The Employment Expansion Trifecta: The Wage and Hour Division, The National Labor Relations Board, and . . . OSHA?
September 9, 2015
September 9, 2015
September 3, 2015
In Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc., the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”), in a 3-2 decision, expanded who may be considered a joint employer under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA” or the “Act”). The Board’s decision significantly lowers the threshold for joint employer status, making it more likely that entities such as staffing agencies, franchisors, and contractors will be considered joint employers under the Act. A joint employer finding is significant because this means that an entity may be subjected to joint bargaining obligations and potential joint liability for unfair labor practices or breaches of collective bargaining agreements. Joint Employer Analysis Before Browning-Ferris Prior to the Board’s decision in Browning-Ferris, the standard for establishing joint employment was that both entities in question had to share the ability to control or co-determine essential terms and conditions of employment. Hiring, firing, supervising, and directing employees were generally considered to be the essential terms and conditions of employment. Board decisions further clarified that the type of control over the essential terms must be direct and immediate, and the alleged employer must have actually exercised that control -- it was not enough that it may have reserved some level of control through a contract. Rather, the control had to be exercised in practice. Joint Employer Analysis After Browning-Ferris The Board significantly modified this approach in Browning-Ferris. The Board’s stated new test, which sounds similar to the old test in words, but not in application, is that:
The Board may find that two or more entities are joint employers of a single work force if they are both employers within the meaning of the common law, and if they share or codetermine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment.
The application of this test is where the Board makes sweeping changes. The Board will now evaluate the evidence to determine whether an alleged employer affects the means or manner of employees’ work and terms of employment, either directly or indirectly. In other words, the control no longer needs to be direct or immediate. Additionally, the Board found that it is not critical that the entity actually exercise such authority so long as it possesses or reserves the right to do so. The Board also expanded on those items found to be “essential terms and conditions” beyond just hiring, terminating, supervising, and directing employees. The Board included such things as dictating the number of workers to be supplied, setting work hours, controlling seniority and approving overtime, and assigning work and determining the manner and method of work performance. In short, the new test makes widespread changes by finding indirect control significant in establishing an employment relationship, not requiring that such control actually be exercised, and including more terms and conditions of employment as relevant in this analysis that were previously not considered to be “essential.” Applying the New Test in Browning-Ferris The issue before the Board in Browning-Ferris was whether Browning-Ferris, which operated a recycling facility, was a joint employer with LeadPoint, a staffing company that supplied employees to perform various work functions at the facility. Under the Board’s old test, it is almost certain there would have been no joint employer finding. LeadPoint set its employees’ schedules, engaged its own human resources manager to work at the Browning-Ferris facility, and had the sole responsibility to discipline, review, evaluate, and terminate its own employees. In addition, LeadPoint employed an Acting On-Site Manager, three shift supervisors, and seven line leads to manage and supervise LeadPoint employees working at the facility. Nonetheless, applying the new test, the Board found sufficient evidence of direct and indirect control (relying on control both exercised and reserved by contract) to support its joint employer finding. The Board relied on the following facts in making its determination: Browning-Ferris gave LeadPoint supervisors fairly detailed directives concerning employee performance that the LeadPoint supervisors then communicated to their employees; Browning-Ferris set some conditions on hiring that LeadPoint was contractually bound to follow (must have appropriate qualifications and meet or exceed Browning’s own standard selection procedures and tests); Browning-Ferris had the authority to discontinue the use of LeadPoint employees; Browning-Ferris determined when overtime was necessary; and Browning-Ferris' contract with Leadpoint prohibited LeadPoint from paying its employees more than Browning-Ferris paid its own employees who performed comparable work. Takeaways and Potential Implications The primary change resulting from Browning-Ferris is that indirect control over terms and conditions of employment may now be enough to create a joint employment relationship. Unfortunately, the Board’s decision fails to provide any real clarity on just how much indirect control may be sufficient to create such a relationship. The two dissenting members take issue with how broad the majority’s decision appears to be, stating that “the number of contractual relationships now potentially encompassed within the majority’s new standard appears to be virtually unlimited.” The dissent then lists the following examples:
The dissent’s list showcases the potential reach of the Board’s new test and the potential to significantly alter the landscape of how employment is understood under the NLRA. While employers wait for the Board to issue more decisions further delineating the scope of this test, there are some practical steps employers can take. Employers can revise their contracts to clarify that control over terms and conditions of employment rests with the contractor, use as little detail as possible in directing the work of the contractor, and stay out of all hiring, firing, and wage-related decisions. Alternatively, some employers may choose to wait to make any changes until this decision is eventually challenged in federal court. Employers should discuss with counsel how to best respond to this change. Ultimately, because of the wide array of factual arrangements involving contingent workers, franchisees, and independent contractors, and the reality of business relationships, there will certainly be some situations where letting go of some level of operational control is not a practical option. This must be weighed against the risk of being found to be a joint employer, and carefully evaluated when entering into and reassessing all business relationships.
