Gov. Polis signs three new Colorado laws into effect

The Denver Business Journal is reporting that Colorado Governor Polis has signed three new Colorado laws into effect. As the DBJ reports, each came with some opposition and will have impacts on employers in Colorado.

Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed a trio of bills that he said will improve the fortunes of working-class Coloradans — even as opponents have criticized the measures will make life harder for employers and possibly steer companies away from expanding in Colorado.

These laws are:

  1. Colorado House Bill 19-1025 is a “Ban the Box” law. It restricts, with some exceptions, an employer’s ability to inquire, especially on applications, about prior criminal history.
  2. Colorado House Bill 19-1210, which permits local governments to increase the minimum wage in their jurisdictions above Colorado’s statewide minimum.
  3. Colorado HB 19-1306, which requires the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to report “data that it currently collects regarding the call center work force, including tracking call center jobs and wage analysis of customer service employees,” quoting the bill’s official summary.

These laws now join in effect, the previously signed (May 22, 2019) HB19-085 (Equal Pay for Equal Work Act).

Taken together, HB 19-1025 and HB 19-085 in particular give employers good reason to immediately:

  • Review and revise their handbooks, workplace policies, and hiring documents accordingly.
  • Review and revise their hiring and promotion practices.
  • Consider undertaking an audit of pay levels as encouraged now by HB19-085.
  • Train supervisor, manager and HR accordingly.

Tenth Circuit holds plaintiff’s case insufficient even though supervisor kept a special file on the plaintiff in case he some day decided to “pull the race card”

The Tenth Circuit held a plaintiff failed to establish a case worthy of trial, entering summary judgment for lack of evidence of discrimination, even though the plaintiff submitted evidence his supervisor had kept a special file on him because, plaintiff contends the supervisor admitted, he feared plaintiff would some day “pull the race card.”

The plaintiff, who was African-American, sued because he’d been denied a promotion. That same supervisor had evaluated the candidates for promotion and was part of the 4-person panel that decided not to promote plaintiff.

The Tenth Circuit held, first, that the supervisor’s having kept a special file on plaintiff was not an indication of discrimination. This was true even though the evidence suggested the supervisor hadn’t kept such a file on any other individual. The Tenth Circuit held further that it was non-discriminatory even if the supervisor had said he was keeping the special file because he feared plaintiff would “pull the race card.” The Tenth Circuit said that admission suggested merely that the file was
“a precautionary measure, not a symptom of invidious animus.”

Then, the court held, even if other evidence did suggest a discriminatory animus, the plaintiff had failed to prove that the supervisor’s animus had somehow infected the other three panelists.

Employers are cautioned this case illustrates a difficult tension in the current status of analyzing motions for summary judgment. It remains to be seen whether future courts will agree that keeping a special file only on a minority worker is somehow non-discriminatory simply because the supervisor fears the worker will “play the race card.” Indeed the Tenth Circuit itself did not identify the decision for official publication, saying it was “not binding precedent,” although it can nonetheless be cited “For its persuasive value.”

Source: Sasser v. Salt Lake Citycase no. 17-4198 (10th Cir. 5/20/19).

Uber and other gig-economy companies score major wins at NLRB and DOL

Both the NLRB and DOL have issued letters advising that gig-economy companies, like Uber, are not employers but have instead properly certain workers, like drivers, as independent contractors.

The letters come on the heels of NLRB decisions earlier this year holding that the Board will no longer look at potential or even contractually-available control. Rather it will focus on actual control exercises by the company, and in doing so will not consider control that is required by the government. This new test focuses on whether the independent contractor enjoys his-her own “entrepreneurial opportunity.”

In the NLRB letter, NLRB General Counsel opined that Uber in particular is, under this new test, not engaging drivers as employees but has properly characterized them as independent contractors. Specifically General Counsel noted that drivers control their own time of work, place of work and are free to drive for competitors, with many actually doing so. Drivers provide their own vehicles, fuel and maintenance. They operate without supervision by Uber, rarely interacting with Uber’s management except when a problem arises.

