.  The Appellate Division, Third Department, reached a similar result in Marietta Corp. v. Fairhurst, where the Court refused to use the inevitable disclosure doctrine in a manner that would convert a nondisclosure agreement into a noncompete agreement. Most recently, on December 30, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in Free Country Ltd. v. Drennen, declined to use the inevitable disclosure doctrine to enjoin the solicitation of customers in the absence of a noncompete agreement. The issue now is whether the inevitable disclosure doctrine has lost its teeth and, if it hasn’t, how can an employer actually use it to stop its trade secrets from being used when it can’t prove misappropriation.  The short answer is that the inevitable disclosure is not dead.  It still has its power when used in its proper context. If a company truly wants to protect itself from competition from former employees who possess its confidential information, there is simply no substitute for a narrowly crafted noncompete agreement.  The inevitable disclosure doctrine can be used quite effectively to enforce such a noncompete agreement on an application for a preliminary injunction. The narrower the scope of the restriction, the more receptive a court will be to enforcing it.  Before drafting a noncompete, there ought to be a careful discussion of what the employer is really worried about in terms of an employee leaving.  More often than not, the concern is about the employee working for a limited group of competitors and/or soliciting a limited group of major customers.  In such circumstances, to increase the likelihood of success of enjoining a former employee, a noncompete agreement should actually list the specific group of competitors where the employee would be prohibited from working in the same or similar capacity and/or a specific list of customers whose solicitation would be prohibited.  The noncompete itself may also have a clause stating that if the employee were to work for one of the listed competitors or attempt to solicit a listed customer it would be inevitable that the employee would use confidential information.  A high level executive, particularly one with access to legal counsel to review and negotiate the agreement, would be hard pressed to later dispute that which he/she expressly acknowledged. Finally, for those high level executives for whom it is absolutely critical that a noncompete be enforceable, the agreement should provide for the payment of compensation during the period of noncompetition.  This was done effectively in Lumex. Employers are well served to use narrowly crafted noncompete agreements for a limited class of employees whose departure could damage the company’s legitimate business interests.  The inevitable disclosure doctrine, for all of its long and winding permutations, can still be a powerful tool -- not a substitute -- for enforcing a noncompete agreement.

How Would a Noncompete Hold in the Star Wars Universe?

February 25, 2016

By Howard M. Miller
The following article was first published in Employment Law 360 on February 24, 2016. Being both an employment law geek and a "Star Wars" geek, I can’t help but watch the "Star Wars" movies through the troublesome lenses of my employment lawyer glasses, nor can I practice employment law without various “Yodaisms” running through my mind (e.g., “Do or do not. There is no try.”).  Having watched all of the "Star Wars" movies, it occurred to me while watching "Star Wars:  The Force Awakens," that the most fundamental source of disturbances in the Force are key characters — employees, if you will, for the purposes of this article — joining competitor masters (employers) with catastrophic results.  Darth Vader, Count Dooku and Kylo Ren all started their careers with the Jedi before leaving to a competitor. But what if they couldn’t?  How would a New York court view a noncompete agreement in the context of the Jedi Order?  Below is my best estimate as to how it would play out, at least in the lower court. SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK COUNTY OF NEW YORK -----------------------------------------------------------------------X LUKE SKYWALKER’S JEDI ACADEMY, Plaintiff, -against-                                                                                                     Index No. 2016/R2D2 KYLO REN, THE FIRST ORDER AND SNOKE, Defendants. -----------------------------------------------------------------------X Miller, J. This case comes before the Court on Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction:  (1) enjoining defendant Kylo Ren from working for Defendants Snoke and the First Order; and (2) enjoining the Defendants from using Plaintiff’s trade secrets and usurping its customer relationships.  