August 17, 2015
In a long-awaited decision issued on August 17, 2015, the five-member National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) unanimously shut down an attempt by Northwestern University’s scholarship football players to become the first group of college athletes to form a labor union. This Board holding vacates the direction of election issued by an NLRB Regional Director in March 2014 and dismisses the representation petition filed by the College Athletes Players Association (“CAPA”), but does not address the fundamental issue of whether the players are “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act (“Act”). Instead of deciding this issue, the Board declined to assert jurisdiction over this case based on its conclusion that it “would not promote stability in labor relations” and therefore would not effectuate the policies of the Act. The Board noted that it had never been asked to assert jurisdiction in a case involving college athletes, nor had there ever been a petition for representation of a unit of a single college team, or even a group of college teams. The Board also pointed out that the players in this case did not “fit into any analytical framework” the Board had used in other cases involving college students (such as graduate student assistants or student janitors and cafeteria workers) because this case involved student athletes who receive scholarships to participate in what traditionally has been regarded as an extracurricular activity. The Board also distinguished these scholarship players from professional athletes, because the scholarship players are required to be enrolled full time as students and meet various academic requirements. The Board further observed that bargaining units in professional sports have never been limited to a single team’s players – they have always included the players of all teams in the entire league. Therefore, the Board concluded that there was no precedent that required it to assert jurisdiction, and that it was free to exercise its discretion to decline jurisdiction over this case. In justifying its decision to decline jurisdiction, the Board explained that Northwestern is a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”), which has a “substantial degree of control over the operations of individual member teams, including many of the terms and conditions under which the scholarship players (as well as walk-on players) practice and play the game.” Under these circumstances, the Board determined that its assertion of jurisdiction over only Northwestern and its scholarship football players would not promote stability in labor relations across the NCAA. The Board further explained that Northwestern competes in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (“FBS”), where 108 of the 125 member schools are public institutions that are not covered by the Act. As a result, the Board does not have jurisdiction over the vast majority of the FBS teams. In fact, the Board pointed out that because Northwestern is the only private school in the 14-member Big Ten Conference, it “cannot assert jurisdiction over any of Northwestern’s primary competitors.” The Board cited this as an additional reason why its assertion of jurisdiction over only Northwestern and its scholarship football players would not promote stability and uniformity in labor relations. Although the Board’s exercise in restraint in this decision comes as somewhat of a surprise given this Board’s activism in expanding the reach of the Act, the Board made clear that its decision does not “preclude a reconsideration of this issue in the future,” and should be interpreted narrowly. In fact, the Board seemingly opened the door for consideration of a broader proposed bargaining unit than scholarship football players at one university by stating that its decision is not intended to “address what the Board’s approach might be to a petition for all FBS scholarship football players (or at least those at private colleges and universities).” So, the landscape of collegiate athletics will remain the same for now, but this may not be the last unionizing effort of student athletes that we see.
July 31, 2015
April 13, 2015
March 27, 2015
December 22, 2014
In the latest example of dramatic changes to well-developed principles of federal labor law and policy, the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB" or Board") issued its long-awaited decision in Pacific Lutheran University last week. For a description of the Board's decision and its potential impact on union organizing at colleges and universities, please click here for our article on the Bond Higher Education Law Report.
December 15, 2014
Recent activity by the National Labor Relations Board has significantly changed the landscape of union organizing campaigns and representation elections. Attorneys from Bond, Schoeneck & King's Labor and Employment Department will conduct two free webinars this week to explain these recent developments and their impact on employers. Each webinar is scheduled for 45 minutes. Ray Pascucci will conduct a webinar on December 17 at 3:00 p.m. to review the Board's final rule on "quickie" union representation elections and provide some practical recommendations to prepare for the possibility of a fast-track union organizing campaign. Andy Bobrek will conduct a webinar on December 18 at 11:00 a.m. to review the Board's decision in Purple Communications, Inc., holding that employees have a presumptive right to use their employer's e-mail system during non-working time to communicate about union organizing and discuss their terms and conditions of employment.
December 14, 2014
On December 15, the National Labor Relations Board's final rule amending the current procedures for handling union representation elections (which has become known as the "quickie" or "ambush" election rule) was published in the Federal Register. The final rule will become effective on April 14, 2015. Although Board Chairperson Mark Pearce hailed the new representation election procedures as "a model of fairness and efficiency for all," the new procedures provide unions with a significant advantage in representation elections in a number of ways. Among other things, the new rule shortens the time period between the filing of a petition and the scheduling of an election, requires employers to provide the union with a list of employees in the proposed bargaining unit earlier in the process, requires employers to provide to the union personal telephone numbers and e-mail addresses for employees in the proposed bargaining unit, and limits the issues that may be litigated by employers in a pre-election hearing. The impending implementation of the final rule makes it even more important for employers to be able to recognize potential union activity as early as possible and to have a plan in place to respond quickly to a union representation petition once it is filed. This is the second time the Board has issued a final rule amending union representation election procedures. The Board's first final rule was issued on December 22, 2011, but it was declared to be invalid by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on May 14, 2012, because the Board lacked a quorum when it voted on the final rule. The Board initially appealed the District Court's decision, but subsequently withdrew its appeal and re-issued its proposed rule in February of 2014. The final rule was approved by Board Chairperson Mark Pearce and Board Members Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer. Board Members Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson dissented and voted against the issuance of the final rule. The final rule:
Currently, the general time period from the filing of the petition to the representation election is approximately five to six weeks. The amendments contained in the final rule will likely shorten that time period to approximately two to three weeks, which will give employers much less time to communicate with employees regarding the drawbacks of unionization, to explain the realities and risks of the collective bargaining process, and to dispel the myth that unionization will automatically result in better wages and benefits. Accordingly, it will be even more important for employers to train their supervisors to recognize and report some early warning signs of union activity and to develop a plan to respond quickly to a union representation petition once it is filed. Ray Pascucci, one of my colleagues in the Labor and Employment Department of Bond, Schoeneck & King, will be conducting a webinar on the Board's final rule on Wednesday, December 17, at 3:00 p.m. Ray will review each element of the final rule and provide some practical recommendations to prepare for the possibility of a fast-track union organizing campaign. More details will follow.
