Employment Training, Practices and Procedures

This issue of Take 5 encapsulates the incredible breadth of societal changes and challenges facing the entire retail workplace. The topics addressed below reflect a microcosm of the many issues currently facing our overall society, covering growing political activism in the workplace, increasing expectations to accommodate religious beliefs, otherwise outrageous employee speech that may very well enjoy protection under the law, and the ever-increasing requirements for criminal background checks enacted piecemeal by states and cities. These extremely topical subjects often tap into broader emotionally charged concerns encountered by retailers.

We also address the ever-timely issue of wage and hour classification, in this case, focusing on the classification of assistant store managers.

The articles in this Take 5 include:

  1. Managing Employees’ Political and Social Activism in the Workplace
  2. Religious Accommodation: Handling Unusual Requests
  3. Second Circuit Agrees with NLRB That Employee’s Vulgar Facebook Tirade Against Manager Is Protected Concerted Activity
  4. Increasing Criminal Background Check Requirements Pose Challenges for National Retailers
  5. Correctly Classifying Assistant Store Managers to Avoid Wage and Hour Misclassification Claims

Read the full Take 5 online or download the PDF.

Featured on Employment Law This Week – New York City has enacted “fair workweek” legislation.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed a package of bills into law limiting scheduling flexibility for fast-food and retail employers. New York City is the third major city in the United States, after San Francisco and Seattle, to enact this kind of legislation. The bills require fast-food employers to provide new hires with good-faith estimates of the number of hours that they will work per week and to pay workers a premium for scheduling changes made less than 14 days in advance.

Watch the segment below, featuring our colleague Jeffrey Landes from Epstein Becker Green. Also see our colleague John O’Connor’s recent post, “New York City Tells Fast Food Employees: ‘You Deserve a Break Today’ by Enacting New Fair Workweek Laws,” on the Hospitality Labor and Employment Law blog.

On May 24, 2017, the New York City Council signed a bill banning retail employers in New York City from utilizing “on-call scheduling.” Given the unpredictable fluctuations in customer flow associated with retail business operations, retail employers have historically utilized “on-call” schedules in an effort to manage labor costs associated with running their businesses. Rather than provide employees with fixed work schedules, many retail employers place employees “on-call,” requiring them to call in shortly before their work shift is to start to ascertain if they need to actually report to work.  The conflicting interests between retail employers and their employees posed by “on call” scheduling is obvious.  Retail employers favor the use of “on-call’ scheduling because it enables them to tailor their workforce to customer needs and avoid excessive labor costs.  Employees disfavor “on-call” scheduling for a variety of reasons.  First, they are not able to accurately predict their income because they are uncertain as to the number of hours they will actually work each week.  Second, the lack of rigid work schedule impacts their ability to plan their day-to-day life. Because they are not certain when they will be required to work, their ability to schedule appointments, attend regular school obligations, or hold a second employment position are impaired.

In January 2015, San Francisco became the first city to pass predictive scheduling legislation, requiring retail employers in that City to pay employees for cancelled on-call shifts and provide notice to their employees of their biweekly schedules. In September 2016, Seattle followed suit, enacting legislation mirroring that in San Francisco.  Similar predictive scheduling legislation is presently pending at the federal level as well as in no less than twelve states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island).  By adopting this new law banning on-call scheduling, New York City becomes the most recent jurisdiction to seek to protect retail employees’ interests despite the increased operating costs such predictive scheduling legislation may impose on retail employers

Pursuant to the new law, retail employers in New York City now have to post employees’ work schedules at least 72 hours before the beginning of the scheduled hours of work. The law also precludes retail employers from cancelling, changing or adding work shifts within 72 hours of the start of the shift (except in limited cases).  Moreover, each retail employee must be scheduled for no less than 20 hours of work during each 14-day period.  In a press release in which he praised the New York City Council for passing the bill and in which he expressed his intent to immediately sign the law, Mayor de Blasio claimed that the law “will ensure that workers will be able to budget for the week ahead, schedule childcare, and plan evening classes.” While the law is clearly intended to help retail employees better balance their professional and personal lives, the strict scheduling requirements will challenge New York City’s retail employers to develop new means of managing their businesses impacted by the unpredictability posed by seasonal demand, customer fluctuation, weather, holidays, employee turnover issues, and other variations in day-to-day retail operations.