For the reasons stated below, subject to Plaintiff’s posting of a sufficient undertaking, the Court grants the motion for a preliminary injunction. Facts The Court assumes the parties’ familiarity with the facts and will state them only briefly here.  Plaintiff at all times relevant to this proceeding operates a Jedi Training Academy for the purpose of teaching its pupils (Padawans) how to use the “light-side” of the Force.  Defendant Kylo Ren is a former employee of the academy who was terminated for various alleged acts of misconduct (discussed, infra).  During the course of his employment, Ren signed a noncompete agreement in which he agreed not to compete against the academy for a period of one year following his separation. Notwithstanding the noncompete agreement, immediately upon his termination, Ren commenced employment with Snoke and the First Order.  The parties stipulate that Snoke and the First Order are direct competitors of the academy and the constituency it serves.  The present litigation ensued.  The parties agreed to venue this matter in New York County, as it is apparently the only venue in which individuals from the “bar scenes” from "Star Wars IV" and "Star Wars VII" can blend in without feeling self-conscious.  New York law controls this matter despite the choice of law provision regarding “Intergalactic Law” because that law is too employer-friendly.  See Brown & Brown Inc. v. Johnson, 25 N.Y.3d 364 (2015). Standard for Issuing an Injunction The standard for obtaining a preliminary injunction is well-known.  The moving party must show the following:  (1) the likelihood of ultimate success on the merits; (2) threat of irreparable injury absent the granting of the preliminary injunction; and (3) that the equities are balanced in its favor.  See McLaughlin, Pivin, Vogel Inc. v. W.J. Nolan & Company Inc., 114 A.D.2d 165, 172 (2d Dep’t 1986). Enforceability of the Noncompete The Court of Appeals has espoused a three-pronged test for determining whether a restrictive employment covenant will be enforced.  An agreement will be enforced if it:  (1) is no greater than is required for the protection of the legitimate interest of the employer, (2) does not impose undue hardship on the employee, and (3) is not injurious to the public.  BDO Seidman v. Hirshberg, 92 N.Y.2d 382, 388-89 (1999).  Legitimate employer interests include protection of trade secrets and customer relationships. Ren argues that, as a threshold matter, because he was terminated without cause, the noncompete cannot be enforced against him.  Post v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc., 48 N.Y.2d 84, 88 (1979).  There is currently a split in the appellate divisions on this issue.  The Second Department follows the rule against enforcement where an employee was terminated without cause.  Grassi & Co., CPAs PC v. Janover Rubinroit LLC, 82 A.D.3d 700, 702 (2d Dep’t 2011); Borne Chemical Co. Inc. v. Dictrow, 85 A.D.2d 646 (2d Dep’t 1981).  Conversely, the First Department is more wary in its application of the rule.  Bell & Co. PC v. Rosen, 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 6230 (N.Y. Cnty. Sup. Ct. Nov. 8, 2012), aff’d, 979 N.Y.S.2d 564 (1st Dep’t 2014). The Fourth Department has also held on numerous occasions that involuntary termination without cause will not necessarily preclude enforcement of a noncompete.  Eastman Kodak Co. v. Carmosino, 77 A.D.3d 1434, 1436 (4th Dep’t 2010); Wise v. Transco Inc., 425 N.Y.S.2d 434 (4th Dep’t 1980). This Court need not resolve this conflict because the Court finds that Ren has stolen trade secrets.  Consequently, the Court can and will issue a preliminary injunction on this issue irrespective of the existence of a valid noncompete.  See, e.g., Churchill Communications Corp. v. Demyanovich, 668 F. Supp. 207, 211 (S.D.N.Y. 1987) ("Of course, an employee’s use of an employer’s trade secrets or confidential customer information can be enjoined even in the absence of a restrictive covenant when such conduct violates a fiduciary duty owed by the former employee to his former employer."). Trade Secrets A trade secret is defined as "any formula, pattern, device or compilation of information which is used in one's business, and which gives [the owner] an opportunity to obtain an advantage over competitors who do not know or use it."  North Atlantic Instruments Inc. v. Haber, 188 F.3d 38, 49 (2d Cir. 1999); see also Ashland Management Inc. v. Janien, 82 N.Y.2d 395, 407 (1993) (discussing six-factor test).  