Effect of 2015 SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Decision on Employment Practices

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



The U.S. Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges that there is a constitutional right to marry and that the 14th Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses require states to allow same-sex marriages and to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed in other states.

The Obergefell decision is not an employment decision. However, the Equal Protection language in the opinion will require companies to make some changes to their employment practices, training, manuals, forms, beneficiary designations, and other personnel policies going forward.

Obergefell followed the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor which held that the federal government’s interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse” must apply to both opposite sex and same-sex unions. Windsor made employee benefits like the Family Medical and Leave Act (“FMLA”), COBRA, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) available to all same-sex spouses of federal employees.

What Does Obergefell Mean To Employers? Continue reading »

Exempt Employees, Overtime, and the Proposed DOL Rule for 2016

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



The labor landscape has changed and it will continue to change. The average worker has become increasingly responsible for the more traditional aspects of the employment relationship including health insurance, pension, and job security. There also has been a substantial increase in the numbers of part-time workers, workers/employees classified as exempt from overtime premium pay, and workers misclassified as independent contractors. Commentary and theory abounds as to the reason for the loss of full-time jobs, much less middle class jobs, including outsourcing, computers/software, Affordable Care Act, robots, automation, high taxes, globalization, etc.

Suffice it to say, a legal backlash is building against this new terrain. Proposed restrictive legislation, administrative rule-making, and recent court cases show evidence of a concerted attempt to re-create or retrieve the job security and wages and benefits of days gone by.

Most recently, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”), in a long-awaited announcement on June 30, 2015, proposed a new rule that will decrease the ability of companies to classify their employees as exempt from premium overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

Backdrop – Increase in Part-time Workers

This legal backlash is due, in part, to other recent and dramatic changes in the number of part-time workers:

  • Since 2007, the number of “involuntary” part-time workers has doubled.
  • Employers are increasingly using software tools such as the use of just-in-time scheduling software. Estimates are that 17 percent of the work force is now employed by companies that use just-in-time scheduling software. Employees accordingly work fluctuating work weeks with uncertain schedules.
  • Another contributing factor is business practices, such as the use of “call in shifts” where the employer does not confirm need for services until two hours before start time.

In response, a host of bills are being introduced in many states and municipalities to legislate predictable scheduling.

Backdrop – Misclassification

Likewise, misclassification of workers has also increased. Companies are attempting to shift work from employees to independent contractors, especially in the construction, transportation, and cab industries using a variety of strategies. Continue reading »

OSHA Finalizes Rules Requiring Health Care Employers to Report Injuries

David W. Morin

By David W. Morin



The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implemented rules on January 1, 2015 which place additional requirements on employers under OSHA jurisdiction (and with greater than 10 employees) to report occupational injuries and illnesses. This new data is going to be made public, which would allow individuals, companies, or labor unions to view injury reports submitted by health care providers.

Currently, employers in Missouri are required to report work injuries to the state if an employee sustains an injury at work requiring medical treatment beyond immediate first aid. The information is not made public, but is rather provided only to the state as a reporting requirement. In fact, workers’ compensation trials or hearing are not generally open to the public. Express consent is usually required of the parties or their attorneys for a member of the general public to watch these court proceedings.

Under the current OSHA regulations, fatalities must be reported within eight hours. The regulations add additional requirements and require all employers to report work-related in-patient hospitalizations, as well as amputations or incidents where someone loses an eye, within 24 hours. Continue reading »

Unemployment Insurance in Missouri: Should Employers Respond to Claim Notices?

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



New regulations require Missouri employers to respond timely to information requests regarding unemployment insurance compensation. The federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Extension Act (“TAAEA” or the “Act”) of 2011 requires, among other things, that states increase employers’ duties regarding unemployment compensation claims. Specifically, the Act provides that states must require employers to respond timely and adequately to Claim Notices, information requests from state agencies relating to unemployment benefit compensation claims. It also requires states to charge the unemployment accounts of employers that repeatedly fail to respond to Claim Notices for unemployment benefits paid to ineligible former employees.

In Missouri, an employee that satisfies all the unemployment insurance benefit eligibility requirements may still be disqualified from receiving benefits for voluntarily quitting without good cause or for being discharged for work misconduct. Once a terminated employee files a claim for unemployment benefits, the Missouri Division of Employment Security (“DES”) mails the former employer a Claim Notice, which requires a response within 10 days. The Claim Notice permits the employer to protest an unemployment benefits claim because the former employee quit voluntarily or was discharged for misconduct. If the claim is not in dispute, the employer must still respond to acknowledge the claim.

Some employers routinely fail to respond to Claim Notices. They may systematically choose not to respond to Claim Notices to avoid becoming involved in a former employee’s benefits appeal. Continue reading »

Considerations for Buyer Enforcement of Non-competes in the Purchase of a Business

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



You are a business owner whose company is buying the assets of a Missouri business with locations in both Missouri and Illinois.  Your company intends to hire the seller’s employees. It is your understanding that those employees have signed restrictive covenants/non-competes with the seller (“Seller Agreements”).  You have instructed your attorney to advise you on how to protect your company against the seller’s current highly trained employees walking out the door with the customer relationships, trade secrets, and confidential information you are purchasing.  For administrative purposes, to the extent possible, you would like to use one strategy with both the Missouri and Illinois employees.