In the DOL’s letter, the DOL did not identify the gig-economy company at-issue but reaffirmed in general that such companies are, for similar reasons, properly able to characterize workers as independent contractors.

Source: NLRB General Counsel Advice Memorandum case no’s. 13-CA-163062, -158833 and -177483; DOL Wage-Hour opinion letter no. FLSA2019-6 (4/29/19).

Interesting morning on 850 KOA Colorado’s Morning News radio program

Interesting morning talking about the Supreme Court and Alabama’s new abortion Bill.

Supreme Court reaffirms its ruling on arbitration agreements as bars to class actions, begins chipping away at state laws to the contrary

The Supreme Court reaffirmed its recent ruling in Epic Resources that arbitration agreements, even mandatory pre-dispute arbitration agreements, bar class actions, even when silent on the subject. In doing so, the Supreme Court declined to adopt a standard that would have required such agreements to “clearly and unmistakably” permit class actions, ensuring the issue of just how much an arbitration agreement can and cannot say on the issue of class actions will continue to be litigated. For now, its decision, combined with Epic, mean, at least, that silence is itself a bar to class actions in arbitration.

In this decision the Supreme Court extended its Epic ruling even over what the lower courts had held was contrary California law. The lower courts had held that California law would permit arbitration of class action claims if the arbitration agreement was, although not silent, at least ambiguous on the issue. The lower courts had held that such amibiguity should be interpreted against the company, as the drafter of the agreement. The Supreme Court held here, no, federal public policy under the Federal Arbitration Agreement called for any ambiguity to be interpreted in favor of arbitration, without class actions.

The decision was a tough 5-4 split for the justices, with J. Kagan authoring a vigorous dissent.

The majority’s reasoning suggests other state laws that attempt to chip away at mandatory pre-dispute arbitration agreements are likely to fall if challenged. However, employers should remember that, at least as written, this decision does not expressly mandate the reversal of state laws like California’s notorious fairness factors (Armendariz).

Employers wishing to adopt language that expressly blocks class actions in arbitration, or even, for example, to delete their current opt-out (or opt-in) provisions, may wish to consider the effects first. As other employers have begun to see, blocking class action claims in arbitration can guaranty the filing of mass individual demands for arbitration, which may prove much more costly and time-consuming than the class action.

Source: Lamps Plus v. Varela, — S.Ct. —, case no. 17-988 (4/24/19).

Seven Things You Need To Know About The DOL’s Proposed Salary Rules

Here are answers to seven common questions regarding the DOL’s recent proposal to increase the minimum guaranteed salary for overtime exempt positions.

1.    What has the DOL proposed?

As explained in a prior blog post, the DOL has just proposed increasing the minimum guaranteed salary for most overtime exempt positions from $455 per week ($23,660 per annum assuming the employee works some portion of 52 weeks per year, which amount could be less depending on actual vacation/etc.) to $679 per week ($35,308). It is expected this increase will affect approximately one million workers, who will have to be paid either a raise or overtime.

2.    When will the new minimum salary take effect?

Currently the DOL’s proposal is just that, a proposal. If the proposed rule becomes final, it is expected to take effect in January 2020. Many commentators believe that is likely.

3.    What does the DOL’s proposal mean for employers now?

Employers should begin reviewing their workforce for employees who are classified as overtime exempt to ensure that their salaries exceed the proposed new minimum ($679 per week).

4.    What are an employer’s options?

Employers will have two options for employees who are currently overtime exempt but earn less than the proposed minimum:

  1. Increase the employee’s guaranteed salary to meet the new proposed minimum ($679 per week); or,
  2. Convert the employee to hourly and pay overtime.

Technically there are at least two other options:

  •  Continue paying the current sub-minimum salary, but convert the position to overtime-eligible, then pay overtime on an hourly basis, at half-time, in addition to the salary, for workweeks when overtime is worked. This is called the “fluctuating workweek” method.
  • Continue paying the current salary under an agreement with the employee that the salary includes assumed overtime; pay no additional hourly (or salary) amounts to compensate employees for overtime hours. This is called a Belo agreement.”