Plaintiff argues that as an employee of the academy, Ren was entrusted with access to all manner of trade secrets, including how to use various mind tricks, construct a lightsaber and turn into a “force ghost.”  Further, Ren was provided with lists of individuals sympathetic to the cause of the rebellion (customer lists). Ren argues that despite the mystique of the Jedi, nothing they do rises to the level of a trade secret.  According to Ren, a cursory Google search will reveal how to do mind tricks and any elementary school student with a computer and a basement can construct their own lightsaber (albeit poorly shaped).  We disagree with this analysis. While Ren is correct that an employer has the burden of demonstrating that "it took substantial measures to protect the secret nature of its information," (see Geritrex Corp. v. Dermarite Industries LLC, 910 F. Supp. 955, 961 (S.D.N.Y. 1996)), Plaintiff has met its burden.  Only a select few are provided with its secrets, its secrets are only revealed in secure locations, and any computerized lists are password-protected, encrypted and stored in the vaults of droids.  Further, the trade secrets cannot, as Ren contends, be so easily learned or reverse engineered.  Ren’s own incomplete lightsaber reveals that guarded secrets are still needed to complete it. In any event, the record is clear that Ren took physical copies of the academy’s confidential information, namely sympathizer lists, a partially working lightsaber, and force ghost manuals. It is well-settled that "an employee’s illegal physical taking or copying of an employer’s files or confidential information constitutes actionable unfair competition."  Advance Magnification Instruments Ltd. v. Minuteman Optical Corp., 135 A.D.2d 889 (3d Dep’t 1987). Further, "if there has been a physical taking or studied copying of confidential information, the court may in the proper case grant injunctive relief, not necessarily as a violation of a trade secret, but as an egregious breach of trust and confidence while in plaintiff’s service."  Garbor GuyButler Corporation v. Cowen & Co., 155 Misc.2d 39 (N.Y. Cnty. Sup. Ct. 1992); see also Ecolab Inc. v. Paolo, 753 F. Supp. 1100, 1112 (E.D.N.Y. 1991) ("Moreover, even if this information did not independently rise to the level of a trade secret, [the former employees’] wrongful retention of the customer information would justify treating it as a trade secret."); Marcone APW LLC v. Servall Co., 85 A.D.3d 1693, 1696 (4th Dep’t 2011) (“In any event, even assuming, arguendo, that the misappropriated information is not entitled to trade secret protection, we conclude that the court properly determined that injunctive relief is warranted on the alternative ground of breach of trust by the individual defendants in misappropriating plaintiff’s proprietary information.”) Irreparable Harm "It is clear that irreparable harm is presumed where a trade secret has been misappropriated."  Lumex v. Highsmith, 919 F. Supp. 624, 628 (E.D.N.Y. 1996).  This is because a trade secret, once lost, is lost forever; its loss cannot be measured in money damages.  North Atlantic Instruments Inc. v. Haber, 188 F.3d 38, 49 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting FMC Corp. v. Taiwan Tainan Giant Industrial Co., 730 F.2d 61, 63 (2d Cir. 1984). Scope of the Injunction Ren is directed to return all hard copies of any trade secrets he has taken from the academy and destroy any electronic version of any trade secret in his possession.  For a period of one year, Ren may work for Snoke and the First Order, but not in any capacity that requires the use of the Force.  Plaintiff argues that under the Inevitable Disclosure Doctrine, Ren should be barred from working for the First Order in any capacity.  The Court will address this argument after further briefing in the context of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s request for a permanent injunction.  Ren may discuss joining the First Order with individuals and entities who are his own relatives, personal friends and/or “who, without solicitation, approach [him],” (Eastern Business Systems Inc. v. Specialty Business Solutions LLC, 292 A.D.2d 336, 338 (2d Dep’t 2002); see also Frank Crystal & Co. v. Dillmann, 84 A.D.3d 704 (1st Dep’t 2011); Weiser LLP v. Coopersmith, 74 A.D.3d 465 (1st Dep’t 2010)), or who wanted to leave the academy on their own accord.  Data Systems Computer Centre Inc. v. Tempesta, 171 A.D.2d 724 (2d Dep't 1991). The foregoing shall constitute the Order of this Court.