On April 27, 2017, the Ninth Circuit[1] issued an opinion in Aileen Rizo v. Jim Yovino that provides employers with guidance on how to lawfully implement facially-neutral business policies using prior salary information to set a new employee’s salary, without running afoul of the federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”). While there has been some backlash regarding this recent decision, the Court’s ruling was consistent with its prior holding in Kouba v. Allstate Insurance Co.[2] when it vacated the lower court’s decision that denied Defendant Jim Yovino’s (“County”[3]) motion for summary judgment, and directed that the lower court consider the County’s hiring procedures in light of certain factors set forth in the Kouba case (as detailed below).

In 2009, Plaintiff Aileen Rizo (“Plaintiff”) began working for the Fresno County School District. Her starting salary was determined using the school district’s standard salary schedule, “Standard Operating Procedure 1440[4],” which was routinely and uniformly applied to all management-level employees, including Plaintiff. Based on the County’s application of this facially neutral policy, which is based on an employee’s prior salary, Plaintiff’s pay was lower than those of her colleagues with higher past salaries, including her male coworkers.

The pay disparity between Plaintiff and her male coworkers was undisputed by the County in this case. But, the County argued that its use of prior salary falls squarely under one of the affirmative defenses to the EPA – i.e., that prior salary amounts to an “other factor other than sex.”[5]

Plaintiff responded by arguing that if an employer’s pay structure is based “exclusively on prior wages,” then any resulting pay differential between men and women cannot be interpreted to be based on “any other factor other than sex.” Her position was consistent with Tenth and Eleventh Circuit decisions and the EEOC’s stance on this topic. Plaintiff further claimed that the use of prior salary alone can’t be considered a “factor other than sex” because it perpetuates existing pay disparities and further undermines the purpose of the Equal Pay Act. The lower court agreed with Plaintiff and found that women’s earlier salaries are likely to be lower than men’s because of historical gender bias; but, the District Court also acknowledged that its decision potentially conflicted with the 1982 decision in Kouba.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit vacated the District Courts decision and held that its earlier decision in Kouba was controlling in the present case.  In its opinion, the Ninth Circuit held that the Kouba decision “allow[s] an employer to base a pay differential on prior salary so long as it showed that its use of prior salary effectuated some business policy and that the employer used the factor reasonably in light of its stated purpose and its other practices.”  Here, the County offered four business reasons for it policy: (1) the policy is objective, in the sense that no subjective opinions as to the new employee’s value enters into the starting-salary calculus; (2) the policy encourages candidates to leave their current jobs for jobs at the County, because they will always receive a 5% pay increase over their current salary; (3) the policy prevents favoritism and ensures consistency in application; and (4) the policy is a judicious use of taxpayer dollars.

The matter was remanded to the District Court for (1) an evaluation of the four business justifications offered by the County regarding its gender-neutral preset pay scale, and (2) a determination of whether the County’s use of employees’ prior salary is “reasonable in light of [its] stated purpose” under the standard set forth in Kouba.

Many states, including California, recently revised their state law equal pay protections to address the use of prior pay in hiring decisions, and whether it perpetuates prior pay discrimination. In particular, California’s equal pay law now includes a provision that expressly prohibits the use of prior salary “by itself [to] justify any disparity in compensation.” Interestingly, California’s amendment, which was passed prior to the Ninth Circuit’s decision, was not addressed at all in the decision. But, arguably here, all allegedly discriminatory decisions were made prior to the amendment’s passage.

In light of these new state and local laws’ prohibitions and/or restrictions on the use of prior pay as a determinant in setting an applicant’s salary, even if the Ninth Circuit finds that the federal Equal Pay Act permits the use of pay history for this purpose (under certain circumstances), in many jurisdictions, state and local laws will prohibit it. Employers should be aware both of the split in the circuits on this issue, and also of any applicable amendments to state and local equal pay laws that may impact their ability to rely on prior pay in setting an applicant’s rate of pay.

[1] The panel included Circuit Judges A. Wallace Tashima and Andrew D. Hurwitz and the Honorable Lynn S. Adelman, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, sitting by designation.

[2]Kouba v. Allstate Insurance Co. ( 9th Cir. 1982) 691 F.2d 873.

[3] As Defendant Jim Yovino was sued in his official capacity as the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, the Ninth Circuit utilized the word “County” when referring to the Defendant. For simplicity, we utilize the same term.