Here’s a look at some of the complexities of personal service contracts and non-competes you will want to consider.

Restrictive Covenants and Non-compete Agreements

The phrases “restrictive covenants” and “non-compete agreements” are used interchangeably by the public.  More confusingly, the term “non-compete” is often used to describe three different types of covenants or promises: time and space clause, non-solicitation clause and anti-raiding clause.

The most restrictive non-competition covenant is a promise by the employee not to engage in the same type of business for a stated time in the same geographical market as the employer (“time and space clause”).

More common is a non-solicitation clause, where the employee is allowed to engage in the same type of business in the same geographical area but is prohibited from soliciting the employer’s customers for a stated period of time. Continue reading »

False Economy: Why Saving a Few Dollars on Legal Fees Now Can Cost You Big Later

A. Thomas DeWoskin

By A. Thomas DeWoskin



 

 

  • You’re about to sign a lease for your company’s new premises. Should you have a lawyer review it, or save the money?
  • You’re about to sign an employment agreement with your new employer. Should you have a lawyer review it, or save the money?
  • You and your best friend are going to start a new business. Should you have a lawyer advise you, or get the forms off the internet and save the money?

Both in jest and with some seriousness, business people, especially entrepreneurs, tend to view lawyers skeptically. Their perception is that lawyers run up fees, make simple transactions complicated, and sometimes cause deals to fall apart completely with all of their questions.

This is a short-sighted view of how attorneys can help you and your business. Experienced business minds understand that lawyers, when properly used at the beginning of a transaction rather than later after problems have developed, can be problem avoiders. And a problem avoided can be big money saved.

In the lease situation above, for example, your lawyer would be sure that you signed the lease in such a way that only your company, not you personally, would be liable. She might negotiate a provision that you don’t pay any rent while the space is being readied for your occupancy or for reduced rent if the landlord doesn’t provide promised services. An experienced attorney has seen a lot of leases, and knows the traps they often contain.

Lawyers aren’t deal breakers. Their job is to point out the potential risks in a transaction so you, the client, can decide whether those risks are worth the potential benefits of proceeding. If the risk/reward ratio isn’t to your liking, then YOU break the deal. If the risk is acceptable, then you proceed. In either event, you have made the decision in an informed and practical manner. You are in control; your lawyer, like all of your professional service providers, works for you. Your attorney’s role is to provide advice, share wisdom and insight, and help you make the business decisions. Continue reading »

Legislative Update: Missouri & Illinois Address Issue of Employer Requests for Employee/Job Applicant Social Media Account Information (Part 2 – Missouri)

David A. Zobel

By David A. Zobel



Legislation addressing the question of the extent to which an employer may request an employee’s social media account information has been introduced or is pending in 36 states with seven already enacting legislation in 2013.

As a follow-up to the discussion of Illinois’ recent legislative efforts, let’s look at Missouri’s legislative efforts.

Unfortunately, at this time the Missouri Legislature has not enacted any legislation to clarify the question of whether an employer may lawfully request or require employees or job applicants provide that employer with their social media account login information. Although the 2013 legislation session recently ended without a bill being passed in both houses, one bill, Senate Committee Substitute / Senate Bill 164, which would have created “The Password Privacy Protection Act,” passed in the Senate and fell just one vote shy of passage in the House. This bill’s partial success likely indicates the direction Missouri will ultimately take.

Like the Illinois legislation, SCS/SB164 began with a general ban of the practice of requesting or requiring the disclosure of account information. Specifically, the bill read:

Subject to the exceptions provided in subsection 4 of this section, an employer shall not request or require an employee or applicant to disclose any user name, password, or other authentication means for accessing any personal online account or personal online service.

The exceptions include and relate to:

(1)   Any electronic communications device supplied by or paid for in whole or in part by the employer;

(2)   Any accounts or services provided by the employer;

(3)   Any account or services the employee uses for business purposes; or

(4)   Any accounts or services used as a result of the employee’s employment relationship with the employer.

The bill also included several anti-retaliation provisions and a provision barring employees from transferring “an employer’s proprietary or confidential information or financial data to an employee’s personal online account” or service without employer authorization (i.e., barring an employee from posting trade secrets on Facebook without permission).

Like its Illinois counterpart, SCS/SB164 sought to clarify what it was not intended to do as well. It specifically stated, in part, that it should not be construed to prevent an employer from restricting or prohibiting an employee’s access to certain websites while using devices paid for by the employer, monitoring electronic data stored on an electronic communications device paid for by the employer (or such data that is traveling through or stored on an employer’s network), or restricting an employer’s review of public domain information.