December 11, 2014
On December 11, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board ("Board") issued a 3-2 decision (with Board Members Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson dissenting) in Purple Communications, Inc., holding that employees have a presumptive right to use their employer's e-mail system during non-working time to communicate regarding union organizing and to engage in other protected concerted activities under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act ("Act"). The Board's decision overruled its 2007 decision in Register Guard. Purple Communications' electronic communications policy provided that its electronic communications systems and equipment were "to facilitate Company business" and that "all such equipment and access should be used for business purposes only." The policy also prohibited employees from using its systems and equipment to engage "in activities on behalf of organizations or persons with no professional or business affiliation with the Company" and to send "uninvited e-mail of a personal nature." There was no dispute that, under the Board's 2007 Register Guard decision, the policy was perfectly lawful as written. In the fall of 2012, the Communications Workers of America ("Union") filed petitions to represent employees at seven of Purple Communications' facilities. After an election was held, the Union filed objections to the results of the election at two facilities and an unfair labor practice charge, alleging (among other things) that the electronic communications policy interfered with the employees' Section 7 rights. The Administrative Law Judge, relying on the Board's 2007 Register Guard decision, found the electronic communications policy to be lawful. The Board majority, however, found that the Register Guard decision improperly placed too much weight on the property rights of employers in their own e-mail systems and too little weight on the Section 7 right of employees to communicate in the workplace about their terms and conditions of employment. The Board majority also believed that the Register Guard decision failed to recognize the importance of e-mail as a means by which employees engage in protected communications. Therefore, the Board majority overruled its Register Guard decision and held that employees have a presumptive right to use their employer's e-mail system during non-working time to engage in communications protected by Section 7 of the Act. The Board made clear in its decision that this presumption applies only to employees who have been granted access to the employer's e-mail system in the course of their work and does not require an employer to provide access to its e-mail system to employees who do not otherwise need it. In addition, the Board held that an employer may rebut the presumption and justify a total ban on non-business use of its e-mail system by demonstrating that "special circumstances make the ban necessary to maintain production or discipline." Virtually no guidance is provided in the decision regarding what those "special circumstances" might be, but the Board majority stated that "we anticipate that it will be the rare case where special circumstances justify a total ban on non-work e-mail use by employees." The Board remanded the case back to the Administrative Law Judge for a determination of whether Purple Communications could successfully rebut the presumption and justify the scope of its prohibition on the personal use of e-mail. The restriction that employees may use their employer's e-mail system for Section 7 purposes only during non-working time raises a significant question: can an employer monitor employee use of its e-mail systems during working time to ensure compliance with this restriction and discipline employees who are found to have engaged in Section 7 activity through e-mail during working time, without risking potential liability for unlawful surveillance or discrimination based on union activities? According to the Board's decision, an employer may continue to notify employees that they should have no expectation of privacy in their use of the employer's e-mail system and may continue to monitor the use of its e-mail system for legitimate business purposes. However, the Board stated that this monitoring is lawful only if "the employer does nothing out of the ordinary." For example, the Board's decision leaves open the possibility that an employer's increased monitoring during a union organizing campaign or an employer's particular focus on employees who are known union activists could result in potential liability under Sections 8(a)(1) or 8(a)(3) of the Act. Members Miscimarra and Johnson both wrote strong dissenting opinions. In the view of the dissenters, an employer's interests in controlling the use of its own electronic communications system should prevail over employees' interests in using that system for union organizing activities, especially in light of the availability of other electronic communications networks such as employees' own personal e-mail and social media sites. Many employers' electronic communications policies already permit employees to engage in some limited personal use of their e-mail systems as long as that personal use does not interfere with the employee's work duties or the work duties of other employees. This type of policy may very well be lawful even under the Board's Purple Communications decision, because, on its face, it likely would not be interpreted to prohibit Section 7 protected activity during non-working time. At this point, however, if your electronic communications policy contains a blanket prohibition on the use of your e-mail system for personal reasons, you may want to consider potential revisions to your policy. Andrew Bobrek, one of my colleagues in the Labor and Employment Department of Bond, Schoeneck & King, will be conducting a webinar on the Board's Purple Communications decision on Thursday, December 18, at 11:00 a.m. More details will follow.
December 3, 2014
September 10, 2014