[4] To determine a candidate’s salary using “Standard Operating Procedure 1440,” the County applies a 5% increase to an individual’s most recent prior salary, then places the candidate on a “step” of the County’s salary schedule based on that calculated amount. This schedule consists of twelve “levels,” each of which contains ten “steps.”

[5] Under the EPA, a wage disparity is permissible if an employer can plead and prove an affirmative defense based on one of the following exceptions: (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex.

On May 15, 2017, New York City’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act (“FIFA”) will take effect. FIFA requires parties that retain “freelance workers” to provide any service where the contract between them has a value of $800 or more to reduce their agreement to a written contract.

FIFA defines a freelance worker as “any natural person or any organization composed of no more than one natural person, whether or not incorporated or employing a trade name, that is hired or retained as an independent contractor by a hiring party to provide services in exchange for compensation.” Importantly, the law does not cover organizations or more than one natural person.

The $800 threshold is reached either by itself or when aggregated with all contracts for services during the preceding 120 days.  The contract must include, at a minimum, the following information:

  • the name and address of both the hiring party and the freelance worker,
  • an itemized list of the services that will be provided and the value of those services,
  • the rate and method of compensation, and
  • the date on which payment is due or the mechanism by which such date will be determined.

If no payment due date is indicated in the contract, the hiring party must pay the freelance worker within 30 days of the completion of services.

A hiring party is also prohibited from threatening, intimidating, disciplining, harassing, denying a work opportunity, or discriminating against a freelance worker who exercises his or her rights under FIFA.

The law establishes penalties for violations of these rights, including statutory damages, double damages, injunctive relief, and attorney’s fees.

In anticipation of May 15, 2017, employers should ensure that contracts entered into with freelance workers (or existing contracts that are renewed) with a value of $800 or more comply with FIFA.

Amid challenges regarding Philadelphia’s upcoming law prohibiting employers from requesting an applicant’s salary history, the City has agreed not to enforce the upcoming law until after the court has finally resolved the injunction request.

The law, which was set to become effective May 23, 2017, has been challenged by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia (the “Chamber”). The Chamber’s lawsuit alleges that the pending law violates the First Amendment by restricting an employer’s speech because, among other reasons, “it is highly speculative whether the [law] will actually ameliorate wage disparities caused by gender discrimination.” It is also alleged that the law violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and Pennsylvania’s Constitution as well as its “First Class City Home Rule Act” by allegedly attempting to restrict the rights of employers outside of Philadelphia.

On April 19, a judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania stayed the effective date of the law, pending the resolution of the Chamber’s motion for a preliminary injunction. Prior to resolving the injunction, the parties will first brief the court on the Chamber’s standing to bring the lawsuit. This issue, regarding whether the Chamber is an appropriate party to bring this lawsuit, will be fully briefed by May 12, 2017, before the law is set to become effective. However, there are several other issues to be resolved as part of the lawsuit. The City’s decision to stay enforcement of the pending law until all issues are resolved is intended to help employers and employees avoid confusion during the pendency of the lawsuit.

Although the City of Philadelphia will not enforce this law in the interim, employers with any operations in Philadelphia should review their interviewing and hiring practices in case the lawsuit is decided in favor of the City. Further, employers in Massachusetts and New York City will also be subject to similar restrictions on inquiring about an applicant’s salary history when those laws go into effect. Massachusetts’ law is scheduled to become effective in July 2018, and New York City’s law will become effective 180 days after Mayor de Blasio signs the law, which may occur as soon as this week.

California’s Fair Employment & Housing Council has finalized and adopted new regulations to establish criteria for the use and consideration of criminal history information in employment decisions where such use may constitute a violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. The new regulations take effect July 1, 2017, and are available here and on the Council’s website.  The regulations are intended to clarify, outline and maintain consistency between the laws governing the consideration of criminal history information in employment decisions.

The regulations reiterate existing prohibitions on the use of criminal history information and also require employers to demonstrate a business necessity, in addition to job-relatedness, for requesting a criminal history if the policy or practice of considering criminal history information creates an adverse impact on applicants or employees based on certain protected classes. Applicants and employees bear the initial burden of demonstrating that the policy or practice has an adverse impact on a protected class.  If this showing is made, the burden shifts to the employer to establish that the policy is justifiable because it is job-related and consistent with business necessity. To do so, the employer must demonstrate that the policy or practice is appropriately tailored, taking into account several factors including: (i) the nature and gravity  of the offense or conduct; (ii) the passage of time; and (iii) the nature of the position held or sought.  Even if an employer can demonstrate job-relatedness and consistency with business necessity, an applicant or employee may still bring a claim if he or she can show that there is a less discriminatory alternative available to advance the employer’s legitimate concerns.