While the bill sought to remedy one perceived problem, it may have actually emphasized another. The bill’s exception for employer-paid devices and interpretation not to prevent monitoring of data stored on such devices or flowing across employer’s networks leaves open the issue of the extent to which an employer may obtain an employee’s social media account information, or any information such as bank or health information, stored on the employer-paid device. Hopefully this potential loophole will be addressed when the Missouri Legislature reconvenes in the next session.

Although SCS/SB164 demonstrates what form a successful bill on this topic might take, SCS/SB164 has not been passed by the Missouri Legislature or signed into law. Therefore, the question remains unsettled in Missouri at this time.

Posted by Attorney David A. Zobel. Zobel primarily represents individuals and corporations in the defense of civil litigation, including contract, negligence, and real estate matters. In addition to his court room work, Zobel assists in advising clients on contract and employment issues and regarding issues arising under the Sunshine Law.

Legislative Update: Missouri & Illinois Address Issue of Employer Requests for Employee/Job Applicant Social Media Account Information (Part I – Illinois)

David A. Zobel

By David A. Zobel



In the spring of 2012, national news media reported an increasing number of employers demanding employees and job applicants provide social media account login information (usernames and passwords) for searching and content monitoring purposes. In my blog post “The Facebook Folly” posted in April 2012, I noted at that time there was no explicit indication as to the legality of this practice.

Since early 2012, however, legislatures in both Missouri and Illinois have worked to clarify the issue in their respective states’ workplaces. We’ll focus on Illinois’ efforts first, and follow up with Missouri in Part 2.

Illinois was an early adopter of a policy prohibiting employers from asking employees or prospective employees for their social media account login information. On January 1, 2013, Illinois and California joined Michigan, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware making such a practice illegal by enacting Public Act 97-0875, amending the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Work Place Act to read, in part:

It shall be unlawful for any employer to request or require an employee or prospective employee to provide any password or other related account information in order to gain access to the employee’s or prospective employee’s account or profile on a social networking website or to demand access in any manner to an employee’s or prospective employee’s account or profile on a social networking website. 820 ILCS 55/10(b)(1).

However, in an apparent attempt to balance the interests of both employees and employers, the Act further states and clarifies that it is not intended to limit the employer’s right to create and maintain lawful workplace policies governing Internet use, limit the employer’s ability to monitor usage of the employer’s electronic equipment or electronic mail (as long as the employer does not request or require the employee “provide any password or other related account information”), or limit the employer from obtaining information about its employees or prospective employees from the public domain. Continue reading »

Common Sense Road Map to Employee Discipline and Termination

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



Owners and managers frequently face the difficult process of terminating an employee for a reason other than lack of work. The reasons are many and varied, ranging from being placed in the “wrong seat on the bus” to poor cultural fit to “good cause” reasons, such as performance or behavior. Although employment at will is the rule of law, laws exist that undercut the employer’s absolute power to terminate for any reason whatsoever. Many of these laws are just plain common sense and can be compared to administering discipline with your own children.

Decisions made in haste or poorly executed have a very long damage tail including lawsuits, reduced morale, and loss of business momentum. By looking through the lens of both human nature and law, managers and owners can learn to make and execute decisions that are generally defensible both inside and outside the company culture. Knowing what could be coming and where it’s coming from will create a wiser decision process, a more legally defensible position, and buy-in from your watchful employees.

Practicing the following 10 rules will put you on a road map of common sense when dealing with issues related to employee discipline or termination:

  1. Investigate. Investigating the facts protects the integrity of the process and lessens the ability of an employee to establish an unlawful motive. Poking in the weeds also provides feedback to you on what is working, what is not working, and what should be changed. Look for facts – not hearsay and speculation. Determining credibility is your job. Companies are human collaborative efforts containing many actors with varying motives and agendas that can be constructive, bad, opportunistic or even crooked. Consider plausibility, demeanor, motive to lie, corroboration, and past record when making judgment calls.
  2. Interview witnesses and the employee in question. Ask the employee in question to explain what happened in front of two management witnesses. Write down exactly what the employee states and ask him/her to sign it.  Ask the employee for objective facts or witnesses to support his/her position. Your aim is to pin down the employee to “one recollection.” Interview complainants and witnesses by asking who, what, where, when and how questions. Let them know that you will try to keep the investigation as confidential as possible under the circumstances and in compliance with the law. This arduous process prevents tears at the fabric of your culture. Continue reading »

New Family and Medical Leave Act Guidance for Families of Adult Children with Disabilities

Misty A. Watson

By Misty A. Watson



Families now have clarification on when parents may use leave to care for an adult child with a mental or physical disability.

On January 14, 2013, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor issued additional guidance to help employers determine eligibility of employees to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when the employee has an adult child with a mental or physical disability incapable of self-care due to a serious health condition.

Generally,  entitlement to FMLA leave ends when a child is 18 years old. “Incapable of self-care” means that the individual requires active assistance or supervision to provide daily self-care in three or more of the “activities of daily living” or “instrumental activities of daily living.” Continue reading »