Unfortunately while the fluctuating-workweek method and Belo agreements are theoretically available, and sound like ways to “build in” overtime into a salary, they are not as practical as employers (and employees) might hope. Each is disfavored by the DOL and the courts. Each is available only in strictly limited circumstances. Both options are beyond the scope of this article. Neither should be implemented except after consultation with experienced legal counsel.

5.    What are some of the most common considerations for employers weighing their options?

Analyzing the impact of these proposed regulations will depend greatly on the circumstances of every workforce. However, here are some of the most common considerations:

  • The number of workers (and the number of positions) currently overtime exempt but paid under the DOL’s proposed minimum.
  • The financial difference between each worker’s current salary and the DOL’s proposed minimum.
  • The likelihood of overtime hours and the feasibility of converting a currently salaried overtime-exempt worker to an hourly overtime-paid worker.
  • The increased cost of benefits that may be tied to pay (assuming a worker’s pay is increased) and any change to the level or type of benefits available (assuming a worker is converted to hourly).

To help employers with the math of comparing options, a number of spreadsheets are available on the Internet.

Additionally, employers are reminded that consideration should be given to two other features of this proposed rule that may affect the math of their analyses:

  • The ability to do a “catch-up” payment, which may help some employers meet the new proposed salary minimum.
  • The ability to exclude certain bonuses from overtime calculations, which may help other employers afford converting workers into overtime-eligible hourly positions.

Finally, employers should consider with their HR professionals the potential impact on workforce morale. This in particular will vary from company to company. Common questions include the following:

  • How will other workers respond to seeing these positions receive raises?
  • Will raises cause salary compression?
    • In other words, will lower level salaried employees start earning nearly as much as workers in skilled or even managerial level positions?
    • Will skilled and even managerial level positions need to be increased accordingly?
  • Is any part of the workforce unionized?
    • If so will converting salaried positions into hourly positions make them more likely to be claimed by union as part of its bargaining unit?
    • For positions already within a bargaining unit, employers are reminded of their collective bargaining obligations and to review with legal counsel, first, any requirements for notice and an opportunity to bargain, as well as the potential impact of a current agreement’s “zipper” clause.

6.    Reminder, employers still have to meet the “duties” tests for overtime exemptions

Employers are reminded that paying the minimum guaranteed salary is not all it takes to be exempt from overtime requirements. Workers must also meet the DOL’s duties tests for the various kinds of exemption.

7.    In what states will the DOL’s proposal affect employers?

If it becomes effective, the increase will take hold nationwide, at a federal level. Although it will apply in all fifty states, employers are reminded that some states, including Alaska, California and New York, already require minimum guaranteed salaries in excess of even this new proposed increase. Accordingly, employers in Alaska, California and New York should confirm with legal counsel but may find no change is required to their workers’ salary levels.

 

DOL proposes overhaul of Joint Employer rules

Following up on recent efforts by the NLRB to overhaul the Joint Employer doctrine, the DOL has proposed its own revisions.

Like the NLRB, the DOL proposes that the right to control not be considered, but rather that focus be on whether the putative joint employer actually has exercised control.

Only actions taken with respect to the employee’s terms and conditions of employment, rather than the theoretical ability to do so under a contract, are relevant to joint employer status under the Act.

Additionally, the DOL proposes to clarify that “whether an employee is economically dependent on the potential joint employer is (also) not relevant.”

Rather, the DOL suggests that four factors be considered to determine whether the putative joint employer exercised sufficient control, in actuality, to warrant liability:

The Department’s proposed test would assess whether the potential joint employer:

  • Hires or fires the employee;

  • Supervises and controls the employee’s work schedule or conditions of employment;

  • Determines the employee’s rate and method of payment; and

  • Maintains the employee’s employment records.

Source: DOL proposed rules re “Joint Employer Status Under The Fair Labor Standards Act,” 29 CFR Part 791, RIN 1235-aa26 (4/1/19).