Retail employers in California should review their policies and practices to ensure that their use of criminal history information complies with the new regulations. Employers are also reminded of their obligation to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., and the California Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 1786 et seq.

Paid Leave_shutterstock_371740363The state of Maryland appears poised to join seven other states and various local jurisdictions (including Montgomery County, Maryland) already requiring employers to provide paid sick and save leave. On April 5, 2017, the Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill previously passed by the Maryland Senate that would require most employers with at least 15 employees to provide up to five paid sick and safe leave days per year to their employees, and smaller employers to provide up to five unpaid sick and safe leave days. Although the bill contains an effective date of January 1, 2018, the actual effective date will depend on action by Governor Larry Hogan.

The following employees are not covered by the bill:

  • Employees who regularly work less than 12 hours a week;
  • Employees who are employed in the construction industry;
  • Employees who are covered by a collective-bargaining agreement that expressly waives the requirements of the law;
  • Certain “as-needed” employees in the health or human services industry.

Under the bill, an employer may not be required to allow an employee to:

(1) earn more than 40 hours of earned sick and safe leave in a year;
(2) use more than 64 hours of earned sick and safe leave in a year;
(3) accrue a total of more than 64 hours at any time;
(4) use earned sick and safe leave during the first 106 calendar days the employee works for the employer.

The bill also preempts local jurisdictions from enacting new sick and safe leave laws except for amending existing laws enacted before January 1, 2017, i.e. the existing law in Montgomery County.

The bill passed with enough support in both chambers to survive a promised veto by Governor Hogan, who favored an alternative that would require the benefit only for companies with at least 50 workers and make tax incentives available for smaller companies that offered the leave. However, if he still vetoes the bill, lawmakers will not have an opportunity to override the veto until next year’s legislative session beginning on January 10, 2018, which means the bill would not take effect until after January 1, 2018, and could possibly be subject to amendment in the next session.

*Marc-Joseph Gansah, a Law Clerk – Admission Pending in the firm’s New York office, contributed to the preparation of this blog post.

A new post on the Management Memo blog will be of interest to many of our readers in the retail industry: “‘A Day Without’ Actions – How Can Employers Prepare?” by our colleagues Steven M. Swirsky and Laura C. Monaco of Epstein Becker Green.

Following is an excerpt:

[T]he same groups that organized the January 21, 2017 Women’s March on Washington – an action participated in by millions of individuals across the county – has called for a “Day Without Women” to be held on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Organizers are encouraging women to participate by taking the day off from paid and unpaid labor, and by wearing red – which the organizers note “may be a great act of defiance for some uniformed workers.”

Employers should be prepared to address any difficult questions that might arise in connection with the upcoming “Day Without Women” strike: Do I have to give my employees time off to participate in Day Without events? Can I still enforce the company dress code – or do I need to permit employees to wear red? Can I discipline an employee who is “no call, no show” to work that day? Am I required to approve requests for the day off by employees who want to participate? As we explained in our prior blog post, guidance from the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel suggests that an employer can rely on its “lawful and neutrally-applied work rules” to make decisions about granting requests for time off, enforcing its dress code, and disciplining employees for attendance rule violations. An employer’s response, however, to a given employee’s request for time off or for an exception to the dress code, may vary widely based upon the individual facts and circumstances of each case. …

Read the full post here.

Our colleagues Jeremy M. Brown, Steven M. Swirsky and Laura C. Monaco, at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Management Memo blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the retail industry: “F17 and the General Strike Movement – Best Practices for Addressing Political Activity in the Workplace.”

Following is an excerpt:

This week, an activist group calling itself “Strike4Democracy” has called for a day of “coordinated national actions” – purportedly including more than 100 “strike actions” across the country – on February 17, 2017. The group envisions the February 17th strike as the first in “a series of mass strikes,” including planned mass strikes on March 8 (organized by International Women’s Day and The Women’s March) and May Day, and a general “heightening resistance throughout the summer.” The organizers are encouraging people not to work or shop that day. …

Read the full post here.